In his recent article (2022), Stephen Walt writes: "I see [the Ukrainian war] differently. The war in Ukraine is a significant event, but not because the outcome will have a dramatic independent effect on the global balance of power [...]. Rather, it is important because it signals the end of the brief "unipolar moment" (1993-2020) when the United States was the world's sole genuine superpower [...]. The unipolar moment was never going to last forever, but the gross mistakes of omission and commission—for which no one was ever held accountable—brought it to a premature end. [...] for the first time since the early 1990s [...] there are rival great powers on the opposite sides of a major war."
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the primary concerns of the researchers and theorists of international relations was finding an alternative order to the bipolar structure of the international system which was prominent during the Cold War. American realists, due to their excessive optimism and the approximate coincidence of the collapse of the Soviet Union with the US coalition forces invasion of Iraq in 1991, promised the construction of the unipolar system led by the US. After that, in the relative peacefulness regarding the international security during the 90s, liberals started to talk about multipolarity in the world order. After September 11 , liberals readjusted their viewpoints, identifying the structure of the international system as uni-multipolar. (Unipolar in the military issues and multipolar in the economic and political issues), while the realists considered the police atmosphere in the international order after September 11 a reconfirming reason to continue the unipolar order.
The developments in the structure of the international system during the last decade, especially the emergence of new-born powers, caused even the realists to start doubting the unipolarity of the international system. The European Union's inability to act self-sufficiently regarding security issues and Europe's dependence on the USA in the security challenges caused due to the problems of terrorism, refugees, and other relevant concerns practically pulled the EU out from the binary state of polarity. Regardless of the outcome of the Ukraine war, Russia will suffer international isolation. On the other hand, the fast and ongoing persistence of China's power at the international level, and the influence of regional powers, including Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Brazil, Turkey, and also Iran's leadership in establishing order through the resistance axis at the regional level–remarkably reflected in the 33-day war and also the war in Syria and Yemen–are all indicative of the construction of a new order on the international scene. What are the characteristics of this new order and which actors will have these axial roles?
The new order, which signifies the transition from the uni-multipolar order (1991-2020) to the stabilization era, is based on axiality at the systemic level and polarity at the regional level. It is important to note that the axis is not a pole. Polarity is a sign of hegemony in the political, economic, military, and especially ideological issues, while the axialiy lacks ideological essence. What has been regarded as bipolarity between the USA and China at the international level is not a bipolar structure but an axis with the USA on one spectrum and China on another. At least in the current situation, China lacks an influential ideology to dominate other countries and the required actors to become a pole on its own. More importantly, China is competing with the USA by following the exact rules of capitalism, the traditional order prevailing on an international scale. The annual currency exchange between China and the USA is over 700 billion dollars; accordingly, there is an asymmetric economic interdependence between these two counties.
The poles, as were the USA and the Soviet Union which had established two self-sufficient orders during the Cold War, are not supposed to be economically or militarily interdependent accordingly, the binary order between China and the USA is biaxial but not bipolar. In this new order, there will be no tangible conflict between China and the USA, on the other hand, this biaxial order is constructed based on competition and cooperation. At the regional level, however, we can identify the polarities. A remarkable example of ideological and strategic bipolarity is the case of the resistance front vs. the Hebrew-Arab-Western front. The Russia-Belarus front vs. Ukraine and its Western allies is also an example of ideological bipolarity. Hence, we have passed through the transition era and entered the era of stabilization. At the international level, the stabilization has been formed over two axes of China and the USA, and at some regional levels, this stabilization is constructed over both polarities and axialities.
The strategy of the Islamic Republic of Iran to join China is a smart choice that paves the way for managing the conflicts between Iran and the USA; however, it is necessary to bear this strategic point in mind that the concept of US front vs. Chinese front is not a conflicting bipolarity but competitive cooperation. The forerunners of the Eastern polarization which is led by China and based on ideological and military elements are extremely weak. Regarding this analysis, can we truly count on China's support of the resistance front against the Hebrew-Arab and Western fronts?
Seyed Mohammad Hoseini, Senior Expert of the Institute for Political and International Studies
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)