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Rising Tensions Amid Wars and Shifting Global Alliances

In a world of deepening conflicts and shifting global alliances, nations face economic and environmental uncertainties. The stability of international relations wavers as they contend with wars, diplomacy, and the pursuit of global dominance.

By Prof Sudhanshu Tripathi
New Update
Global alliances

Global alliances | Representative image | Photo courtesy: Special arrangement

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The shifting dynamics of global alliances are increasingly becoming a cause for concern. Over the past two years, the world has witnessed the prolonged conflict between Russia and Ukraine, alongside the Israel-Hamas confrontation in West Asia. These conflicts have set off a domino effect, leading to tumultuous changes in global alliances. A notable development is the formation of a powerful axis comprising Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran. This coalition aims to challenge the United States' dominant position in the global sphere, aspiring to shift the balance of power. On the other side, Western nations, led by the United States and united under the NATO banner, are striving to maintain their unparalleled influence over global affairs. This tug-of-war spans multiple domains, including economic activities, international trade, environmental issues, and the resolution of international conflicts.

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It is becoming increasingly clear that economic interests, often hidden beneath the surface, are the primary drivers of many international conflicts. These are manifested in imperialistic ambitions and territorial expansions, as seen in the Russia-Ukraine conflict and China's aggressive postures in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond. Exceptions to this pattern, such as the Israel-Hamas conflict, often involve racial animosities and terrorism. Similarly, China's assertive military activities in the South China Sea and its ambitions in the Indo-Pacific challenge both the global North and South, including Australia, threatening the freedom of navigation essential for international trade. Moreover, China's relentless push to assert control over Taiwan poses a significant risk to regional stability. This situation is further aggravated by North Korea's provocative missile tests, including nuclear-capable ones, targeting South Korea and Japan, which adds to the complexities of peace and security in the Far East.

The recent five-month-long war between Israel and Hamas has significantly destabilised the West Asian region. This turmoil has been intensified by the involvement of Hezbollah in Lebanon and Houthi rebels in Yemen, with Iran's covert encouragement transforming this conflict into a dire struggle that threatens not just regional, but potentially global peace, hinting at the spectre of a major international conflict. The situation was further complicated when Iran launched a missile attack on the Jaish-al-Adal group in Pakistan's Baloch province. Pakistan's retaliatory actions in mid-January 2024 escalated tensions, although these were somewhat alleviated through Turkey's diplomatic intervention and Pakistan's subsequent conciliatory stance towards Iran, as reported by various news outlets. Without such mediation, the conflict between these neighbours could have spread across South Asia, presenting a complex challenge for India and other regional stakeholders, each with their unique set of relations and concerns regarding Pakistan. 

The current global landscape is undergoing critical shifts, with entities previously considered peripheral, such as North Korea, Iran, and non-state actors like Lebanon's Hezbollah and Yemen's Houthi rebels, now playing crucial roles in the global sphere. This also marks a significant departure from the liberal-democratic order established post-World War II, challenging the military and diplomatic influence of traditional powers, including the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Japan, and Australia. Additionally, the principles of the Washington Consensus, which championed globalisation and the free movement of capital, goods, services, and labour since the early 1990s, are being undermined by a resurgence of economic nationalism and escalating tensions among major powers, as evidenced by the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and West Asia. This shift highlights a critical moment in international relations, where the rules and norms that have governed global alliances for decades are being reevaluated in the face of emerging challenges.

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Amid the aftermath of the economic downturn triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, nations across the globe have felt the impact severely, with their economic structures significantly strained. In response, countries in the global north have embarked on recovery strategies that include adopting restrictive trade measures, boosting production, tightening immigration policies, and focusing on sustainable development through increased reliance on alternative energy sources. These measures aim to rejuvenate their economies while addressing environmental concerns.

Conversely, nations in the global south are navigating these challenging times by leveraging collective action among developing countries. By enhancing intra-regional trade and diversifying their market offerings, these nations anticipate generating substantial returns, thus sustaining their economies through this difficult phase. 

The pandemic was undeniably a harrowing period for the entire world, inflicting massive losses in human lives and economic stability, and significantly lowering the standard of living across the globe. Many countries, once considered wealthy and dominant, are now grappling with the threat of a deepening global recession. Perhaps the most disheartening realisation is that, after emerging from the devastating impacts of the pandemic, humanity has plunged into a state of conflict, seemingly disregarding the critical lessons that the pandemic was poised to teach us about cooperation, resilience, and the value of peace.

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The Davos Summit of the World Economic Forum 2024 in Switzerland and the 19th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), followed by the G-77 Summit in Kampala, Uganda, have seen stakeholders from both the global north and south convening with a shared objective—to kickstart economic recovery without worsening climate change. Despite these shared goals, the practical commitment to limiting carbon emissions has been lacklustre among many participants, leading to increased carbon footprints and consequent environmental degradation. This negligence has contributed to the melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels, and the endangerment of various ecosystems, revealing a disconnect between proclaimed environmental objectives and actual policy implementation.

This complex scenario reveals the fragile nature of our current international framework, which is riddled with ongoing conflicts and simmering tensions that threaten the very foundation of global peace and security. The protracted wars in Ukraine and between Israel and Hamas have not only caused widespread human suffering and displacement but have also served as catalysts for broader geopolitical instability. Similarly, the escalating tensions in strategic hotspots like Taiwan and South Korea highlight the delicate balance of power in regions critical to global economic health and security. 

The inability of the international community to effectively address and resolve these conflicts signifies a collective failure with far-reaching consequences. This stagnation in conflict resolution efforts not only allows these disputes to fester but also emboldens other actors to pursue aggressive policies unchecked, further complicating the global security landscape and straining the fabric of global alliances. The ripple effects of these unresolved issues are profound, intensifying political divisions, hindering economic development, and contributing to a climate of uncertainty that affects all nations, regardless of their direct involvement in these conflicts.