Russia and Ukraine – towards a 19th Century world order

by Chris Zappone

Dr Helen Lavoix at Red Team Analysis brings up an idea that has been on a lot of people mind before Russia’s move to annex Crimea. Are global politics exiting the period of post-war alliances and drifting back to a 19th century order?

Writing on her blog she notes:

What we are seeing starting being enacted is a struggle over norms that will preside over the world order. It is highly likely it will lead to a very different world as during the fight all norms will evolve and be redefined, whatever the winner and the loser. It is most likely to impact all areas of life, including economy, and the financial and monetary spheres, as these are part of the Washington Consensus, built upon this very order that is challenged.

At this point, if I had to describe the ideas behind the struggle between the US, Russia and China I would call it a battle for legitimacy, largely divorced from the battle of ideologies that marked the Cold War. This lack of ideology may be a hold over from the globalization period, roughly 1990-2010. It may also reflect the advancement of the developing nations, where tangible improvements in life far outweigh the preoccupation with ideology. Or as one Chinese real estate agent once explained to me: “As long as people are making money, who cares about the politics?”

If a layer of ideology doesn’t snap over the geopolitical situation, we will have returned to a more 19th Century outlook on geopolitics. But as the once-unstoppable economies of the developed world slow, leaders there may need ideas and arguments to keep their people cohesive and to minimize internal dissent.

Just look at China: Is it a coincidence anti-Japanese sentiment has been whipped up to a fervor as the easy gains of rapid industrialization fade? It could just be. It could also be an unconscious shift of focus by China’s leadership to show that the people’s enemy is outside – not inside the country.

In any case, Russia has clearly thumbed its nose at the Western order and China does so selectively with a longer-term goal to do so more completely. What comes next could look decidely 19th Century.