Disruptors and a reshaped World Order

Hussein Haridy
Friday 7 Jul 2023

The global strategy of the Biden administration rests on the defence of the Old World Order of the Western world.


The US State Department released what it called “A Conversation with Richard Haas” last month, Hass being the president of the prestigious New York-based US Council on Foreign Relations.

The main conversant was US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. If anyone is interested in understanding the underlying principles and strategic vision of the Biden administration for world politics and the future of the international system, this “conversation” would be as good a place to start as any. 

The original conversation of which the report is a record took place on 28 June in the wake of three major international developments, namely the launch of the much-touted Ukrainian counteroffensive, the visit by Blinken to Beijing in June, and the “mutiny” of the commander of the Russian Wagner Group and its aborted march on Moscow.

The main theme is that from the US point of view the world is at an “inflection point,” and decisions taken now will shape the future of the international system as a result. In the report it is pointed out that such moments in history come only once in a few generations and that they are accompanied by deep changes in the world. Decisions adopted to meet their challenges will likely shape tomorrow’s developments.

Blinken talked about the last three decades of globalisation and about how an “integrated global economy” has led people to believe that political and economic openness go hand-in-hand. From a US perspective, this era of globalisation has witnessed extraordinary progress, he said. The world is getting “safer, more prosperous, a little bit more equal, healthier, and wiser” as a result.

Then something happens in the “conversation.” Blinken refers to a disruption in the march of history, so to speak, and starts to talk about the emergence of what he calls “disruptors.” The list of these includes – you guessed it – the rise of China at the top, then a “revanchist Russia,” and then interrelated and mutually reinforcing transnational challenges and the growing inequities within societies while inequities among nations have grown less. 

Another two disrupting developments have been the democratisation of information and the democratic recession around the world, Blinken said.

The main thrust of the ideas explained in Blinken’s “conversation” with Haas has to do with the preservation and defence of the World Order that came about in the wake of World War II, which was a “Western construct” by Blinken’s own admission. The global strategy of the Biden administration rests on how to organise the West and its allies and partners in different parts of the world in order to perpetuate this World Order that has been challenged by an emerging China and Putin’s Russia, described here as a “revanchist power.”

The world that the US is defending and promoting is a world that is “free, secure, open, and prosperous,” Blinken says. He adds that the vision of the disruptors, mostly China and Russia, is that of an “illiberal world” confronting a US-led liberal international system.

Blinken talks about other countries in the “conversation” without naming them, but it is not difficult to guess which ones he has in mind. These aspire to “erase” the rules, norms, and standards on which the post-World War II World Order was founded, he says. He accuses these countries of wanting to reassert spheres of influence and some of them of using “predatory non-market practices.”

Blinken predicts a “contest” between advocates of two diametrically opposed visions of the future world order, which is why the Biden administration has endeavoured over the past three years to lay the strongest possible foundations to deal with the challenges of the present inflection point. 

Domestically, it has passed three major pieces of legislation in a bipartisan fashion, namely the Infrastructure Act, the CHIPS Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). Internationally, it has been reinvigorating and rejuvenating existing alliances like NATO and establishing what Blinken terms “fit-for-purpose” partnerships, such as coalitions on global health and Covid-19 and on food security, and, shortly, a “coalition on synthetic opioids.”

Blinken concludes his part of the “conversation” by saying that US foreign policy has succeeded over the past three years in building greater convergence with allies and partners on how to deal with China and Russia.

The big question mark is how sustainable this US strategy and vision will be in meeting the gradual changes taking place in the world and how wise and farsighted it will prove to be in managing the transition from a unipolar world characterised by unbridled globalisation to a multipolar world where other powers are determined to muster the political will required to also have a determining say in running world affairs.

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

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