Chapter 29. Dance of the Little Black Swans

February 26, 2024

The key observation regarding the current phase in the evolution of the system of international political and economic relations is that its actors stopped waiting for the beginning of transformations and got down to shaping the new geoeconomic space. This shift is exactly what the Russian President Vladimir Putin talked about in his address to the Plenary session of the 8th Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September 2023 when he pointed to the development of at least two new centers of economic growth: East Asia and the Arctic that are profoundly transforming the economic geography of the modern world[1]. Even the recent escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was essentially driven by geoeconomic contradictions at various levels: from the unacceptable existence of a stateless zone dominated by gray and black market economy to the much-needed comprehensive rerouting of hydrocarbon supplies that has long been held back by military power factors. The geoeconomic uncertainty in the Middle East has increased with growing Chinese presence as the region has become key to implementing China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the context of the Ukrainian conflict. 

From the crisis of globalization to a crisis of unipolar world

The processes of the recent years mark the crucial attribute of the modern world: the return to spatiality, which perhaps should be regarded as the central trend in the 2021-2023 transformation culminating in 2023 that combined the U-turn towards spatiality with a political demand for sovereignization in direct contradiction with the fundamental trend of the late globalization period towards desovereignization and networkization seeking to dismantle sovereignty as the basic principle underlying the system of international relations. Today’s new age in development of the global political architecture and regulation mechanisms for the world economy brings us back to the question of the balance between hierarchy and networkization[2], or, indeed, the question of key actors in contemporary politics and economics and their ability to set the rules of the game locally, i.e., to realize their right for situational sovereignty.  

Another defining aspect of ongoing global transformations is the recognition at the top political level that it would be impossible to preserve the system of international relations in the format that had emerged after 1991. This understanding has been reflected in the updated Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation, which spells out the main points outlined by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in his remarks to the UN General Assembly back in 2022[3]

“Humanity is currently going through revolutionary changes. The formation of a more equitable multipolar world order is underway. The imbalanced model of world development which has for centuries ensured the advanced economic growth of colonial powers through the appropriation of resources of dependent territories and states in Asia, Africa and in the Occident is irrevocably fading into the past. The sovereignty and competitive opportunities of non-Western world powers and regional leading countries are being strengthened. Structural transformation of the world economy, its transfer to a new technological basis (including the introduction of artificial intelligence technologies, the latest information and communication, energy, biological technologies and nanotechnologies), the growth of national consciousness, cultural and civilizational diversity and other objective factors accelerate the process of shifting the development potential to new centres of economic growth and geopolitical influence and promote the democratization of international relations… A logical response to the crisis of the world order is the strengthening of cooperation between the states that are subject to external pressure. The formation of regional and trans-regional mechanisms of economic integration and interaction in various spheres and the creation of multi-format partnerships to solve common problems are being intensified. Other steps (including unilateral ones) are also being taken to protect the vital national interests. High level of interdependences, global reach and transnational nature of challenges and threats limit the ability of individual states, military-political and trade and economic alliances to ensure security, stability and prosperity. Effective solutions to the numerous problems of our time and peaceful progressive development of large and small nations and humanity as a whole can be achieved only through combining the potential of good faith efforts of the entire international community on the basis of the balance of power and interests…”.

2023 Russian Foreign Policy Concept
Source: Russian Foreign Ministry
(https://mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/fundamental_documents/1860586/)

Processes driving the formation of a multipolar spatial world will surely have their consequences, not all of them favorable, across the board from the macrolevel of big systems and all the way down to major social groups and individuals. Global transformations may stop being the matters confined to high offices and elites, and affect people’s everyday lives, changing their social and consumption behaviors. Transformations will impact all aspects of global development: its socio-economic, ideological, social and sociocultural dimensions. We are entering the time of holistic but not always synergistic transformations of the development paradigm. This aspect has not been fully assessed either by political or expert communities.

At this stage, transformation effects will mostly manifest themselves in the political-military confrontation in different forms and of varying, but mostly gravitating towards low intensity. This is a key sign of transition to spatiality, which is the expression of a paramount need: the need for a new level of spatial protection. This is confirmed by the fact that military force has been the primary tool of spatial transformations in the recent years. From the beginning of the Russian Special Military Operation in Ukraine, via the one-day military operation in Nagorno-Karabakh, growing military tensions in the Strait of Taiwan, and to the Middle East flare-up in 2023 October threatening to escalate into a big regional war, all of these events have become symbols of a new historical era. 

