Adapting to a Changing World: The Significance of Diplomacy in the Global Order of Strategic Alliances

The current global world order, known as the ‘Strategic Alliance Global Order’, is complex and multifaceted, with a non-hegemonic power dynamic and a schism between democracies and autocracies. The US National Intelligence Council predicts that by 2030, no single country will be a hegemonic power, and no single state will be positioned to dominate across all regions or domains. This shift in power will require major states to counterbalance other aspirant states within a non-hegemonic global environment.

The ‘Strategic Alliance Global Order’ is defined by the absence of absolute, dominant power by any individual country, leading to countries scrambling to restructure and build new alliances. As energy supplies, global value chains, and national security interests are threatened, principles may be sacrificed for survival. Old allies become new enemies, and military budgets grow, leading to joint exercises with traditional partners and new potential allies in anticipation of an increased military threat. This concept can help develop a strategic response to the evolving international system and the evolving global environment.

The ‘Strategic Alliance Global Order’ is a new approach in international relations, where countries shift away from unilateralism and towards strategic alliances. This shift is critical for national and foreign policy interests and the global balance of power. The dominant players, such as the US, EU, Russia, and China, will continue to expand their alliances by courting countries across the globe, with a special focus on Latin America, Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and parts of Europe. Major powers will also emphasize traditional middle powers and emerging middle powers with regional and global influence.

The Ukraine war has accelerated the ‘Strategic Alliance World Order’, which began at the end of the 20th century. Joseph Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, emphasized the importance of raw power politics and the fierce battle of narratives in the world. The new power dynamic necessitates a distinct approach from both powerful and less powerful nations in their interactions.

The future of international relations is expected to see both moribund and new partnerships emerge, with summits and cooperative approaches advanced. Non-hegemonic dominant countries, middle and emerging powers, and countries will use mechanisms such as soft power, such as increased financial aid, trade cooperation, investment initiatives, military and political cooperation, to build alliances based on common values and mutual benefits. However, the benefits of soft power may flow in the direction of regions with the best opportunities for sharing common interests. Countries will also use extensive social media campaigns to highlight the benefits of their actions.

Major powers must understand that this new power dynamic cannot be business as usual, while less powerful countries must recognize that this new power dynamic creates opportunities for a more even-handed approach. Middle powers share the fundamental feature of being at the table, as they have the power and ambition to shape their regions. Not adapting to this model, where the margin for error is small and the stakes are high, risks threatening the goal of winning over a potential partner and losing the balance of power in favor of other strong nations.

International relations will focus on building strategic alliances through bilateral relations, regional groupings, and minilateral configurations. Bilateral relations may be intensified through increased diplomatic engagements and structured mechanisms like binational commissions and dialogue forums. The new power dynamic necessitates a unique approach from both powerful and less powerful nations in their interactions.

While bilateral and multilateral diplomacy will continue to be used, minilateralism may become the main mechanism to resolve most pressing challenges, such as the Ukraine war, due to its more focused and less bureaucratic character. Minilateralism is expected to gain prominence in areas where multilateralism has been ineffective, as seen in groupings like G20, G7, and BRICS.

Less dominant countries are reflecting on how best to adapt their foreign policies to avoid losing control over foreign policy choices in their national interests. In regions like Latin America and the Caribbean, many are seeking an alternative policy strategy to choosing sides, such as the Active Non-Alignment Option.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly referred to the “Strategic Alliance Global Order” concepts in a major foreign policy speech, stating that the UK will make a long-term effort to revive old friendships and build new ones, reaching far beyond their long-established alliances. In a post-Brexit era, the UK must adapt and design a “new” foreign relations paradigm that encapsulates the present power dynamics in international relations.

Arrangements that embrace both soft and hard power, such as the EU’s, will expand as emergent powers project influence through regional blocs.
Data shows that support for leaving the EU has dropped significantly in EU countries, with 72% viewing it favorably compared to 26% who viewed it unfavorably. In the UK, opinion polls show that support for Brexit is at 33%, with 55% indicating it was wrong to leave.

The EU is expected to maintain its geopolitical significance despite a challenging period where the project’s hope was faltering. The EU will invest in new partnerships in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and diversify politically and economically to deal with China and the triad of “partner, competitor, and rival.” The EU will also make itself “fit” for future enlargement.

The EU’s strategic partnership with Africa presents a significant opportunity for regional powers like South Africa to negotiate better outcomes, as important continents are being heavily lobbied by blocs like the EU. The EU believes it must continue building alliances with African partners to preserve its economic and security interests amidst increased geopolitical competition. In October 2022, a new ‘European political community’ was inaugurated, fostering cooperation on issues of common interest such as peace, security, economic situation, energy, climate, migration, and mobility.

Aliast-building is evident in high-level diplomatic visits, military alliances, economic linkages through initiatives like China’s Belt and Road Initiative, and signing bilateral and regional trade agreements. The Pacific Islands are also employing a ‘Friends to All’ strategy to mitigate geostrategic competition. Countries use formal and informal regional trading blocs and groupings to expand their influence, such as the EU, Eurasian Economic Union, RCEP, and CPTPP. The UK has recently joined the Asia-Pacific bloc, attracting attention from countries outside the bloc.

