For citation, please use:
Dutkiewicz, Piotr, 2023. The Grand Split. Russia in Global Affairs, 21(1), pp. 92-110. DOI: 10.31278/1810-6374-2023-21-1-92-110
The New International Order (NIO) has been on the horizon for at least three to four decades (Wallerstein, 1984; Arrighi, 1982; Arrighi, 1994 ; Scholte, 2005; Cox, 1983; Cox, 1987). Today we can clearly see the contours of its structure, the main vectors of its evolution, the main players, and their collective interests. The negative features of the current world order—ongoing wars, ecological degradation, a high level of poverty, and faltering democracy—are on full and dramatic display. Positive alternatives—systemic solutions to systemic problems of the current international order advocated by its critics—are still in statu nascendi. More specifically, we are at the brutal stage of global power relocation that takes forms from global regionalization to regional hegemonization of the international order. It is not, however, a massive deglobalization but rather a global regionalization of the world economy and politics (with a similar volume and intensity of commercial contacts but with a different cultural, normative, and civilizational frame) (Stiglitz, 2016).
The goal of this paper is to sketch the complex process of restructuring the world system, i.e., a profound systemic crisis of world hegemony that has led to what I refer to as the ‘Grand Split.’ This is a decades-long story of deep geopolitical and geo-economic tensions between the hegemonic center and its periphery, in which some of the so-called Rest (such as China, Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran, Malaysia, and most recently Saudi Arabia) question the rules set by the West (Sewpaul, 2016).
Their relations with the collective West changed in time, moving from competition to confrontation to an open conflict that effectively breaks the current international arrangements. In short, this is a Grand Split.
The war in Ukraine came as the culmination of the drawn-out geo-economic and geopolitical struggle for political and civilizational divergence from the “center” (the collective West) that will have profound and long-term global political, economic, and institutional consequences for the New International Order.
Basically, it means a non-peaceful breakdown of the current West-led international rules-based order. This is a war with the collective West that is taking place in Ukraine with differentiated support of some countries from the Rest. Thus, Ukraine has become the epicenter of a larger conflict.
The analysis presented in the paper selectively follows basic premises of the world-system approach and the longue durée approach of the Annales School (Wallerstein, 2004, p. 129; Arrighi and Silver, 1999). Intellectual vignettes and gravures that make this analytical frame more nuanced and easier to use are based on the concepts of several authors. Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of the ‘interregnum’ provided an incentive for this paper. The sections on the center-periphery relations and evaluation of the political economy of the “catch-up” process were inspired by the insightful debate on the new developmentalism by Vladimir Popov, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Justin Yifu Lin, Jose Ocampo, and Luiz Carlos Bresser-Pereira (see Popov and Dutkiewicz, 2017). The vision of the structure of modern hegemonies is drawn from the collective works Hegemony and World Order (Dutkiewicz et al., 2020, p. 296) and Chaos and Governance in the Modern World System (Arrighi and Silver, 1999). The idea of the Grand Split was inspired by the recent publication on a new “civilizational frame” for the world order (Chebankova and Dutkiewicz, 2021a) and by fundamental works on civilizational state and world transformation (Acharya, 2004; Buzan, 2011; and Cocker, 2019). The reader will not find an overarching argument in this paper but rather a multiplicity of arguments presented in each of the sections below (as each phase of the NIO has different dynamics and movers). Hopefully, such a division will not create confusion but more vividly show the complexity of the genesis and development of the NIO.
Methodologically, this paper follows key approaches of three schools of thought: the world system approach, dependency school, and Braudel long cycles; and offers a) my own taxonomy of the Grand Split phases and b) a deeper understanding of the role of political economy in the evolution of international relations as applied to the current war in Ukraine.
