Multipolar World US

Written by Huzaifah Sehgal 7:31 pm Articles, Current Affairs, International Relations, Pakistan, Published Content

The New Global World Order: Aging Gracefully

The end of the Cold War marked the beginning of American exceptionalism, as we know it now. The three decades following the fall of the Berlin Wall witnessed the capricious acts of the US, from its unilateral wars to blatant violations of other international rules and norms. However, since the 2007 economic meltdown, the doctrine of American exceptionalism has faced decadence as has the economic growth of the country. Meanwhile, other factors, such as the rise of China, the resurgence of Russia, and the nuclear proliferation of other countries kept on playing their fair share in bringing the world to a multipolar environment.
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About the Author(s)
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Mr Huzaifah Sehgal is a practicing lawyer and an academic with expertise in areas such as corporate law, environmental law, international law, and tech law. He is a member of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn and Amnesty International. At the moment, he is acting as a Shadow Minister for the Law & Justice Ministry of Youth General Assembly.

End of a Bipolar World

The end of the cold war marked the end of the bipolarity of the world, and The US found itself in a peculiar position of might, to do whatever it pleased in any way it deemed fit. It was soon made evident that the US was above and beyond the reach of international law, let alone any country or state. This one-of-a-kind puissance reincarnated the doctrine of American exceptionalism and shaped what we know as the unilateral world order.

Under the guise of American exceptionalism masquerade, the US carried out blatant violations of international law; from its unilateral uses of force in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, to name a few, to human rights transgressions in Guantanamo Bay, from not ratifying fundamental international law instruments, such as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court to the imposition of secondary sanctions on Iran and Syria, from territorial and political breaches of the sovereignty of countries like Nicaragua and Pakistan to drone assassinations of high profile political heads, US has done it all.

Notwithstanding the principles of sovereign equality, the fall of the Berlin Wall, to some extent, warranted America to exercise this unparalleled power, by virtue of being the only one capable of doing so, both financially and militarily. The justification for the tacit acceptance of America’s exemptionalism was that either the international legal system fell as a whole or fell in regards to only one country, the US.

It was unrealistic even for someone with the most imaginative of minds to contemplate that the US would have voluntarily subverted its idiosyncratic power for the good of the international legal regime. Why would it not use it for its “leverage”, a term known all too well by Congresspersons?

Pendulum Swings Both Ways

But what goes up must come down. The Great Recession of 2007 took a toll on America’s doctrine of exceptionalism by severely hampering its economic growth and resulting in a loss of trillions of dollars, to say the least. As per the dictates of capitalism, money is power, and America lost a truckload of it in the economic meltdown.

Adding insult to injury is America’s policy of investing heavily in its military with over 50% of its fiscal budget allocated to its military, which is further crippling its sluggish, if not decadent, economy. As for the fiscal year (FY) of 2024, the Biden-Harris administration has proposed a budget of $842 billion for the Department of Defence, which is roughly $100 billion more than that for the FY of 2022.

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Even if we combine the military budget of China, Russia, India, and Saudi Arabia, the US far surpasses them by a margin of hundreds of billions.

Rise of China

In glaring contrast, China’s economy is booming with credible predictions that it might overtake the USA’s economy by 2030, not to mention that it has already surpassed the US in purchasing power parity. There is no denying that if the US ever felt threatened by any one country in the 21st century, it would be China.

The hate-hate relationship between US and China is transpicuous from the dispute over the South China Sea and America’s impotence to resolve the issue. The enfeebling unipolarity of the world and the rise of China has been realistically depicted in the 2018 Netflix Series “Pine Gap”.

In this television series, Australia, quite unequivocally insinuated that if the US and China were ever to take up arms against each other, Australia will not side with its ally of seven decades, rather it will prefer remaining neutral to avoid the wrath of one of its biggest investors, China. Although it was just a TV show, Australia was clearly voicing its concern over the US remaining in the 20th century, urging it to “age gracefully” as it was “no longer the greatest country in the world.”

China has deeply entrenched itself in the global economy by investing hundreds of billions of dollars in over 140 developing countries. Most of these investments made by China are in energy generation and will definitely take some time before they show their ginormous results. While developing countries are blinded by the boatload of money pumped into them by China, they remain oblivious to the actual reasons for such investments.

The entire reason behind China establishing CPEC is to increase its connectivity and trade by reducing the transportation time of its imported and exported products by weeks, to understate it. CPEC will also serve as an alternative route for China to avoid using the South China Sea as well as the Strait of Hormuz, both of which pose hostility in one way or another.

The Strait of Hormuz being the main hub of global oil trade, is a narrow waterway that connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and Arabian Sea. Unsurprisingly, there is a notable military presence of the US and its allies along this strait to ensure smooth and steady trade, but this presence is expectedly belligerent for China.

Apart from this, CPEC is going to have strategic and geopolitical benefits for China as China could now have direct access to the Middle Eastern countries; in other words, direct access to oil. China’s headway as a global power in the Middle East can be evinced from the recent Saudi-Iranian détente, which could not have arrived had it not been for China’s diplomacy. This agreement marks the end of America’s influence over the Middle East and China’s entry as the new godfather of the region.

