OpinionWorld View

An appetite for a world without a hegemon is emerging

Paul Gillespie: EU and US preoccupation with Ukraine war and Chinese trade not shared by rest of the world

The fragmenting world order was visible at the Group of Seven (G7) summit of rich democracies in Hiroshima last weekend. It was attended by leaders from India, Indonesia, Brazil, Vietnam, South Korea and Australia, who were invited by the host Japan. A surprise guest was President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine. President Lula of Brazil was one of the few who didn’t meet him.

The G7 communique’s pledge to de-risk, not decouple, economic relations with China was dismissed by Chinese spokesmen as tantamount to containment. At a China-Russian summit during the week their recent commitment to a limitless partnership was reaffirmed, undermining G7 hopes that China might play a more active role in Ukraine peacemaking.

The preoccupations of the European Union and United States with the Ukraine war and Chinese trade are not shared by the rest of the world. The war is regarded as mainly a European question, while Latin American, Asian, Middle Eastern and African states want to keep their economic and political relations with China open, and not subject to a new round of richer country sanctions.

Realisation that the international liberal order and institutions is fragmenting and coming to an end is obscured by the fog of war, by a re-assertive US military and by strategic hegemony here in Europe.


In that light a recent provocative and contrarian speech by Fiona Hill, a former national security adviser on Russia to Donald Trump, helps reframe and better understand the issues at stake from within the Washington policy bubble. Hill, who grew up and was educated in Britain and then trained in the US, broke with Trump to testify against him. He dismissed her as “a Deep State stiff with a nice accent”. She is now in the Brookings think tank and heading back to the UK.

The war in Ukraine is perhaps the event that makes the passing of pax Americana apparent to everyone

—  Fiona Hill

Speaking in the Estonian capital Tallinn, she argued that what we are living through is not a proxy war between the US, or a collective West, and Russia. “In the current geopolitical arena, the war is now effectively the reverse – a proxy for a rebellion by Russia and the ‘rest’ against the United States. The war in Ukraine is perhaps the event that makes the passing of pax Americana apparent to everyone.”

Middle powers or swing states in the major world regions, like those invited to Hiroshima, seek to cut the US down to size, assert their own interests and values in their neighbourhoods, and exert more influence on world affairs. “They want to decide, not be told what’s in their interest. In short, in 2023, we hear a resounding no to US domination and see a marked appetite for a world without a hegemon,” Hill said.

From this rebellion there is emerging a new pattern of limited partnerships and mini-lateralism, whose fragments are perhaps trending towards the more balanced and equal multipolarity that China and Russia advocate for.

Hill recognises the appeal of such rhetoric and acknowledges the loss of US credibility in most world regions after US unilateral action in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. That has undermined trust in its actions. “For some, the US is a flawed international actor with its own domestic problems to attend to. For others, the US is a new form of imperial state that ignores the concerns of others and throws its military weight around.”

A new vocabulary to describe the emerging world is needed, she argues. “Why in fact are they labelled ... the ‘Global South’, having previously been called the Third World or the Developing World? Why are they even the ‘rest’ of the world? They are the world, representing 6.5 billion people. Our terminology reeks of colonialism.”

This is a salutary perspective from which to understand contemporary world change. The US and the EU recognise it is happening as they canvass support for policy and trade advantage, and compete with China on new forms of aid. Many states sympathise with the African leader who said you get a bridge from China, but a lecture from the US or the EU.

Securing support from them for de-risking trade with China will be difficult, because they see the choices involved and fear being caught in a superpower struggle with the US involving economic sanctions. The EU has a common interest with other world regions to keep relations with China open, even with more political rivalry in play. Ukraine also realises it must compete with Russia for worldwide support.