Once the Cold War ended in the early 1990s, many had expected continued global democratization and a safer world. With communist China acceding to the WTO in the end of 2001 following 15 years of negotiations, it seemed it would be possible to expand global open and free trade. Something must have gone wrong during the past 30 years as the world is polarized and tense one again. One could argue that there is a new Cold War, this time not capitalism versus communism, but rather democracies versus authoritarian regimes.
The U.S. is trying to be the leader for the democratic countries and is leading the way with selected military actions, sanctions, financial blackmailing, and punishments for those who do not follow their path. The U.S. is willing to use military means and is currently supporting Israel’s war on Hamas and the bombings on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as well as conducting a proxy war in Ukraine against Russia.
The U.S. is keen to expand NATO and work closely with allies within the EU and Great Britain as well as with key allies in Asia such as Japan, South Korea and Australia. The U.S. has also managed to build up an international financial system where transactions and payments are basically controlled and monitored by the U.S. This has proven useful for sanctions and for monitoring of potential global criminal activities.
On the other side of the democracies are authoritarian regimes such as China, Russia, Iran and North Korea. A new acronym has already emerged in Washington to denote this autocratic lineup, the CRINKs. These countries have increasingly aligned their positions against the U.S., not only on Ukraine but on other crisis that pit them against the U.S.
During the George W Bush’s presidency two decades ago, Russia was positioning itself as a responsible global power and cooperated with the U.S. and western allies in moderating Iranian and North Korean behavior. Even after Russia incorporated Crimea in 2014, Russia was one of the parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a deal through which the Obama administration aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear ambition. Until 2017, Russia voted for U.N Security Council sanctions against North Korea.
But things have changed, much due to Biden’s obsession to expand NATO eastwards, either by incorporating Belarus or Ukraine or both. As the conflict in Ukraine escalated, prompting the U.S. to send billions of dollars and weapons to Ukraine, Moscow’s priorities and calculations changed. U.S. economic sanctions against Russia, left Moscow no choice but to turn to states that could provide them with financial support and trade. It become increasingly difficult for countries to remain neutral in the evolving new Cold War and countries such as India and South Africa as well as Arab countries have increasingly abstained from criticizing Russia and have instead increased trade between the countries. Many African countries have historically strong ties with Russia after being exploited by western colonial powers for a long time.
China is still heavily dependent on the U.S. given its trade-dependent economy and its intertwined finances with the U.S. Long-term China will likely seek more economic independence, but for now it is seeking not to further damage relations with the U.S. or Europe. The new global world order is still creating tension also in the Pacific region, causing a tightening of the U.S.-Japan-South Korea relationship, which makes China’s neighborhood even more difficult.
It seems clear that a new world order is developing. The U.S. is still pursuing its geopolitical goals aggressively, both militarily and economically, and is forming close ties with other democracies, primarily the old colonial powers. On the other side, there is an authoritarian bloc lead by China and Russia. Neutral countries such as India and South Africa are emerging, many seems to align themselves with the authoritarian bloc. It seems that the world needs to calm down and take a deep breath. As the U.S. has gotten increasingly aggressive during the last couple of years, driving a new Cold War and a new world order, it would be wise for the U.S. to focus more on finding diplomatic solutions, work closer with others and deescalate the rhetoric.