There exists a variety of concepts of world order such as the Western concept of order, Chinese concept of order, Russian concept of order and so forth. The term ‘world order’ comprises two conditions- a stable balance of power among the major nations and legitimacy i.e. a broad agreement amongst these major powers about the rules of the road. It’s been rare in human history to have such a world order. The world order began to deteriorate in the early part of this century as nations began to quarrel with the American concept of order, which was based on liberal ideas and enlargement of institutions that benefits the US. Around the same time, China and Russia also began to contend with these ideas and offered a different model of order.
Today the distance among major powers regarding what should constitute as order has grown more than ever and it is unlikely that they will reach a census on the world order.
In the last couple of years, the principle attack on the American concept of international order has not been from other countries, but from the President himself. The President has contested major elements that comprise the American version of international order such as the free trading system, support for democracies around the world among other issues. The American policy has been over militarized over the years. There will be a more restrained US in terms of its international behavior. There may also be a return to the classic instruments of diplomacy of the earlier periods.
The pandemic will reverse the trend of weakening international institutions which we have seen, and give a new impulse to strengthen them, driven by the failures of international cooperation on this virus. However, it is too early to predict the basic outcomes of the pandemic and how US and China will emerge from it.
On the economic consequences of the virus, more autonomous economic activities will be attempted by all countries, particularly the major powers but there will be severe limits to that. In a globalized world it is very difficult to have indigenous supply chains.
US has generally seen international institutions at the margin of its foreign policy and its international behavior. Now with the rise of China, US needs strong international institutions in a way it never did before. China has also recognized that the international institutions will have an increasing influence on the international system. Therefore, during the last 5-7 years it has worked very hard to strengthen its positions in various UN agencies. There is a systemic Chinese effort to strengthen its positions in these international organizations at the expense of human rights, values of international orders and so forth. If the US and the West don’t respond now, having seen this occur with the WHO, international institution will essentially be driven by Chinese authoritarian models. That will be grievous for all countries that have democratic preferences.
The US-China relationship is on a long term dangerous decline. If it evolves into a permanent confrontation, all countries in the world will be negatively affected. The contentious relationship has become an issue of domestic politics in both countries. It’s a major campaign issue for President Trump who has accused Joe Biden, the democratic candidate, for being soft on China. The Chinese leadership has used the confrontations with US to increase support for its policies domestically. In the future, it is unlikely that the US will be able to compete with China independently over the long term, it will need alliance with friendly democracies in Europe and Asia. Diplomacy should be employed as an instrument of approach to China, which is not the case right now and the balance of power between US and China also needs to be repaired.
American Presidents and their policy makers have spent too much time on the Middle East issues. Particularly on the two-state solution for the Middle East, which is dead. Rather there needs to be an increase in involvement and engagement in Asia. In the period ahead US will need to have a more consistent and coherent foreign policy on India. Diplomatic engagements with India need to be expanded. Military cooperation between the two countries is also key. US continues to have bureaucratic obstacles to intensify defence cooperation with India and these obstacles should be removed. There is a need for a clear Indo-US strategy to deal with China.