The contemporary international politics is steadily moving towards a state of chaos and randomness, a change consistent with the universal law of rising entropy. The world is undergoing huge transformation. We are entering the age of entropy, a chaotic period where anything can happen and little can be predicted; where yesterdays rule takers become tomorrow’s rule makers, but no one follows rules anymore; where competing global visions collide with each other; where remnants of past, present and future coexist like a palimpsest simultaneously. In this world, global interdependence which was amplified and moving at an inexorable speed by forces of globalization and complex interdependence seem to have diminished considerably. Globalization has entered a new phase of slowbalization. However power is diffusing, and multi lateral cooperation is dwindling; capabilities to block, disable, damage, and destroy prevail over those to adopt, enable, repair, and build; where geography no longer distinguishes friends from enemies, and no one can be trusted. The once impenetrable ‘hard shell’ of territorial state which had given way to permeability that undermines sovereignty and independence may again backtrack into the hard shell of impermeability. The future hinges on what the present anticipates, on how established and emerging powers portray the coming world and how they intend to act on their present understandings.
While geopolitical uncertainty and an eroding international order have been the dominant trend, the governments grapple with a volatile international landscape and look to adjust their foreign policy strategies accordingly to secure their interests. Power has become more diffuse, moving not just from West to East, but also away from governments, as more non –state actors play larger roles in driving global affairs. Greater interdependence—driven by forces of globalization, digital revolution, and even climate change—is now testing the limits of global governance structures that facilitate cooperation and manage conflict. Globalization and technology are experiencing an intense backlash as political movement’s rail against international flows of trade, capital and people, and scrutinize technology’s role in our lives. While greater interdependence has created both challenges and opportunities the erosion of the rule based international order adds a new dimension of hazards and risks (nuclear proliferation, terrorism, climate change, poverty, hunger) especially global health problems like MERS, SARAS and COVID 19, which has brought the whole world to a standstill and disengaged, economic recession which is in offing may break the spine of economically powerful nations.
Well on the other side of the Atlantic , the Obama, administration building on the foreign policy crescendo of soft power, negotiating the Joint Comphrensive Plan of Action (Iran nuclear deal), finalizing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade bloc, and backing the landmark Paris Agreement and bringing the American ‘pivot’ to Asia to contain the expanding military muscle of its rising challenger China. China’s ambitions for global leadership and to get its respected position among the comity of nations is being contested and impeded by the American hegemony. However the Trump administration’s foreign policy agenda is much coercive based on hard power posing clearest threats to the rule-based international order, first being the rise of populist-nationalism in western democracies, and the potential for isolationist, nationalist and protectionist policies that often arise under these regimes. Second and the inter-linked threat is the United States abandoning its traditional role as the guarantor of the rule based system and the pre-eminent champion of multilateralism. The third is the rising risk given the heightened uncertainty of rising powers challenging and overturning the existing international order. Each of these threats remains a major disruptive force today. International affairs seem to be trapped in a period of confusion, disruption, and uncertainty.
Anatomizing the cracks in the order reflects deep malaise; the traditional rock-solid alliances look fragile. The growth of multilateralism, as a guiding principle for foreign policy, has stalled. Zero-sum, nationalist driven policies are on the rise. In short the global geopolitical context that coalesced in 2017 and calcified in 2019 remains in place for the foreseeable future. In this context as John Ikenberry has recently argued, “the rule based international order is in crisis”. Christopher Layne argues that the costs of US global leadership and deep engagement imposes heavy costs and yields scant benefits to US. The ballooning budget deficits are going to make it increasingly difficult to sustain the level military commitments overseas. US exit from Syria, Libya and Afghanistan accentuates that there are budgetary hiccups, and its unilateral arrogance has failed to shape up its interests in Middle East, Afghanistan and East Asia and a rapid decline in its soft power appeal. In Barry Posen’s words “the very act of seeking more control injects negative energy into world politics as quickly as it finds enemies to vanquish”
Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of Great Powers, did indeed document repeated overextension of great powers causing overstretch and was counterbalanced by other major powers. Kennedy persuasively demonstrates the interdependence of economic and military power, showing how an imbalance between the two has historically led to spectacular disasters. Advocates of America, come home , express grave worry that the US’s multifarious commitments might drag it into an unnecessary shooting war, or that its massive global military presence feeds a dangerous expansion of interests that results in young America’s dying in battle for other nation’s causes.
Driven by the forces of entropy, we are neither going to Hell nor being delivered to a Promised Land. We are instead, heading for a place more akin to a perpetual state of Purgatory—a chaotic realm of unknowable complexity. The increasing disorder of our world will lead eventually to sort of global ennui mixed with a disturbingly large dose of individual extremism and dogmatic posturing by states. It’s a world subsumed by the inexorable forces of randomness, tipped off its axis, swirling in a cloud of information overload. Amid all the blooming confusion, we must turn to physics for a conceptual metaphor that captures the dynamics of contemporary international politics and accordingly, can be used to navigate the choppy seas of a changing world order.
The author is Phd scholar, deptt of political science, Kashmir University