World order and polarity transforming 2022
Current events and processes of the reality regarding Ukraine are the clear-cut proofs that something thorough-going and fundamental has been taken place both during last few years and especially right now on the international scene. Ten years ago, in 2012, hardly nobody could imagine such event as current Russia-Ukraine war but now Russia and the partnership Russia & China have strengthened so much, while the US position is falling down, that those two are ready to challenging and hard balancing the US in extremely harsh and tough ways.
Although the current Russian invasion is going and the outcome is in the twilight, it can be seen as a historical turning point of polarity in the international system, which in turn may lead to a totally new world order. We may eyewitness a historical process.
Theoretical framework for polarity of international system and world order
Kenneth Waltz’s structural realism (neorealism) forms the base for the concept of polarity, which can be defined as the variations in the power concentrations of anarchically organized international context. Polarity refers to the number of power and decision centers in an international system. The polarity concept is an essential part of the theory of structural realism. The number of great powers determines the structure of the international system. Theory and scientific research of international relations (IR) form a good basis for assessing the changes and turning points of international system and world order.
Military capabilities are important in defining the polarity of the international system. States with little military power cannot be poles. Because military power is the ultima ratio of international politics, great powers must possess military capabilities on a par with the most powerful state(s) in the system.
During the Cold War, superpower rivalry characterized the international system and had a profound impact on how analysts and policy-makers understood the fundamentals of international security. It is this background that realism became the dominant perspective in international relations. Realism is generally recognized as the most competent research approach to great power relations, not only in the US but also in Russia and China.
The bases of the theory of international relations, issue of polarity and unipolarity as well as world order are available for further reading on this website. More material and analysis can be found also in polarity and world order, on this website.
Time continuum of 1990 – 2022
The Cold War, the time of bipolarity era (the US vs. Soviet Union) ended by the collapse of Soviet Union and the new era began, the unipolarity of the US.
Definition of Unipolarity
Unipolarity is defined as an international system with only one great power in existence, where a distribution of power is such that one state exercises most of the cultural, economic and military influence. One state has managed to achieve a nearly-hegemony position in the system. This great power has a qualitative edge relative to the other states based on the aggregate score on the size of territory, population, economy, military, resource endowment, political stability and political competence. Unipolarity is an interstate system and not an empire, it is also existing in anarchical environment. The distribution of military power is a key component of understanding of unipolarity.
Periodical systemic classification of the post-Cold War era
Based on theoretical framework and empirical material, the following six-periodic classification can be found and defined. Each period can be characterized by certain behaviors of competing great powers and the starting/ending points of each period can be specified.
- Period 1990 – 1999: deep unipolarity, bandwagoning
- Period 2000 – 2007: unipolarity, awakening of competitors
- Period 2008 – 2015: declining unipolarity, soft balancing
- Period 2015 – 2016: transforming of polarity begins, hardening balancing
- Period 2016 – 2021: growing and strengthening transformation process, hard balancing, tightening competition between China & Russia versus the US
- Period 2022 => transformation confirmed => twinpolarity, confrontative hard balancing and robust arms race between China & Russia versus the US
More information of this classification can be found in the section of “Triangle game of great powers” here, on this website.
There are two decisive turning points in the post-Cold War era. One is Russia’s engagement in Syria crisis in autumn 2015 and another one this present Ukraine war, initiated by Russia. Russia’s engagement in Syrian war in late 2015 put transition period in motion 2015 – 2016.
Nuno P Monteiro’s theory of unipolar politics (2014) serves a solid base for this assessment. According to Monteiro, great powers must fulfill a military power-projection requirement:
- Specifically, a great power must possess the ability to engage unaided in sustained politico-military operations in at least one other relevant region of the globe beyond its own territory, on the level similar to the most powerful state in the system.
- In the unipolarity, the sole great power faces no other state capable of opposing its preferences in regions beyond their own but as soon as such a competitor emerges, unipolarity has ended.
- This statement is a crucial confirming point, when evaluating empirical evidences regarding polarity transformation. Russia’s intervention in Syria in autumn 2015, which was the first time since the end of the Cold War, when Russia (or anyone else than the US & NATO) projected military power successfully far outside its borders unaided for a long period of time.
The second turning point, Russia’s invasion Ukraine in February 2022, is obviously the most important and decisive proof that the polarity of international system has been finally changed and the new world order is coming.
