Terra incognita

Foresight series: The long-term implications of the war in Ukraine

Policy Brief


What are the implications of the war in Ukraine for the different dimensions of international affairs?

The impact of the war is both of urgent relevance and of long-term consequences. Tensions among great powers have risen, geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting, the international energy order is being upended, food supply chains have been disrupted, the global economy is facing severe headwinds, fragile countries and regions are being exposed to multiple shocks, and multilateral governance is faltering, as normative disconnects come to the fore.

In this policy brief, Giovanni Grevi argues that the war in Ukraine affects the future in different ways. For one, it has accelerated patterns of change that predated it, including great power competition, middle power activism, and the crisis of multilateralism. For another, Russia’s aggression has introduced major discontinuities, such as triggering a global energy crisis, fracturing the European security order, and sparking nuclear threats by Russia. In addition, the war has diverted the focus from critical challenges, such as sustainable development and climate change, while aggravating these challenges both directly and indirectly.

This policy brief outlines some of the factors that might drive change alongside the ongoing war – factors such as the evolution of the rivalry between the US and China and of the partnership between China and Russia. It also outlines some of the risks facing the global economy, as well as the prospects for the clean energy transition and its strategic implications, and the rising costs of failure to address shared challenges through cooperation.

What lies ahead is terra incognita – a strategic landscape that eludes comparisons with earlier historical phases. While geopolitical competition is nothing new, even if it subsided for a couple of decades, the risks it poses are increased by the fact that it is surging at a time of power transitions and unprecedented economic, technological, and ecological interdependence. However, by tackling geopolitical challenges and managing multi-dimensional competition, while seeking to advance a rules-based international order, leadership can make a decisive difference in determining distinct pathways to the future.

Fondation Jean-Jaurès
Karl Renner Institut
Olof Palmes Internationella Center
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