Changing World Order: (Im) balance of Power in Eurasia
Subhash Bhambhu- Academic Associate, Kautilya
The disintegration of the USSR and the end of the Cold War proved to be a global paradigm shift in the sense that various developments following these two pivotal events changed the course of global affairs. It paved the way for a US led ‘unipolar’ world order. Commentators like Fukuyama declared ‘the end of history’ and the triumph of the ‘liberal global order’. Another important shift was from traditional ‘inter-state’ conflicts to ‘intra-state’ conflicts. Except for military campaigns by Russia, the US, and Israel primarily in the Middle East, Caucasus, and Balkan, we have not seen any full-scale inter-state conflicts. Rather they were replaced by ‘intra-state’ civil wars and unrest existing in various corners of the globe.
However, after the 9/11 attacks, the US hegemony has been challenged by various states and other non-state actors. Trump’s presidency was a decisive period in global politics it became evident that the US was struggling to maintain its stature and position in world politics. The Middle East and Eastern Europe were traditionally Western Spheres of influence. Obama’s ‘Asia Pivot’ in the ‘Indo-Pacific’ created a power vacuum in the Middle East and Eastern Europe leaving space for Russian and Chinese aggression. This became one of the contributing factors in the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. The US lost its influence in the Middle East which was discernible in the case of Syria and Afghanistan. The successive isolationist policies of the Trump administration emboldened China to exercise its power in multilateral organizations.
Furthermore, the regional politics of the Middle East changed significantly in terms of power dynamics. Until 2020, only two Arab countries-Egypt (1978-79) and Jordan (1994) normalized their relations with Israel. In 2020, Israel managed to normalize its relations with four more Arab countries- the UAE, Morocco, Sudan, and Bahrain. The US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 by relocating its embassy there. Isolation of Iran in regional politics is an outcome of these developments.
The US has been trying to champion the Indo-Pacific region; partly because Hillary Clinton propagated ‘Asia-Pacific’ as the driver of global politics, partly because of the China Trap as G. T. Allison would put it. The geo-political competition in the Indo-Pacific region commenced with the introduction of the strategic rebalancing policy of the US towards Asia – namely the ‘Pivot to Asia Policy’ by the US and the inauguration of the strategically ambitious ‘geo – economic’ infrastructural project of Belt and Road Initiative by China. China’s ‘reclamation’ of contested territories in the South China Sea and intrusion in the Indian Ocean along with other developments compelled the US and its allies to rejuvenate QUAD (The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue).The Indo-Pacific Theater brought together reluctant partners of the US closer. The US started taking part actively in the partnership, preparedness, and promotion of a networked Indo-Pacific region. The middle powers such as India, Japan, and Australia have been working in the direction of creating a middle power coalition. Recently, the ambitious Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) was launched on May 23, 2022, by President Joe Biden with fourteen participating members. However, except for Japan, most of the countries did not show as much willingness as the US envisioned.
China, on the other hand, is working hard to win credibility from the Indo-Pacific countries through lucrative financial investments under the BRI and Maritime Silk Road Initiative (MSRI) frameworks. Due to China’s heavy investments, the countries of South Asia, Southeast Asia, and to some extent, the Middle East have become battlegrounds for asserting hegemony for China and the US. Many of these destination countries, despite pressure, do not want to take any side or limit themselves to a block but want to harness the opportunities by avoiding any possible conflict of interest. Japan, despite having a huge trade dependency on China, continues embracing the US. Australia is repelled by China on a range of issues from Taiwan to the Southwest Pacific. Russia is getting closer to China, especially since the Ukraine invasion. As pointed out by the Chinese foreign minister, they both have “strong resilience and strategic determination.” As of now, China has not termed the ongoing Russian-Ukraine conflict as an ‘invasion’ and even initiated a diplomatic outreach campaign to advance its interests in the Indo-Pacific by supporting Russia’s cause if not directly.
India has adopted an unconventional approach by taking considerable bold posturing in its foreign policy stance; focusing on its ties with the US when it comes to the Indo-Pacific region. This has undoubtedly caused a deterioration of India’s bilateral relations with China. Since the Galwan clash, both countries have not made any significant progress in resolving border disputes. After the G219 highway, China is now constructing another highway called G695 national expressway through Akshai Chin connecting Tibet with Xinjiang. The new highway route passes even closer to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) compared to the past one. Despite these developments, relative progress has taken place through the BRICS National Security Advisors (NSA) talks where both the countries seem to cooperate on issues such as counter-terrorism. Overall, Eurasia is again the center of geopolitical competition. With the decline of the US hegemony and a rising China, regional stability is being challenged, leaving less scope for co-operation and increasing conflict.