A “Multipolar World”: A Transformation in the Global System

After more than three decades of American efforts to establish and consolidate a unipolar international order, we are witnessing signs of the deterioration of the American-centric international order and the formation of a new international order.

Evidence, facts and developments in global arena confirm that the conflict between the United States and the European Union countries on one hand, and both China and Russia on the other hand, revolves around something that no longer exists, which is the world order that Washington wants to strengthen, and Beijing and Moscow are working to change it. In his speech before the Davos Economic Forum on May 26, 2022 in Switzerland, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz uttered the word “multi-polarity” that reveals the West’s recognition of the need for a multipolar world, and when the leader of a European country talks about multi-polarity, he takes into account the restructuring of international relations.

The term “multi-polarity” is actually part of the foreign policy discourse reproduced by diplomats and politicians in the European Continent.

The United States, in turn, revealed concerns about the formation of a new world order, and the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, considered that his country is engaged in a strong competition with China, whose goal is to preserve the current international order. He said in a speech at George Washington University on May 26, 2022: “China poses the most serious long-term threat to the international order, and is the only country that – along with a serious desire to reshape the international system – possesses the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power qualified to do so”.

Blinken acknowledged that “the inability to change China’s course and the ambitions of the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping,” but insists on seeking to “dismantle the strategic structure around China in a way that advances the American vision of an open and inclusive international order without waging a new Cold War”.

Several researchers are of the view that what the Chinese leader (Xi) wants is not to form a new world order, but “a radical transformation of the world order”.

Then came the Russian- Ukrainian war, so that the world discovered that the only global pole (United States of America) was unable to exercise its role, as it had lost the deterrent power, which should have prevented Russia from entering a military conflict with Ukraine. It was satisfied with the weakest means, which are the economic, media, cultural and sports embargo.  In addition, the negative effects of western sanctions on Russia had the most severe impact on the economies of Europe and America to the extent that they became a double-edged weapon that could not be used for long periods.

When the West realized China’s rising power and its reflection on the structure of the international system, with its expansion in the markets of Africa and South America with long-term agreements, the United States began to move to obstruct this expansion. This fact became clear, especially after global financial crises since the end of 2008, and it pushed the western powers to move in an attempt to besiege the accelerated growth of the Chinese economy, and to disengage it from Russia, this engagement that indicates the emergence of a strategic alliance that threatens the unipolar system represented by the United States, and behind it is the uniqueness of Western civilization in the world.

With this vision, the major interests of the western world have become to contain China, Russia and India, those powers that may remove the western world – including Europe and America – from the fore, and restore back the leadership of the world to Asia after it moved from it two centuries ago with the industrial revolution to Europe and its extensions in North America.

In this context, the hasty and indiscriminate US withdrawal from Afghanistan came in the hope of creating a new hotbed of tension in which terrorist movements gather to confuse China, India and Russia. The strategic vision, which aims to transfer the hottest region of tension from the Middle East to Central Asia, has emerged. This comes within the framework of the major strategic transformation of the US administration from Eurasia/Northern Hemisphere, to the Pacific Ocean, then came the American intervention in Africa, by various means, to create hotbeds of tension that impede the expansion of Chinese interests in areas such as the Sahel countries “Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad”. From here, we can understand the multiplicity of military coups in the Sahel and West African countries, especially those whose leaders have engaged in deep relations with China, such as the Guinean President Alpha Condé, who was overthrown on September 5, 2021 after signing a long-term export contract for aluminum with China.

It became clear that the important transformations of the Ukraine war will appear on the global economy, which has already witnessed significant transformations represented in high inflation rates with the possibility of diminishing or shrinking economic growth rates, which could lead to a phase of stagflation that may unfortunately come at a time when the world is expected to recover from the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among other important transformations also in the global economy as a result of the Ukraine war, the increase in spending, whether for humanitarian and military aid, or to enhance defense capabilities, or even to bear the consequences and assistance of refugees from this war, and such costs from it would increase the debt of the concerned countries in Europe, which is already high.

These important transformations, whether political or economic, will undoubtedly create a new global reality.

Politicians and experts in international affairs believe that the world is very close to a new world order, after the current world order lost its role in the Ukraine war, and the Security Council – for example – was unable to just issue a resolution for a ceasefire in Ukraine. Then who would believe that the United States, which did not directly confront Russia in the Ukraine war, would directly enter into a war with China in defense of Taiwan and against the “one China” policy, which Washington recognized in its openness to China during the days of Mao Zedong, Nixon and Kissinger. In an expression of this reality, China’s position was specified in the words of the chief Chinese diplomat, Yang Jiechi, State Councilor, to the American delegation, in the first direct talks between China and America in Anchorage, Alaska (Spring 2021): “You are not qualified to address China from a position of strength”.

