Russian Defiance Could Lead To A Multipolar World

Russia’s recent defiance of the United States and NATO has convinced some analysts that we now live in a multipolar world. Sunil Dasgupta, however, isn’t so sure. For such a world to exist, India and China must side with Russia in its confrontation with the West. That’s something they remain reluctant to do, at least openly.

One of the lasting questions in post-Cold War international relations has been the enduring preponderance of the United States as the sole remaining superpower. The Realist School of thought, which was predicated in significant measure on the idea of the balance of power, failed to explain why other nations did not rise or come together to balance the United States. To explain the discrepancy, die-hard realists such as Robert Pape of the University of Chicago proposed the idea of a transitional period of ‘soft’ or ‘hidden’ balancing by countries such as Russia, China, and even Europe before a period of hard balancing returned.

Russia’s ability to defy the United States and other Western powers in Ukraine (as well as Moscow’s support of the Syrian and Iranian regimes) since late 2013 has suggested that the period of soft balancing is over. The return of traditional balance of power politics implies that a multipolar world, in which the United States is one of many similarly positioned great powers, may have arrived.

Will China and India join?

Not surprisingly, Asia’s rising powers, especially China and India, have taken less judgmental positions on the Ukraine crisis than the Western world. Both governments have remained officially neutral, preaching restraint and negotiation over force and violence, even though political leaders in both countries have expressed a desire to bring a multipolar world about.

Rather than one clear lesson, therefore, the Ukraine crisis has shown other states both how to fight a proxy war as well as the danger of national overreach. Unless China and India begin to draw less ambiguous conclusions, the road through Ukraine is more likely to lead to a diminished Russia than a multipolar or post-Western world. Consequently, change in the world order, when it comes, will not depend on the power of one state—Russia, China, or another—but on the construction of a common view of the road to multipolarity.

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