The collapse of the international, legal and economic system, which was formulated after World War II, has been apparent for years.
It would be a mistake to assume that this failure was the outcome of the Russia-Ukraine war, starting in February 2022.
In fact, it would be safe to argue that the war in Ukraine was itself an expression of the free fall of the international system, which was, for many decades, almost solely controlled by the United States and other Western powers.
The two Iraq wars, first in 1990-91 and again in 2003, reflected two major elements of changing world politics and, ultimately, the practical death of the post-WWII order.
The first war was meant as a celebration of the triumph of the unipolarity of an international system in which the Soviet Union, thus Russia and its allies, were no longer factors; the second as an attempt at shaping a world that has no space for emerging powers, namely China, India and, to some extent, Russia as well.
All of this has come at a price.
When George W. Bush lectured the international community in September 2002, that it must either accept Washington’s diktats or become “irrelevant”, his words did not merely reflect the arrogance of US attitude during that era.
Effectively, it was a declaration that the US was no longer satisfied with the international system, which ironically was largely shaped by Washington itself in a succession of agreements, even before WWII formally concluded.
Regardless of why the US was keen to walk away from a modern world that it has, itself, helped shape, the outcome was obvious: our collective faith in the international system is weakening by the day.
The end of the ‘war on terror’ did not bring an end to our lack of confidence in the international system. In the US, the problem was compounded with the existence of two political currents: one, Democratic, which wanted to remain engaged in the international system, but also wanted to hegemonise it; and another, Republican, which wanted to move away towards more isolationist forms of political existence.
This has resulted in Washington’s constant oscillation between wanting to be part of, then break away from, several UN-led organisations and pacts, including the Paris Agreement on Climate, the International Criminal Court, the Iran Nuclear Plan and even the US-dominated Nato itself.
Though the Biden Administration remains committed to its global leadership in post-WWII order, the Donald Trump-championed political alternative believes that such leadership is ultimately futile.
Regardless of who will win the upcoming US presidential elections in November next year, the alternation between the two camps has made it clear that a new world order which is committed to some kind of an international consensus on law, politics, trade, rules of war, the environment and much more, must be created.
A simple discourse analysis in statements emanated from Moscow, Beijing, but also Brasilia, Pretoria, Ankara and others, demonstrates beyond any doubt the growing frustration with the existing international system.
For example, addressing VTB Bank’s ‘Russia Calling!’ Forum on Dec. 7, Russian President Vladimir Putin reiterated for the umpteenth time, “we would like to create a new model, a truly democratic one, where true and honest competition between all economic actors prevails”.
Equitable global governance
Similar words were communicated, with similar clarity, by Chinese President Xi Jinping when he visited Moscow in March that “China will work with Russia to uphold true multilateralism, promote a multipolar world and greater democracy in international relations, and help make global governance more just and equitable.”
The hurdle facing all of these sentiments is not the lack of willingness or even consensus on the issue, but the fact that the old system is still committed to old agendas.
Antonio Gramsci’s famous quote “The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born,” perfectly expresses our current reality.
Does this mean that emerging global powers have no alternatives but to create brand new international political, legal and other structures?
Should the failure to revamp the old international system continue, regional and international pacts are likely to be created, mimicking the successful creations and growth of the BRICS group, its New Development Bank among other alternative economic platforms.
For these trade and financial institutions to translate into meaningful political bodies, they have to attract enough attention, command enough economic prowess and accumulate the needed experience to slowly emerge as tried and true alternatives.
Putin’s recent visit to the Middle East and the growing pilgrimage to Moscow and Beijing by many Global South leaders are direct expressions of the changing political geography of the world.
Despite the potential for fixing the old international system in theory, the Global North’s denial of its inherent inequality challenges our belief in the current order.
This leaves us with no other option but to think outside the box, perhaps, begin to write the history of international cooperation from the very start.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor. He is the author of six books.