The world system has undergone a large-scale transition for the last two decades. The ultimate victory of the United States declared after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 lasted only for a decade. In spite of giving an effective answer to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the U.S. has been unable to maximize its national interests at the global scale and provide international peace and stability.
In other words, it is unable to act as a hegemon that attains the consent of the rest of the world. Since it has lost the trust of most of the world, neither its NATO allies and the European Union member states nor its challengers in the non-Western part of the world consider the U.S. as a hegemon. However, no other global power, such as China, wants to claim global hegemony, mainly due to its high costs.
Losing its hegemonic power, the U.S. has begun to pursue an angry and aggressive policy toward the rest of the world. It has also begun to undermine the main principle of international law and the rules of international regimes. Similarly, the U.S. has not only remained indifferent to the violation of basic rules of the international system but also encouraged them to do so. For instance, it has officially recognized the Israeli state’s occupation of the Golan Heights, which belongs to Syria. Thus, it has indirectly paved the way for others to follow the same policy.
American unilateral and interventionist policies have been replicated by other global powers such as Russia. Depending on the same political perspective, the Russian Federation first invaded the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and then the rest of Ukraine in 2022. The Western claim for “the principle of non-intervention into domestic affairs” was not convincing since they have followed similar policies in other parts of the world. For example, the U.S. could not justify its invasion of Iraq in 2003, which resulted in the loss of thousands of innocent people.
West’s loss of moral superiority
Due to the loss of moral superiority of the Western countries, i.e., the U.S., the rest of the world did not fully support the Western countries and the U.S. during Russia’s war in Ukraine. Most countries have followed different, balanced policies toward the Ukrainian crisis. Türkiye and many Middle Eastern and African countries have tried to mediate between the warring sides and end the conflict. In spite of heavy pressures, as explained by the leader of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), these countries have continued to pursue independent national policies.
However, despite all these disadvantages, the U.S. has no other option but to pursue a conflictual policy toward the crisis. The U.S. has seen the Ukrainian-Russian war as an opportunity to reconsider its hegemony, at least within the Western world. The U.S. has been exploiting the conditions on the ground in Ukraine to fortify its hegemonic position in Europe. In the end, the U.S. will achieve two main objectives in Ukraine.
First, it will weaken the Russian Federation by drawing it into a swamp in Ukraine. Second, thanks to this war, the U.S. will tame the European countries with the Russian threat and reconsolidate its hierarchical relations with Europe.
Nevertheless, it should not be forgotten that the world is the same. There is no stable world system; global powers do not hesitate to breach the main principles of the global system. As it is said in a Turkish proverb, “A lot of water has flowed under the bridge.” That is, the global balance of power has changed.
Neither the U.S. has enough capacity to attract its allies to abide by its policies, nor are its partners eager to follow the footsteps of a limping hegemon. Their national interests force the European countries to improve their relations with other global powers such as China. Furthermore, the relative political and economic weight of the adversaries has dramatically increased for the last several decades. Many non-European states have also been trying to prioritize their national interests and follow diversified foreign policies accordingly. The power vacuum created by the diminishing hegemony and the American withdrawal will motivate other small and middle powers to cooperate with global powers such as China.
Considering the new realities and balances worldwide, the U.S. and other Western countries must adopt new policies. The sooner, the better to introduce new policies. Otherwise, the U.S. and its European allies will lose many of its traditional allies and partners. Therefore, new rules and policies must be introduced for the new games.
However, it will not be easy for the U.S. and its European allies to improve new rules that will maintain their hegemony. In this case, they may prefer to follow a lose-lose policy that will make the world system more unstable and chaotic. The possibility of the tragedy of the commons requires all global powers to take a high level of interdependency at the global scale.