This paper has two hypotheses. The first one stems from the political economy/historical approach and suggests that there is a three-stage, decades-long evolution of relations between the West and the Rest that started from competition to be followed by confrontation which then transformed into a major conflict. Currently we are at the open phase of this conflict highlighted by the war in Ukraine. Each phase had different dynamics and movers, but there is one thing they all have in common—center-periphery and civilizational/cultural cleavages. The second hypothesis (geopolitical/geo-economic one) suggests that we have reached the conflict phase (and the war in Ukraine) as a result of two intertwined processes: a long—convoluted and far from being successful—process of economic “catch-up” and political emancipation from dominant rules by the Rest and a relative decline of the U.S. as a world hegemon (Ocampo and Popov, 2013).
The Grand Split approach to the New International Order
The short guide to the creation of the New International Order—painted with a broad brush—reveals to be a three-phased process.
Phase One: An Interregnum. Our story starts at the close of the 20th century when mature globalization began to reveal its multiple negative effects: an entrenchment of the financial capital, huge economic and ecological imbalances, growing global poverty, and the emergence of new forms of global/regional hegemonies (Dutkiewicz et al., 2020, p. 296). That part of global history was described by macro-sociologist Zygmunt Bauman and termed ‘interregnum’ (Bauman, 2012). He believes that in the late 20th century we had entered “situations in which the extant legal frame of social order loses its grip and can hold no longer, whereas a new frame, made to the measure of newly emerged conditions responsible for making the old frame useless, is still at the designing stage.” In short, “the old” arrangement was dying but “the new” one was still in the infant stage, not powerful enough and not structured enough to make any significant structural change in the global power configuration. It was a pre-revolutionary time signified by intertwined processes.
First. There was a divorce of power from politics with resulting growing disparity between the tasks facing states and the tools available to them to fix multiple problems (collapsing welfare arrangements, ecology, and migration, to name just a few) (Georgieva, 2022). In other words, the political response to multiple crises was by far inadequate.
Second. There was the diffusion of power from the state to other non-state—economic, social, and religious—actors (see accurate explanation by Moises Naim (2014)), which eventually made power increasingly free from political control (power is viewed here as a multifaceted concept that covers all the capabilities the states use to influence the behavior of other countries and secure a high level of their obedience). From a policy position this meant more problems for the hegemonic order—a prelude to an inevitable confrontation between a global hegemon (the collective West led by the U.S.) and revisionist powers led by Russia, China, India, and Iran to gain a more significant place at the global power table. As Richard Sakwa (2019, p. 1) put it, “a revisionist state would seek to challenge the existing balance of power in the system and threaten the foundations of the system itself.” In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Rest saw an emerging opportunity to limit the hegemon’s power.
However, all of the abovementioned did not push key actors (both among core states and splinters) in a direction that would help resolve key structural—global and domestic—contradictions that had remained the main cause of global instability. The contradictions included wealth vs. poverty, unipolarity vs. polycentricity, anthropocentric vs. biosphere ecology). The list of problems “impossible to deal with” was and still is quite long.
As the Western core and splinters/revisionists began to be engaged in more intense confrontation, the global order became utterly unstable and chaotic.
Third, the interregnum was a period of accelerated confrontation between two camps of the global political economy. One promoted universalization of the planet. That meant a deepening of the standardization of international, technical, and cultural norms and regulations. The other path, mostly represented by revisionist countries (such traditional “dissidents” as China, Russia, India, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, and a few other non-Western emerging economies (Mead, 2014)), suggested civilizational polarization and geopolitical regionalization. The clash between the two camps intensified (Chebankova and Dutkiewicz, 2021a), but as they failed to offer any viable alternative model of development (except for China) (Lin, 2017), the neo-liberal option of the world order continued to triumph globally (Popov and Dutkiewicz, 2017).
The main highlights of that phase also included an intensive intellectual debate (such as the Iranian-Russian Dialogue of Civilizations and the Chinese Dialogue of Asian Civilizations) on the post-hegemonic, polycentric geopolitical arrangements, which, however, did not generate any substantial coordination of the splinters’ efforts to change the global order (or propose viable solutions to the growing systemic problems, in the least) or any institutional follow-up (attempts to gain some ground in intellectual and moral leadership), except for the formation of the SCO in 2001 and Vladimir Putin’s notable speech in Munich in 2007.
