The contemporary international politics is steadily movingtowards a state of chaos and randomness, a change consistent with the universallaw of rising entropy. The world is undergoing huge transformation. We areentering the age of entropy, a chaotic period where anything can happen andlittle can be predicted; where yesterdays rule takers become tomorrow's rulemakers, but no one follows rules anymore; where competing global visionscollide with each other; where remnants of past, present and future coexistlike a palimpsest simultaneously. In this world, global interdependence whichwas amplified and moving at an inexorable speed by forces of globalization andcomplex interdependence seem to have diminished considerably. Globalization hasentered a new phase of slowbalization. However power is diffusing, and multilateral cooperation is dwindling; capabilities to block, disable, damage, anddestroy prevail over those to adopt, enable, repair, and build; where geographyno longer distinguishes friends from enemies, and no one can be trusted. Theonce impenetrable 'hard shell' of territorial state which had given way topermeability that undermines sovereignty and independence may again backtrackinto the hard shell of impermeability. The future hinges on what the presentanticipates, on how established and emerging powers portray the coming worldand how they intend to act on their present understandings.
While geopolitical uncertainty and an eroding internationalorder have been the dominant trend, the governments grapple with a volatileinternational landscape and look to adjust their foreign policy strategiesaccordingly to secure their interests. Power has become more diffuse, movingnot just from West to East, but also away from governments, as more non –stateactors play larger roles in driving global affairs. Greaterinterdependence—driven by forces of globalization, digital revolution, and evenclimate change—is now testing the limits of global governance structures thatfacilitate cooperation and manage conflict. Globalization and technology areexperiencing an intense backlash as political movement's rail againstinternational flows of trade, capital and people, and scrutinize technology'srole in our lives. While greater interdependence has created both challengesand opportunities the erosion of the rule based international order adds a newdimension of hazards and risks (nuclear proliferation, terrorism, climate change,poverty, hunger) especially global health problems like MERS, SARAS and COVID19, which has brought the whole world to a standstill and disengaged, economicrecession which is in offing may break the spine of economically powerfulnations.
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 landmarkParis Agreement and bringing the American 'pivot' to Asia to contain theexpanding military muscle of its rising challenger China. China's ambitions forglobal leadership and to get its respected position among the comity of nationsis being contested and impeded by the American hegemony. However the Trumpadministration's foreign policy agenda is much coercive based on hard powerposing clearest threats to the rule-based international order, first being therise of populist-nationalism in western democracies, and the potential forisolationist, nationalist and protectionist policies that often arise underthese regimes. Second and the inter-linked threat is the United Statesabandoning its traditional role as the guarantor of the rule based system and thepre-eminent champion of multilateralism. The third is the rising risk given theheightened uncertainty of rising powers challenging and overturning theexisting international order. Each of these threats remains a major disruptiveforce 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 ofmultilateralism, as a guiding principle for foreign policy, has stalled.Zero-sum, nationalist driven policies are on the rise. In short the globalgeopolitical context that coalesced in 2017 and calcified in 2019 remains inplace for the foreseeable future. In this context as John Ikenberry has recentlyargued, "the rule based international order is in crisis". Christopher Layneargues that the costs of US global leadership and deep engagement imposes heavycosts and yields scant benefits to US. The ballooning budget deficits are goingto make it increasingly difficult to sustain the level military commitmentsoverseas. US exit from Syria, Libya and Afghanistan accentuates that there arebudgetary hiccups, and its unilateral arrogance has failed to shape up itsinterests in Middle East, Afghanistan and East Asia and a rapid decline in itssoft power appeal. In Barry Posen's words "the very act of seeking more controlinjects negative energy into world politics as quickly as it finds enemies tovanquish"
Paul Kennedy's Rise and Fall of Great Powers,did indeed document repeated overextension of great powers causing overstretchand was counterbalanced by other major powers. Kennedy persuasivelydemonstrates the interdependence of economic and military power, showing how animbalance between the two has historically led to spectacular disasters.Advocates of America, come home , express grave worry that the US'smultifarious commitments might drag it into an unnecessary shooting war, orthat its massive global military presence feeds a dangerous expansion ofinterests that results in young America's dying in battle for other nation'scauses.
Driven by the forces of entropy, we are neither going toHell nor being delivered to a Promised Land. We are instead, heading for aplace more akin to a perpetual state of Purgatory—a chaotic realm of unknowablecomplexity. The increasing disorder of our world will lead eventually to sortof global ennui mixed with a disturbingly large dose of individual extremismand dogmatic posturing by states. It's a world subsumed by the inexorableforces of randomness, tipped off its axis, swirling in a cloud of informationoverload. Amid all the blooming confusion, we must turn to physics for aconceptual metaphor that captures the dynamics of contemporary internationalpolitics and accordingly, can be used to navigate the choppy seas of a changingworld order.
The author is Phd scholar, deptt of political science, Kashmir University