The world hasn’t always been ruled by a single superpower. There have been times when the global order was multipolar, and just not long ago it was ‘bipolar’, during the Cold War era, which ended officially in 1991, with the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
But for more than four decades, following the end of the World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union divided the reign of power in the world politically, militarily, economically and culturally. After the fall of the Socialist Camp however and until today, the US has been the sole superpower. Well, things are about to change.
The first cruise missile the Russian military launched at Ukraine on February 24 wasn’t just a declaration of the war, which is about to enter its third month in a week’s time, but a signal that some things, like the world order, are about to change. The US-led unipolar order didn’t work anyway. It wasn’t much of an order and was used by Washington to force self-promoting Pax Americana by invading several countries with impunity.
Pax Americana was not thus much of a peaceful order. It was messy and carried within it its means of disruption. And most probably its end. Great nations such as Russia and China, with long history of power and civilisation, felt humiliated. Shortchanged by an order that was promised to be a golden era for international cooperation and multilateral action. The US simply botched up a good deal.
As the Russians continue their ‘special operation’ in Ukraine, the US and its Nato allies seem to be running out of ideas. Their best shot, the sanctions, didn’t do much to deter Moscow. The inability of the US to force its order means that basically that order is irrelevant. No longer dominant.
That led most analysts and those in the know to conclude that the unipolar world system was in fact the first casualty of the Ukraine war. The talk is now growing louder of a new world order, not another bipolar, but a multipolar world order, that may include the US, Russia, China and distant fourth the European Union.
So, what does that mean for us, in the Arab world?
The Pax Americana has been very challenging for the region. It has been on the receiving end of its violent chapters. Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, George W. Bush’s war on terror, the US war on Iraq in 2003, in addition to the usual Israeli offensives every few years on the Palestinians and the Lebanese.
It has also seen the collapse of the peace process and 10 years ago, the so-called Arab Spring that led to unprecedented level of chaos in the region with simultaneous wars in several Arab states, for the first time in history.
Some would argue that we were in a better shape during the bipolar order, that of the US and the Soviet Union. The Arabs were able to negotiate better conditions those days — many states gained their independence during that era, the nationalisation of wealth (such as oil in the Gulf and north Africa and the Suez Canal in Egypt), and, of course, the end of the post-World War One colonialism.
Navigating our positions between the US and the Soviet Union gave the Arabs a little bit of leverage. It allowed many countries to develop using their newly-nationalised resources. On the other side, the region saw its biggest setbacks in that era, mainly of course the occupation of Palestine in 1948, the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, the 1967 defeat among others.
We didn’t benefit from the polarity of the world order in those 45 years because we didn’t know how to best utilise it. Most of the Arab states indulged in the political games of the two superpowers. Siding with the US during the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, by sending millions of dollars, arms and, most importantly, thousands of ‘mujahideens’ to fight the Afghans’ battle was a historic mistake, a colossal sin, that continues to haunt us today.
Arabs’ place in new order
With a new world order about to dawn, are the Arabs ready? Not really.
A few days ago, however, a UAE official offered a very sound plan to deal with the changing world dynamics. Lecturing at the Ramadan’s Mohamed bin Zayed Majlis in Abu Dhabi, Dr. Anwar Gargash, the diplomatic adviser to the UAE President, said the world dynamics are changing with the rise of countries such as China and India that will eventually shrink the dominance of the US. The new world order will be “more multipolar.”
A new world order will be a challenge naturally. Conflict of interests between the key world players is bound to impact other states, obviously. The UAE, which has become a global hub for trade, business and tourism, will need to implement a clear formula to preserve its fantastic success story.
“In the region, it is necessary to manage matters peacefully with countries that have different policies and views, by working on common grounds and by putting differences aside,” Dr. Gargash said, outlining the guiding principle of the UAE in dealing with the changing world conditions. “We should work to push ahead regional joint cooperation to promote stability and prosperity and to build platforms to enhance investment, dialogue and cooperation between parties.”
He noted the three pillars of the UAE strategy to “maintain this success since we live in a changing world and a complex region.” They are: “Building an efficient and professional military, establishing strong partnerships, and focusing on economic development.” He added: “Our foreign policy will focus on building bridges, managing disputes, and building partnerships.”
Such a clear blueprint has served the UAE well since the establishment of the Union in 1971. The results are phenomenal. And, I think, it will serve the Arab countries if they choose to adopt it as a pan-Arab policy to prepare for the imminent change in the world order.
The Arabs have been shortchanged by every so-called Pax in modern history. We have always acted as if taken by surprise. The Arabs were a casualty of successive orders. So why not try this time to adopt a policy with which we can enjoy the benefits of a multipolar system.
The UAE blueprint, outlined by Dr. Gargash, has been tried and worked well. I believe it is the right one for the Arab world too.