*Editor’s Note: On March 4, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.
Political analyst Alexander Vedrussov about a world without the global leadership of the U.S.
The unipolar world was easy to understand. It was also quite predictable. All key decisions were, in one way or another, made in Washington while other capitals of the world implemented them without really any objections. The global domination of the U.S. worked flawlessly; to be precise, almost flawlessly. For example, in 2003, there was an iconic démarche of continental Europe against the U.S. invasion of Iraq (without the U.N. Security Council’s authorization), when Russia, Germany and France were situationally brought together. In reality, however, it amounted to nothing. The Americans still invaded Iraq, brushing off the lack of permission of such an “insignificant” player as the U.N., while French and German impulses to gain broader independence from the U.S. in international affairs have since been met with active and somewhat successful suppression.
A multipolar world order poses many more questions. Who will now agree upon and set the new rules of the game and by what standards? Is it possible to transform the current international institutions, built for U.S. domination, to serve a broader circle of actors, or is their total rework necessary? How far will the emerging regionalization of international processes go, and how fast will the world dollar system collapse into currency zones? How will the new regional centers of power interact/compete with each other? Will there emerge a pole that, in time, will make a claim for absolute global leadership?
The number of questions surely surpasses the number of answers. In general, a multipolar world — for obvious reasons — is subject to constant change. Simply put, it’s unstable. This circumstance almost inevitably makes it more prone to conflict. We could go on and on about how a multipolar world is more just than a unipolar world, especially since that is precisely the case. However, until it’s clear who, how and, most importantly, based on what right defines the criteria of justice, there will be sufficient turbulence in international relations.
The U.N. could play a constructive role in preventing the plunge of the world into chaos during this transitional period. The only universal organization in the world could become popular as a generally accepted platform to settle the interests of different centers of power. The problem is, in its current state, the U.N. looks more like a set decoration in a good but very old movie. Thus, the very principle of the global coordination of efforts in solving the problems of humanity should absolutely maintain its relevance. But adapting the U.N. to modern challenges is only possible through its total transformation, the parameters of which are yet to be decided upon.
No less important is the need to preserve such specialized international organizations as the International Atomic Energy Agency. The risks of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons being broken in the coming decades are too high to loosen or, even more so, to cancel the appropriate control mechanisms over the dangerous arsenals of different countries. When Tehran switches off IAEA surveillance on some of its nuclear facilities, it becomes too alarming a signal to ignore. And the discourse about the fact that some other new nations could or even should acquire weapons of mass destruction is unacceptable. Humanity can get over a crisis of confidence in almost every other area, but it can’t allow itself to deactivate global mechanisms of preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction across the globe.
In the same context, it’s incredibly important to preserve Russian-American lines of communication in strategic stability. We can endlessly apply sanctions to each other, hurl insults and even expel diplomats. Of course, all of the above are harmful. But they are not critical; however, dialogue on preserving the global architecture of security has to be upheld under any possible circumstance. It seems that both Moscow and Washington realize that.
As for the heritage of the Bretton Woods system in the face of the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization and other institutional instruments for securing U.S. global hegemony, they all will inevitably lose their relevance in the world as the dollar share in the global economy drops. It’s doubtful anyone will be too worried about it. The IMF credit lines to developing countries are on everyone’s lips; it will be not too much of a stretch to suppose that no developing country actually benefited from them. The WTO, with its standards, turned into a sham in a world where one-sided discriminatory measures rule over free trade.
Perhaps it will be too hard to tell today which global organizations and mechanisms will go through the multipolar world’s process of “remodeling and rearranging.” Russia, on one hand, is interested in preserving the basic tool set for coordinating the efforts of the major powers in strategic stability and security; otherwise, the new world order will become too unpredictable for us. On the other hand, global institutions, tailored for the global dollar system, are less and less relevant for a state that lays claim to its own currency zone in the Eurasian space.
As such, the outdated logic of a unipolar world becomes history, but the basic parameters and balances of a multipolar world are yet to be defined; hence, they will inevitably become the object of serious disputes and fairly unpredictable conflicts between different centers of power in the coming years. For that especially, the positive heritage of the bipolar system of checks and balances (in the face of a range of fundamental global treaties and organizations that survived three decades of American hegemony) should be preserved at least partially in the new environment. We shouldn’t discard everything. It is to be hoped that in the capitals of both the Old and the New World, this is properly understood.