The concept of a post-Western world is neither ephemeral nor new to political literature. But it has appeared in the arena of elite political debate at least since Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s speech at the Munich World Security Conference in February 2017, when he called for a just multilateral world order not subject to Western domination and influence.
Although the concept has disappeared from the political debate, it has remained in the minds of experts and pundits.
The escalating struggle for power and influence
The escalating struggle for power and influence between China and the US will eventually lead to a complete change in the strategic balance of power and a restructuring of the existing world order, which has been centered on American leadership since the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
Destabilization of the rules of this system became apparent in 2020 with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and there was talk of a post-pandemic system after American influence declined in favor of the role of China, which had managed to seize the opportunity to manifest its global leadership identity.
The transformations of the world order throughout history have certainly not taken place in a few years.
It is also difficult to resolve the dispute over the decisive elements of this conflict, be it economic power, around which most expectations are that China will lead the world due to its rapidly growing economic power, be it technological and knowledge power (a matter of economic power), or be it military power, as the US is still at the center of command in military terms.
But in any case, a return to the idea of comprehensive national power seems an appropriate way out of this debate. This fuels the expectation that the transitional phase of the global order will be relatively long and could last a decade or two, given the overlapping roles and limits of power factors among the main contenders for leadership of the global system.
A multi-headed world order?
The notion of a multi-headed or multi-polar world order is quite ideal. It is hard to believe in light of today’s experience. A hegemonic superpower like the US finds it difficult to accept being on equal footing with another rival power.
Moreover, the experience of multilateralism in the international institutions of the Security Council is a complete failure. It has been synonymous with chaos and the weakness of mechanisms for effective international action.
But multilateralism can be a compromise, a gateway that ends with the rise of any power to the top of the pyramid of power and influence in the world order, as happened between the end of World War II and the collapse of the former Soviet Union, where bipolarity was a transitional phase in the world order.
Some expect this to repeat in later phases under a bipolar system in which the US and China share power and influence. Fierce conflict and sharp polarization now revolve around economics and trade, not ideologies, as was the case during the Cold War era. The power rise of China should not distract attention from other factors that will inevitably affect the world’s future.
Foremost among these is the ascent of other rival powers, such as India and Russia, which rest to some extent on the outcome of the conflict in Ukraine.
WE ALSO cannot turn a blind eye to how molding the next world order ties in with the Taiwan challenge, how China can manage it and emerge from it with the fewest possible losses, and how it can avoid being drawn into a conflict that saps its strength and capabilities.
The only bona fide truth in the world today is that we are looking at an anarchic order; the locus of leadership suffers from a vacuum explains many of the crises that a number of regions and countries are experiencing. No country is as powerful to lead the world as, for example, the US was two decades ago.
Another point is that the future of world order will be largely defined by the consequences of the conflict in the Indo-Pacific theater. The escalating geostrategic conflict involves the US and its allies on one side and China on the other.
As a personal point of view, as long as the end of the war in Ukraine is uncertain, it is difficult to draw accurate conclusions about the contours of the next phase of the world order. The war seems to be far from over and the conflict can change at any time, especially since the West keeps trying to embarrass and humiliate Russian President Vladimir Putin, who threatens to use nuclear weapons.
Above all, we need to know what is the position of China, whose president promised a boundless alliance with Russia at the onset of the crisis. In addition, we must get a grasp of some other indicators. These include, foremost, the results of the ongoing trade war between the US and China.
This is a war whose outcome will largely determine the course of the post-Ukraine world. Will it be a world without the West, or will the West remain a partner in it, and what role will major blocs such as the BRICS and others play in steering world affairs and determining strategic directions in the decades and years ahead?
Indeed, multilateralism is gradually making its way into the international arena. The world is no longer aligned with American leadership. There are even increasing leanings, especially in Africa and the Middle East, toward China and Russia.
And there are signs of splintering in the European bloc, having just as much difficulty getting out of the war in Ukraine. We are likely to see a new geostrategic reality to match the state of play in this historically significant war.
US anger at Saudi Arabia over OPEC+’s decision to cut oil production and the fact that Western influence in a number of countries on the African continent is being pushed back in favor of China and Russia also come to mind. All of these factors reflect rapid changes in the global landscape. Just a few years ago, no one would have imagined that Russian flags would be flying in Burkina Faso and Mali.
No one would have expected the global energy landscape to turn toward a revival of the oil age and a prolonging of its use, after many had taken part in burying it and singing the praises of new energies, and for oil to return to the forefront of strategic conflicts. The coming months and years are peppered with rapid events and changes, many of which are difficult to predict.
What is certain, however, is that the world is moving in a different direction from all that is trumpeted in the political literature about globalization, free trade, etc., and with it comes the collapse of such famous theories as “the end of history,” put forward by the American scholar Francis Fukuyama in 1989, in which he proclaimed the final victory of western liberal values, and “the clash of civilizations,” posited by Samuel P. Huntington, which advocates a conflict based on civilizational differences, identity and culture.
The writer is a UAE political analyst and a former Federal National Council candidate.