WASHINGTON – If American intelligence is right and China really is about to arm Russia in its genocidal war against Ukraine, we may be entering a new era in international relations.
An even more dangerous one? That remains to be seen.
In effect, Chinese military support for Russia would finally turn the Ukrainian conflict into a proxy war between two hostile blocs, with a third trying to stay out of the fray.
The US, the European Union and the geopolitical “West” – from Canada to Japan and Australia – would be supplying Kyiv. China, Iran, North Korea, Belarus and a few other rogues – let’s call them the “East” – would be helping Moscow.
Meanwhile, most other countries – from India to Brazil and much of Africa – will navigate between these camps.
Today, we call them the “Global South.” In the past, we referred to them as the “Non-Aligned Movement” – led by India and the former Yugoslavia – or simply the “Third World”, a term that only later connoted “poor countries”.
The world order that seems to be emerging out of the Ukrainian rubble looks an awful lot like that of the Cold War.
A democratic and capitalist First World would once again be facing off against an autocratic (and vaguely klepto-capitalist or post-communist) Second, with the Third yet again feeling up for grabs, overlooked, resentful and restive.
International relations has fancy polysyllabic words for such configurations.
The Cold War’s “order” was bipolar. This meant neither that the era was orderly nor that there were only two powers. It merely pointed to the dual centres of geopolitical might, in Washington and Moscow.
The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 appeared to end bipolarity and introduce a new unipolar era – or “moment”, depending on your view at the time of its durability.
The US, as the sole remaining superpower, would in effect act as global cop. Another fancy term for that role is “hegemon”. Depending on where in the world you sat, that was great news, or the worst.
It was ephemeral, in any case.