By William Tucker
In the West, which commonly includes much of North America and Europe, we’ve grown accustomed to viewing the world through an ideological lens. In other words, the West feels that democracy, human rights and free markets should be universal values.
Naturally, many other nations may share some of those views, but how those views are pursued or implemented varies widely. Looking further afield, there is also the continued existence of authoritarian regimes. These regimes are not only viewed as preferable to democracy because of the supposed stability that totalitarian governance allegedly brings, but they are also even celebrated in some parts of the globe.
This disparity in values and governance would suggest that a center of gravity cannot exist in the global system. However, humanity has forged empires and economies that acted with primacy over much of the world.
For instance, the sun never set on the British Empire until it did. Similarly, Rome and Russia were said to suffer from the need to expand or die, and Alexander the Great, the Huns, and the Mongols conquered massive swaths of land but were gone as quickly as they came.
Today, the United States sits atop the global heap and has been the primary global power since 1992. However, that situation may change – not because a challenger may rise, but because of growing global instability.
Why Global Instability Is Constant
There is always global instability, and the causes of it vary. The Soviet Union’s collapse brought economic ruin to numerous nations dependent on Moscow’s funding. Also, many countries made the transition from a communist system to a democratic one in the years following the collapse.
Though this transition to democracy was not easy, there were functioning governments and opposition groups that allowed such a transition to occur despite the difficulty. Economics played a key role in fostering prosperity as the Soviet collapse coincided with the increasing availability of a microchip-driven economy.
Nations in Asia and Europe that had previously struggled with weak governance and – in some cases, insurrections – found themselves part of a new, booming global economy. China’s cheap labor rates fueled cheap production, while energy-exporting nations provided the means to make a modern economy possible.
The recession of 2000 was short-lived, and though it was difficult, it paled in comparison to the recession of 2008. It was this latter recession that kickstarted the unraveling of the globalist economy. In a few short years, China and Russia became more assertive in their near abroad, while several nations of the Middle East tore themselves apart during the pro-democracy Arab Spring uprisings.
A Rise in Nationalism and the Determined Expansionism of China and Russia
The U.S. suffered from the economic downturn, too, but many nations were absolutely devasted, leading to a rise in nationalism in places that had not dealt with such challenges in decades. The political split between communism and democracy may have been an internal affair to those countries, but it led to unstable governments, hostile governments or the complete collapse of governance in some cases.
This rapid shift left Washington unable to formulate new foreign policy quickly, allowing China to become more aggressive on the water while Russia seized Crimea. Moscow and Beijing became the new best friends of any government that rose from the ashes of the economic downturn – doubly so if that government was hostile to the United States.
Though it seemed like China and Russia were now capable of challenging the West in general and the U.S. in particular, these nations suffered greatly from the recession as well. Their behavior bolstered voices in the West that wanted to sever ties with these nations wherever possible.
The accusations of Uyghur genocide in Xinjiang led to U.S. sanctions on China, while the Russian invasion of Ukraine has created economic devastation to both Moscow and Kiev. The economic issues resulting from Russia’s newest war are cascading and will lead to greater global instability.
The Ukraine War Will Affect Commodities and Governments
Recently, the World Bank warned that Russia’s war on Ukraine will cause the largest commodity shock since the 1970s. Even a casual glance at this report is alarming with energy prices set to increase by 50%, wheat by 42.7%, barley 33.3%, soybeans 20%, oils 29.8% and chicken 41.8%.
There are other factors beyond the war in Ukraine impacting these prices, such as bird flu and fertilizer shortages. However, this level of economic disruption in food supplies and energy will bring down governments or fracture some nations. For the nations that must import food and energy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see increasing conflicts over resources without someone to play referee.
A Non-Polar World in the Future?
The U.S. may be the most powerful nation right now, but Washington will be hard-pressed to intervene in other nations’ affairs even if it wanted to. That doesn’t mean the U.S. is in decline, but rather that the U.S. will be a superpower in relative terms instead of absolute terms.
The key difference here is that absolute power allows for influence, but Washington may not want to exert its influence in areas where there is little national interest. This development would suggest that the world is perhaps becoming non-polar with no single power or competing powers fighting for superiority.
We may not be there yet and the U.S. is still the leading global power, but a burgeoning global instability that we haven’t seen in nearly 100 years is certain to challenge the status quo.