At the level of hidden processesthe most fundamental changes are taking place in the geoeconomic realm, resulting at least in mutation and, in some cases, outright destruction of basic economic interdependencies that had been viewed as the foundation of the global world. The destruction however has not yet attained the collapsing scale, largely because the overall framework of the international trade is still in place despite the United States and their allies attempting to reconfigure it through policy decisions that disregard economic interests. This has already driven some of the hydrocarbon trade into the gray and black markets. But given the growing demand for nationalization of technologically critical segments of key supply chains, the cumulative quantity of disrupted interdependencies will sooner or later turn into quality.

The dialectic between the apparent and the hidden in global transformations is the key factor that defines the barometer ofinternational relations or rather that produces the effect of two scales, which any politician or expert will have to take into account. This raises one of the most significant questions concerning the development of international political and economic relations in the next few years. How is regionalization going to happen – on what basis, at what rate and in what institutional format? And will it affect only the economic sphere, as previously thought, or will continue the trend that has set in during 2020-2023 that breaks up the purely geoeconomic logic of developing geoeconomic regionalization and introduces substantial political-military, and, at this stage, also politico-ideological components? The big medium-term questions that objectively follow from the previous one concern the strategy, methods and pace of dismantling of the US-centered international relations system along with its operational toolkit: the system of multilateral military and political alliances and bilateral security commitments. 

Looking forward at potential military and political developments in 2024-2025, it is important to consider the fact that the events of 2021-2023 set off some fundamental processes that will remain relevant for a relatively long time, probably until a new stable world order begins to take shape, upgraded enough to match the realities of geopolitical and geoeconomic multipolarity. These processes have been largely a rejection of development models characteristic of the late globalization and a throwback to development and interaction models of the largest states in earlier historic periods, which in itself deserves its own analysis. The new model included the following key elements.

  • Crisis of the post-spatial and stateless world concept[4] and the associated concepts of political governance in such a world. There was also increased understanding that the format of the nation state is geoeconomically and geopolitically inadequate. The necessity of choosing between hierarchy and networkization stemmed from the impossibility of implementing the post-spatial world concept which, despite its networkization front, was clearly hierarchical and relied on the Americentrism of its principal supra-spatial systems. This entailed the crisis of the multipolar world concept that transformed into the concept of a polycentric world[5] and then into the idea of a non-polar world but with the United States remaining as an organizing force and decisive factor in regional, sometimes situational, balances of power. 
  • Legalization of military force as a tool for reinforcing economic competitiveness. Strictly speaking, this happened during the civil conflict in Syria, starting from 2012. Unlike other episodes of the Arab Spring, this conflict had a clear geoeconomic basis. But the full legalization of military-backed geoeconomic policy as a method for accomplishing economic objectives at the national (Türkiye) and coalition (NATO) levels did not occur until the early 2020s.  
  • Soft power crisis that was initially attributed to fading attractions of the United States as the metropolis of the global world. But at the turn of the 2020s it was exacerbated by increasingly tougher methods employed by the US in dealing with its allies, competitors and opponents, and in some cases for fairly justifiable reasons, even in the opinion of some major American political scientists[6]. At a deeper level this toughening response reflected the crisis of the global social and sociocultural universality on which the US relied in its policies.
  • Politicization or, in fact, ideologization of all the major areas of interactions between governments. It is reflected in introduction of some ideological or, occasionally, pseudo-ideological elements into the economy, culture, social development models, and most importantly into the military power interactions, and these elements considerably changed the nature of decision-making processes. Such elements had the effect of derationalizing the mechanisms of making critical strategic decisions. The global battle for history that unfolded in 2020-2023 became part of the process of ideologizing the world development amid the disintegration of the universal image of the future as the conceptual basis for globalization.  
  • Gradual transition by the US to situational fulfilment of its military and political commitments vis-à-vis its allies, including even institutionalized ones like NATO. Starting as a latent tendency, this process began to show some public expression during the presidency of Donald Trump (2017-2021). The long-term breaking point in the system of global security commitments could be the escalation of the Middle East tensions in October 2023 that called into question America’s capability to enforce such a long list of proclaimed security commitments that has been getting ever longer since 2020 in terms of political rhetoric, but not always backed with sufficient resources. 
    At the strategic level, this reflected the crisis of the post-bipolar institutionality that was essentially Americentric. The shortage of resources for making good all of the US military and political promises indicated to the opponents of Washington the presence of a gray zone in the military and political commitments of the only superpower.

