After the end of World War II, the world was divided into two ideological camps – the United States-led capitalist West and the Soviet Union-dominated communist East. However, this separation of the international community in two opposite political and economic systems, formally started fading after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. This ideological division of the world ceased after the collapse of the socialist Soviet Union in 1991. Post-1991, it was believed that the world had entered into a new phase of globalization with little or no challenge to capitalism. The further endorsement of economic liberalism by China, the East European countries and subsequently by developing countries like India, led to the ultimate change in the political dynamics of the world. In this new world order, the capitalist United States emerged as the sole superpower, the custodian of neoliberalism and left no stone unturned to establish its strategic, economic and political supremacy in international relations.
The next big turn in world politics was witnessed in 2001. A non-state actor surprisingly challenged the power of the US in 2001. Al-Qaida’s terrorist attacks on the US shattered the international illusion that some power centers can regulate world politics effectively. The 9/11 terrorist attacks were the first warning bell but it was willfully ignored by Washington. The US responded aggressively by unilaterally declaring war on terror. This was the first serious departure from the post-1991 consensus that the international community will unitedly be tackling all problems that are cross-border in nature.
The US with her allies attacked Taliban controlled Afghanistan and within a couple of years started another war against Saddam Hussain (2003). The US alleged that Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). The Second Gulf War was started by the US on very flimsy grounds and was an eyeopener for other countries. The international community realized that the US was more interested in pursuing her own interests and even lacked basic commitment to conclude the war on terror. No wonder the US is withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan when it is far from achieving its foreign policy objectives. Today, the world is more insecure and people are apparently divided into different lines of identities – national, racial, and communal. Also, it is a fact that currently, the US appears to be a declining power and the world is in pieces.
These are glaring changes in world politics but there are some important factors those have been missed by the common eye. It is all about the new preferences of the states ie. moving from global to regional interests. In the last couple of decades, it is not only the whole of Europe that proved its vitality and importance as an integrated region but there are other considerable examples- like ASEAN in Asia and MERCOSUR in South America. ASEAN was founded in 1967 giving strength to small nations of Southeast Asia, and it is one of the leading economic hubs of the world today.
Similarly, MERCOSUR was established in 1991 which helped in easing tension between two political rivals Brazil and Argentina and has a list of achievements to its credit. In the last couple of years, EU witnessed some setbacks like 2016 Brexit referendum in the UK. Likewise, a number of Far Right political parties in different European countries are adding to the already existing complexities in Europe. Till today, there are clouds of uncertainty that hangs on Brexit. The political turmoil in the UK over Brexit reestablishes that it is not easy for a country to withdraw from an integrated regional system.
While the international analysts are raising fingers on the rationality of Brexit referendum, some of the decisions of President Trump can also be read on the lines of authentication that the world politics is progressively getting regionalized. The recent announcement of the US to withdraw troops from Syria and Afghanistan is another indication that it is a hesitant global leader. In both these countries – Syria and Afghanistan one can clearly see the growing involvement of regional players. Russia, China, India, and Pakistan in the case of Afghanistan, and Iran and Turkey in the case of Syria.
The decline of the US is not the sole basis of the argument that the world is getting more regionalized. One also has to count on other factors. Some of the old international organizations that had endorsed and supported globalization are facing new competitions. The Bretton Woods Institutions (BWI) – the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB), were the backbone of the economic globalization. Countries requesting help and support from the IMF and WB had to accept their stringent conditions that were primarily included as a criterion for the opening of national economies. A lot has been written on the subject criticizing the policy prescriptions of the BWIs, but they remained as a last hope of sinking economies. Today even that control of the world economy has been weakened after the establishment of the New Development Bank of the BRICS and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) of China. These two organizations have a different set of rules, making it easy for economies in need to obtain loans without any compulsion of ratifying the idea of globalization. This is a big departure from the old established norms.
The new economic players like China are big supporters of the market economy with state control and are also interestingly willing to take an active role in world politics. Thus, the old power centers are no longer strong enough to manage the international political-economic order and the new actors seem to have their own priorities. The world is more decentralized and regional political dynamics are presently much more relevant for nations.
To conclude, regionalism is somewhere in between globalization and nationalism. In the current post-Cold War world, it is impossible to avoid interdependence between different nations and in this regard, globalization is considered as a reformist movement. Globalization was expected to connect the citizens of the world, assist to make international decision making more democratic and egalitarian. Contrary to these theoretical underpinnings, globalization, as pursued by the dominant actors, failed to deliver on these promises.
In the last few years, the rise in politics of ultra-nationalism throughout the world is a kind of popular resentment against globalization. The majority felt cheated by these aggressive market forces where only a handful were the beneficiaries. A large number of people who remained at the margins due to concocted globalization are unwilling to allow further dilution of state authorities. Despite this genuine anger, the states are also aware of the fact that, closing the gates of the national economy to international players will be a little difficult, thus taking or opting for the regional route will be a better idea.
Regionalism had already been experimented with, and its success in economic terms was fruitful and it is, therefore, time when regional politics too will acquire prominence and we will see more of these regional geopolitics taking eminence on the world stage. It appears that future world politics will be more regional and less global.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Geopolitics.
The author is an Assistant Professor of International Relations at South Asian University, New Delhi.