The recent developments in the global order are hard to characterize. While some use the term “New Cold War” to refer to the various international political phenomena that have emerged, others use words like “great transformation” or “perfect storm.” This suggests that the international order after the 2000s has had many dimensions, making it difficult to predict where it is headed. Whatever lens is used to look at contemporary international relations, however, rising national egoism and unilateralism of dominant powers, the triumph of form over substance in international organizations, and democracies in crisis seem to be the common denominators. A systematic analysis and description of such characteristics are critical to assess the current situation and predict the future.
To understand current trends in an international order whose direction and characteristics cannot be easily discerned, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies has, since 2015, selected an annual theme that runs through each publication of the Asan International Strategic Outlook. These themes include “Strategic Distrust” (2015), “New Normal” (2016), “Reset?” (2017), “Illiberal International Order” (2018), “Korea’s Choice” (2019), “Neo Geopolitics” (2020), and “Era of Chaos” (2021). Through these themes, the authors try to examine, with a multi-dimensional view, what the international order looks like, its implications, and what each country and region is doing to address developments in the surrounding environment.
The theme for 2022, which is “Rebuilding,” was selected based on such consideration. The spread of COVID-19 over the past couple of years has impacted the restructuring of the international order led by dominant powers. The pandemic has deepened international distancing, while the U.S.-China strategic competition appears to be intensifying and expanding. Democracies across the globe are in a crisis. Over the last two years, most countries were unable to work on resolving shared global issues such as climate change and cyber security, as they were focused on internal political needs to manage the pandemic. At the same time, international organizations have been more clearly shown to be helpless. In short, the year 2021 was an era of chaos.
The year 2022 is expected to be slightly different. While the emergence of new coronavirus variants remains a variable, the world is now preparing for life to return to normal and seeking to change international relations in a way that, in an “untact” era, untact can go side by side with contact. Particularly, as life goes back to normal, major powers will accelerate their efforts to get more countries on board in the new international order of their own design. The Biden administration will be more seriously involved in bringing the U.S. back to the centre of international order. Likewise, based on the centennial of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party and as President Xi Jinping prepares for his third term, China will also be more vocal in advocating a new international order that it aspires. Russia will also be anxious to raise its own voice and expand its influence while cooperating with China on certain issues and regions. While identifying itself with the U.S. in terms of values and systems, Europe will continue to work out its own path amidst the strategic competition between the U.S. and China. Also, the competition for more regional influence by regional powers will create both opportunities and challenges.
What will the world look like in 2022? Will it be a repeat of 2021, or will it be a prelude to a shift in another direction? What effects will the expanded areas of competition and more complex geopolitical structures have on the restructuring of international order? And what strategic choices should Korea make given these considerations? The strategies and political situations of 2022 have raised many different questions. The Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia where Korea is situated will give rise to many mixed, conflicting strategic calculations, which may lead to different outcomes. Many are concerned about the situation in Europe given the potential conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the political insecurity in the Middle and Near East due to the uncertain future of Afghanistan, and the amplifying conflict between China and Taiwan, and U.S. and China over the Taiwan Strait. However, the Korean Peninsula remains the most volatile region as North Korea continues to develop its nuclear capability. As a result, we may become more keenly aware of the dire security situation and the seriousness of the surrounding strategic environment. This report summarizes the efforts of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies to answer these questions. I hope it will inform future studies, analyses, and discussions on new international order at home and abroad. Lastly, I would like to express once again my appreciation to the authors and staff, both in and outside the institute, for their hard work and dedication in getting this report published.
The Asan Institute for Policy Studies