The most fundamental difference in the military and political sense between the present period of global transformations and the previous historical phase (2014-2020) is that the global geopolitical transformations, already recognized in that period as inevitable were supposed to be realized through a system of interlinked low-intensity conflicts (upscaled insurgency-war) with political, but not political-geographic, consequences, and without any disturbance to the foundations of the globalized systems. The previous model of global transformations, including the Arab Spring as its special case and the attempt to tear Belarus away from Russia as its last major episode, was an effort to preserve the Americentrism of the international relations system with redistributed influence of its key players, but without disrupting the principal links of global and regional economic dependency. Whereas the previous historical period already witnessed the legalization of military force to promote foreign policy and even geoeconomic transformations (redrawing the map of the Middle East to suit the future pipeline infrastructure, altering by force maritime boundaries in East and South-East Asia, etc.), the architecture, including its institutionalized parts, of international political and economic relations stayed intact. The transformational processes of today involve not only the political architecture of the international relations system, but also political and spatial reformatting of the critically important regions of the world. 

Key factors shaping the militarypolitical barometer of today’s world 

Currently there is no established model of global geoeconomic and geopolitical transformations. At this point, the world players are in the process of laying out some framework conditions for these transformations defining the tools that are deemed acceptable. Development logic is being shaped to address the challenges of going beyond the limits of a hybrid confrontation. Even in its struggle against Russia with all its massive political propaganda and almost unrestrained political media manipulations, the collective West was very unwilling to approach the watershed between hybrid war and actual involvement in the conflict. And when the possibility of direct participation in the Ukrainian conflict became real (late July/early August 2023), this created political discord within the collective West, undermining support for the regime of Vladimir Zelensky. It is going to be even harder to venture beyond a hybrid confrontation in conflicts that has not been worked up by propaganda to a fictitiously existential level.

The basic assumption regarding the ways the global situation may develop in 2024-2025, and possibly beyond, is that the major players in military-backed transformations of the world will avoid direct confrontation. This does not mean that direct confrontation is impossible as a result of a provoked or accidental conjunction of circumstances, military incident and so on. The biggest actors in the international relations system (not only states, but also sub-state parties involved in international relations) assume that escalation is not the preferred option as its price can be too high. This was especially obvious in the present conflict in the Middle East.

The situation, as it has developed in the autumn 2023, is more similar to the period before the World War I (IWWI) (1914-1918), rather than the World War II (WWII) (1939-1945). The existing scenario with all its downsides and the inevitably widening use of military force for political and geoeconomic purposes, still offers some reason to hope that it is possible to revamp the global architecture and build the foundations for the new world order without a large-scale –  quasi-globalor transregional, involving more than two regions – military conflict.

The contemporary analysis of the developing geopolitical situation, besides the decoupling of military-political aspects of development from the emerging new economic geography, has come to view that the global development as centered around the following major multilayered confrontations. 

