Global Governance after Ukraine

This quick take is part of our Crisis Crossroads series, which highlights timely analysis by CSIS scholars on the evolving situation in Ukraine and its security, economic, energy, and humanitarian effects.

Ukraine signals a major shift in global governance. If there was debate on whether the American century is over (this should have been apparent after Putin’s angry 2007 speech at the Munich Security Conference), the Russian intrusion into Ukraine ended it. The end of American ascendancy undermines the architecture of global governance and security, as well as that perennial favorite of American strategy, deterrence.

The challenge before Ukraine was remaking governance for an interconnected, digital world. There is a complex web of connections, like in the case of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, where opponents play an integral part. This creates vulnerabilities that Russia (and China) can use. The global rules and institutions developed after 1945 are inadequate for managing this risk. Changing this will be neither easy nor quick, but actions like cutting Russia off from SWIFT or denying access to airspace suggest an accelerated unraveling of global connectivity.

The internet undergirds this global connectivity, and cyberspace has become a focal point for contest. The internet’s conceptual foundation is a millennial “one world” ideal of democracy, market economies, and a global commons. Ukraine proved this to be wrong. Assertions of national sovereignty have reemerged as a shaping principle for international relations, and bifurcation between democracies and authoritarians, the norm before 1990, is returning. Ukraine highlights the need for transatlantic partnership, but there are frictions that Russia can exploit. There are new fractures that can slow cooperation, as when Europeans talk of digital sovereignty and “European values.” Strategic autonomy has been a dream for some since de Gaulle, but it remains unrealistic.

Rule of law and norms for responsible behavior, the themes that have guided digital governance, are now open to question and inadequate to guide policy in a confrontation. However, policymakers have not identified what will take their place. For 30 years, Americans have had the luxury of not having to think seriously about strategy. Ukraine could be the sharp break that forces the necessary reexamination for a very different world.

James A. Lewis is a senior vice president and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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James Andrew Lewis
Senior Vice President; Pritzker Chair; and Director, Strategic Technologies Program