The US initially proposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to counter China’s economic strength in the Pacific. However, the Trump administration’s withdrawal from negotiations has not stopped the grouping from proceeding. Informal trade groups like the Indo-Pacific Framework and the Russian-led Eastern Economic Forum are being used to build influence. China and Russia are likely to prioritize the BRICS grouping as a Southern counterbalance to the North. In 2022, Global South countries expressed interest in joining, and at the 2023 BRICS Summit, six were invited.

Formal military-based alliances like NATO are also drawing more candidates, with many European countries opting to join the security umbrella. The Ukraine war has acted as a catalyst for a closer alliance between the US and Europe. Countries are also looking to build alliances across different blocs to have wider influence. India is part of global alliances like BRICS, East Asia Summit, Asian Regional Forum, Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. The US uses minilateral groups like “Quad” and AUKUS to expand its influence in Asia.

Countries are actively seeking mutual bilateral and international cooperation to address common global challenges such as pandemics, peace and security, climate change, and financial crises. COVID-19 serves as an example of the global community’s cooperation in the best interests of humanity, but more could have been done for developing and least developed countries. Affluent countries provide critical resources, support domestic priorities, and develop cooperation for the upliftment of less prosperous states. They also strive to enhance trade and investment, while regional groupings provide a platform for dealing with regional and global issues.

In the 21st century, international relations are constantly shifting, making it difficult to manage statecraft, which involves securing national and global interests and executing these strategies by diplomats. Multi-goal strategic thinking must become more dominant due to the complexity of the geopolitical environment. By creating a paradigm based on key developments around the Strategic Alliance World Order, policy makers and strategists can better anticipate and understand specific events and create strategies to cope with multiple scenarios and their implications.

Effective international players must balance national and global interests with anticipating fluid changes in alliance building and their impact on relations with different countries and groupings. This requires high-level foreign policy strategic thinking and the presence of highly qualified, trained, and professional diplomats practicing statecraft in a complex and evolving international relations environment.

South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Dr Naledi Pandor, has outlined the requirements for the current global order in the Department of International Relations and Cooperation’s Strategic Plan 2020-2025. The plan emphasizes the need for strategic decisions based on foreign policy principles, considering actions and consequences rather than a one-size-fits-all solution. The Ukraine war is a ‘black swan’ moment, as it led to the UN General Assembly calling an emergency session after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. The UN Security Council failed to maintain international peace and security in line with resolution 377A(V), known as ‘Uniting for Peace’.

In a ‘Strategic Alliance Global Order,’ choices made must consider the implications for bilateral relations, as alliances are built around common interests and threats. A decision by individual nations on the Ukraine resolution of March 2022 would have required a strategic assessment of the different options, determining why they are opposing, abstaining, or supporting the resolution. States would have to consider the concomitant implications of each position taken for bilateral, regional, and global relations, as well as the multilateral order in terms of promoting global peace and security.

The UNGA resolution has been a topic of debate among nations, with some arguing that it is an initiative of the Global North against countries of the Global South, supported by countries with a colonial and anti-liberation past. Others, like Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, have criticized the decision, stating that more than half of the global population did not vote for Russia’s invasion. This raises questions about why countries would abstain in such a situation, as it would be a choice between right and wrong, between victims and perpetrators.

In contrast, India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, has argued that Europe needs to grow out of the mindset that its problems are the world’s problems, as the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems. This approach will not give precedence to the immediate legal arguments of the current conflict nor necessarily negate the moral one, as it is based on subjective reasoning. The debate continues to evolve, with countries evaluating the practical reality and the potential impact of their decisions on the situation.

A good strategy should consider various options, their reasons for acceptance or rejection, their application, and the geopolitical context. In today’s digital world, the effectiveness of communication strategy must be examined, based on the principle of ‘influencing the space and informing the narrative’. It is important to examine conflicts and major events fairly, but not all conflicts have the same geopolitical implications. Countries’ actions are driven by national, collective global, international law, rules-based, process-driven, or a combination of these. In international relations, countries need to ensure they align with a rules- and law-based ‘Strategic Alliance Global Order’.

To compensate for the power deficit of powerful nations, multiple alliances will be built, allowing less powerful nations to participate from a strength-based position. This could shift the global community towards cooperation and a secure world order. The ‘zeitenwende’ is causing a breakdown in the ‘Strategic Alliance Global Order’, potentially increasing dependence on each other, especially countries adhering to security, economic prosperity, and stability rules.

Despite divisions, a world committed to international cooperation is evident, as seen in the UN resolution on Ukraine’s war. The global community should prioritize sustainable solutions, robust systems, democracy, freedom, rule of law, human rights, international cooperation, solidarity, economic inclusivity, diversity, gender equality, environmentalism, and moderation in global affairs.

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