Academics, decision-makers and policy makers have suggested that COVID and the war in Ukraine represent an ‘inflection point’. The consequence will be ‘the end of globalisation’, ‘a bipolar Cold War 2.0’ and a return to Containment. In reality, the emerging world order is much messier. The logics of geoeconomics and geopolitics, largely aligned during the Cold War, are now in tension, ruptured by decades of globalisation, America's decline, and China's ascent. Consequently, US security allies now often wrestle with the fact that their economic ties link them to US rivals, notably China, or adversaries, like Russia. The pandemic and war have wrought geopolitical and economic adjustments, but any resemblance to Cold War blocs is superficial. What is consolidating is an era best described as fuzzy bifurcation. Unlike the Cold War, alliances will be tenuous across policy domains. With this greater latitude, even small and medium-sized states may band-wagon on security but will balance, hedge and even pursue strategic autonomy in others. Terms like ‘allies’, ‘competitors’, ‘rivals’, and even ‘adversaries’ become contingent on the policy issue. It is a world that American and Chinese policy makers will find challenging, indeed frustrating, because of the inconstancy of allied behaviour.
- We describe and discuss the current development of the global system which we characterise as fuzzy bifurcation, where the patterns of globalisation and new security requirements are in tension, unlike during the Cold War when they were largely complementary.
- We address the fact that policy domains are now discreet, with allied relations, unlike during the Cold War, only extending within each domain.
- In this new strategic context, terms like ‘allies’, ‘competitors’ ‘rivals’, and even ‘adversaries’ become contingent on the specific policy issue.
- Globalisation will not ‘end’. Rather states and the private sector will adapt as its tentacles are rerouted.
- China and the US will remain the dominant powers. But managing allies will be circumscribed by the enhanced, if still limited, autonomy enjoyed by smaller states. It is a world that policy makers will find challenging, indeed frustrating.
- Russia may become more dependent on China but will adapt and endure.
- Europeans may bandwagon on the US for security, but will adopt markedly different strategies over other policy issues.
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