Phase Two started with the financial crisis of 2008-2012 (Calhoun and Derluguian, 2011) and continued for almost a decade. The crisis illuminated several large-scale socioeconomic processes and taught us again hard lessons about the consequences of what some experts described as the “irrational exuberance” (Greenspan, 2017) and others as a deep developmental crisis (Stiglitz, 2010).
The crisis had two implications.
Firstly, it revealed how deeply the so-called financialization (which can be described basically as a massive withdrawal of capital from trade and production and its redirection into financial speculation) (Silver and Paine, 2020)) debilitated economies and societies worldwide and disproportionately hit the emerging economies.
Secondly, it proved that those who represented financial capital “were not stopped from behaving badly by the regulators,” as Joseph Stiglitz (2010) put it. The main reason was that state-based regulators had lost influence over this section of the capital, being dominated by its power (Bichler and Nitzan, 2013).
The paradox outcome of the crisis in relation to the splinter/revisionist group (sometimes emotionally referred to as “injustice called upon them” was that countries that “behaved more than less according to market rules” such as China or Russia, for instance, equally suffered from the “bad behavior” of others, mainly U.S. bankers.
The lack of a unified response to this crisis and the lack of solidarity in fighting its consequences among key industrialized countries led a group of splinter/revisionist countries to deliberately push for greater regionalization of the global order (Katzenstein et al., 2010, p. 314). It also solidified their perception of the need to institutionalize dissent (see the formation of BRICS and Asia-based financial institutions such as the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and openly questioning the idea of the “rules-based international order” as being dysfunctional to some aspects of their well-being. This phase witnessed the move from debating the concepts (like “polycentric international order”) to the policy realm of the infant stage in their implementation (specifically, announcement of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013 and the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) in 2014). At the center of the intellectual debate within the revisionist camp was the problem of how to square technological and political modernity with social conservatism (Watenpaugh, 2006) in the quest for a new value/normative frame of their collective presence in world politics (Chebankova, 2013).
The apparent weakness of the hegemon allowed dissenters to reconfigure and move, albeit slowly and cautiously, to challenging the West. It was a road from confronting the hegemon and its allies to veering off to direct conflict. An important role in that process was played by the growing mistrust between the leaders of the two camps; “double standards”—real or imagined—became quite popular in the discussions between those camps (see Bailey et al., 2002). As Samuel Huntington noted, “hypocrisy, double standards, and ‘but nots’ are the price of universalist pretensions” (1996, p. 184). Thus, trust—a vital component of international relations, particularly in time of crisis—became an exceedingly rare commodity (Lieberthal and Jisi, 2012).
Thirdly, it was the time when—apparently almost invisibly for the global Rest as they seemed not to attach too much value to it—Western countries underwent a complex and deep internal evolution at the elite level of their socioeconomic systems. After decades of its making, financial capital openly split from and confronted industrial capital in their quest for power (a process exemplified by the financial vs. industrial capital struggle during Donald Trump’s administration) (Bivens et al., 2018).
They could not find them as their top ranks were populated mostly by the representatives of industrial capital. This process seriously weakened the density of top-level contacts and the willingness to understand each other, as the two sides pursued different goals and represented separate sets of norms. It seems that the political elite of the splinter/revisionist countries were addressing their grievances to the ruling financial faction of Western elites who were not interested or able to listen to them, let alone heed and understand them. For the leaders of financial capital, they represented a “different reality,” people from the past that shall learn and imitate them rather than voice their demands (Weber, 2015). Some scholars even suggested to name that period ‘Cold War II’ (Legvold, 2016).
Thus, the 2008 crisis had more profound geopolitical consequences than just economic ones. Slowly but steadily the West and the Rest changed the mode of their interstate relations, switching it first from cooperation to confrontation and then—some of them like Russia—to full-fledged “conflict mode” (Sakwa, 2008).
Phase Three: Accelerators. Two events “speeded up human history” (Lozada, 2020) and—with it—a new phase in international relations. One was the global COVID-19 pandemic (2019—ongoing) and the other is the war in Ukraine (February 2022—ongoing).
