My brother, a left-wing journalist and impressively thorough researcher, is looking for signals that a new world order is emerging. He is in good company. In today’s Washington Post Fareed Zakaria envisions the end of a world organized and controlled by the values and might of Pax Americana.
America’s aging political leaders in the White House and the Congress do not appear to be tuned in to this conversation. The invasion of Ukraine suggests that Russia’s aging dictator is not doing any better.
Wary of direct military confrontation with Russia on Ukrainian soil, the United States and its European allies are waging war by financial means. The hostile measures run the gamut from serious, e.g., cutting Russian banks out of SWIFT, to farcical, e.g., seizing yachts and stopping the export of Russian oil to the United States.
Vladimir Putin is waging war by conventional means, seizing territory , bombing civilian targets, standing up to NATO. But every political and military move on his part suggests a desire to return to some cherished old order (the 1920s? the 1950s?), to a brotherhood of Slavic states in the bosom of Mother Russia, or perhaps to the economic and social policies of the Soviet era. A nostalgia trip, not a drive to establish a new world order.
While great powers fight again on Europe’s soil, Chinese leaders must be smiling behind closed doors. China is building infrastructure throughout Central Asia, the land of Imperial Russia’s Manifest Destiny. It is all over the African continent. It is wooing leaders of the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia (while the West focuses narrowly on Hong Kong and Taiwan). It is buying Iranian oil on the black market and could easily do the same for Russian oil.
Conventional military operations and economic warfare can only impoverish Europe and Russia, while also exposing the limitations of Pax Americana. It is only a matter of time before China’s political and economic gains of the past thirty years will enable the rise of a new global financial system. How China will manage and use that system is anybody’s guess.
Are there countries ready to work with a new system? Yes. The perennial losers within the framework of Pax Americana, such as Iran and North Korea. Several African countries that need access to capital and technology but are struggling under the weight of debts, old and new, owed to Western banks. New Zealand, politically and culturally a Western country, but economically dependent on successful integration into Asian markets. Israel, a tiny country that punches above its weight because it is technologically advanced and supported by a unique global network of Jewish communities.
A new world order is indeed emerging. Too long accustomed to running the show, aging leaders in the United States, Europe, and Russia look backward to the 20th century and compete with one another with 20the century tools: massive military arsenals, 24/7 propaganda machines, economic warfare. They forget that taken together they account for less than 15% of the world’s population.