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New Emerging World Order

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Today, the world order is undergoing a fundamental transformation, and uncertainty and disorder are its principal characteristics. The model of world order changed drastically in the post-World War II period, from the bipolarity between the United States and Soviet Russia that marked the Cold War to unipolarity after the fall of Soviet Russia in 1991, when the United States became the world's only superpower, to the rise of multipolarity following the global financial crisis in 2008.

An Illustration on the New Emerging World Order

Illustration by Geostrata

A series of events depicting the fluidity of this global balance of power, such as Trump’s ‘America first’ and inward-looking policy’, the aggressive and expansionist rise of China, the emergence of ‘illiberal democracies’, great power ambition, and the return of identity politics, led to marked tensions globally. Amid political polarisation, technological modification, and major global power shifts, uncertainty surrounds the international order, which therefore leads to the question of "where do we go from here?"

The established order that appeared after the Cold War is under challenge on many fronts. And two transformative developments that have impacted this emerging world order are the perceived decline of the US and the rise of China.

The reluctance of the US to lead and China’s determination on its part to pursue its historical agenda of becoming a superpower have serious implications for the emerging world order.

As new centres of power and new alliances and rivalries emerge, they are creating pressure on the institutions that govern global trade and security. And as power shifts and spreads, so do the domains of geopolitical competition or participation.

Therefore, after three decades of this 'rules-based order' of universal capitalism under the backing of the U.S. as the world’s policeman, it is coming to an end. There were signs of this, for example, in the global financial crisis that began in the United States, which caused a gap in the world economy from which only the cooperation of the G20 countries offered a way out. The rise of China and other countries in the Global South is changing the global balance of economic power.

At the same time, Russia cautiously began to counter NATO's westward expansion due to security concerns. Meanwhile, various outside powers have intervened in the civil wars in Syria, Libya, and Yemen, sometimes simultaneously and sometimes against each other.

In 2017, however, developments gathered momentum when President Trump's inward-looking policy denounced the readiness for global leadership with the slogan "America first." This was followed by a withdrawal from the "Iran deal" and an American declaration of open technological and economic warfare against China due to the Huawei incident. The pandemic has shown the weakness of the globalised world economy to such crises.

The Western military alliance's panicked flight from Afghanistan was barely over when Russia launched a massive military offensive against Ukraine in February 2022. Contrary to popular belief, this hot war does not change everything but brings out all changes in the glare of the sharpest confrontation and drastically accelerates the reversals of the world order that are already underway.

In recent years, this established world order has begun to fall apart. Populism and nationalism are re-emerging in many countries, challenging international cooperation on global issues; the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fragility of long supply chains for essential goods and services; and new technologies can be used to divide rather than unite us.

At the same time, the global distribution of power is inevitably changing with the emergence of new powers and powerful non-state actors such as multilateral corporations and transnational terrorist organisations. The United States is also becoming more reluctant to bear the costs of world leadership, especially when it comes to using military force. China and Russia, along with lesser regional powers, have taken advantage of this reluctance in recent years to assert their own interests and undermine the United States’ international standing and authority.

Therefore, the new international system has been marked by seeming contradictions: on the one hand, fragmentation; on the other, growing globalisation, which has a profound impact on the world order by making it more interconnected and interdependent, driven by a number of factors, including technology, the rise of multinational corporations, and the growing importance of international trade around the world.

This interconnectedness makes it more difficult for countries to act unilaterally, and it creates a need for international cooperation on a range of common issues. This trend will likely hold.

On the level of relations among states, the new world order is based on power cooperation between major powers (the United States, China, the European Union, Russia, and India) and emerging powers (Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey). The world politics of the near future will be largely shaped by the aforementioned forces.

The world order is evolving, but most established institutions and norms are likely to remain the same. The United States will remain a major power but could be less dominant. The West will continue to play a pivotal role, but the world order will likely be less West-centric. When power is more dispersed, the world could be less effective in addressing global challenges; at the same time, it could also take an approach that is more equal and consultative.

For a better future, cooperation is not a choice; it is a necessity. The distribution of power is complicated. Its complexity is derived from linked trends: a traditional shift of power away from a global hegemon, the United States, towards multiple power centres and a diffusion of power, driven first by globalisation and now by the fourth industrial revolution. Power is not shifting simply from the West to the East but also beyond national boundaries, flowing through air, land, sea, space, and cyberspace.

Without question, the prevailing international order has undoubtedly been under considerable strain, and the novel coronavirus has stretched it almost to breaking point. Governance of the global commons has weakened; competing economic institutions are being created, and international security institutions are becoming increasingly anachronistic.

The risk of great power conflict has increased as deterrence, interdependence, and socialisation have given way to low-risk offensive weapons, changing cost-benefit calculations, and rising nationalism. Domestic political constraints in the United States, the nature of China’s rise, and the role of other actors (Europe, India, Japan, and Russia) mean that the emerging international system could quite possibly reflect elements of unipolarity, bipolarity, and multipolarity simultaneously.


The Decline of Multilateralism: Multilateralism is a cooperative approach to solving global problems that involves multiple countries working together. whereas Multipolarity is a distribution of power in which there are multiple centres of power.