  • The confrontation, perceived to be existential, between Russia and the collective West that is focused on fighting over the status of Ukraine. The hybrid war between Russia and the West that led to a medium-intensity conflictwas not originally existential and did not have at all any ideological dimension (clash of values), which is entirely uncontestable today. The confrontation between Russia and the West, which includes the obvious basic element – the strife for their own version of history, can be regarded as civilizational. The new status as well as the content of the confrontation resulted from the impossibility to resolve the widening cracks between military-political interests under the existing geoeconomic system based on Russia’s dominance in energy supplies to Europe. The parties faced a vicious circle: preservation of the geoeconomic (energy) basis called for political harmonization, which was impossible without resolving political-military tensions caused by the NATO expansion that at some point (probably after the conflict in Georgia in 2008) became ideologically motivated. This, in turn, became a material factor after 2022 in shaping the political-military situation in Europe with the effect of hardening the stance of EU vs Russia that precluded any compromise at the institutional, inter-system level, especially considering the radically negative trajectory of the EU-Belarus relations. 
  • The essentially geoeconomic confrontation between the United States and China that gradually transformed into a political-military one. The original rivalry was not antagonistic and evolved as part of China’s competitive race for a place in the Americentric globalized economic system. It is notable that even now their confrontation is not viewed as existential. Moreover, both sides deny that it carries any ideological overtones, although, unlike Russia, China acknowledged value differences in the early phases of its falling out with the United States. The most far-sighted American scholars observed that the points of contention between the US and China that are non-antagonistic in geopolitics, would inevitably become antagonistic in spatial geoeconomics since the United States was looking to secure effective tools for controlling its economic expansion not only at the qualitative level but also in terms of economic geography. For the same reason, Beijing had no other choice but to employ non-economic (political and sociocultural) tools for enhancing its economic influence. The multilayered rivalry between China and the US with increasing weight of military capability factors is regarded in the West as the basis for the barometer, while the military-power confrontation with Russia is considered to have a lesser global impact. 
  • Both major clashes of the contemporary world, which form the basis of the current geopolitical barometer, did not assume their present form and deepening antagonism from the very start, but as a result of the changing development context. This has demonstrated a very high degree of hybridization of the modern world and a dangerously high dependence of the economy on politics. The fundamental difference between the two basic conflicts of the modern world is in their potential for escalation: while in the China/US confrontation escalation is generally controllable, in spite of a clear step-up in military provocations on both sides, in the conflict between the West and Russia, especially given the tensions between Belarus and some European countries, first of all Poland and Lithuania, the sides have come really close to the verge of escalating the struggle to the pan-European level, especially considering that the spatial reformatting of the region has already entered the phase of changing the political boundaries.

There is another important difference: whereas the China/US confrontation is basically a bilateral affair where the involvement of other parties to the military power balance is minimal (even for Japan, a key US ally, particularly on the naval front), Western Eurasia has become the stage of a multilayered and multilateral confrontation where diverse forces, including those not directly involved in the conflict and even extra-regional players (China, to some extent Iran and Türkiye, and North Korea), operate in pursuit of their own interests. And as the conflict progresses it is increasingly harder to keep them within the bounds of their respective coalitions

Both the central confrontations became antagonistic when they moved to spatial domain: the conflict between Russia and NATO actually began a spatial one and was destined to eventual antagonism. The US/China tensions began to rise when Beijing embarked on its spatial project, the BRI challenging the supremacy of the US-controlled global maritime trade. This means that stabilization cannot begin unless it is underpinned with new geoeconomic logic, which need not necessarily pursue integration, but should establish some rules of the game that would be followed by all the parties involved in global political and economic processes. 

The question is that the emerging political and military conditions are in reality forming two barometers of the political-military situation in the current world with a fundamentally different logic of development. The only thing they have in common are the US interests and commitments.   

Therefore, the natural conclusion is essentially that the factor that can decide the strategic lines of the global development in the political and military terms as well as the possibility of containing the escalation of the two central conflicts will be potential development of the domestic system crisis in the United States to a point where it will undermine America’s capacity to honor its formal political-military obligations. 

In the second half of 2023, we observed some outer signs suggesting that the US is gradually rolling back its nonformalized and noninstitutionalized political-military commitments. America is unlikely, though, to entirely disavow all of them. This would be possible only if the US faced a really severe socio-economic crisis at home, which would lead, unavoidably, to a global financial and investment meltdown. This would drive a global force majeure scenario, turning a small black swan into a mature one. What happened in the autumn 2023 was a tough test of Washington’s ability to perform its functions as a global political-military center, when the United States found itself having to project military power to four fronts simultaneously. Firstly, hybrid war against Russia in Ukraine and around it that tends to increase involvement of external forces in the conflict. Secondly, provision of military and technical assistance to Israel, its key ally outside NATO, whose response to a major terrorist attack could evolve into a regional conflict with possible involvement of Iran, first through pro-Iran proxy groups and then, under certain circumstances, directly as a state. Thirdly, build-up of military capability and development of, first and foremost, political-military infrastructure, and also hardtechnical military infrastructure for containing China in East Asia using direct military force. Fourthly, political containment, including some elements of military force, of Russia (and China at this stage) in Africa amid dwindling capabilities of America’s European allies and the lack of adequate military infrastructure.

A number of previously frozen (or regarded as such) local conflicts flared up again as the commitment of the US and some of its allies to get involved was called into doubt. The risk of being near the gray zones of America’s influence has substantially increased. Whole new systems of spin-off military power tensions, and potential conflicts, have arisen that give geopolitical actors of the second and third tier disproportionate leverage to influence the geopolitical situation in the key regions of the world. Taking advantage of these opportunities are Poland and Türkiye that are likely to be followed by Japan, Vietnam and, under certain conditions, by Egypt and Indonesia. In spite of these tectonic shifts, political-military institutionalization has not been taking place. This shows unwillingness of major global players to take on new commitments on the brink of a possible global or sub-global chaotization.

