The following essay appeared in a collection published by the Council on Foreign Relations (Discussion Paper Series on Managing Global Disorder No. 1) in June 2020. The full text can be accessed here.
The international order has changed radically over the past three decades in ways that are clearly discernible but not easily conceivable. This shift is evidenced by the lack of a commonly recognized term to characterize the emerging international order, beyond the increasingly inappropriate post–Cold War, which describes what the order is not. Without question, the prevailing international order has been under considerable strain, and the novel coronavirus has stretched it almost to a breaking point. Governance of the global commons is being undermined, rival economic institutions are being created, and international security institutions are increasingly anachronistic. The risk of great power conflict has increased as deterrence, interdependence, and socialization have given way to low-risk offensive weapons, changing cost-benefit calculations, and rising nationalism. Domestic political constraints in the United States, the nature of China’s rise, and the role of other actors (Europe, India, Japan, and Russia) mean that the emerging international system could quite possibly reflect elements of unipolarity, bipolarity, and multipolarity simultaneously.