A Renewed Global Bipolarity?

August 30, 2022

Globalisation, accelerated since early 1990s, collapse of the world socialist system, economic growth of emerging countries seemed to have destroyed the bipolar model of the world, previously personified by the US and the USSR. At the beginning of the millennium there seemed to be the possibilities for the formation of a multipolar world. The US, EU, China, Russia, India — each of them had ambitions to take a leading position in world politics and economics.

However, it quickly turned out that global politics and economics were characteristic of the so-called bipolar world. We mean the two largest countries — the US and China, which now maintain global political leadership, demonstrate considerable economic, scientific and technical achievements. Moreover, these two countries also represent two civilisation communities, one of which is associated with democratic systems of governance and society, the other one – with autocratic socio-political and socio-economic systems.

While the US and China form the "core", their partner countries "complete" the community. The community centred on the USA is formed by the G7 countries (the US, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Japan). China leads BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), which unites large emerging countries, but still lacks international and integrational influence, including due to contradictions among the member countries.

G7 countries were often accused of "individualism", pursuit for profits, indifference to the interests of small countries, but the situation with Ukraine is almost the reverse and becomes an additional factor of civilisational choice for the country.

Ukraine made a conscious choice regarding the global pole that is closer to it, whose values ​​coincide with its own. Let's assess the attractiveness of both poles in terms of safe development.

From the first days of the Russian aggression, Ukraine received considerable political, economic, financial, military and humanitarian support from developed democratic countries. The BRICS countries did not openly support Russia but mostly took a wait-and-see "neutral" position (except Brazil), which actually meant indirect assistance to Russia.

Economic dynamics. Steady growth of economies of the G7 countries during the post-war decades was interrupted by the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-2009. Only the US continued to increase its GDP, strengthening its leadership position.

BRICS countries, except for China, could not maintain stable dynamics after 2008–2009. Only India demonstrated stable growth.

Today, the Chinese GDP is 10 times greater than that of Brazil or Russia. China is de facto not only the economic leader but can claim ideological and political leadership in the grouping.

Better economic dynamics of the BRICS countries significantly improved their indicators, compared to the G7. At the beginning of the century the combined GDP of the BRICS made only about 15% of the G7, but in 2021, it reached almost 60%. This allows BRICS leaders to demand revision of the global economic relations.

Within two decades, China has become one of the global centres of gravity, primarily for emerging countries. While the US economy shaped and will shape global demand, China's economy played a leading role in shaping the global supply, which allowed the country to grow rapidly, and such experience (largely unique) attracts other emerging countries.

Basic measurement. However, the comparison of individual indicators of global influence of the US and China remains in the US favour:

— although China is a powerful state, the total military and security power of the US far exceeds the Chinese. China has nuclear weapons, but the non-nuclear power of the US is much higher, which may be decisive in local armed conflicts. The US has a developed system of military allies, military bases, and does not depend on energy resources. China still has no real allies, and its security system is regional;

— China lags behind the US in terms of productivity and technologies, despite progress in ICT, mobile technologies, robotics, etc.;

— with its model of "state capitalism", China raised the competitiveness of some of its national companies at international markets, also being a factor in political expansion;

— meanwhile, the US dollar occupies the key place in the world financial system.

The yuan was only recently included in the IMF currency basket. Although China is the leader in world trade (14% of global exports and 11% of imports), the share of the yuan in international settlements makes less than 2%;

— even the EU, which has always maintained partner relations with the US, supported collective European security, democratic values ​​and human rights, is increasingly speaking about its autonomy, while becoming an object of political and economic influence and pressure from outside, primarily, China and Russia;

— China still has no decisive influence on access to markets. It is extremely interested in access to the American and European markets, so sanctions may be painful for the Chinese economy and difficult to ignore. This is important for joint efforts to stop the Russian aggression;

— the Russian aggression had a strong impact on the world political map due to democratic countries’ support for Ukraine. Coordination between the US and China may contribute to a just peace in Ukraine and averting global security, energy or food crises;

— the European Union, also claiming the role of a global leader, appeared at the intersection of the interests of the United States and China. At the same time, the current confrontation between the US and China is not just a question of democracy/autocracy;

— Ukraine’s struggle contributed to the formation of two civilisational groups — democratic and autocratic. Ukraine’s victory is important not only for our country, but also for the strategic trend of humanity development, based on democracy and human values.

Thus, in the emerging bipolarity — the competition between the US and China — the advantages of the US are still evident. Today, the US also steps up its geopolitical activity, in particular, in the regions traditionally viewed by China as its sphere of interests. The US released an Indo-Pacific strategy, focusing on regional partnership.

Ukraine has already made it clear to which pole it gravitates, which values ​​and interests it is ready to defend.

European choice. This sphere is characterised by contradictory processes.

The impact of the Russian aggression against Ukraine was felt by almost all countries of the world. And while the reaction and readiness of the US, Canada, Great Britain, and Japan was evident, the three EU countries (Germany, France, Italy) initially were looking for ways of diplomatical settlement. Since Ukraine has chosen a pro-European vector of development, let us look at the significance of Ukrainian processes for the EU.

