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Managing unipolar, multipolar system transitional hiatus

Opinion & Analysis
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa.

IN last week’s instalment, I discussed how the world is in trouble and does not seem to know how to handle the growing effects of the climate crisis and conflict worldwide.

It appears that more time will be needed before the world can determine the right course, and the current state of world politics does not appear concerned about finding a global solution.

Although the global political landscape has been changing for the past almost 10 years, the COVID-19 pandemic was the catalyst for this change in direction. Protests against the United States (US) and its allies have expedited the transitional process.

These protests are centred on the US’s use of its currency as a political weapon and its careless imposition of sanctions on more than 10% of the world’s countries.

As bad as it has been in some cases, the US has been the world’s hegemon since World War II and has been crucial in keeping the world stable and providing it with direction.

The US and its allies are largely responsible for the political, economic and social normative tenets that serve as benchmarks for the rest of the world today.

This placed the US in a position of authority, power and control to the point whereby it controlled the entire world by simply issuing commands.

With the world shifting from that unipolar situation to a multipolar system, the hiatus in the transition is creating major global challenges and a huge leadership gap.

The US has shifted to taking sides when it should be the global arbiter, and the reason for this is that, rather than aiming for global authority, it is now only concerned with defending petty political interests and supporting nations that it wants to retain in its coalition.

As a result, rather than acting as the “big brother”, the US has chosen to play the role of a party in global wars, which has caused it to lose its position as the world’s hegemon.

The unipolar political system is a situation in which one State under the condition of international anarchy enjoys a preponderance of power and faces no competitor States.

It is a system in which a counterbalance is impossible. When a counterbalance becomes possible, the system is not unipolar.

However, a unipolar state is not the same as an empire that can control the behaviour of all other States. This is what the US has enjoyed since the end of the Second World War.

The rise of the BRICS [Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa] nearly two decades ago gave hope to the emergency of a multipolar system — one that would weaken the US’s unipolar system.

The pressure to see the BRICS attain global leadership emerges from the protests on how the US has used its economic and political power to undermine other States as well as its disruptive tendencies to global economies. Therefore, the multipolar system is rising out of necessity than anything else.

It does not help that major economies as well as the shakers and movers of global politics will be going to the polls this year.

National elections are scheduled or expected in at least 64 countries in the world including the US, India, South Africa, Russia as well as several European Union member States, which all together represent almost half the global population. So, no one will have time to check what is happening in the global space.

In the context of the multipolar system — a distribution of power in which more than two States have similar amounts of power — it would be expected to neutralise the US and its allies’ power and global influence while establishing new and several centres of economic and political power.

While this should be a welcome global shift, the changes are occurring at a time when the world is faced with various challenges that require immediate leadership intervention, and yet the leaders are struggling for their political survival.

For example, a strong and logical unipolar system should have prevented Eastern Europe, Middle East and East African wars from happening for several reasons among which include that these wars could have been avoided as they are wars of political egos which have global implications.

Because the global hegemony chose to take sides instead of peace, the whole world today is plunged into wars that have caused major global economic disruptions.

There is no harm with the world shifting to a multipolar system. In fact, it should have been done so many decades ago to counterbalance political power and ensure that global power was not concentrated in the hands of one regional political bloc as was the case.

However, in the current context, those driving the multipolar system must expedite their agenda to minimise the confusion emerging from the hiatus created by the gradual departure of the US and its allies from the global political space.

The US and its allies can no longer call belligerent member States to order because they too are now compromised.

Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa. He writes here in his personal capacity.

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