There were indications, and developments, which predicted that there were changes that would impose themselves on the world even before the Ukraine war, among them:

1- The promotion in recent years to the idea of ​​the end of “geopolitics”, meaning the diminishing importance of international interactions that are based on geographical location and control over areas of land, and a saying has been adopted that modern international interactions have put in their priorities the economic dimension and the technology and communications revolution, which do not know the meaning of geographical spaces, and that national security is linked to the economy and technology and not to geography. Nevertheless, the Ukraine crisis confirmed the importance of geography, as Russia’s demands regarding Ukraine’s non-inclusion in NATO are linked to its geographic proximity with Russia, which poses a threat to its national security in case that NATO forces are stationed on its borders. It was clear that the Russian military intervention in Ukraine aimed to control the geographical area that could represent a source of threat, and work to neutralize it.

2- The decline of globalization: “Globalization” represented the ideological framework for the economic movement of the world in recent decades. It relied on the idea of economic integration and interdependence between countries, respect for rules related to trade and the movement of goods and services, and the non-politicization of economic relations. Nevertheless, the recent years have witnessed a decline in the globalization movement, as it was the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, along with the protectionist and punitive policies pursued by former US President Donald Trump. The Covid-19 pandemic has also affected economic globalization.

The harsh economic sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and their allies on Russia in the context of the Ukrainian crisis, constituted a significant decline in the phenomenon of globalization, especially the sanctions that targeted Russian banks with the aim of freezing the assets held in American financial institutions and impeding their ability to operate within the global financial system, encouraging western companies to leave, closing European airspace to Russian aircraft and banning Russian media from the traditional and electronic media space.

All of these sanctions contributed to a further decline in the phenomenon of globalization, and some put forward the idea of the need for new rules for the international economic system.

3- Energy independence and food independence: After the Arab oil embargo on the United States in 1973, successive American administrations adopted the goal of achieving “energy independence” through increasing domestic production and alternative energy programs. However, with the Ukraine crisis, it became clear to the United States and the European Union countries that the goal of energy independence is still far from being achieved, and therefore it will place it among their priorities in the coming years. The same is true for food-importing countries, especially wheat, as they will certainly seek to achieve a degree of independence in food.

4- Moving towards Europe and dual containment: Since the administration of former US President Barack Obama, the United States has raised the slogan “Go to Asia,” in order to confront what it considered as the “Chinese threat”, but the Ukraine crisis reminded us that “the issue of European security has not yet been resolved. The crisis also revealed a consensus in some visions between Russia and China, which was clearly demonstrated in the statement issued by the Sino-Russian summit on February 4, 2022, in which the two parties indicated their opposition to further expansion of NATO. They called on NATO to abandon its ideological approach to the Cold War, and that the Chinese side is sympathetic and supportive of the proposals put forward by Russia to establish binding long-term security guarantees in Europe.

This Sino-Russian consensus will make the United States add a new orientation towards Europe, in addition to the existing orientation towards Asia, and may adopt a policy of dual containment of both China and Russia.

The world is witnessing – with the repercussions of the war in Ukraine – decline which foretell that we are on the verge of the birth of a new world order, and that there are evidences that have begun to loom on the horizon, especially the economic crises, in which its developments will necessarily be reflected on the political situation of Europe. The Ukrainian war has placed European countries in front of major challenges in terms of energy and wealth, threatening the west’s economy with further stagnation.

The Ukrainian crisis revealed the limits of American power, which appeared mainly in the exclusion of the military option, and the adoption of the approach of economic sanctions. President Biden stated, “no one expects sanctions to prevent anything from happening” and that the impact of the sanctions “will take time”. The Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said that American power is in decline, and that the commitment of the United States to its allies has been greatly weakened, as was evident in the rush out of Afghanistan, and the growing isolationist tendencies inside the US.

The challenge of the United States at this historical moment will not be limited only to Russia, and other countries  will seek to test the limits of American power, and show the American decline as a superpower, which will have long-term consequences with regard to the balance of power in the international system.

Amr Wagdy
Amr Wagdy
Amr Wagdy Omran is a Human Rights Expert. He has more than 14 years experience in the field of human rights. He has a Bachelor degree in Political science from Cairo University, and a Master degree in Democracy and Human Rights from Saint Joseph University in Lebanon.