In the new emerging world order, multilateralism is declining due to fragmentation, but it is still the driving force in the world order, which is challenged by a number of factors, including the rise of new powers that are more interested in pursuing their own interests than cooperating with others, the decline of trust in international institutions, and the increasing polarisation of the world as countries become more divided along political, economic, and ideological lines.

China is playing an increasingly important role in multilateralism. However, it is only willing to participate in institutions that align with its interests. It has also created its own parallel multilateral initiatives, such as the Belt and Road Initiative, which are designed to promote its own economic and strategic interests. Thus, it makes it difficult to address the global issue.

Increasing Multipolarity: The multilateral system established after World War II was intended to promote international cooperation and facilitate the achievement of shared objectives. But these institutions may no longer be fit for purpose in a multipolar world, and there are already serious signs of weaknesses in the system due to the diverse interests of emerging powers (as demonstrated by the response to the COVID-19 pandemic).

The new power centres are China, Russia, India, the EU, and Turkey and are defined by three factors: diversity of actors, changing patterns of global rules, and commonality of interest. With multiple power centres, there is a higher likelihood of accountability and a reduced risk of unilateral decision-making. This can promote a more stable and balanced international system, preventing the dominance of a single power.

Increasing Regionalism: Multilateralism is replaced by regional and informal alliances, and regionalism has emerged as a preferred alternative to it. The weakening of multilateralism began with differences over Iraq in 2002, military intervention in Syria, and the failure of the UN, WTO, and WHO during COVID, and has shown the failed attempt at multilateralism to an informal global coalition. It's more about the balance of interests than the balance of power.

The United States and China, today's two great powers, have different views on many issues. This makes it difficult to predict how their relationship will evolve. The United States has been less interested in multilateralism in recent years, beginning with the George W. Bush administration in 2001.

The Trump administration accelerated this trend by withdrawing from several multilateral institutions, such as the Paris Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal. The Biden administration has recommitted to some multilateralism, but it has also favoured informal and regional approaches, such as the Quad and the AUKUS alliance.

Globalisation to deglobalization: Globalisation is still a reality, but the forces that are leading to deglobalization are becoming stronger. The U.S.-led order, which was based on the free flow of goods, services, ideas, and people, is no longer as appealing as it once was. This shift has led to a backlash against globalisation in many Western countries, which has manifested itself in more nationalist and inward-looking policies. The greater risk to globalisation is not from great power competition but from the uneven way that its benefits have been distributed.

The greater risk to globalisation is not from great power competition but from the uneven way that its benefits have been distributed. Conflict in the future is more likely to occur between states that are the winners and losers of globalisation—the haves and the have-nots, as well as within countries where the socioeconomic disparities are greatest.

Global Governance: The global governance of peace and security is facing increasing challenges. The current governance structures are no longer fit for purpose and need to be reformed to reflect the realities of the 21st century. This includes addressing the crises of legitimacy, representation, the collective, identity, and sovereignty.

The United Nations is neither indispensable nor irrelevant, but it is inflexible and has not adapted to the changing world. We need to "re-form" rather than "reform" the UN so that it can accommodate the diverse cross-section of interests in the world today.

Impact of Climate Change: The debate on climate change and development has become a north-south divide. Developed countries in the Global North refuse to take responsibility for their historical role in causing climate change, while developing countries in the Global South argue that developed countries must take on the financial burden of mitigating climate change.

The imbalance in technology, finance, and knowledge between the two regions further complicates the debate. To address climate change and development in a just and equitable way, it is essential to bridge the North-South divide by developing countries taking responsibility for their historical emissions and providing financial assistance to developing countries while developing countries invest in technology and knowledge.

Cyberspace: The internet is a new global common that challenges formal governance. For a long time, the US dominated the views and shaped the policy with regard to internet governance. However, China is now challenging the US's dominance by demanding the return of the state and the expansion of 'cyberspace sovereignty'. China has 'de facto control over its internet' and is becoming the new cyber power to lead the charge against US cyber power supremacy. However, the paradigm for global governance of the internet is still being shaped.

However, India is adapting to the changing global order by taking a number of initiatives globally and regionally to hedge the adverse consequences of the changes underway. These initiatives include promoting digital innovation, peacekeeping, and cooperation in multilateral forums to make their presence felt in the international order.

India is also managing pressures and demands at home while balancing its role in the international system. The five major attributes of the Indian Imperative that make India seem primed to take on this leadership role are, first, given its democratic credentials, which are non-western in nature and based on a free market; second, India’s strategic geographical expanse; third, India’s unique cultural ethos, followed by India’s role in global governance and development; and lastly, India advocates for greater international equity.

The world today and the challenges that lie ahead in different ways share a common belief that the opportunity to shape a new international order that is stable, inclusive, and beneficial to all still exists, though the window to do this is growing smaller.

The experience of previous historical transitions shows that any attempt to reform or create a new global order must be done in collaboration with other major powers. No single country, or even a group of countries, can impose or establish a new global order on its own. While the world may become more competitive, congested, and contested in the years to come, the need for great power cooperation is inescapable. Therefore, future governance structures should incorporate elements of the old order but prioritise reconciling the needs of rising powers and emerging threats in the twenty-first century.



Senior College Professor


1 Comment

Harsh Suri
Harsh Suri
Sep 03, 2023

A very insightful research piece, has covered alot of pointers.

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