Military power – Key factor of polarity transformation
Growth of military capacity and capability of China and Russia, both separately and combined versus military capacity and capability of the US, is the key factor of polarity transformation. The comparison of relative military might between the US and the partnership of China & Russia reveals this transformation has taken place since 2014. The whole picture can be seen in the statistics below:
Here the base numerical material is based on SIPRI Data, US DoD data, news and articles of military magazines as well as other American, Chinese and Russian publications, World Bank data, IMF data. All used base numbers have been re-counted as PPP-adjusted current US dollars, in order to get best possible unbiased, comparable numerical base.
When comparing just in quantitative measures, the above-mentioned figures tell unequivocally that the partnership China & Russia has reached the same level of the US, in other words being in the parity with the US. This proves also the aforementioned key postulates of polarity and its transformation criteria.
But not only the military quantitative expenditure can alone explain the parity in the military might between the US and the partners China & Russia, there are other qualitative/quantitative factors as well, from which the most essential are the following:
- nuclear arsenal; the US and Russia have been “traditionally” in approx. parity, now the Chinese enlarging nuclear weaponry constitute an additional resource as well the closely-linked BMEWS under construction (ballistic missile early warning system), besides both Russia and China have invested heavily in new generation nukes (Sarmat R-28 and Avangard; DF-41, DF-17, DF-31)
- cutting edge in some state-of-the art new weapon systems (hypersonics, EW and ASAT) gives to China&Russia upper hand over the US as well as in the air defense systems
- China’s surface fleet has now outnumbered the US Navy and the superior capacity and capability of Chinese surface shipbuilding guarantee this trend in the future
- Russia’s expertise in submarine and underwater building as well as Arctic shipbuilding
- extensive AI capability of China&Russia especially in military applications
In addition to military factors, there is a robust cooperation going in economic and political spheres like joint de-dollarization process, Chinese BRI and Russia’s project of Great Eurasian Partnership.
Polarity of international system began to transform from 2015 on, towards a new position that is more polycentric and finally turned to a new position, which can be defined as “twinpolarity”, according to the definition of the Author of this website.
Definition of Twinpolarity
In the case of the unipolarity, there will emerge two states, great power “candidates”, who separately are not powerful enough to balance the unipole. For example, the one is economically sufficiently strong and the other one is militarily and politically strong and assertive enough. These two states organize a coherent strategic partnership / entente / alliance in order to be able together to challenge and balance the unipole. Then, this paradigm of system can be called as a twinpolarity.
Here the question of the world order resembles the situation in bi- or tripolarity.
In the twinpolarity, the dynamic of triangle game will conduct the globalized world scene. In this game of great powers, these actors and functions are interacting and confronting concurrently:
- the unipole / the US
- the twinpole / China & Russia as a partnership
- China and Russia as separate entities
Changes of structure, transformation of polarity
The different structures affect the system’s functioning differently but they share in common that the change of structure is characterized by turbulence, armed conflicts and realignment. The strength relations changed not only among the great powers but all the way down the system. The phase of systemic change is therefore conflict-prone and characterized by insecurity and uncertainty and the risks of misperception and overreaction are high.
After collapse of Soviet Union 1989-1990, the system turned into unipolarity, with the US as the dominant power. However, the unipolarity turning out to be unstable and crisis-sensitive, obviously means more various types of conflicts and aspirations of “second” powers or “great power candidates” to achieve the status of “first” power or the unipole.
Nuclear weapons presumably dampen the risks of war among the great powers, as they have the potential to destruct each other and the whole systemic structure. The Cold War ended peacefully between the two heavily armed nuclear super powers. In the periphery, however, conflicts continued or emerged. But now, on the threshold of Cold War 2.0 (or even worse version), it seems that the risk of war between nuclear-capable great powers has increased significantly.
The issue of “sphere of influence”
For several years’ time, especially in the Western official narrative, there has been a tenet that the era of “sphere of influence” belongs to the history, no more in Europe or in the Western world.
However, since the Westphalian Peace Pact 1648, various doctrines of “interest zones / regions, spheres of influence” etc. have been more or less utilized concepts in international relations between national states and particularly between great powers. Realism, as a research approach and as a way of conduct practical foreign politics, constitutes a firm base for understanding this concept and phenomenon.
