For analysts of contemporary international relations, perhaps only one thing is clear: this is neither the world envisioned by the signatories of the Atlantic Charter, nor that of the post-Cold War triumphalists.
As a result of continuing globalization (the defining historical process of our times) and heteropolarity (the emerging world order model), power is shifting and the operating environment for diplomacy and foreign policy is undergoing profound transformation.
Emotion, conviction and ideology, thriving in the echo chamber of the social and digital media, and are now privileged over facts, evidence and rational assessment.
Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing and Robotics constitute new frontiers, but the lasting implications are largely unexplored.
We have entered terra incognita, and the risks are multiplying.
Under pressure from a staggering array of vexing, S&T-driven, transnational issues – the new threat set – state-centricity in international relations is waning fast. The lack of an effective institutional response has revealed a global governance gap of striking magnitude.
Donald Trump, abetted by a clutch of retreaded generals and assorted other barbarians inside the gates at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, has accelerated the decline of America’s global prestige and influence. This has created a vacuum; rising Asia, and in particular China and India, has emerged as the primary beneficiary.
Brexit, internal divisions, and the rise of xenophobic, right-wing populism in many parts of Europe have preoccupied the EU. Just when the world most needs the moderating influence of a strong and united Europe, both the organization and its members are looking inwards at precisely the time that they should be looking out.
Shaky institutions, toxic politics, and a wavering commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law have prevented a number of potentially significant powers from achieving anything close to their promise. Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Egypt, Nigeria, and a host of other countries remain on the sidelines as the status quo crumbles.
All of this has been complicated by the persistent machinations of a cunning, calculating, and increasingly bold Russia intent upon reasserting itself as a great power. The bear is wide awake, and hungry.
Add to that the spectacle of a demented eagle unable to fly, a dragon foraging far and wide, tigers on the prowl … The erstwhile global village is looking more like a zoo – if not the intergalactic bar in Star Wars.
Bottom line? Analysts and decision-makers today face the daunting challenge of navigating in uncharted spaces, of identifying and managing multiple vulnerabilities, and of responding to the strategic imperative of converting adversity into opportunity.