New parameters for world order
Eroding present world order
The current international realities and changing relations are increasingly cutting the ground from under the liberal and unipolar order and contrary to expectations the key destroyer of the existing order seems not to be new ascending powers but a global leader itself, the US. Some believe that the strange and egoistic trends of the present US Administration will fade away and things will return to the “good old days” after the next change of guard in Washington. But the magnitude of developments is evidence that the current trends are unlikely to remain without consequences.
As to the present disputes between the US and China, Henry Kissinger has made prudent remarks recently (Kissisnger November 2019) when he said the US is no longer a unipolar power and that it must recognize the reality of China as an equal rival. The veteran diplomat urged the US and China to resolve their ongoing economic tensions cooperatively and mutually, adding: “It is no longer possible to think that one side can dominate the other.” A key remark made by Kissinger was the following: “So, those countries that used to be exceptional and used to be unique, have to get used to the fact that they have a rival.”
An academic research problem, regarding the world order is that Russia’s and China’s prevalent multipolar concept took shape in the late 1990s and early 2000s promoted by Yevgeny Primakov and these Russian ideas, in turn, took into account the American based theories that emerged between the 1960s and the 1980s.
In other words, the basic multipolarity ideas were generated and evolved before the current tectonic shifts in international politics began. The same is true of Western theories on the liberal world order, which also came into being amid a different reality.
The problem, common to the Russian and US (Western) approaches, is that they describe the past and may prove of little use for describing the present development and the future.
Social media and internet
The world and its technological environment have changed significantly over the last two decades. The advances in the information technology (IT) sector constitute today a critical factor in international relations. Social media and the Internet have made the whole world more transparent and easily reachable. The Internet has turned into a potent force for group polarization and “tribalization”.In other words, the new information environment has opened up new horizons for political mobilization, confrontation, ideological indoctrination, politically motivated meddling, stigmatization of “the other” and populism of every stripe.
Social media revealed itself as a powerful mobilizing tool during the Arab Spring revolutions. The Internet has allowed radical Islamists to develop more sophisticated recruitment and propaganda techniques. Digital technology has also played a role in the post-Soviet “Colour Revolutions”.The real crisis broke out after the developed countries themselves realized that the global information environment could be a weapon and source of threats.
In the putative cases of Russian or Chinese election “meddling”, US legislators and bureaucrats are in panicky feelings of vulnerability, which is quite incomprehensible in case of unipolar hegemon that enjoys overwhelming and unquestioned superiority in the digital environment. Yet, the current crisis is more protracted and considerably more dangerous. It has gone far beyond foreign policy and is provoking domestic political passions.
The digital age has given rise to a qualitatively different kind of anarchy in international relations. In the familiar Cold War logic, threat and security dilemma were linked to military force, the threat of its use and ideological rivalry. Today, those military capabilities are still in place and a new revolution in military affairs (RMA) is in progress, including the cyber sphere.
However, the digital environment and the general breakdown of established ideologies have destroyed the accustomed models that formed perceptions of security problems. The result has been the erosion of the restraining mechanisms of use of force that existed before. The use of digital force is growing more likely. Virtual crises can now set in motion quite real military machinery.
Another important characteristic is the non-linear nature of modern international relations, which is usually interpreted as something uncertain and barely predictable. In the strict sense of the word, non-linearity implies non-proportionality in cause-and-effect interdependencies.
There are numerous examples where minor efforts led to considerable results and vice versa: considerable efforts yielded paltry or even negative results. The meaning of non-linearity is that the same effort can produce fundamentally different results at different times. Thus, effort and resource constraints are the two crucial parameters that engender non-linearity.
Another crucial characteristic of non-linearity is that one and the same process can have fundamentally different dynamics, such as stable onward development or stable degradation. It can also be cyclical or plunge into ‘dynamic chaos’ with a totally unpredictable outcome (usually these are periods of wars or revolutions that are brief by historical standards but critically important for future periods of stability).
This theoretic conclusion is of extreme importance, because the one and the same world order can have totally different parameters under different dynamic regimes and therefore lead to fundamentally different outcomes than those originally intended.
The problem with non-linearity is such that the descent into the ‘dynamic chaos’ is, as a rule, fast and unpredictable (Obs! Seneca cliff): everyone feels that something is wrong, but no one knows when exactly the order may collapse. Often the collapse is catastrophic in nature, involving sudden, fundamental, and all-encompassing disruptions.