As the economic and social implications of COVID-19 are beyond the subject matter of this paper and have been discussed in detail elsewhere (see, for example, Fukuyama, 2020), I will note here just one important consequence: it accelerated competition for less accessible natural and other economic resources and increased the level of state control/involvement over/in national economies. According to the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, “most OECD governments took swift and massive actions to financially support households and businesses following the shutdown of economic activities” (OECD, 2022). That competition, in turn, contributed to additional international tensions over access to resources and influence, triggering a push-start towards further revision of the extant world order (CIIS, 2020).
Secondly, the war in Ukraine has predetermined Russia’s relations with the collective West for years to come. Tragically, it is still in full swing, and its escalating trajectory is unclear at this point. Many experts have offered an in-depth analysis of the conflict (see, for instance, Harvard Kennedy School, 2022), so I will focus exclusively on the consequences this war may have for shaping international relations in the future.
Three possible outcomes spring to mind.
The first and most important one is Russia’s deliberate withdrawal from the West-led “rules-based” order. This withdrawal has been supported or accepted by some countries of the global Rest. As Timofei Bordachev has insightfully observed, “As a country that does not associate its vital interests with the international order, Russia has no incentive to follow collective rules. Its actions will be determined by external containment, rather than by the need to account for the interests of its partners for the sake of its own security” (Bordachev, 2021, p. 209). Russia is not the only country that feels and acts that way. The list includes economic giants like China and India, but also about a dozen emerging economies. As I see it, from now on, international norms will not be universally applied; moreover, they are likely to be ignored or violated on a larger scale than before, or subjected to re-negotiation. (Obviously, the norms have been violated many times, both in the realms of economy and international relations. The wars in Yugoslavia, Iraq, and Libya are just some of the examples).
The second one is the implementation of the policy based on re-defining international reality by constructing an imagined “truth” and acting along its logic in quest of “justice.”
The third one is the Ukraine crisis that has made international leaders take a stand towards the Russian military operation there. Most countries led by the U.S./EU condemned it (Granitz and Hernandez, 2022). At the March 2, 2022 Special UN General Assembly Session, 14 out of 193 member-states voted for and five voted against a resolution demanding that Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders” (United Nations [UN], 2022). Thirty-five countries abstained (including China, India, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan) from condemning Russia and opted for the position of “neutral observers.” Basically, they zig-zagged in supporting Russia by avoiding implementation of some of the announced Western packages of severe sanctions. This was clearly seen at the 7th Eastern Economic Forum that took place on September 5-8, 2022 in Vladivostok: the most important delegations included Chinese and Indian participants (Roscongress, 2022).
War in Ukraine and the shift towards the New International Order
The central argument of this short paper is that the Grand Split has been in the making for decades. Now we can see it happening in the most dramatic way we could imagine—the enduring war in Ukraine. It is too early yet to make definite and detailed statements about the shape of a new—post-war—international order. Yet we can safely conclude that the list of immediate consequences of this war for international relations will be long.
First. Global challenges (such as environmental problems, pandemics, poverty, migration, etc.) require consistent collective action; basically, system-level solutions are needed to fix system-level problems. One of the victims of this war will be the ability to muster international consensus, involving some key countries of the Rest (specifically, Russia, China, and Iran), on a majority of such tasks, upsetting almost any systemic agreement in the future.
Second. The Grand Split is causing a re-defining of the “national interests.” There are at least two interlocked processes taking place. One can be termed ‘securitization of everything’ (as a reaction to the growing instability and multiple threats). All social and market assets—from water, raw materials, and energy to medicine and technology—may become a matter of national security and thus be specifically protected from open access by others (mostly by multiple trade barriers) (USTR, 2021). Secondly, the states that widely used the notion of national interests to protect their national assets now increasingly often use a qualitatively stronger notion of existential threat (for example, China, Russia, and Iran). Infringement by others of those on the list may easily accelerate political or economic regional/global conflicts and wars. Basically, the international order is becoming more fragile and thereby more prone to direct conflicts.