One of the oldest and still 100% valid, fiercely defended and protected by the United States, is the famous Monroe Doctrine, which was firstly articulated by US President James Monroe 1823, two hundred years ago. According to this doctrine “any intervention in the political affairs of the Americas (North and South) by foreign powers was a potentially hostile act against the US.” The doctrine has been central to the US foreign policy since then. Top climax of the doctrine was experienced during Cuban missile crisis in October 1962.
Thereafter, the sphere of influence has not played any key issue between great powers, but the concept became again hotter in late 90s, when the US and NATO began challenging Russia by NATO’s eastward expansion and later challenging also China. NATO’s eastward expansion and Taiwan case have been in the headlines of media for the last ten years. The Ukraine crisis is a direct continuum of these processes.
Role and performance of the US, China and India regarding Russia-Ukraine crisis, 2021-2022
From Russian viewpoint, the main opponent and key reason of Ukraine crisis is the US and NATO. The relations between them are exceptionally stressed and problematic, right now at the historical low, without any view of possible improving. Conversely, the escalation and thread of conflagration is getting more and more actual.
China has stayed somehow aside from current crisis but has been pro-Russia all the time and also expressed its stance publicly, giving supportive statements and indicating close partnership with Russia. Another regional great power, India, has been more reserved in public statements and open support but has not publicly condemned Russia’s invasion so far.
On February 26, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that deplored the country’s aggression against Ukraine “in the strongest terms” and called for unconditional withdrawal of its troops from Ukrainian territory. Eleven of the 15 permanent and non-permanent members voted for the resolution, which was co-written by the US and Albania, while three countries abstained. Countries that voted to adopt the motion were France, Britain, US, Albania, Brazil, Gabon, Ghana, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico and Norway. China, India, and United Arab Emirates abstained.
China’s stance and partnership with Russia may turn out a historical, fundamental and momentous contribution in this process. “The sanctions from hell” proposed by the West on Russia, may be that trigger, which puts the de-dollarization measures in full motion and finally dethrone the dollar from the reserve currency status. Essentially, in the Ukraine crisis, there is not so much question of Ukraine but the battle of US dollar and consequently of the US position as a great power.
This topic has been studied already on this website, here but will be updated again in the near future.
End times statements
On February 24, State Department spokesman Ned Price made a stunning admission regarding what this war is really all about. He said that Russia and China want a new world order but he warned that, if they win their world order would be profoundly illiberal, compared with the present American liberal world order. China has given “tacit approval” for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest invasion of Ukraine as part of a joint effort to undermine the institutions that American and allied leaders established to minimize conflict in the decades following World War II. We are witnessing a battle over who will ultimately run the world order.
NBC News was reporting yesterday that Joe Biden is considering launching “massive cyberattacks” against Russia, among the options might be disrupting internet connectivity across Russia, shutting off electric power and tampering with railroad switches to hamper Russia’s ability to resupply its forces and other major strikes. That would be an act of war and the Russians would inevitably strike back really hard. If the US starts this kind of strikes/counter-strikes escalation, the whole humankind will be pushed to the brink of nuclear war.
In fact, President Putin has already raised the possibility of using nukes in his TV speech on February 24 morning when he said: “Whoever tries to impede us, let alone create threats for our country and its people, must know that the Russian response will be immediate and lead to the consequences you have never seen in history. All relevant decisions have been taken. I hope you hear me.”
On February 27, Putin orders Russian nuclear deterrent forces to be on highest alert. The move comes in response to “hostile” rhetoric by top NATO officials, Russia’s president has explained. Belarus’ President Lukashenko warns of WWIII, calling on the West to show “restraint” when it comes to sanctions against Moscow. North Korea weighs in on Ukraine, accusing Washington of pursuing “military supremacy” at the expense of Moscow’s “legitimate” security demands. North Korea’s Foreign Ministry has defended Russia and fingered the behavior of the US as the “root cause” of the conflict in Ukraine, in its first official response to Moscow’s ongoing military offensive.
Time of Great Chaos
Now that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is going, many are anticipating that it could be just a matter of time before China invades Taiwan. An attempt by Beijing to claim Taiwan by force has just become more likely and if China invades Taiwan, North Korea may decide that is a great moment to launch an invasion of South Korea. What may Iran’s present rulers ponder in this situation? It would be so easy for the dominoes to start falling. The existing world order is starting to come apart and a Time of Great Chaos is directly ahead of us.