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Towards a trilateral world order?

By MR Josse

MR josseKATHMANDU: Even before the end of the Cold War, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the collapse of Communism in the USSR, international relations pundits were in broad agreement that the post-Second World War bipolar world order would inexorably give way to multi-polarity – after a brief transition through an unipolar world, visibly dominated by the United States of America.
As they perceived it, they envisaged – eventually – the birth of a new international order centered around multiple poles: the United States, Europe, China, Russia, India and Brazil, among others. Of late, however, the general assessment of perspicacious strategic thinkers and geo-politicians is that while the United States is in relative decline – but still top dog, by far – the stage seems to be set, for an as-yet undefined period of time, for the inauguration of a trilateral world order.
Others once considered in the global big league – India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia – are no longer mentioned in the same breath as the United States, China and Russia.
In other words, we are seemingly entering a trilateral world system dominated by the United States, China and Russia – if we are not already there.
In my column last week, there had been a rather copious reference to various prognostications of world leaders and statesmen at the Munich Security Conference, much of it having a bearing on the changing global political landscape. To recall, a few of them: if Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s presentation encompassed the world in its entirety, American Vice-President Mike Pence expressed his country’s determination to hold Russia accountable for its 2014 actions in Ukraine, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared the launch of a “post-West” era in international relations.
Revealingly, Wang specially highlighted the aforementioned three countries in his address. This he did by not only lauding the significance of the Sino-American bilateral relationship – the most important in today’s world – but by then immediately going on to extol the high value of the strategic partnership which Beijing enjoys with Moscow.
Let me now quote this illuminating excerpt from an opinion piece by Dmitri Trenin, Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center: “At the beginning of the 21st century, the world’s geopolitical landscape includes three unequal powers whose actions impact the global system in decisive ways. The United States is at the center of the system; China is the main challenger to the US dominance; and Russia, much smaller that either of the two, actively seeking to replace the current hegemony of one power with some sort of an oligarchy.”
Trenin, referring to this emergent power triangle, reminds readers, thus: “Forty-five years ago, the United States successfully practiced the art of triangular diplomacy to achieve rapprochement with China against the Soviet Union. As explained by Henry Kissinger, the architect of that policy for president Richard Nixon, the Washington-Moscow-Beijing triangle favored the United States because it had better relations with both the USSR and China than the other two had between them.
“After more than a decade, the Soviet Union embarked on a policy of perestroika, which ended with its own disintegration. Moscow’s relations with both Beijing and Washington dramatically improved, but Russia’s importance shrank dramatically too. As China simultaneously began its meteoric rise, and America enjoyed the kind of hegemony that no power in history had ever achieved, talk of a Sino-US duopoly started, in which countries would align with either of the two powers.
“However, Russia’s breakout in 2014 of the post-Cold War system in Europe; its politico-military comeback to the Middle East; and its very active global information warfare strategy have revealed the weaknesses in the US-dominated order.”
Meanwhile, Russian scholar Sergei Karaganov claims that Putin’s Moscow has “reestablished itself as the balancing influence within the global order” having, through its actions in the world arena, “diminished the sense of invincibility that, since the end of the Cold War, has driven the West to pursue policies that provoked international conflict and undermined its own moral authority and soft power.”
Karaganov cautions Russia against harboring a sense of triumphalism at the putative decline of the West, including America, while arguing unexceptionally that “not even the most resolute actor can build a stable, peaceful and sustainable global order alone.” Against such a backcloth, he credibly argues: “That is why it is good news that Russia and China have been working lately to build an increasingly robust partnership.”
He continues: “And it is also why the deep distrust between Russia and the US – which, despite its lost hegemony, remains an essential  geopolitical actor – will have to be addressed.” That is why, in his estimation: “The world’s three largest powers – the ‘big troika’ – must come together to create conditions for a peaceful transition to a new, more stable world order. The idea is not new, in one way or another, a big troika has been proposed by the likes of Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski. For one thing, a trilateral arrangement can help to defuse the tensions of bilateral relationships.”
Given that the new American administration – committed to ‘Making America Great Again’ and putting ‘America First’ – is to fully settle down and get its foreign/security policy and priorities in full working order, it may be a tad too early to make oracular pronouncements regarding the still inchoate trilateral world order that seems to be hatching out of the old.
It is hard, nevertheless, to ignore the optics that the general drift of international relations is in that direction, although some commentators, such as Harsha Kakar of The Statesman, who boldly predicts ‘Russia to dominate the world in 2017’, believes “Russia would now need to make a choice, of either remaining close to China…or the US.”
Is there a cardinal geopolitical lesson for us? It is: India and China cannot be equated in terms of global power and influence.

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