Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is widely recognized as being an event that heralds the formal transition to a multipolar era. Even though ‘Great Powers Competition’ has become the preferred term of pundits and social media geopolitical ‘experts,’ I prefer Multipolar World since it more accurately describes the global landscape at present. For better or worse, power in the world is distributed amongst a small collection of nation-states and alliances spanning multiple continents. As we are witnessing in Ukraine with regards to Russia, the interdependence of the multipolar world becomes imperiled when a powerful nation-state or alliance places its own interests above those of the herd, so to speak.
For the United States and many of her allies in Europe and the Pacific, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has proven the opening phase of this Multipolar World era will be chaotic and without the reins of international oversight and rules-based order in existence since the end of World War II. In other words, despite the wishes of policymakers in Washington, London, Berlin and Tokyo, the present international system could find itself either in need of major remodeling or complete replacement. Russia’s challenge will help to determine not only the future of Ukraine as a nation-state, but also the future of the current international order.
Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has also reopened the debate on America’s place and role in the world. US actions and positions have consequences, there is no getting around that. Right now, the extent of those actions since the end of the Cold War are coming into focus as scholars and others in the field consider if Russia’s invasion was no more than an inevitable reaction to the US expanding its hegemony in Eastern Europe and beyond after the Cold War concluded. The US continues to play the principal role on the global stage, despite the desires of many Americans to step back from Europe and the Middle East and concentrate on Asia and the Pacific, where the most significant threat to US interests is at.
For the supporters of that line of thinking, Ukraine serves as a very rude wakeup call, proving that despite US desires and wishes, the world may not be ready to see the US shirk its responsibility or embark upon an entirely new endeavor.