For the European Union, Ukraine’s struggle was critical and concerned democratic values, ​on which the EU was built:

— Russian aggression against Ukraine united the EU, created conditions for the formation of a rather tough anti-Russian and anti-aggressive policy, sanctions, which shaped a new economic and security environment in Europe;

— regardless of internal contradictions, the EU countries almost unanimously condemned the aggression, launched programs of military, economic, social and humanitarian support to Ukraine;

— ideas of "independence" of Western Europe from the US, actively promoted in recent years, saw serious correction. At the same time, the role and reliability of NATO, with the US leadership, has become clear for the EU;

— strategic autonomy of the EU is an unconditional component of a developed economy, for which, primary attention began to be paid to weakening dependence on China and, after the US example, limiting access to technological niches where European companies still retain competitive advantages;

— the EU countries, along with the US, Canada, Great Britain and Japan, gave a clear signal regarding prevention of military aggression as a means of resolving interstate conflicts.

This not only temporarily relieved the tension around Taiwan or other "disputed" territories (claimed by China), but also emphasised the need for a pre-emptive political dialogue, with respect for the territorial integrity of all countries.

No matter how ideologically contradictory the relations between the US and the European Union seem from time to time, preservation of the US-EU partnership will help the EU solve problematic issues that are considered the most serious. Greater orientation to the US will give the EU more influence.

The aggression against Ukraine caused much greater transformations of the European economy than any previous crises.

There is reason to believe that:

— Europe has become stronger militarily (including due to Finland and Sweden joining NATO),

— less dependent on energy supplies from authoritarian Russia,

— more balanced in its choice of strategic economic partners,

— more united in the understanding of democratic and human values​​,

— more "picky" in the choice of moral leaders. Germany's hesitation in practical assistance to Ukraine was eventually judged as political insecurity and moral weakness.

That is, the entry of Ukraine into the European community formed around the US has already brought security and economic benefits not only to Ukraine but also to the European socio-political, economic and humanitarian space, which brought this country closer to the EU.

Internal contradictions within BRICS. BRICS is an example of mutual contradictions and absence of ideals, which Ukrainians are ready to defend.

The economic "nature" of BRICS is being increasingly politicised. The BRICS summit, which took place at the end of June 2022, revealed different positions of its participants. China viewed it as a way to further strengthen its leadership. Russia's position was distinguished by an undisguised desire to involve China into the orbit of its military operations in Ukraine. However, it is extremely irrational for China to have a status of an ally of a Russia "without borders", as this will hinder the development of its economic relations with developed countries.

In this context, the "Ukrainian factor" may be decisive for China's choice. Chinese exports to the US, the EU and Japan make almost 40% of the country's total exports. Meanwhile, economic (trade) relations among the BRICS countries remain very limited. Say, China's exports to India only 2–4% of the country's total. Trade contacts of the BRICS countries, except for trade with China, remain very insignificant.

Nevertheless, in the future, politicisation of BRICS will grow.

On the other hand, "uncoupling" from European and American markets will most likely spell the end of China's economic miracle. This was confirmed by the record deficit of China's capital and financial account in the 1st quarter of 2022 — almost $90 billion.

The "Ukrainian factor" exacerbated the dilemma of partnership for another large emerging country of the BRICS — India. It sees countering China's expansion in the Indo-Pacific region as one of its main tasks. Therefore, India hopes that expansion of cooperation with the US and other developed countries will strengthen its position in conflicts with China. India relies on the strategic platform, aimed at neutralising China's activity — the so-called Quadrilateral Security Dialogue with Australia, the US and Japan. However, in view of India's long fruitful relations (including military) with Russia, India has taken a predominantly pro-Russian stand in relation to Ukraine (while the other three countries of the Quadrilateral Dialogue are Ukraine's staunchest allies). India refused to publicly condemn the aggressor in the UN Security Council.

Summing up, (1) today, there is a global tendency to the political and economic model of a bipolar world, with the US and China personifying, respectively, democratic and authoritarian socio-political and socio-economic systems.

(2). The political, economic and military rise of China means strengthening of the global confrontation between the leading countries of the "bipolar world" and their allies in all social and economic sectors. Such confrontation may provoke the outbreak of military actions, threatening the whole world.

(3). Despite internal contradictions, the EU condemned the aggression, launched programs of military, economic, social and humanitarian support for Ukraine. This became a practical confirmation of the unity of the democratic world community in the confrontation with militant authoritarianism.

(4). Large emerging countries should realise that transformational shifts lie in the sphere of democratic mechanisms of interstate relations and cannot be based on force or military scenarios.

(5). Ukraine demonstrated to the world that struggle for independence, democratic values and human rights is an important factor in the choice of prospects for further development. Its struggle united the whole democratic world.

For the full text in Ukrainian see https://razumkov.org.ua/images/2022/08/01/onovl_dvopol_svitu.pdf

Vasyl Yurchyshyn

Director, Economic Programmes

Born in 1955 in Kamyanets-Podilskyi.


T. Shevchenko Kyiv State University, Department of Cybernetics (1977).

Institute of Public Administration and Local Government at the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine (1994).

Professor in Public Administration. Author of nearly 100 scientific works.


In 1977–1993, worked at the Kyiv University as an engineer, research fellow and senior research fellow;

1994–1999 — head economic researcher at the International Centre for Policy Studies, Fund for Banking and Finance Development;

1999–2004 — Assistant Professor, Department of Economic Policy of the Ukrainian (currently, National) Academy of Public Administration, office of the President of Ukraine;

1999–2004 — Research Director at the Agency of Humanitarian Technologies, later — Agency for Social Analysis;

2002–2003 — advisor to the Minister of Economy of Ukraine;

since April, 2004 — Professor, Department of Economic Policy of the National Academy of Public Administration, office of the President of Ukraine;

since June, 2005 — Economic Programmes Director at Razumkov Centre.

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