The 8th World Peace Forum: Stabilizing the World Order, Beijing, 09 Jul 2019
Talk on ‘International Order Transformation and Regional Conflicts’, by Dr. Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

Transformation of the international order has wide-ranging impact. This is because the change in international order involves fundamental changes in the balance of power, institutions, norms, and behavior.

The current international order is in transition. We are moving towards a new international order, but the contours of the new order are not clear. Power is getting increasingly diffused. Rising powers are challenging the dominance of existing powers. The period of transition is full of uncertainties and apprehensions.This period of uncertainties may continue for several decades. The capability of the old institutions to deal with new problems would be limited.

The characteristic of the existing order can be summarized as follows:-

  • A new balance of power is emerging. A unipolar world is giving rise to a multipolar world with the rise of China and other powers.
  • The relative weight of the US may have declined, but it remains a formidable power in terms of its military, economic, and technological strength.
  • The differential between the US and the next power, China is still large. China will take several decades to catch up and overtake the US in comprehensive national strength.
  • The US and China are emerging as competitions and rivals in many areas. The US-China trade war is, in essence, is a war which goes beyond tariffs and encompasses economic, technological dimension. The outcome of this competition is not clear due to interdependence. But both countries would suffer, and so will the global economy.
  • The US-China rivalry and how it is managed will have security dimensions as well as. With the demise of the INF Treaty, a new arms race may develop. China may also get drawn in this arms race.
  • Russia will also have a role in the shaping of the new orders. Sino-Russian strategic combine can challenge US dominance.
  • Non-state actors can trigger unforeseen movements in international relations.

The question is whether the transformation of the new international order will have an impact on regional conflicts, and if so, how?

Regional Conflicts

We may note the following tendencies:-

  • President Trump has begun to question the assumptions behind the established US policy of his predecessors by putting America First. This has had a huge impact on the regional situation. The US withdrawal from JCPOA has triggered a new and volatile situation in the Persian Gulf Area.
  • Russia’s intervention in Syria in 2015 has led to a greater Russian role in the Middle East and a transformation of the situation in the region. Russia has played an important role in the fight against ISIS.
  • China’s action in the South China Sea has transformed the situation in the region forever.
  • China’s rise has brought forth the concept of Indo-Pacific, which is seen with some suspicion by China.
  • In order to cut the US’ involvement in the expensive Afghanistan war, the US has begun a direct talk with the Taliban to the dismay of the Afghan government, which the US has supported all along. Russia and China are also supporting the Taliban. This will pave the way for the return of the Taliban who continue to with their attacks.

  • Russia’s intervention in Ukraine has transformed the situation in Europe. The Chasm between Russia and the West has deepened considerably as a result.
  • The ongoing conflict in Libya has been due to the role played by the great power who has taken a side in the civil war.
  • A debilitating proxy war is being played out in Yemen. The context is that of regional supremacy between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Saudi Arabia is fully supported by the US.

The above examples bring out the following:-

  • Great powers play an important role in the evolution of regional conflicts. Their intervention often prolongs the conflicts.
  • The UN Security Council often become dysfunctional in the resolution of regional conflicts.
  • Quite often, the UN Security Council resolution is violated by the P-5 members themselves (e.g., Libya).
  • Non-state actors play an important role in the prolongation of conflicts.
  • Great powers take sides in conflicts, which makes their resolution even more difficult.
  • Postwar rehabilitation becomes a challenge.
  • Ungoverned spaces, which the regions of the conflict become, breed terrorism.

Regional conflicts are deeply influenced by the changing international order. Big powers often flout international norms. The multilateral system is becoming dysfunctional. The international law is found to be inadequate to deal with emerging challenges. Rivalries amongst regional powers as well as big powers aggravates the conflicts. Non-state actors who are beyond any law are deeply involved in such conflicts. Some regional conflicts also impact the freedom of navigation through the seas which in turn influence global commerce and commodity prices. Climate change and other non-traditional security issues have a deep impact on the trajectory and regional conflicts.

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