Global political structures permanently fragmented, warns IISS Strategic Survey

International order has atomised for good and the power brokers of the future must develop new strategies

US aircraft carriers have long been a common sight in Gulf waters, but changing priorities after the election could see them sail home. AP
US aircraft carriers have long been a common sight in Gulf waters, but changing priorities after the election could see them sail home. AP

America will not resume its leadership role around the world and the result is a fragmented international landscape in which local powers will establish spheres of influence, a leading think tank warned on Tuesday.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) used its annual survey to document the breakdown of the rules-based international order that was underpinned by Washington's power and prestige.

John Chipman, the director of IISS, said the power shift to a rotation of political and economic "eco-systems" was already irrevocable and that those policy makers who clung to the status quo had lost their grip on events.

The breakdown into power blocs would also see the rise of those countries with flexible and imaginative policies that network with the strongest states to exert influence.

"A new order will emerge but the indication are that politically and possibly technologically the world will divide into separate eco-systems with their own rules and custom," he said. "The evolving world order is not likely to mimic past power shifts."

While the America First approach of President Donald Trump has done much to change the international power balance, US politicians from across the political spectrum have shifted away from a broad consensus on Middle East peace, China and international trade.

China's rising power around the world is one factor to take into account. Nigel Inkster, a senior IISS advisor, said that Beijing was prioritising national sovereignty over its reformist agenda.

International institutions such as the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation had lost effectiveness amid the heightened international competition. As a result international law was increasingly marginalised. "The global rules based order, to the degree it was ever established, is now clearly deposited in the memory bank of the Western strategic nostalgia," Mr Chipman added.

There are examples where so-called medium sized powers have retained effective power even as the large states have clashed. The role of Australia, Canada, Japan and other Asian states to continue the Tran-Pacific Partnership even as the US withdrew was held up as one example for the future.

The reconciliation of Eritrea and Ethiopia as a result of the mediation efforts of the UAE and Saudi Arabia was held up as another example of effective reach by friendly outside powers. "Ethiopia and Eritrea are both benefiting substantially from the peace accord as are its Gulf brokers," an essay in the 2019 Strategic Survey said, which also pointed out a wider regional convergence. "Economic ties between the Gulf states and the Horn of Africa have always been important to both regions."

Political shifts are not the only factor shaping the new rules of international affairs. Recognition of the central role of influence operations in world were outcomes are not fixed but partial or fleeting is just as important as the establishment of a balance of power or observance of international rules.

The advent of 5G has seen a power struggle over China's leading role in technological innovation and many countries want to forge sovereign internet spheres.

Europe has sought to use its regulatory clout to withstand external technological superiority or influence operations from Russia and others. The Islamist political agenda spearheaded by Iran and Muslim Brotherhood factions has emphasised the rising importance of containment policies and adoption of deradicalisation policies by governments around the world.

Updated: October 29, 2019 10:08 PM


Editor's Picks
Sign up to:

* Please select one

Most Read