Rise of a multi polar world order

June 3, 2014
By Priyanka Bhide

When SFG foresaw shifts in the balance of power in world politics.


The uni-polar system of the world order will gradually become multi-polar by 2020 – this is a scenario we drew out in Strategic Foresight Group’s 2008 report “Emerging Issues: Global Security and Economy”. We said that the United States will continue to occupy the centre-place but will see its role as a single great power being replaced by a multi-polar world driven by the resurgence of Russia, China and independence of the European Union. To a large extent the world is already showing signs of this shift in polarity.

The gradual decline of the USA as a world power is already taking place. Although still a leader on the technological front, there are increasing doubts regarding the moral authority wielded by the USA. On the military front too, the country has faced several defeats: they have been unsuccessful in controlling the spread of the Taliban in Afghanistan; USA invasion of Iraq has been heavily criticized. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis the country has also faced tremendous economic erosion.

The resurgence of Russia and China are contributing to the shift in power equations. Both Russia and China are rapidly modernizing their military technology. Russia has already demonstrated its position of power through its strong actions in Ukraine. The protests in Ukraine began when President Yanukovych turned down an invitation to join the European Union: a move strongly supported by Russia and opposed by the USA. However, Russia has asserted its power and status in the region through its strong support for Yanukovych and backing of the Crimean referendum. Although Russia does not have the economic or political strength to acquire Ukraine, it has nevertheless put a halt to the country’s growing proximity with the EU. The USA’s push for sanctions against Russia has also not been very successful as countries such as Germany are hesitant on account of their strong economic relations with Russia and dependence on Russia’s natural gas supplies.

Russia’s oil and China’s economic prowess have strengthened the political positions of both countries. In addition, the two are also forming partnerships in key areas such as the energy market and regional security arrangements. During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to China in May 2014, the China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and Russia's Gazprom finalized a deal through which Russia will be able to deliver approximately 38 billion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas to China by 2018, after the completion of the Chayanda natural gas field in Russia. This agreement is a first as Russia has thus far focused largely on the EU for its energy exports.

The EU is carving out its own identity, independent in thought and action from its American ally. Although the EU still works in cooperation with the USA on many fronts and both share similar views on most international issues, there have been some signs to suggest that the EU is making its independent mark on the international stage. For example in the case of Syria, the US is of the view that they should either completely stay away from Syria’s internal problems or engage in full-fledged military intervention. Most countries in the EU are opposed to this extreme approach and seek a middle ground to resolving the crisis and putting an end to the violence. In terms of technology as well, the EU is asserting its independence from American technologies, for example it is developing Galilio which is the European Global Satellite-Based Navigation System, very similar to the American GPS system. Once Galilio is fully functional (this is estimated to take place by 2019) the EU countries will no longer depend on GPS.

These examples go to show that the balance of power in the world is definitely shifting. Although the US still holds a strong position on the international stage, new voices are emerging that can no longer be ignored. By 2020, the multi-polarisation which is starting to take place today will be more firmly rooted; changing drastically the face of international politics.

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