The collapse of Soviet Union in the late 1980s brought an end to the cold war being fought through proxies by the USA and USSR. This heralded an era in which the USA emerged as the sole superpower which started to dominate the globe in a way that no country has done in recorded history.
This domination was based on brute strength the US enjoyed in the field of military power, economic power, scientific research, democratic institutions, and above all the American ideology which frames it as an exceptional country. Off late there are signs which indicate that a process of decline in this domination has started.
The US domination was evident in the adoption of liberal economic and governance models by the former Soviet bloc and non-aligned countries during the 1980s and 1990s. This neo-liberal model relied on international cooperation and globalisation was its rallying cry. This allowed international organisations like the World Bank, IMF, and WTO to force smaller countries to make their fiscal policies as per their models. It also nudged countries to join various multinational Free Trade Agreements (FTA).
The other aspect of global cooperation was different agreements on climate control, arms control, missile technology control, nuclear non-proliferation, terror funding, anti piracy, and international criminal justice system. In all the economic, security or governance related international mechanisms, it was the US soft and hard power which stood as a guarantor.
Over time, the unrivalled hegemony of the US started showing some cracks. Russian economy recovered from the ashes of the collapsed USSR and the country underwent a massive overhaul of its military. It once again started challenging the USA in eastern Europe and the Middle East. From Ukraine, Georgia, Serbia, Kosovo, or Iceland in Europe to Iran, Syria, Yemen, or Libya in MENA to Venezuela in South America, Russia and the USA are backing opposing forces.
China has also quietly gained a lot of influence in the developing and underdeveloped countries in Asia and Africa at the time when the USA is seen retreating. This process has hastened in the last decade when China, buoyed by a rising economy, started investing in the infrastructure of Asian and African countries without any baggage of human right concerns which normally comes with the USA or European countries.
China and Russia anchored many new international institutions like BRICS, New Development Bank, AIIB, EAEU, SCO, which tackle regional security, military cooperation, economic infrastructure and internet governance. All of these exclude America. Apart from these countries, India, Brazil and other emerging regional powers also started challenging the USA narratives on geopolitical and economic affairs.
That, and how the current president Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized allies, sympathized with dictators, issued travel bans, undermined international organizations like WHO and NATO, and pulled back from treaties. These actions leave a leadership role that America played in the past to be fulfilled, which further advances the China-Russia agenda.
The unhinged rhetoric of the US President Donald Trump has also played a role in emboldened the adversary as well as friends of the USA to increasingly chart an independent course which may be diametrically opposite to the US stand. His focus on America First has dented the post WW-II US moral leadership which based on the divine responsibility of helping the world.
The US has always had an interventionist approach where they “help” and “lead” the rest of the world, giving them more power, which comes with both rights and responsibilities. Trump has rejected that and instead made an “America first” which focuses on material, fiscal gains rather than ideological ones. This can be seen in how President Trump tries to broker deals with money rather than cultural and ideological nuances in conflicts such as the widely criticized Israel-Palestine peace plan.
There is also how the usage of the dollar for global trade, while providing the country global dominance, cheap goods and borrowing costs, also makes it run a trade deficit, which Trump endeavours to reduce. That, however, might prove impossible without changing the global currency in itself. The fact that America extorts political leverage using economic methods like sanctions also made many countries look for the replacement of the US dollar as preferred currency for global trade.
Another casualty of America first is the withdrawal of the USA from many international treaties and agreements under President Trump watch. The US withdrew from Arms control treaties with Russia, Free Trade agreements with Canada and Mexico, International climate treaty, Iran nuclear deal, UNESCO, UNHRC, UNRWA, WTO, TPP and many other significant international and bilateral agreements under President Trump.
The US withdrawal has inflamed the allies and emboldened the adversaries of the USA. Its allies in Europe are increasingly taking an independent stand on foriegn policy and looking for raising a Europe centric security setup, independent of NATO. They are also strengthening intra-EU trade and standing up to the US pressure on trade policies.
Similarly Russia and China have increased their influence in multinational bodies as they have now become the militarily and economically strongest countries after the withdrawal of the US.
The era of US dominance in world affairs since the end of WW-II in general and after the collapse of the USSR in particular is now resting on very fragile legs. No amount of policy change by the new administration in the USA, to be headed by Trump or Joe Biden, is going to reverse the emergence of a multipolar world in which the US, with all its might, will be one of the poles.