Third. The deep transformation of the idea and practice of sovereignty is the third important consequence of the Great Split for international relations. The concept of sovereignty is foundational to modern politics. As Christian Volk has observed, this concept provided a basic conceptual taxonomy of “security, peace, hierarchy, quality of states, prohibition on intervention, etc., it drafts assumptions about the essence of the law […] the basic configuration of public power and relates all of these ideas to each other” (Volk, 2019). Generally, the behavior of states was historically determined by their relative power, but in the recent decade we have seen a transformation of the “sovereignty as right” (Lee, 2021) (to protect one’s territory, people, and assets) to “sovereignty as capacity.” In simple words it means that the stronger you are the more sovereignty you can carve out for your state; in turn, an “independent” state becomes freer of obligations in relation to other states. This suggests that only a few states nowadays have the “capacity to be sovereign” as they have a combination of military, economic, social, cultural, and ideological/normative powers which others do not have. Those who possess such a capacity would “naturally” become global leaders. For others it means that they will either become dominated/subordinated by the rule of the stronger actors or choose the risky—but not hopeless—way of coming into conflict with them (sometimes—like in the case of Afghanistan—a weaker opponent can prevent subordination by the dominant power).
Fourth. A decades-long process of confronting U.S.-led hegemonic arrangements for an alternative world order is on full display. This process started to accelerate around the late 1970s. In the 1990, institutionally uncoherent groups of emerging economies (led by China, Russia, India, and Iran) started to deny the universalization of Western norms, institutions, principles, and values as they saw them as an instrument of hegemonic subordination. With time, their attitude evolved towards louder institutionalized criticism of their multifaceted subordination and, eventually, towards the formation of their “own” multilateral political, security, and economic institutions. Their incohesive defiance until recently was mostly presented in civilizational/cultural terms. The civilizational paradigm of the “revisionist” group of countries featured support for a regional dialogue based on unquestionable acceptance of their respective, broadly defined, cultural norms. In many ways such an approach directly clashed with the West-supported “rules-based order,” which, they argue, is culturally alien to them and not meeting their interests, spiritual needs, and power aspirations. This approach includes a potential for more open conflicts and wars as culture can also be used instrumentally to advance local elites’ real and imagined interests, grievances, and ambitions (Acharya, 2004). The arrival of civilizational discourse in the international arena is aimed at reconfiguring world politics. Today political elites increasingly often use the idea of civilizational belonging to justify their soft-power attempts to recast the old political arrangements and social structures in a bid to dominate internationally (Chebankova and Dutkiewicz, 2021a, p. 160). (Note that the current war in Ukraine is presented by Russia—on top of NATO threat to its security—in cultural and ideological terms.) This process is likely to intensify.
Fifth. The chaotic nature of world politics is further complicated by the weakness of modern states. I argue that many states resemble an ostrich egg with a very hard shell and soft yolk inside. The appearance of a strong leader able to make a country secure economically and politically goes hand in hand with institutional and economic weakness and poor governance. Self-recognition of the dismal state of their countries—in both camps—causes the fear of losing power domestically and independence internationally. I have argued elsewhere (Dutkiewicz and Kazarinova, 2017) that fear is increasingly the essence of politics and a powerful factor in political decision-making. Thus, weakness not strength proves to be the source of many conflicts.
Sixth. The war in Ukraine has already triggered an irreversible process of living in a world with no universally accepted rules. What if some influential countries decide to ignore the rules-based order and propose new ones? Recently, Mark Leonard wrote: “And yet, in the coming decades, the biggest global threat will not be China the rule-breaker, but China the rule-maker. China’s growing influence over international norms, standards and conventions is a game-changer. For centuries, Western powers have taken for granted that they are the world’s norm-setters, massively influencing other countries’ policies through the ‘Washington Consensus’, the ‘Brussels effect’ and other channels” (Leonard, 2022). Thus, both rule-breaking and new rule-making are part and parcel of the Grand Split.
