We are dealing with a rather unique example of a struggle in which the forces of the opponents are approximately comparable, although the superiority of the West is significant. We absolutely do not know how the countries of the World Majority would behave in conditions where the USA and Europe launched an offensive against a weaker adversary: for example, against Iran or another country of a comparable scale. Therefore, we cannot say to what extent the self-confidence of those countries that do not obey US orders now, would manifest itself in a different situation, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
You can argue as much as you like about what the new international order will look like, but one thing is already clear enough — it will not be like any of the previous ones. History generally does not tend to repeat itself, and this always means that appeals to historical analogies reflect an intellectual misunderstanding of what is happening. So now, any attempt to find a firm basis in the past for comparison with the processes and phenomena of international life that we are observing at the present time inevitably encounters convincing arguments as to why this or that analogy is not appropriate. Even in the past such analogies were difficult, as the main issue was the change in the power potential of a relatively small group of states. Moreover, it is impossible to make them now — in a completely different international context. It is very likely, however, that attention to the context can help us better understand the outlines of the order that will emerge in a few years, if not decades.
The most important discovery of the first year of the military-political confrontation between Russia and the West is that international politics is given its context by a significant group of states that do not seek to stand under the banner of one of the warring parties. Moreover, they are actively pursuing their own foreign policy agenda, which is not completely comfortable either for Russia or for its opponents. Another thing is that since Moscow is not the initiator of tension in relations with the United States and its allies, it also does not pursue an attacking policy; the restrained behaviour of most countries throughout the world becomes a factor that significantly influences the development of the situation, precisely in favour of Russian interests. At the same time, with the exception of a handful of nations, there can be no talk of direct support for Russia among more than half of the countries in the world. As one of the leading Chinese international experts rightly noted in an interview, Russia is going through a conflict with the entire West “practically alone.”
However, no matter how the behaviour of the so-called world majority corresponds to Russian or Western expectations, the very fact of its participation in international affairs has become quite obvious, just like the lack of intention of many countries to stand under the banner of the United States, China or Russia in the future confrontation between the great powers. However, this does not negate the need to strive to understand the motives and driving factors of such a significant and influential group of states as a structural feature of modern international politics.
In this regard, there may be wide scope for theoretical and applied reasoning. The importance of this direction of intellectual search is connected, in our opinion, with the fact that the behaviour of the majority is the most important factor among those that will determine the structure of the future international order. With the behaviour of great powers, especially nuclear ones, everything is more or less clear: they will ensure their own security by relying on their unique military capabilities. In addition, the continental mutual understanding between Russia and China and their lack of prerequisites for an objective clash of interests also create some certainty. The same goes for the US and its European allies: they will, in the face of dwindling resources, remain on the defensive to protect all their post-World War II privileges. But we cannot say anything similar in terms of clarity about the World Majority. Therefore, by the way, many of my respected colleagues strive to build their assessments based on an only-comparatively stable factor: the community of Western countries that share, more or less, the same interests and values.
What remains unclear to us is the connection between the way this large group of countries behaves and the nature of the particular conflict in relation to which they must determine their position. The lack of an answer to this question necessitates that we continue to make very shaky assumptions. At present, we are dealing with a conflict in which the opposing sides are powers which are comparable in terms of their military capabilities — Russia and the United States, although the latter acts by proxy. In addition, Russia is an important player in the world energy markets and is a major exporter of food and a number of other goods that benefit from stable demand. Behind Russia is China, a fellow permanent member of the UN Security Council, which has solid global influence.
In other words, we are dealing with a rather unique example of a struggle in which the forces of the opponents are approximately comparable, although the superiority of the West is significant. We absolutely do not know how the countries of the World Majority would behave in conditions where the USA and Europe launched an offensive against a weaker adversary: for example, against Iran or another country of a comparable scale. Therefore, we cannot say to what extent the self-confidence of those countries that do not obey US orders now, would manifest itself in a different situation. This may be important in the future, since the emergence of new conflicts, where one of the parties is a great nuclear power, cannot be ruled out.
In general, it is difficult to establish how much the behaviour of the majority countries is related to their own capabilities. It is generally accepted that this has become the most important factor in determining the actions of a wide range of states, from the rich Gulf monarchies to the countries of Southeast Asia. But it cannot be denied that the degree of their dependence on the infrastructure of the outgoing US-led liberal world order remains very, very high. There is no doubt that the dramatic developments of 2022 launched the process of the desire of many medium-sized and smaller powers to provide practical tools for their autonomy. Nevertheless, they still have a long way to go in order to meet this end.
It is possible that this is the reason why Western countries are confident that, having achieved success in the fight against their main opponents — Russia and China, they will easily be able to regain control over all the others.
Now the countries of the World Majority are looking to extract short-term benefits from the general turmoil caused by the struggle between the great powers. It is not known to what extent such an extraction of tactical benefits can become the basis of a long-term strategy.
Any chaos will inevitably be replaced by more or less systemic interaction among the most important opponents. We do not know how countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam or Pakistan will be able to defend their independence in a less conducive international environment. It is possible that the great powers will emerge from the acute phase of their confrontation so weakened that they will not be able to dictate their will to others. It is possible that the behaviour of some of them will indeed be dominated by the values now proclaimed by Moscow and Beijing — equality, mutual benefit and the authority of international law for everyone. In any case, it cannot be ruled out that it will be more difficult for the powers which are now increasing their independence, to defend these achievements when the world is increasingly divided into large, opposing regions.