Context: A version of this commentary will eventually appear in the Russian publication, Global Affairs, from which a request was made to respond in 300-400 words to a need to understand current international dynamics beyond tendencies to see them reflective of a New Cold War; rather, to evaluate the current shape of world affairs in terms of “reasons for conflicts and turbulence (political, economical, social, cultural etc.) and what does it mean for the next phase of international development.”
The international system is undergoing a dangerously unstable transition. While not constituting a New Cold War, it reflects in part, the asymmetrical cold war endgame, with what was already a shifting in the center of gravity of the global economy from West to East. In objective terms, global economic integration defines the world’s interdependent and interconnected geopolitical economy. However, this eastward shift left in its wake a deindustrializing dynamic within the northern post-industrial economies of the West, that to varying degrees, has destabilized their postwar social and political compacts.
In the process, this has layed bare historical faultlines of socioracial, ethnic and cultural class contradictions that, given the emergence of information technology as weaponized instruments in geopolitical power-struggles, adds a new and sinister dimension to the global transition underway. A nation’s internal domestic divisions are exploited by external adversaries aiming to shift the targeted nation’s domestic politics along a path of populist destabilization in the hope of shaping favorable geopolitical outcomes at the international level.
The deliberate targeting of African-Americans (among other groups) for voter suppression by Russian interference in the 2016 US election aimed at fuelling the white nationalist-populist alt-right mood in the US. Given that this may be repeated in the upcoming mid-term elections, this is emblematic of the dangerous new ‘hybrid warfare’ trend in international politics. All the more so as this trend, in the service of reactionary anti-progressive conservative internationalism, in its cynical illiberalism, lends itself to obligatory ‘deniability.’ Deniability is the essence of informational hybrid warfare which has its more ‘soft power’ dimensions as well. In any case, the 2016 US electoral outcome contributed to what amounts to an international right wing conspiracy of strongmanism as a throw-back to the yesteryear of Great Power politics that gave us two world wars and the rise of fascism. With the likes of Putin, Trump, Xi, Netanyahu, Erdogan, Salman, Modi, and Duterte among the more notable, the strongmen era certainly seems to be upon us.
The question outstanding is whether or not the regionalizing of multipolarity in the emergence of regional economic communities will evolve toward a deepening of institutionalized global governance reigning in Great Power geopolitical strongmanism in the eventual restabilizing of the international system. This would be one where an amended liberal internationalism reflects a more democratically plural world order: Pluralist Internationalism with a reformed and strengthened United Nations at its core.
Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA, a member of the JIOR international editorial board and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington. The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.