It seems that a new cold war system is emerging right now. The following changes in the world order are symptomatic of this phenomenon:
First, the ideological cold war has been replaced by a geopolitical cold war. The ideological cold war was started by the two great powers, the US and the USSR immediately after World War II. World War II was started by the imperialist powers, mainly Germany and Japan, while the cold war was touched off by a power struggle between the Soviet Union leading the communist bloc and the US leading the anti-communist bloc. After the Soviet Union was defeated by the US in the ideological cold war, China has replaced the leading position of the Soviet Union and has become the leader of the anti-US bloc. However, no matter whatever China says about the expansion of its relations with African countries, Western powers, particularly the US, believe that China which has become the most powerful communist country in the world attempts to rebuild the communist bloc by spreading communism to other parts of the world and for this purpose tries to indoctrinate third world countries to adopt the Chinese communist model. This is what the US is concerned about and most Western countries share the same concern. They believe that the Chinese objective is to cut down US influence in the non-Western world so that the US global hegemony will be weakened and China will become more attractive to them ideologically and economically.
Second, China is trying to turn the third world from a zone of contest into its sphere of influence. Consequently, the world will be divided into the US sphere of influence and the Chinese sphere of influence while Western Europe is likely to seek a countervailing or neutral position as revealed in the 2019 Munich Security Report.
The above two developments are most likely to transform the existing world order into a new kind of world order. In the last decade of the 20th century, Western specialists in international relations put forward various kinds of world order in the 21st century. The Economist predicted that a quadruple system dominated by the US, China, Russia and Europe would emerge; Henry Kissinger, a quintuple system (the US, China, Europe, the Soviet Union and India); Richard Rosecrance, another kind of quintuple system (the US, Japan, China, Russia and Europe); and Charles Krauthammer, a unipolar system (the US). But Immanuel Wallerstein and David Kolko, American scholars, rejected this kind of power-centric approach and predicted that, considering unsustainable contradictions in the global economic order, the deepening cultural and ideological fragmentation of the world, the crisis of the territorial nation-state, etc, 8 to 10 centers of geopolitical autonomy (the US, Western Europe, Russia and Northeast Asia, etc) are likely to emerge.
Samuel Huntington made an entirely different kind of prediction. According to him, in the future the clash of civilizations, not the clash of nation-states, will become more important. At the moment, the clash between sects within a religion is very serious but not yet between religions.
My prediction on the future world political order is based on the existing and emerging phenomena in the current world.
One is the revitalization of the nation-state system. As globalization accelerates, nationalism has become stronger than ever. This means that humans can hardly abandon their primordial ties, no matter how strongly they are attracted to secondary and tertiary ties based on economic, social and cultural ties. Put it simply, humans are basically animals and therefore they can hardly shake off their biological bonds. This is the reason why in all multi-ethnic states, racial and ethnic conflicts can hardly be overcome.
Another is that the citizens in a nation-state have a vested interest in their own country because they built it by their own sweat and tears and therefore have little interest in sharing their land and property with outsiders and treating foreigners the same as they treat their own citizens.
For the above two reasons, globalization can strengthen rather than weaken nationalism. The more refugees from the third world escape to the West, the more nationalistic the peoples in Western Europe, North America and Oceania will become.
In view of the above, the emerging world order is likely to be partially bipolar, tri-polar and multipolar. In this new world order the US and China will compete for the control of the world in which Europe will play a balancing role between the two, while other parts of the world will remain neutral. More fearsome and worrisome is the prospect of Armageddon. As long as the two great powers, the US and China, are preoccupied with their struggle for global hegemony, world peace can hardly be guaranteed. The only and best solution is that both superpowers give up any attempt to control the world or even to divide the two spheres of influence. In other words, No great power should attempt to become a superpower because superpowers will become more worrisome about their position than non-superpowers. The realist school of scholars thinks that it is impossible because no country can completely abandon this “insatiable desire for power.” However, as the number of countries with nuclear weapons increases, the likelihood of war-- nuclear or non-nuclear-- will not diminish, contrary to what some political leaders believe, mainly because the uncertainty about war will increase rather than decrease for all states, nuclear or non-nuclear. Even if nuclear powers feel safe, their nuclear weapons will rather stimulate non-nuclear powers to develop their own nuclear weapons. For example, North Korea claims that it has no choice but to have its own nuclear weapons because the US threatens North Korea with its nuclear weapons.
Now the two Koreas and the US confront a very difficult problem. We will watch how the US and the two Koreas deal with it.
Park Sang-seek is a former chancellor of the Diplomatic Academy of the Korean Foreign Ministry. -- Ed.