Anatomy of the New Great Game: ADSD as a Platform for Understanding the Global Order and Its Challenges

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Mohammad Hamdan|11 Nov 2022
Key Facts

  • The war in Ukraine has accentuated old rivalries between superpowers. It has also raised some pertinent questions. Is the world on the cusp of a new World Order? Will it upset traditional power balances or trigger a vicious cycle of never-ending crises? These questions lie at the heart of this year’s edition of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate (ADSD).
  • This high-profile forum will examine the impact of the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic on the global order. It will also assess whether these events ultimately lead to a new World Order.


The Covid-19 pandemic caused profound strategic political, economic, and security shifts that significantly upended the World Order. The colossal tide of the pandemic washed over international relations just as hard as it had over everything else. The pandemic took a heavy toll on global economies, dealt a blow to globalization, and sent governments scrambling to re-evaluate their public health infrastructure and supply chain strategies.

While the world was still reeling from the aftershocks of the pandemic, the Russia-Ukraine war broke out, further stoking tensions and rivalries between the world’s superpowers. The conflict also deepened uncertainty over the future of the international order.

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine is more than just a European issue or a Russian-European conflict. It marks the beginning of other shifts in the global geopolitical landscape. Whether these shifts will lead to a unipolar or multipolar world remains to be seen.  The time leading up to the conflict was a missed opportunity to make Ukraine less of a flashpoint and more of a link that unites the Russian, European, and American points of view. This could have been done by using successful examples of economic cooperation, like the route taken by Russian gas to Europe through Ukraine.

The ADSD warned of the perils of missing this window of opportunity during its eighth edition in 2021, well before the war broke out. This year’s ADSD unfolds months into the outbreak of the war. The conflict is already prompting the question of whether we are on the verge of a new World Order that will upend established power dynamics or whether it will descend into a never-ending cycle of crises.

What we accepted as unquestionable postulates have suddenly become open to debate and skepticism, making this question vital. These presumptions are a product of the de facto status quo and agreements between the Western camp – led by the United States and Europe – and the Eastern camp – led by the former Soviet Union – following World War II.

Some even doubt the legitimacy of the UN Security Council structure, the Russia and China veto power, and the usefulness of the UN as an international institution. Even institutions representing globalization, such as the European Union and its efficacy as an economic and political development bloc, have been called into question in the absence of a European military power framework. Such a framework frees European decision-making from total dependence on Washington, especially amid a war that threatens the entire Union’s security.

Conflicting Agendas: A Fluid Global Landscape

The Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war have not resulted in any new global realignments or repositionings analogous to those witnessed during the Cold War. Despite the assertion that a second Cold War is already underway, it is still too early to conclude with any degree of certainty that a bipolar geopolitical order is currently in place. The internal polarization is unprecedented in the United States. It has raised questions over the very foundations of American democracy and radical foreign policy shifts on major issues whenever a new administration takes office.

Considering the shifting international landscape, this year’s ADSD asks what effect the domestic American conflict has had on Washington’s national security strategy and, by extension, its foreign policy and standing as a global leader. This is a very pertinent inquiry. Authoritarian regimes, largely ineffective since the Cold War, except at the local level, are competing with global liberal norms. The rise of protectionism has dealt them a severe blow in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise of populism, and the growth of the far right in almost every European and American election.

The rearrangement of US foreign policy priorities is not solely determined by the ideological competition between authoritarianism and liberalism. The United States has become highly circumspect regarding its alliances, enemies, and rivals. The US has never discussed the possibility of intervening in the conflict in Ukraine under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to protect civilians, despite using the same UN framework to lead NATO sorties against the regime of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Instead, the US has only imposed economic sanctions on Russia and Belarus.

The US also failed to intervene in Syria after Russia deployed its forces in the western Asian Arab nation. Also, the tug-of-war between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, especially with the expected change in parliamentary majority following the midterm by-elections, will make it difficult for President Joe Biden’s administration to approve effective aid to Ukraine, as it has done since the conflict began.

A session on European policies will also be held during the 9th ADSD to discuss how the war in Ukraine may affect the future of US-Europe relations, especially considering the growing rifts within the Union’s member-states. When it comes to energy, for instance, France and Germany have divergent views, and taken together, they advocate for different approaches and sanctions against Russia. Some fundamental issues prevent the European Union from achieving its stated 2019 strategy goal of becoming a global leader. This plan’s overarching foreign policy principle was that, despite the alliance with the US, Europe should pursue a course determined primarily by European interests.

Additionally, this year’s forum will assess whether NATO is still effective in upholding and reshaping the international order, particularly in areas crucial to the security of allies. It will also examine whether new or impending threats will increase NATO’s capacity to form new alliances with nations in Asia, Latin America, Africa, or the Middle East. The intricate relationship between China and Russia exemplifies the effects of international crises on the global system. The cautious rapprochement between the two nations is influenced by several factors, including China’s robust geo-economic rise in the new World Order and the fact that Beijing and Moscow rejected the US-led global hegemony of liberalism.

However, this Russian-Chinese consensus does not imply a complete agreement between the two countries’ geostrategic interests. There are high possibilities of a conflict of interests between the two sides on the African continent and in the Middle East. In addition, compared to the Indo-Chinese rivalry, China’s growing military and technological power and the Russia-India rapprochement may cause a shift in the strategic alliance paths that Moscow and Beijing are currently pursuing.

Middle East and the New World Order?

Changes to the international status quo or configuration will likely have far-reaching consequences for the Middle East. The halt in energy transition efforts necessitated by the Ukrainian conflict, and perhaps even a resurgence of competition over fossil fuel resources among Western countries with stringent climate policies, could refocus attention on the Middle East and create new conflicts. The Middle Eastern countries’ ability to keep up with the frenzied technological race and fight transnational threats like epidemics may also be hampered by shifts in the global power balance, which would exacerbate long-standing issues like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

While the Arab Gulf states are primarily focused on protecting their national interests and regional security, any shift in the international game system could present an opportunity for countries in the Middle East and North Africa to form new alliances and reshuffle their cards. The United Arab Emirates is an example of a forward-thinking country that can adapt to the challenges and changes that will inevitably arise in the international system in the future.

To answer these questions, this year’s edition of the high-profile forum will assess and examine the impact of the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic on the global order. It will attempt to understand whether these events will ultimately give way to the birth of a new World Order.



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