Map 14. Eurasian Instability Arc and Vectors of Tension Development
Sourcе: Economic Strategies. 2019. V. 165. № 7. Pp. 46-56.

Simmering on the back burners there are three other political-military processes unfrozen in 2020-2023, possessing conflict potential and capable of massive escalations with geoeconomic consequences:

  • Persistent low-intensity instability around Afghanistan that can act as a fuse to initiate reformatting of the entire region. Pakistan, as an unofficial nuclear power, is becoming the focal point of instability. The danger of sociopolitical and then political-military chaotization of the entire swathe from Herat to Karachi is very much real.  
  • Pre-crisis situation in Central Asia exacerbated by non-formalized commitments made simultaneously by several large political and military players with regard to political regimes in some post-Soviet states. The conditions in Central Asia appear ideal for using almost any kinds of political/media manipulations.
  • The Korean Peninsula standoff that has gained new momentum in 2023 which is apparently linked to the position of South Korea that was dragged by the US into the hybrid conflict with Russia as a major supplier of weapons for Ukraine. In 2024-2025, this conflict would probably be one of the biggest sources of regional and even global political-military uncertainty.

The principal conclusion from the events in the autumn 2023 that is likely to hold true for the 2024-2025 period is that the United States still has potential to simultaneously participate in an indirect (hybrid) form in one medium-intensity conflict and one low-intensity conflict. But the degradation of Washington’s political decision-making system will be constantly curtailing the zone of confidence that the allies have in America’s capacity to make good on its promises. The transition from indirect to direct involvement even in a low-intensity conflict, let alone medium-intensity conflict in Ukraine, would spell serious political trouble at home affecting the political as well as public administration systems of the United States. But most importantly, such crisis would have grave implications, already at the very next step, in terms of America’s political-military commitments around the world.

The situation could be stabilized by reinstating geoeconomic regionalization as a mechanism for overcoming chaotization of the world economy, but the irony of the situation is that they have already taken on a political-military tinge, so that in the short term the demand for instruments of military power will be rising anyway. And this, too, will be the extension of the trends that have evolved over 2020-2023.

The strategic trend in the development of the international relations system in the foreseeable future will be the growing role of military power instruments. The model laid down in 2020-2021 and put into practice in 2023 is unlikely to be modified in any material way any time soon. But there is a whole range of factors that, without fundamentally transforming the medium-term development model, could considerably change the nature of geopolitical and geoeconomic processes.

Dance of the little black swans: disruption points in the current geopolitical logic

The main point of uncertainty on the barometer of political-military processes is, in fact, the question of how likely the ongoing regional conflicts that have arisen from local clashes in 2020-2023 are to escalate to transregional scale. Since only transregional conflicts are capable of destroying the existing system of global economic interdependencies. Smaller conflicts can only result in its reconfiguration and exclusion – usually temporary and partial – of some countries and sectors.   

Let us identify several situations and factors that can make void most of the forecasts. It would be fair to call them points of uncertainty or small black swans. They can, without affecting the strategic lines of political-military developments, may create significant twists that would change the logic of development and can potentially nudge regional conflicts towards the path of transregional escalation. So far as the development of the geopolitical situation is more or less smooth, such small black swans are capable of relatively minor disturbances, but in a climate of heightened global tensions, fueled, among other things, by mutual mistrust between the political elites of the biggest nations, they can interfere with the trends set by the two central conflicts of our time. We can highlight the most obvious factors of this kind as the following ones. 

