Initial Glimpses Into the Reconfiguration of International Order
Initial Glimpses Into the Reconfiguration of International Order
Whether it is brief or continues for an extended period, the world is undergoing an exceptional moment that can be summed up in a scene we will almost inevitably see: Moscow and Tehran drowning in crises of their own making.
I do not remember ever seeing the ice-cold face Putin puts on in front of the camera change as it did while he chanted for Russia at the end of the ceremony in which the agreements to annex four Ukrainian regions to Russia (Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhya) were signed. It is as though the intention was for the noise of the chants and applause inside one of the Kremlin’s halls to prevent the noise of the Russian army’s retreat as Ukrainian forces (with the support of Washington and NATO, which are providing it with supplies and money, as well as coordinating with it on strategy and providing it with information) continue their counter-offensive from being heard.
Threatening to use nuclear weapons as his army suffers setbacks on the ground indicates the extent of Putin’s apprehension regarding his military operation. This anxiety is shared by segments of the population, as was reflected in the panic that struck Russian families after partial mobilization to support the war effort had been announced. A quote attributed to the ferocious Russian opposition figure Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been spreading like wildfire: “Russia is most likely the first and only country in the world where people flee not because someone invaded their country, but because they invaded another country.”
It is well known that wars are fought in rounds and that what we will see on the battlefield tomorrow could be the opposite of what we are seeing today. It seems that this is not limited to the battlefield either.
Despite all the fuss about the emergence of a new alliance on the international scene and the exaggerations in analyzing the ongoing meetings and summits, a closer look into the stances that have been taken on the matter demonstrates that the Chinese- Indian alignment with Russia is undermined by several considerations, weakening its effectiveness and thereby establishing a new and sustainable international balance.
At meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the Uzbek capital of Samarkand, Putin, as he praised Beijing’s “balanced” position on the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, was obliged to tell his Chinese counterpart that he understands that China has “questions and concerns in this regard.”
In the same meeting, Putin heard his Indian counterpart seemingly reprimand him; “I know that today’s era is not an era of war, and I have spoken to you on the phone about this,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said.
China and India have benefited from the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, buying Russian oil at a sharp discount. They also enjoyed seeing the scale of the insult directed at “American arrogance” through this war. Both have bet on changes inevitably striking the make-up of the international order, its balances, and the manner in which roles are divided within international institutions. However, in contrast to Russia, they do not want to bring this order that has benefited them down in a chaotic and desperate manner.
Moreover, New Delhi and Beijing’s skepticism of one another is far too great to allow for the emergence of grounded axes or to be dispelled by fleeting alignments regarding the Russian-Ukrainian conflict- let alone dispel India’s anxiety over Russia turning into a card China can play. Indeed, India has begun reducing its volume of trade with Russia and seeking new suppliers of weaponry and energy.
Even when China and India abstained in the vote for a resolution condemning Moscow’s annexation of the four Ukrainian regions, they followed their abstentions with precise statements. China’s delegation to the United Nations asserted that “sovereignty and territorial integrity must be safeguarded,” while India called for an immediate ceasefire and respect for “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries.”
The recalibration of these great powers eight months into conflict also applies to the Gulf states, which have a massive influence on energy markets. The same is true for Israel, whose “Westernness” would confound the Western powers on both sides of the Atlantic if it goes too far to appease and grants Putin a degree of political and moral legitimacy that he should not enjoy.
Regarding the Gulf, the visit that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made to a number of Gulf capitals introduced a different kind of dialogue between Europe and the Gulf countries. It revolves around the roles that these countries could play in meeting their international responsibility to confront the “militarization of energy” by Russia after it cut gas supplies to Europe to achieve political objectives. The Emiratis and Germans signed a new Energy Security and Industry Accelerator (ESIA) Agreement, through which the former will begin supplying the latter with liquified natural gas by the end of the year and up to 250 thousand tons of diesel a month effective immediately and throughout 2023.
We are looking at the reconfiguration of the international system that is moving at a slow pace but taking a steady course- at least the way Russia understands its reconfiguration, that is, undermining all the pillars of the international order and all the foundations of its legitimacy.
As for Iran, its situation is incomparably worse. Unprecedented protests flared in the country after Mahsa Amini’s murder, and they swiftly morphed into a counter-revolution against the regime as a whole and all of its major figures.
The Iranians’ revolt is complemented by what is happening in Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Lebanon. In both, the Iranian project seems besieged either by serious and determined opposition, the flagrant political, service, financial and economic failures of the clients of Iran who hold power, or both at the same time.
That is happening as the health of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei deteriorates. His illness has become a metaphor for the failure of his revolutionary regime itself, as though Khamenei’s frailty is nothing more than the embodiment of the frailty of the revolution’s regime, its institutions, ideas and project.
The staggering of the regime fueling unrest in the region and the regime stirring trouble internationally constitutes an unprecedented turning point in the history of international balances of power that is paving the way for a new stage. It is difficult to imagine the final form it will take. However, what we know for sure is that the West has all the tools it needs to be the decisive partner in shaping this future and its rules, as well as to make all the concessions necessary for reconsidering global security and stability. US President Joe Biden has put forward the idea that a reform of the Security Council is needed in what was a double-edged statement. On the one hand, it warned China that playing an international role would require it to behave more responsibly. On the other hand, it tempts India to believe that its longstanding demands to be treated in a manner proportional to its size are not falling on deaf ears.
These are early glimpses into what will change in the world- changes that, among many other factors, the policies of Iran and Russia have contributed to.
The paradox, however, is that while the behavior of these two states has changed much of the rules that govern the world, perhaps laying the groundwork for the emergence of a new world, these two countries’ regimes will likely not be part of it.