2023: The Year The World Order Broke Down – OpEd


The year 2023 may have reminded us more than any other year that the new American order, which claimed to bring peace, prosperity, and security to the world, has done the opposite. It has stripped these elements from the international system, creating disorder and instability. Order is a connected process among the members, where each part influences the rest. Any disruption in one part will affect the whole system. While small and temporary disturbances are inevitable, continuous and severe failures are not. This is what the new American order faces today, plunging the international community into chaos and disorder. From East Asia and the Middle East to Europe, Africa, and Latin America, significant conflicts and wars are escalating.

China’s activities in the South China Sea and near Taiwan have intensified in East Asia. The Chinese accuse the United States of meddling and provoking a major war between China and Taiwan. China, which sees itself as a rival to the American-dominated world order, is increasingly vocal about its discontent.

The war in Ukraine, which has lasted for nearly two years, has also disrupted the production of essential goods in Europe. This has threatened global food security, triggered an energy crisis, and created geopolitical challenges for the West. There is no foreseeable end to the bloodshed on this European front, as the war has reached a deadlock and the Ukrainian army has lost its initial momentum.

The long-standing Israel crisis has also reignited the war in the Middle East after Hamas’s operation on October 7. The war, which has already killed more than 20,000 people, could escalate into a wider regional conflict. The Yemeni Houthis’ actions have also endangered the security of the Red Sea, the Bab al-Mandab Strait, and the Suez Canal, forcing many international shipping companies to leave the area. This poses a serious threat to the global economy, as it affects the shipping and oil prices, especially when inflation seems to be under control. The exact economic damage is hard to estimate, but it is likely to grow over time if ships have to take alternative routes. Before this crisis, the Red Sea accounted for 12% of world trade and 30% of container transportation. The Biden administration faces a tough dilemma, whether to intervene in a large-scale regional war and face soaring oil prices or to remain passive and let the situation deteriorate.

Africa has also faced multiple internal crises, terrorism, and multilateral security challenges in the past months. Several coups have occurred in countries like Niger, Gabon, and Sierra Leone (where the coup failed). Militant groups such as Wagner’s Russian group, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS have intensified their activities in different countries. Moreover, the internal crises in Libya and Sudan are far from over, and a new wave of violence is emerging.

Latin America has also experienced similar developments. The latest one in the region is that the Venezuelan army held a referendum, where the people voted to annex the disputed region between Venezuela and Guyana, known as “Essequibo” to Venezuela. This has increased the chances of a bloody war.

The rules and laws of this world order are ineffective, as the Eastern Bloc has aligned with the Western Bloc led by the United States. This prevents any peace solution through international legal institutions and authorities. We have encountered a “vetocracy”, where the world order and the destiny of the countries depend on the veto of the five world powers, which cannot settle legal disputes, much less address the crises of hard power.

Meanwhile, the Global South has tried to form a new coalition of non-aligned nations in 2023, a coalition that aims to avoid the dominance and dependence of the West and the East, but faces many challenges ahead. This situation has created a multifaceted polarization, where the South China Sea and the East Asian region are on the brink of a full-scale war over territorial disputes, and the United States is leading a multilateral coalition to contain China. In the Middle East, the sectarian crises and the Arab-Israeli conflict have resurfaced, but the Western coalition is secretly supporting the destruction of the Palestinian people and their quest for an independent state. They claim to support a two-state solution, but their unwavering support for Israel has actually blocked the two-state solution. Also in Africa, coup plotters have created chaos, which could have implications for the security of the international order beyond the continent.

The year 2023 marks the rise of the challenging governments, which have been contesting the Western-dominated international order and seeking to establish a new world order based on international security. However, this order is undermined by the lack of an independent identity in the East, which leads to a surge of nationalism in the future. This could mean the shift from transnational coalitions to nationalism, or the emergence of the extreme right.

If the Western international system loses most of the current conflicts and tensions in the international system, we should anticipate that a new international order will emerge in the coming years. This order will shift the power corridors of the world from the West and have tangible impacts in other regions.

Alternatively, if this scenario does not happen, we should also entertain the possibility that the Western-oriented international system could survive for many more years. The world has shown that the prevailing order in the international system will eventually collapse and give way to a new order. This could be the theme of the rise and fall of great powers, as Paul Kennedy suggested.

Greg Pence

Greg Pence is an international studies graduate of University of San Francisco.

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