Renuclearization in global and regional scales. The problem is not merely the comeback of nuclear weapons to the arsenal of acceptable political instruments, something that has been going in slow for some time since 2018, when, as if responding to Russia’s new nuclear policy, other nuclear powers launched a covert and then unconcealed programs to modernize their nuclear stockpiles. The possibility of using the nuclear option itself has already become more than just a part of political discourse both in Russia and the West, thus helping with its geopolitical legalization that may have bigger than expected consequences, if for no other reason than the weakening of nonproliferation mechanisms[7]. Apparently, the process of political legitimization of nuclear weapons needs to be seen as a given, an integral component of the journey to the neo-global world. This will surely give additional impetus to nuclear program in various countries and some political statements have already been made to this effect, for example by the current regime in Ukraine, the leadership of Saudi Arabia and some political circles in Japan. The events of the autumn 2023 have probably accelerated not only implementation but legalization of Iran’s nuclear program and can also change the position of the Egyptian leadership on the country’s nuclear status. But in the case at hand, we are talking about the actual renuclearization of the military power component of international relations, if only in the form of renewed nuclear testing, the signs of which have been reported in numerous communications that cannot be discounted as just strategic political misinformation. The situation would change dramatically should there be a direct threat to use a nuclear weapon made at an official level, even if it would not be eventually carried out. 

Chaotization of major regions by social as well as political-military cataclysms. The exclusion from active geoeconomic processes of at least one big subregion, which is integrated into the current system of global economic interdependency, such as the Persian Gulf, ASEAN, East Asian geoeconomic focus area, Eastern Mediterranean, and, in the longer term, even a second-tier subregion (Precaspian Basin, Caribbean Basin, or Western Mediterranean), would destroy the geoeconomic integrity of the modern world. Not to mention the drastic change in the nature of non-economic risks in the global trade, which remains one of the three unquestionably relevant supra-spatial (and in fact trans-sovereign) systems of the global world[8]. This will even more drive the need for using military power instruments to ensure sustainable geoeconomic development. A big role here can be played by the above-mentioned crisis or a long spell of instability, disrupting the social cohesion of major economic systems at the national or regional scale, as might be the case in Europe.

Involvement of Iran in the current escalation phase of the Middle East conflict at a level above the pro-Iran proxy groups (Hezbollah, Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), etc.), which may happen if Israel, on its own or together with the US, launches a strike targeting Iran’s territory. This would fundamentally change the way things unfold not only in the Eastern Mediterranean, but in the Middle East in general. Apart from creating a situation fraught with uncontrolled political-military risks in one of the most geoeconomically important regions of the world, such move would open up nearly unlimited opportunities for Tehran to change its political and military status on the world stage, including its stance on nuclear weapons. The current escalation is dangerous for the United States as there is a risk that the conflict may go beyond the limits where America’s involvement could be confined to hybrid activities as in the Ukrainian conflict. 

Appearance of an area controlled by a sub-state organization instead of a state, such as socio-political organizations, transnational organizations, humanitarian communities, etc. From an operational perspective, the most likely scenario is the survival for some reasons (for instance, because regional players lack sufficient resources or the region has little geoeconomic value) of one of the gray zones that are springing up as the world’s political and geographic maps are being redrawn. Such stateless areas are not unprecedented (e.g., the region in Syria and Iraq controlled by Islamic State[9]; the Gaza Strip where the government functions were controlled by a socio-political organization; and Kurdish regions of Syria and Iraq). But in the previous historical era, they could not survive and develop on their own, or in other words they were temporary and situational entities. Today, the situation may very well change as demonstrated by Hamas which has for a long time controlled a relatively significant tract of land. Note that the Gaza Strip has turned into a terrorist and raiding system which has long developed as an extortion economy that was bullying resources not only out of neighbors, but in general out of any other forces that were willing to pay them off. This was a practical demonstration of how effective could be such extortion economy that has become a creative extension of the raid economy in the age of a declining global economic interdependency.

Disruption of the global trade logistics, almost at the same time in at least two most important logistical corridorsThismight be the result of a military power event as well as a human-made accident/disaster. An example of such accident that had a cumulative rather than a catastrophic effect was the Evergreen container ship that ran aground in the Suez Canal on March 21, 2021. In today’s circumstances, this would be tantamount to a breakout of a global systemic economic crisis. In line with the logic of developing foundations of a spatial world (amid increased expectations of a systemic economic crisis), globally significant transportation infrastructure becomes one of the most attractive points of vulnerability in the context of brute-force geoeconomics. Even relatively minor disruptions within such logistical corridors can trigger a chain reaction of spiraling crisis. In the longer term, a competition may begin between the old logistical system of transregional trade, including energy trade, and the new infrastructure that today exists only within the framework of investment projects and could provide the basis for economic recovery after the world economy bottoms out. But the first incident of this kind may have a cumulative effect that would change the logic of global interstate and inter-system competition.

