It may take months to discover whether the actions taken by last week's Group of 20 summit in London are enough to rescue the world economy from a prolonged recession, if not depression. The substance of its conclusions will have to convince capital markets, global financial institutions, investors and humble consumers that they can start to spend, borrow or lend again.
But the symbolism of the event may be more important than the substance. For even if the G20 countries are a strange ad hoc selection, initially brought together by the Asian financial crisis in 1997, they represent a whole new element in the world order. They are not the Group of Seven - the club of western powers and Japan - or the G8 (the G7 plus Russia). The use of the G20 at this moment of global crisis is a clear indication that the old order has outlived its time.
Another pointer came four months ago when the US National Intelligence Council, part of Washington's security apparatus, published a startling forecast. The international system as constructed after the second world war would, it predicted, be "unrecognisable" by 2025, thanks to globalisation, the rise of emerging powers and "an historic transfer of relative wealth and economic power from west to east".
另一个迹象是在4个月前浮现的，当时美国安全部门“国家情报委员会”(National Intelligence Council, NIC)发表了一份惊人的预测。其中预计，在第二次世界大战后构建的国际体系，到2025年将变得“难以辨认”，原因包括全球化、新兴强国的崛起，以及“ 财富和经济实力相对地从西方到东方的历史性转移”。
"The next 20 years of transition to a new system are fraught with risks," the document declared. "Strategic rivalries are most likely to revolve around trade, investments and technological innovation and acquisition, but we cannot rule out a 19th-century scenario of arms races, territorial expansion, and military rivalries."
That report was largely written before the full force of the financial and economic crisis had become apparent. Nevertheless, its authors were convinced that the "unipolar moment" of unchallenged US hegemony after the Berlin Wall came down was already drawing to an end. The future world order would be "multipolar".