New World Disorder: Welcome to the Diplomatic Kaleidoscope

New World Disorder: Welcome to the Diplomatic Kaleidoscope

Our recent blog looked at the emerging concept of “polycrisis” – how in a polynodal world, different problems collided, often with the effect of amplifying each other.

The replacement of the “New World Order” of 1991, by a world of rising (and declining) powers, and a shifting geopolitical hub moving from the West to the Pacific Rim is changeable and unpredictable. It resembles a kaleidoscope, where every twist of the cylinder reveals a different picture.  One twist produces the pandemic,  a second twist highlights the global recession, a third the polarisation of global powers, with war in Ukraine and the possibility of war over Taiwan, and that further twist itself leads to a fragmented system, where the “New World Order” becomes an “old order” that no longer applies.

Any global forecast is made much more difficult by the twists of the kaleidoscope, which causes interactions between different powers and blocs in an already-volatile world. In fact, if predictions of the global future were to be accurate, the accuracy would be purely a matter of luck than judgement.  The best we can do is to work within the uncertain environment to envisage possible scenarios for the future. So here are some thoughts on what might happen in the next generation.

The Context

Before setting down those thoughts, we always need to remind ourselves of the context, and in particular three globally significant “givens”:

  • Technology is about to take its next “great leap forward”, as applications make maximised use of AI. Intel’s Pat Gelsinger is quoted as saying, “Algorithms and data allow us to write software in the cloud in minutes….our devices can hear everything, see everything, and sense everything”. This will lead to advances in all sectors, for example predictive, preventive and personalised health care and medicine. It will also allow “bad actors” to find ever more ingenious ways of committing cybercrime and conducting warfare.

Other drivers of change – political, economic – are less predictable, and will depend much on the decisions that individual states, or blocs decide to take.


The mid-term Elections saw a slight tilt towards the Republicans, though not as steep as many had expected. But 2024 will see a Presidential Election in which the return of Donald Trump – or a rival Republican – would undermine any assumptions about US strategy and world view.  A “Make America Great Again” regime might  both  change its approach to its perceived enemies: more aggressive to some, but perhaps less hostile to others, and less reliable to its historic “allies”, thus leading to uncertainty all round, and greater risk of instability and confrontation, given America’s power.  Thus the world’s leading economic and military power is an uncertain driver of change.


China wants respect, and it wants to be a superpower, equal (at least) to the USA. It seems to aim to achieve power through its economic might, but it has rapidly built up its military capacity as well. History teaches us that rising powers use military might to enforce their economic will, and secure advantageous terms of trade. Indeed China itself has been subject to such use of power, by European powers in the 19th and early 20thcenturies, and by Japan in the mid-20th century.

There is a strand within the ruling Chinese Communist Party that favours a confrontational approach to the USA and other pro-Western powers, exemplified by China’s “wolf-warrior” diplomacy, the ramping up of rhetoric and military exercises over Taiwan, and joint military exercises with Russia.  In early February 2022, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin made a public declaration of partnership, just days before Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

However, although the CCP often seems impenetrable, it is clear that the “wolf-warrior” world view is not the only view in China.  As early as March 2022, a senior policy analyst questioned China’s support for Putin’s war, and his essay was widely shared.

China, while refusing to condemn Putin’s war, has been careful not to do anything that might be seen as supporting it.  More recently, China has appeared to tone down its wolf-warrior stance, by reassigning former foreign affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian.

While China is unlikely to switch sides, it may be that it is growing weary of Putin’s war, and the economic consequences for the world, obstructing trade, and disrupting global supply lines. China is an importer of food, fuel and raw materials. It also relies heavily on exports.  Continuing disruption of trade is unhelpful.  While it continues to see the West, and in particular the USA, as a rival, it is interesting that it has toned down its aggressive rhetoric, and is talking up its desire to trade.

Looking at other regions, the war in Ukraine, and the aggressive rhetoric towards Ukraine has led others to respond.  Europe has taken a robust stance, which may have surprised Russia. While divisions remain within NATO, the alliance is just about managing to present a united front in condemning the Russian invasion of its neighbour, and in helping Ukraine to resist the invasion.

In the Pacific, Japan and South Korea are expanding their defence capabilities, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has even raised the possibility of seeking nuclear weapons capability, although he has since appeared to back away from this.

India’s rising (and relatively young) population might be signals of an emerging global power. India has recently overtaken its former colonial master, the UK, to become the fifth largest economy in the world, but it does not yet have the wealth or the military strength to make it a superpower.  And it faces several major challenges. It needs to import much of its fuel; global warming is likely to have severe consequences in terms of temperature rise, and access to water. And India has in China a global superpower on its northern doorstep.  India has a long-standing friendship with Russia, and has been a major purchaser of Russian fuel and military equipmentAlthough India has been diversifying its sources of such equipment, it has a large “legacy” of Russian hardware.   It has accordingly “sat on the fence” on the question of the invasion of Ukraine.  As an aspiring great power, it is likely to look to the West and to the Pacific Rim, and will be keen to find ways to counter balance the real and growing power of China.

Russia’s greatest priority is the Ukraine War. Defeat in Ukraine would be likely to lead to regime change – or even regime collapse, which presents its own global problems in a country with a huge nuclear arsenal.  But it is also reaching out to Africa, where many states have chosen to “sit on the fence” in UN votes on the Ukraine War. The question, for Russia, is how far it has damaged its ability to exercise global power, and its economic prospects.  If it can recover from its war, how long will it take it to do so?  And how will twists of the kaleidoscope affect it in the meantime – for example demand for its oil and gas.

Europe faces a diminution of its global influence as the global strategic focus shifts to the Pacific Rim – and perhaps also to the Indian ocean. But it remains economically powerful.

Sub-Saharan Africa has been hit by the pandemic and its economic consequences, and by the impact of the invasion of Ukraine. However, it will see a surge in its population, and some countries’ economies are forecast to grow strongly. Six countries are projected to enjoy growth in excess of 6% this year – Senegal, Niger, Cote d’Ivoire, Rwanda, DRC and Benin.

Even in a polynodal world, there is also scope for collaboration. As we noted in last week’s blog, the planned creation of the CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) may become a vehicle for wider co-operation in the Pacific Region, which will be of huge strategic importance.  Its members account for some 16% of global GDP. It could be an important player as the World seeks to evolve towards a more constructive and collaborative future.

China has expressed interest in joining. The USA’s position is ambiguous, and would be profoundly influenced by the outcome of the 2024 Presidential Election.


We start the year with an uncertain future, both in terms of the global picture, and individual countries and regions. Making sense of this uncertainty will require careful attention to unfolding events, and flexible thinking, adapted to the twists of the kaleidoscope. For better, or for worse, the image in the eye piece changes with every turn.

Written by David Lye, SAMI Fellow

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

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