Tilting World Order

The Netherlands Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR) has added an analysis of international power politics to its science-based research program. The analysis zooms in on the implications of the intensified multipolarity and multifaceted nature of international relations. By doing so, the Council aims to contribute to a broadening of policy perspectives on the emergence of a new global power equilibrium and changes in the multilateral order. By extension, it seeks to offer guidelines for the organization of government and the identification of information that is relevant to decisionmaking, and for the international positioning of the Netherlands.

Over the last two to three decades, the world has become characterised by increased instability and uncertainty, impactful economic transitions, the return of interstate violence and the rise of multipolarity - that is to say, of economic, military, and political equilibria made up by multiple dominant states and supplicants that stand in an asymmetric relation to these players. Various centres of power are actively pursuing fundamental changes in the global order and its institutions and are testing different geopolitical instruments to achieve these. Energy and food, but also cyber technology and efforts to control and influence information, are examples of a geopolitical reality in which a wide variety of instruments is being used.

The key tension in geopolitics is undoubtedly in the relation between the United States and China – the dominant economic and military players in today’s world. For the Netherlands and other European states, this shift towards the Indo-Pacific is a principal reason why the US security guarantee and the US role in upholding the postwar multilateral system can no longer be taken for granted. Indeed, it is the change itself that has exposed this dependency, confronting us with increasingly inescapable new realities. In addition, the effectiveness and perceived legitimacy of the institutions of the international order as set up after World War II by the western powers, such as the WTO, the Council of Europe and the UN, are in decline, and alternative partnerships are emerging. Nevertheless, the international treaties that are inextricably linked to these organisations still form the bedrock of the foreign policy of the Netherlands and of the European countries more widely. Most recently, geopolitics has further changed irrevocably with the start of the Russo-Ukrainian war.

The new geopolitical rivalry expresses itself in numerous ways and as such already has a significant impact on Dutch society – ranging from energy prices to political debate on allowing for Chinese 5G equipment. In the years to come, we will continue to be confronted by the consequences of changing global relationships, and answers must be formulated in response to the associated dilemmas. Similarly, the prominence of multipolar power politics raises numerous questions with regard to the interests, policies, competences and conditions of coherence of the European Union as our principal platform of international economic and political coordination.

The Council aims to chart the developments in the dimensions of modern power politics and multipolarity in detail and assess their implications for the Netherlands and its role within the EU and the wider world. In what way should the challenge of the postwar order change our thinking on the nature and multiplicity of our international associations and on the multilateral order itself? How can the Dutch government best position itself in a world of increasing geopolitical rivalry? And in what way should domestic government adapt its organization in response to the enhanced risks and dependencies created by external influences – both of a material and immaterial nature?