Europe in a Multipolar World

BERLIN – One aspect of the Ukraine crisis that both Russia and the West need to understand is that the rest of the world appears to be relatively unconcerned about it. Though the West, along with Japan, may view the crisis as a challenge to the global order, most other states do not feel threatened by Russia’s annexation of Crimea or designs it may have elsewhere in Ukraine. Instead, many view this crisis as being largely about Europe’s inability to resolve its own regional disputes – though a successful outcome could bolster Europe’s global influence as a peacemaker.

As the Ukraine crisis unfolded, Russian policymakers and commentators talked about “the end of the Post-Cold War era,” while Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dimitri Rogozin even appeared to welcome the start of a New Cold War. Such wishful thinking is predicated on the notion that conflict between Russia and the West would once again come to define the entire international system, thereby returning Russia to its former superpower status.

That is not going to happen. As emerging powers’ reactions to the Ukraine crisis demonstrate, world politics is no longer defined by what happens in Europe, even when a major conflict is brewing there. The international system has become so multi-polar that non-European states can now choose to follow their own interests rather than feel obliged to side with the East or the West.

Few world leaders doubt that Russia’s use of force to compromise Ukraine’s territorial integrity, change its borders, and annex Crimea violated international law. China’s abstention in the subsequent United Nations Security Council vote clearly signaled its leaders’ displeasure with Kremlin policy. But nearly one-third of the UN’s members sent an equally emphatic message by abstaining or not participating in a General Assembly vote condemning Russia’s actions.