Bipolarity Is Back

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What caused the decline of the globalized international system that emerged at the end of the Cold War?  And how should western decision-makers think about it?  We’ll provide the insights you need.

The world in which we now do business is not the one most managers envisioned in the 1990s.  And the next decade will be even more alien.

Today, we are 30 years out from the end of the Cold War, and it’s been almost 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the United States, 12 years since the Russian invasion of Georgia, and six years since Russia’s seizure of Crimea. 

During this time period, we have seen significant changes in the overall power distribution in Europe, Eurasia, the Indo-Pacific, and globally.  Those changes have been captured in the 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy and 2018 National Defense Strategy

As a result, the United States and its NATO allies are now gearing up for an era of “great power competition,” with Russia and China, identified as the principal powers seeking, respectively, to revise and replace the existing global power distribution dominated by the United States.

As Andrew Michta of the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies wrote recently in The American Interest,  “A new bipolarity is fast emerging from the political wreckage of the post-Cold War decades, one that will likely prove even more enduring and intractable than its Cold War predecessor.  We are on track for a world of two all-encompassing systems where ideological and cultural polarization between the West and the East will drive the confrontation even more than the rapidly shifting economic and military balances.”

A primary reason that this nascent systemic bipolarity could end up being more enduring than its Cold War predecessor is that its ideological underpinning will be embedded in a foundational civilizational difference.  The immediate drivers are at their core ideological, two mutually exclusive visions of how to organize society: on the one hand, an increasingly disaggregated liberal democracy and, on the other, an increasingly consolidated brand of commercial communism, originated in China.  And both are steeped in historically incompatible...

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