Emergence of a new political and religious center of gravity. Although there is a growing influence of the ideological factor on politics and economics, which is partially reflected in the discourse of post-capitalism, we have yet to see the advent of new religious constructs. Most forms of religious radicalism stay within the established frames of reference. For example, the recent version of Islamic radicalism used by the terrorist movement of Hamas to stoke the trouble in the Middle East is merely a simplified and localized version of Salafism 2.0 that has been the basis of Islamic radicalism since the 2010s. Social atomization and disintegration of the traditional socio-economic order in the biggest regions of the world are objectively forming the demand for a new ideological paradigm that, given the degradation of classic ideologies and their late-globalization derivatives, is likely to become purely ideological[10]. Appearance of a new socially attractive and nationally neutral religious paradigm, however reliant on the form of a traditional religion, would substantially change the format of global transformations.

Nevertheless, the possibility of a big war – a medium-intensity conflict within a single region or a transregional conflict – is no longer considered as purely theoretical. Moreover, the West is gradually coming to see that it will not be able to stay within the limits of the hybrid conflict either with Russia or in East Asia[11]. De-hybridization of the military power competition is the most significant aspect of the way the global situation develops at the turn of 2023-2024, but the trend is still uncertain and will depend on multiple circumstances, including domestic developments in the key countries, including Russia. And in this respect, the small black swans might play the decisive role. 

Figure 25. Number of New Armed Conflicts, World.
Source: Our World In Data (https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/number-of-new-armed-conflicts)

A new world order, or cutting the losses 

Any forward-looking analysis of the ways the political-military situation may develop over 2024-2025 and generally till 2030 has to assume the inevitable rise in not just military-political but military power tensions in the world’s key regions with periodic breakouts of consequential conflicts of medium and possibly high intensity. It is also obvious that none of the major political and economic players of the late globalization period, including the United States, China, India, Russia, let alone the EU members, was prepared for the long war situation as the basis of transition to the global peace. The world is undergoing a major overhaul, creating considerable internal tensions in all the countries that may lead to socio-economic and political crises at the national level. They manifest themselves in the most visible form as the synergized political and economic turmoil in Türkiye and in the most subdued style as sweeping government reshuffles in China. In all the instances, we can already observe the weakening of political control and regular glitches in the political decision-making system.  

The biggest shift that has taken place in 2023 in terms of structural consequences for the global political system is that, as a result increasing tensions between competing countries/coalitions the global geopolitical situation, ceased to be a non-zero-sum game, thus establishing a link between the international and domestic politics of the world’s major states. Any political decision to normalize interstate relations necessitates the reformatting of power systems, at least those of some of the parties involved. This has dramatically reduced the room for political compromise on both central conflicts of the modern world. In order to go back to the non-zero-sum game in terms of the classic conflict theory, the players need an essentially new operational space with clearly drawn hard lines marking off unacceptable escalation that would be understood in approximately the same way by all the actors. Whether this is possible to accomplish under the existing global political system remains unclear. 

Currently, the leading global players are busy pitching to the world their full-size images of the future. The United States has presented is quintessentially ideological/geopolitical concept of the Coalition of Democracies. Russia is promoting the idea of an inherently informal Alliance of Sovereign States, which proposes to revert to the classic international law and sovereignty. China relies on a philosophical – but in reality political and ideological – concept of the Community of Common Destiny, providing a political and ideological guise for establishing global geoeconomic Sinocentrism, expected to be less parasitic than the dominance of the global – but American in its nature – finance and investment capitalism. Some time ago, Türkiye announced its The World Is Bigger Than Five project proposing to transform the existing Americentric geopolitical system not by changing its architecture but by redistributing votes and changing the number of voting shareholders. India, quite characteristically, has so far avoided any moves that could take it into the domain of political ideology. However, the promoted political and philosophic concepts have not yet become a factor that could impact the processes of destruction of the international relations system. The political practice shows that pursuit of tactical objectives and situational response are becoming a bigger factor than longer-term considerations. This is also apparent from the attitude of global players towards the issues of nuclear nonproliferation.  

At the current stage, a fundamentally new global development pattern is evolving characterized by a propensity for antagonism between new budding geoeconomic trends that are shaping a new spatial economic geography and retention of most previous political formats, including institutional ones. The extent to which the world will be able to overcome this antagonism in the next 1-3 years will determine many aspects of further global development, specifically, the players’ capacity to limit the use of military power instruments in the course of inevitable transformations below the level of high-intensity conflicts even in a regional theatre of operations.

