The invasion of Ukraine shocked the world and challenged the liberal world order based on the Idealist approach which seems to be now at stake. International institutions were introduced and agreements were signed under the leadership of the United States to promote global cooperation, free trade, and peace. Undoubtedly, the peace was maintained for decades. However, now the world is again tilted towards authoritarianism and anarchy. Countries like Russia and China emerged as great powers in global power politics and the US dream of expanding global democracy is fading. It is very obvious that US dominance on the world is not now in the state as it was before. It is to be observed that how US designed the international order and maintained its influence as world’s great power.
After the First World War, the US tried to institutionalize the world by establishing the world’s first international organization, the League of Nations (LoN), to restore peace and prevent war. Unfortunately, the organization failed and a 6-year-long second world war happened. In 1945, the US, with the collaboration of the UK, issued a declaration that was signed by 51 countries, naming it the United Nations Organization (UNO). The charter of the UNO included the maintenance of peace and security, the development of friendly relations among states, promotion of social well-being, and enhancement of living standards and human rights. Furthermore, the US established different alliances, gradually and eventually when the world was divided into two blocks due to ideological differences between capitalism and communism. The Cold War era was a psychological clash between two blocs (1945-1990).
The end of WWII changed the international structure and moved from multi-polarity to bipolarity which resulted in Cold War. Both great powers competed for dominance in international politics during this period. In the era of the cold war both the US and the Soviet Union entered into various treaties and established numerous organizations in the sectors of the economy, trade, and security to maximize their power. Mutual security alliances were formed by great powers at that time, like the US-backed NATO (1949) and, in response, Russia formed Warsaw Pact (1955). The US expansion does not stop there, it took economic measures too.
Meanwhile, the trend of sanctions was introduced in the new world order, primarily by the US to trap countries and deter them through financial sanctions. The US approach apparently was to address and prevent the conflict that led to wars and establish a system based on cooperation, peace and harmony. For the time being, it was effective. As time passed, the United States used it as a soft weapon to influence developing and underdeveloped countries to fulfil its hegemonic designs. To keep perceived rival states at bay the US sanctioned different countries for various reasons through economic sanctions. Recently, Afghanistan has been sanctioned by seizing its 7 billion dollars in international reserves. The same is happening and will happen with Russia and its ally, Belarus. The US realized that the tactics of sanctions and embargoes were more dangerous than war.
The US tried hard to deter Russia with major diplomatic and financial sanctions in the current Ukraine crisis, however, Russia invaded Ukraine. If the US maintained its hegemony, as it always does, Russian economy may suffer badly due to the imposed sanctions on it. Some analysts describe the Ukrainian issue as geopolitics rather than a territorial dispute. According to them, the US is attempting to contain Russia through security alliances, and also trying to harm its economy. For example, along with other economic sanctions, the Nord Stream 2 project between Russia and Germany was explicitly targeted in the Ukraine crisis. They also believe that all the misery was created on purpose to entrap the Russian mega project of a pipeline that connects Germany directly through the Baltic Sea.
Russia, particularly in Europe, is one of the world’s top energy suppliers. The Russian economy has long been dominated by oil and gas exports. Additionally, Russia’s resource-based economy is exposed to global resource market instability and restrictions on the energy trade, in any worst-case scenario, are critical to Russia’s economy. Similarly, the expulsion of Russia from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) is also a tool to contain Russia. According to the BBC’s report, in March, seven Russian banks were expelled from SWIFT, and now three more banks are planned to be dismissed. Sberbank, the third largest banking sector in Russia is one of the three banks that are supposed to be excluded. During the Crimean crisis in 2014, Russia was threatened to be expelled from SWIFT. Consequently, it encouraged Moscow to establish a parallel international money transfer system, a System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS). Russia is also trying to join the Chinese Cross-Border Interbank Payment System (CIPS) to tackle the transnational payment system crisis that would likely be emerged after the expulsion from SWIFT.
In a nutshell, history is repeating itself. The world is leading towards multipolarity again. The US, which was trying to maintain power among European and Asian countries, is facing the challenge of China’s economic rise. During the course of recent history, the US and its allies were never on the same page regarding any situation as they are now. The US and its allies are strengthening their collective security and economic alliance. The US has tied knots with Australia, the UK, Japan, and many others, while Beijing gets closer to Moscow. The question is: will the US be successful in its strategies to contain and counter the major powers, as it did during the Cold War through its so-called liberal world order tactics? Or, will the Russia-China partnership win the power balance game as they are now expertized in the perceived US made rules of the international system? This and a lot worth waiting scenarios are supposed to be unfolded as no nation on Earth is afraid of American concerns as it used to be in the 1990s or early 2000s.
Pairman Bazai –Research Assistant at Balochistan Think Tank Network, BUITEMS, Quetta