Geopolitical nonalignment in the 21st century

August 26, 2022

Escalating tensions in Taiwan and Ukraine are pressuring the world to choose an alignment: you are either with us or against us. Echoing the Cold War era, Joe Biden has repeatedly framed the battle between Russia and the West as a battle between authoritarianism and democracy. Upon arrival in Taipei, Nancy Pelosi replicated Biden’s rhetoric and applied it to China-U.S. relations. Politicians, historians, journalists and the general public opinion have created a ‘new Cold War’ narrative. However, our geopolitical reality is complex and increasingly multipolar and many nations refuse to choose sides.

Whilst most of the democratic Western countries have denounced China’s actions and sanctioned Russia, quite a few democracies of the ‘Global South’ have chosen a path of proactive neutrality, echoing a spirit of nonalignment. During the 20th century Cold War, nonalignment was an expression of anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism and nonaggression. Originally dubbed “neutralism”, it provided a third alternative in a bipolar world. Today the essence of nonalignment is not as ideological, but instrumental. Neutralism has translated to opportunism. India—buying discounted Russian oil—aims “to advance national interests by exploiting opportunities”. Africa and Latin America remain largely nonaligned, due to fears of food shortages and angering China, their largest trading partner and provider of infrastructure and 5G technology. Importantly, the BRICS has become a critical node among non-Western heavyweights, fostering much-needed development projects.

Burning questions:
  • Will the spirit of nonalignment affect nations that have so far always sided with the U.S.? For instance, because they are increasingly dependent on Russian resources or Chinese capital?
  • Which economic (or other) instruments will the (Western) democratic bloc use to sway non-aligned nations to choose its side?
  • Can a multipolar world order survive amid escalating tensions, or will it ultimately bifurcate into a bipolar world? 

About the author(s)

With a background in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and a Master’s in History, Martine Dirkzwager Wu is intrigued by researching what the new conditions for the Humanities are in the age of the Anthropocene. In trying to understand a fundamentally unintelligible world, her thought process aims to be as critical as creative. She celebrates an era of post-truth in which knowledge can be traced through academic, but also natural and artistic networks.

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