The central dilemma for the major players in 2024-2025 will be actually facing the same choices as in 2020-2022: either to recognize the imminent need to redesign the architecture of the political relations system, opt for controlled spatial transformations, probably on a somewhat bigger scale than in 2022-2023, and, most importantly, agree to the inevitable breakup of economic interdependency links with hard-to-predict consequences, but this time in the financial and investment sector; or still try to preserve the system of international political and economic relations in its present condition, not just aggravating the current differences that has recently become almost antagonistic, but significantly increasing the risks of chaotization of major economic spaces. As demonstrated by the reaction of the biggest global and regional players to the events in the Middle East in October 2023, the likelihood of the second scenario of postponing change and replacing it with case-by-case band-aid agreements, often based on personal relations between TOP-politicians, is much higher. 

The build-up of the potential of much-needed changes that could have been resolved in 2018 without any crisis under the existing Americentric system, by 2021 via a military power crisis around Ukraine, but, at the beginning of the conflict, within the framework of the non-zero sum conflict model, as demonstrated by Istanbul Agreements, has resulted in a situation where by 2024 the widening differences underlying the confrontation will have irreversibly turned into a zero-sum conflict. This antagonistic conflict is very likely to become permanent. It will not only be a major factor in foreign policy agendas and geoeconomic rivalry, but in maintaining the stability of political government systems of major global powers. Therefore, the priority 2024-2025 objective for the biggest political-military players is to design barriers to backstop escalation of political and military tensions that would be suitable for the current development phase of the political-military processes. This risk of uncontrolled escalation has significantly increased over the recent years and demands additional solutions that most likely lie outside the framework of the classic international law and post-1991 institutional architecture. 


[1] Пленарное заседание восьмого Восточного экономического форума // Официальный сайт Президента России, 12 сентября 2023 г. URL: http://www.kremlin.ru/events/president/news/72259

[2] Барабанов О.Н., Бордачев Т.В., Лукьянов Ф.А., Сушенцов А.А., Тимофеев И.Н. Аттестат зрелости, или Порядок, какого ещё не было. Фантазия о будущем без иерархии. Доклад Международного дискуссионного клуба «Валдай» // Международный дискуссионный клуб «Валдай», октябрь 2023.  URL: https://ru.valdaiclub.com/files/45987/

[3] Сергей Лавров в ООН: однополярная модель мира уходит в прошлое // ООН, 24 сентября 2022 г.  URL: https://news.un.org/ru/story/2022/09/1432361; The Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, 2023 // Russian Foreign Ministry, March 31, 2023. URL: https://mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/fundamental_documents/1860586/

[4] Фукуяма Ф. 2017. Угасание государственного порядка. М.: Издательство АСТ. 704 с.

[5] Хаас Р. Мировой беспорядок. М.: АСТ, 2019. 320 с.

[6] Nye J. How Sharp Power Threatens Soft Power. The Right and Wrong Ways to Respond to Authoritarian Influence // Foreign Affairs, January 24, 2018. URL: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2018-01-24/how-sharp-power-threatens-soft-power  

[7] It is important to remember that the erosion of political restrictions on nuclear weapons is a lengthy process, starting from President Trump’s policy to reconcile with North Korea, which in fact allowed North Korea to continue being a nuclear power for some time subject to the agreements with Washington, however, counter to the resolutions of the UN Security Council, and all the way to actual obstruction of the vote on the resolution of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in August 2022. Russia’s withdrawal of its ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the chemical test conducted by the US in Nevada need to be considered as the elements of the process but definitely not as its beginning. 

[8] The two other systems are the global financial sector, mostly servicing interregional trade and global trade corridors, and the Americentric information society, which is also undergoing renationalization. But they cannot act as an instant trigger disrupting the interlinks of globalization.

[9] The organization is recognized as terrorist in the Russian Federation – Editor’s Note.

[10] East and South-East Asia are less affected by this process, but this seems to be just a matter of time; social atomization and digitalization of social life are dramatically transforming the social fabric across all the regions. 

[11] Кашин В.Б., Сушенцов А.А. Война в новую эпоху: почему возвращаются большие армии. Доклад Международного дискуссионного клуба «Валдай» // Международный дискуссионный клуб «Валдай», октябрь 2023 г. URL: https://ru.valdaiclub.com/a/reports/voyna-v-novuyu-epokhu/