Seventh. The UN as a key international organization has been a target of criticism for quite a long time. The war in Ukraine has highlighted many of its weaknesses and created a deadlock within the Security Council (where the U.S. and Russia blocked unwelcome draft resolutions), which may be deadly for this organization. Unfortunately, there is nothing of the UN size and influence on the global political horizon to replace it. Other international organizations may follow suit, being crippled by the war in Ukraine. For instance, in March 2022, the United States, Canada, the EU, and other G7 countries committed themselves to revoking Russia’s most-favored-nation status with respect to tariff treatment, which would effectively erase the benefits of Russia’s participation in the World Trade Organization.
* * *
Finally, how can we manage the chaos that we are deeply immersed in? Unfortunately, at the current international moment, a short response is to reinvent regional hegemonies, making regional powers responsible for the order in their backyard. It is not a given, however, that such a new order will be democratic, honoring human rights and human needs. The parallel between a regional hegemon and a stationary bandit, as described by Mancur Olson (1993) is quite striking: “Under anarchy, uncoordinated competitive theft by ‘roving bandits’ destroys the incentive to invest and produce, leaving little for either the population or the bandits. Both can be better off if a bandit sets himself up as a dictator—a ‘stationary bandit’ who monopolizes and rationalizes theft in the form of taxes. A secure autocrat has an encompassing interest in his domain that leads him to provide a peaceful order and other public goods that increase productivity.”
The old hegemonic system is in decline and the new one is already on the table (Dutkiewicz et al., 2020). For the old world order, it is a time of trial. It must prove that it can still guarantee security and provide the sense of stability and well-being for countries that support the U.S.-led world. For those pushing for a new division of power, it is time to mobilize all resources to make the liberal order surrender (or at least weaken) its power. This may result in an ugly time of military conflicts involving core countries. The war in Ukraine is very tragic but it is not a unique example of the new norm in settling disputes.
It may be asked whether the New International Order carries positive or negative features. I would say it is too early to judge. My criterion for such evaluation would be the ability of the main players to do what they so far have failed to do, that is, propose system-level solutions to system-level problems.
So much depends now on so few.
I think that we shall have an even stronger belief in a utopia of global peace and support diplomatic ways to stop this and other wars.
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 Over the past few decades, one group—the “financial capital group” composed of the various factions of neo-liberal elites—has been controlling the flow of financial capital, portfolio investments, and information technologies. The second group represented by the conservative cohort of politicians backed by “industrial capital” has been responsible for production in the heavy industry, for the military, agriculture, and resource extraction. Both groups have their representatives in the governments of states around the world and global political elites. At some point—well before the crisis of 2008—however, financial capital got tired of playing the role of the younger brother to the industrialists and sought to relieve itself of the obligations to maintain social cohesion within the vassal states while not crossing the limits of pauperization. By the end of the 1990s, financial capital had begun to participate in global processes as a separate group of actors, independent from industrial capital and guided by a simple drive towards wealth accumulation. Somewhere along the way, financial capital dispensed with the principles of liberal economics and, as aptly observed by Bichler and Nitzan (2013), merged capital and power. Meanwhile, representatives of industrial capital are driven by the idea of sustained industrial development within nation-states and argue that such an economic structure can provide employment, economic growth, and the well-being of citizens. The industrial capital groups still defend the traditionalist metanarrative of society that can legitimatize its goals, interests, and profit accumulation. Therefore, industrial groups insist on the equality of all before the law, greater social cohesion, and maintenance of order, stability, and conservative way of life. Also, industrial capital groups support the traditionalist understanding of the role of the state in various spheres of socio-political life (for more detail see Chebankova and Dutkiewicz, 2021b).
 The struggle between the existing views is likely to become much more intense. On one side of the debate are the advocates of a unipolar world architecture with a single center led by the neo-liberals and democrats in Washington. Their opponents, headed by “conservatives/traditionalists” within the Russian, Indian, Chinese, Pakistani, and Iranian elites, insist on a multipolar world based on dialogue between large regions-civilizations.
 For example, Mohammad Bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, argued in July 2022 during a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden that people of the world have different views and cultures, and the attempts of the United States to impose its values on the rest of humanity by force are counterproductive (Zawya, 2022).