The world has been in transition since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the bipolar world system in the early 1990s. Several attempts to consolidate the Western, i.e., American, hegemony during the first decade of the post-Cold War period have failed. Some may argue that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were against the symbols of American hegemony and were a turning point in the search for a new hegemon. However, the American reactions, namely the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, failed. The United States could not ensure the unity of the West: Western European countries followed different, sometimes conflictual, policies.
Then, some non-Western countries such as China, India and Brazil increased their relative autonomy in world politics and markets. The more the non-Western countries increased their share and effectiveness in the world, the more the West lost its effectiveness. This led to worldwide political and economic instabilities and uncertainties. The course of the world, full of political and economic instability and uncertainty, has led all states to take different measures.
Both Western and non-Western countries began to develop different answers/measures to the increasing instabilities and uncertainties. Although most of these measures were short-lived and temporary due to the transitory nature of the world system, most states continued to follow multilateral, dispersed and sectoral policies. Unfortunately, some states go further and insistently push all the buttons of the world political game.
States give at least three different answers to the recent developments in world politics. First of all, all states traditionally try to maximize their national interests and accordingly, they take necessary measures at the national level. Second, most states try to increase their effectiveness in global international organizations such as the United Nations and its specialized institutions, mostly established by the Western countries in the wake of World War II. Third, most states, Western or non-Western, try to launch new political, economic and security initiatives to prepare for the negative impacts of global instabilities and uncertainties.
Pro-status quo versus revisionist
The current hegemon, the U.S., and the main challenging state, China, have taken vital steps in all these three dimensions. One main reason is all states are simultaneously pro-status quo and revisionist. For instance, the U.S. believes that the current system, which was established by the U.S., does not serve its national interests, so it tries to revise it. Similarly, China has benefited from the U.S. hegemony acting as a free rider for the last three decades. At the same time, it tries to establish new international institutions, paving the way for its global hegemony.
The U.S., which began to follow a more inward-looking policy, has been trying to maintain its leading role in global and regional international organizations such as the U.N. and NATO, on the one hand. On the other hand, since the old institutions cannot meet their needs, it pioneers establishing new institutions such as AUKUS, the trilateral security pact between the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia. In other words, while the U.S. has been trying to solidify its transatlantic alliance, it has been trying to form new alliances in the Pacific.
China has been increasing its effectiveness in the Western-established international institutions such as the U.N. and its specialized institutions. Furthermore, it has been part of the newly established global institutions such as G-20 to discuss and solve global issues. Also, it has been pioneering the establishment of alternative international organizations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).
Almost all regional and global states also follow similar policies and try to maximize their national interests and increase their effectiveness in international politics. The unstable and uncertain international context led states to pursue multilateral and diversified foreign policies. Therefore, cooperation and competition go hand in hand.
While the West seems to be a united front against the non-Western countries, there are too many cleavages within the West. The U.S. and the EU, the Anglo-Saxon countries and continental European states, and the North-South rifts cause certain problems within the Western world.
Similarly, non-Western countries such as China and India try to form a united front against Western hegemony, on the one hand, but compete with one another on many fronts on the other. The most recent declaration of the India-Arab-Mediterranean Corridor during the last G-20 Summit held in New Delhi is an alternative to the Chinese One Belt One Road Initiative (BRI).
Mainly, due to the lack of trust among states, most states feel compelled to improve their foreign relations in three different contexts. Besides taking domestic and bilateral measures to protect their national interests, most states try to increase their effectiveness in traditional global and regional international organizations. In addition, they try to be part of new global and regional initiatives. The main motivation for all these efforts is the maximization of its national interests and the minimization of the military and economic power of other states. Therefore, states sometimes take the initiative to damage others rather than to benefit from them.
All these efforts and initiatives will contribute to cooperation and competition and, naturally, conflicts among states and groups of states. Therefore, states must be more careful than before in taking steps in international politics since there is no guarantee that they will maintain the current pace of relations. In conclusion, today’s collaborations, including official global platforms and institutions, are like writing on ice, they can disappear at any moment.