Algorithms, Far-right Populism, Artificial Intelligence, Trump, Brexit, Religious Fanaticism, Cyberwarfare, Proxy-wars; the international system is flirting with dangerous ideas.
The unravelling geostrategic environment is radically changing the balance of power and overturning every established norm in the geopolitical system. It has successfully challenged and broken down the post-cold war unipolar order that propelled the United States of America into a sole superpower. It has fragmented that old order into multipolar system occupied by both state and non-state actors. In particular, the new strategic environment has decentralised monopoly of force from state to non-state actors and other state-proxies operating in the international system. In fact, the very concept of statehood is now being contested, as trade, markets and currencies all go virtual. Forces for geopolitical order and stability such as the United Nations (UN) European Union (EU) are now on life-support. The strong winds of ultra-nationalism sweeping across Europe is threatening to undermine the strategic significance of the EU as a centre of power. The rules-based international order premised on multilateralism is being eroded. The resultant is increased global instability and a growing possibility of a major interstate war.
The fluid and often confrontational power dynamics among major powers, is catalyst to this unpredictable geostrategic environment. The emphasis by major powers on coercive instruments, overt and covert, at the risk of international opprobrium is reflective of wartime mind-set. The employment of state proxies, extremist ideologies, ransomware and malware attacks as ‘legitimate’ low-cost tools of foreign policy, is proving to be keg powder for the future major conflict. The character of the unipolar order, was defined by the US and its allies being able to conduct precision strikes on enemy platforms and command nodes with minimal to zero resistance. In the current order, it is a totally different case. As we have seen with the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the character, form and conduct of warfare has transformed beyond precise laser-guided weapons to a totally new terrain. The terrain is largely asymmetrical, the threats, unconventional and the adversary, highly versatile, adaptive and octane. As a result, as we are now seeing with Syria, the battlespace is congested, contested, constrained, nevertheless, connected. Therefore, conventional instruments of state power such as deterrence, containment and coercion are hardly applicable.
The changing political landscape in the West (Europe and US) is equally throwing the international system into deeper crisis. The rise and entrenchment of far-right populism into mainstream politics of the West, has seen the normative and political ethics of the so-called ‘free world’ being pushed to the periphery. The new movement is questioning the credibility and sustainability of globalisation and trashing the value proposition of free trade. The embodiment of this new but alarmingly growing political ecology, is none other than President Donald Trump. He has not only emboldened this ultra-nationalistic sentiment, but has also mainstreamed White supremacism and Neo-Nazism and a cocktail of other dangerous ideas. His attitude and policies towards non-White immigrants, share much with Adolf Hitler’s ‘Aryan Race’ proposition. There is little doubt that the emergence of China as economic, political, and military power is causing Trump a strategic anxiety. In the new balance of power, China and Russia have resurged to provide geostrategic alternative the world, especially to the developing and vulnerable countries. The rapid growth and maturation of China’s economy has served as antithesis to Trump’s ‘Make America Great’ agenda and has so far rendered it strategically obsolete. Trump has recently fired the first shot in what looks to be a long and protracted trade-war between US and China. China ‘s Vice Minister of Commerce, Wang Shouwen has made clear China’s resolute position saying, “If someone wants a trade war, we will fight to the end.” As competition among major powers increases, they will naturally seek to exploit complex global trends to expand their sphere of influence and adjust their foreign policy priorities, leaving international security dicey and volatile.