Resurgence of Russia

Topping the list of factors imperiling the US’s exceptionalism with China is Russia’s resurgence and increased assertiveness as a world power. Russia along with the rest of the world has learnt from the practical examples of the US that if you are powerful enough, you can get away with anything. Thus, notwithstanding the peremptory norms of international law and the Russian-Ukraine Friendship Treaty, Russia, in an attempt to halt the advancement of NATO, launched an all-out war on Ukraine which has inevitably resulted in countless casualties on both sides.

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UN, the US, NATO along with all states, with the exception of condemnation, have been unable to do anything to stop Russia. Some of the European states have still not been able to gather the guts to vent their dissatisfaction over Russia’s acts of aggression because of the fact that Russia happens to be one of the biggest suppliers of oil and gas to Europe.

The dependence on Russia’s crude oil has decreased post the Ukraine war as the US has stepped into Russia’s shoes as the greatest crude oil supplier to Europe along with Norway and Kazakhstan. Considering that the US has no oil reserves of its own and has a decadent economy, how long will it be able to sustain itself in this new role?

Having 4.8% of the world’s total oil reserves, Russia’s strategic role in the world has been downplayed for years. However, the unfolding of the recent Islamabad-Moscow Crude Import Deal has indicated that Russia’s influence over countries with which it has had one of the stern relationships of all time, is about to bloom in ways that will not sit well with the US.

As I reflect on this, I can’t help but ruminate on a saying of my international law professor, “There are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.” The US has Pakistan hanging by a thread amidst its current economic downturn while Russia stepped in to provide crude oil to Pakistan at discounted rates; Russia got Pakistan on its side, whereas Pakistan got a necessity at a cut-rate.

Other Factors

It is not just China or Russia which are playing a part in the emergence of a multipolar world. Countries like Pakistan, India, and North Korea, all are contributing to this multipolarization. Although Pakistan’s GDP is not even a fraction of the GDP of the US, it still possesses a nuclear arsenal capable of determining the course of human history. India, on the other hand, possesses not only a dangerous nuclear armament but also a thriving economy.

India’s economic independence dictates its policies and unlike Pakistan, allows it to confront the US, when need be. This can be seen from Jaishankar’s, India’s External Affairs Minister’s reply to the US Secretary of State’s taunt on India’s fuel purchases from Russia in the middle of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. This wasn’t the first or last time Jaishankar’s statement spotlighted India’s growing strength.

At RAISINA Dialogue 2023, Jaishankar stated that, “I (India) think that I am the center of the world.” Similarly, North Korea has been working indefatigably towards its nuclear armament in the teeth of objection by the US. It conducted its first nuclear test in October of 2006 and has not stopped expanding its nuclear inventory despite the occasional highs and lows. As of now, it is reported that North Korea possesses a small, yet dangerous cache of 35 nuclear weapons.

New Bloc?

Concerns have been voiced on the deepening relationship between China and Russia, especially after Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow only a few days after the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin. Some may view this visit as China’s attempt to help resolve the Ukraine crisis, as claimed by China, whilst others may perceive it as China’s growing solidarity and support for Russia.

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Making matters more uneasy for the US were Xi’s words to Putin, “Right now we’re seeing a change we haven’t seen for 100 years, and we’re driving this change together.” Is this change the end of American exceptionalism and the beginning of a multipolar world order? The aligned interests of China, Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, India, and Pakistan will definitely be more of a problem for the US than it can possibly mull over.

Thucydides Trap

History is witness that whenever an emerging power threatens or tries to displace an existing great power as the hegemon, war is inevitable. This phenomenon has been identified and named as Thucydides Trap by an American political scientist, Graham Allison. His study shows that over the course of the last 500 years, there have been 16 cases of rising powers threatening to displace the existing ones and 12 of such instances resulted in war.

The Thucydides Trap indicates that a war between China and US is close to inevitable, and which may be triggered by one tiny step in the wrong direction by either of the two mighty states. Considering that a war in today’s age is totally unreasonable and averse to the interests of both China and the US, Xi reportedly averred that, “We all need to work together to avoid the Thucydides Trap.” But does the US feel the same way? Considering America’s track record and its capriciousness as accurately depicted in Pine Gap, it is a real challenge for one to believe that the US sees the irrationality behind the notion of war.

Way Ahead: Age Gracefully

Has America’s stint with exceptionalism run its course? The rise of China, the resurgence of Russia, the nuclear armament of developing countries, the booming economy of India, and the probable formation of a China-Russia bloc, surely are an indication that the doctrine of American exceptionalism is no longer sustainable.

The world is slowly turning towards multipolarization and there is little to nothing that the US can do about it. The doctrine of American exceptionalism which was originally conceived in the 19th century and was reincarnated with an eccentric vigor post-cold war era is withering away piece by piece.

Although the game will remain the same, the rules of the game will definitely change as the old players and some up-and-comers join the fray. The US will certainly not have a great time accepting this change and there is no indication yet that the US would want to believe in such a multipolar world order.

It is not unreasonable to believe that the US will pull as many rabbits from its hat as it possibly could to make sure that its exceptionalism remains intact; however, any such show put on by the US will be to everyone’s detriment. While it may take a few years before the world becomes multipolar, the US must understand and constructively ponder upon the options available to it.

A multipolar world order does not mean that the US will have to lose something, but it does mean that things will change. Instead of unsuccessfully fighting such a change, the US should choose to “age gracefully”.

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