Think Tank (4/2023)
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The Ukraine War and International Order in a Time of Global Power Shifts
04 Aug 2023

On 4 August 2023, the South Asia Programme at RSIS hosted Dr Rohan Mukherjee, Assistant Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Dr Mukherjee gave a public lecture situating the responses of Global South countries and Western nations to the Ukraine War, against historical and contemporary contexts. This context describes the nature of contestation between dominant and rising powers in times of global power shifts.

Dr Mukherjee began by demonstrating the impact and effectiveness of economic sanctions and efforts at diplomatic isolation against Russia, following its invasion of Ukraine. The West had imposed the widest and most stringent net of sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine in February 2022. However, economic activity with Russia continues and the value of trade with Russia has increased since the war began. Russia is also far from diplomatically isolated. China continues to openly support Russia and India has also pushed back against condemning Russia. Brazil and Indonesia have proposed peace plans to bring the conflict to an end, while Egypt and South Africa have allegedly attempted to supply Russia with arms. UN voting records of Global South countries also highlights that Russia still has some support in this group of countries.

Many countries in the Global South, and especially India and China, have benefitted from the current international order. The question then arises as to why these countries have not condemned violations of the rules and norms of the same order. Dr Mukherjee puts forth the argument that rising powers usually will not support a system that doesn’t recognise them as an equal partner. He highlighted three case studies through history wherein rising powers have resisted supporting an order that does not recognise them as an equal partner. In the current international order, several institutional inequalities exist which don’t adequately address the rising powers’ desire for recognition or status. Essentially, great power status is an exclusive club within the current international order.

It is for this reason that India and China, and to some extent Russia, seek a multipolar international order. A multipolar order allows these rising powers to seek reform in the existing order that is dominated by the West. Dr Mukherjee concluded his lecture with a Q&A with the audience. The discussion included issues related to the opposition of western values in the Global South and role of domestic politics in shaping approaches to international orders.

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