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Is there really a change in the global order?



In the history of modern nation-states, there have been three efforts to shape the global order. The first effort, after World War I, through the Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations, tragically failed. Instead, the world got European fascism, U.S. isolationism, a global economic crisis, and millions dead from the Holocaust and World War II. Following World War II, the U.S. and its partners were dramatically more successful, building what came to be called “the liberal international order,” through the Marshall Plan and new multilateral institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank and IMF, NATO, the European Union, and others. The third effort came following the West’s Cold War triumph. European democracies emerged or were restored, NATO was enlarged, the European Union expanded, and it seemed for a time that the rules, practices, and institutions developed in the West after World War II and during the Cold War period could absorb and steer an expanded international order. China profited from and embraced this order for a time.
Now it is becoming increasingly evident that the power of US hegemony and the West is shifting. The rapid rise of the People’s Republic of China in the last part of the 20th century and early decades of the 21st century represents a paradigm shift in global affairs comparable in magnitude to the collapse of the Soviet Union. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine and a series of COVID-related shutdowns in China do not, on the surface, appear to have much in common,” writes Michael Schuman in The Atlantic. “Yet both are accelerating a shift that is taking the world in a dangerous direction, splitting it into two spheres, one centered on Washington, D.C., the other on Beijing.” What once was termed the Washington Consensus is being replaced by the Beijing Consensus, the idea forwarded by Joshua Cooper Ramo in 2004. Many believe USA and China are moving towards a New Cold War. Both are also engaged in another space race. And in this power tussle geopolitics seems to be taking the front seat amidst the changing global order wherein trust emerges as a critical factor for many countries in making major economic moves.
USA, China, Russia and EU can be termed as the big players in global politics. New emerging powers include countries like India, South Africa and Brazil. Various regional groups like ASEAN, SCO and international organizations like OPEC, NATO play an important role in global political and economic affairs which are continuously shaping the global order. As international politics works on the principle of realism and balance of power is essential component of it, it becomes necessary to include emerging powers in power sharing and thus shaping the international order. Though UN has many failures on its head; the most recent one being unable to prevent Russia-Ukraine war and military coup in Myanmar, its importance cannot be neglected while talking about international politics. Other such international organizations include WTO, WHO, World Bank and many more. Pressure groups like Amnesty International, World Wildlife Fund, etc. play significant role in framing global conventions and keep a check on excesses by sates as they are the biggest protector as well as the biggest abuser of human rights.
Beginning in 1979, China launched several economic reform. From 1979 to 2018, China’s annual real GDP averaged 9.5%. Chinese President Xi-Jinping has vigorously pursued the Go Global Strategy, ordering all enterprises to invest in international markets. The Belt and Road Initiative is the most visible manifestation of the Go Global strategy. The last decade also witnessed China’s huge technological advancement be it artificial intelligence, space sector, military advancement, etc. With Xi Jinping in the power who wants to be remembered alongside of great CPC leaders like Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, he is willing to do everything possible to make China the global leader. After LPG reforms in 1991, Indian economy has grown exponentially. It is now the fifth largest economy with $ 2.5 trillion. India has also emerged as the world leader since last few years owing to its vibrant foreign policy under the leadership of PM Modi. As PM mentioned India now exports worth Rs. 1 lakh crore defence equipments. India is advancing technologically in all sectors be it automobile, defence, space, etc.
The international order largely constructed by the United States in the aftermath of World War II is still very much in evidence, but, at the same time, the global distribution of power is inexorably shifting with the rise of new powers as well as influential nonstate actors. The United States is also growing more reluctant to bear the costs of world leadership, especially when it comes to using military force. China and Russia, along with lesser regional powers, have taken advantage of this reticence in recent years to assert their own interests and to undermine the United States’ international standing and authority.
Post–World War II order is not ending but is clearly in serious trouble as a result of recent developments.. If the current international order is to be sustained for the benefit of all, the leading powers will need to work together to reform its working practices and institutions in a mutually satisfactory and sustainable way. The world as in a transitional phase is evolving in a more complex way with elements of unipolarity, bipolarity, and multipolarity coexisting uneasily. If current multilateral approaches to international problem-solving become “undermined, bypassed, or disregarded,” then the risk of great power conflict will increase. To avoid the world growing more fragmented and dangerous, existing global governance institutions will need to adapt and new ones be created to accommodate rising powers.
The Middle Eastern countries have no interest in abandoning relations with China, the leading trading partner for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, or breaking with Russia, which established itself as a force to be reckoned with when it saved Syrian President Bashar al-Assad through its military intervention in his war. Beyond that, they have lost confidence in America’s commitment to global leadership or competence for it following last year’s botched Afghanistan withdrawal. They are also experiencing whiplash from a Trump administration that thrashed the nuclear deal with Iran to a Biden administration they feel is pursuing it without sufficiently factoring in Tehran’s regional aggression.
That said, they are watching Ukraine with fascination, because a Ukrainian victory — with a strong, united West behind it — would force a rethink about U.S. commitment and competence and shift the trajectory of declining transatlantic influence and relevance. Conversely, a Putin victory — even at a huge cost to Russians and Ukrainians alike — would accelerate Western decline as an effective global actor.

In the Middle East, countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE that were once USA’s closest allies now are hedging their bets. Beyond the Iran disagreements, the failure of former President Trump to accept his own electoral defeat raises doubts among our friends about the durability of the American political system and the consistency of U.S. foreign policy. President Joe Biden’s decision to release an unprecedented 180 million barrels of crude from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve was an acknowledgment that America’s traditional oil-producing partners were not prepared to help him. The decision came hours after OPEC ignored calls from western politicians to pump oil more quickly – and to resist any suggestion they should remove Russia from the organization.
To shape the future world order, the U.S. and Europe first need to reverse the trajectory of Western and democratic decline in Ukraine.
As the centre of gravity of global politics and economics shifts to the Indo-Pacific region, the West is also coming to terms with the fact that Russia poses only a short-term problem, and that the real challenge would be tackling China. This also becomes important for the US since the Moscow-Beijing axis is all set to get stronger in the coming years. The West will now engage in making new strategic alliances and partnerships with like-minded nations while also continuing to reduce its economic reliance on China for critical products and limiting China’s access to technologies.
India will play a key role in the emerging geopolitical order. With its G20 presidency, the country will be able to shape the global agenda in 2023. However, this is also the year where the Indian policymakers would have to strategically assess many of their policy choices in the light of long-term implications. A strategic balance of power being used for a country’s advantage is a key to its rise in the global hierarchy. This is an inflection point in the global order, where India will be expected to be proactive.

​Samiksha shewale
UPSc aspirant