2022 was arguably the most turbulent and transformative year in international politics since the revolutions of 1989. It was turbulent because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the crisis over Taiwan, but it was transformative in the way the United States acknowledged China as a superpower rival. In the U.S. National Security Strategy issued in October, the Biden administration not only identified China as its most important security challenge, but also declared unequivocally that the post-Cold War era is over. If the United States’ unipolar power position was the defining feature of the post-Cold War era, the shift to a U.S.-Chinese bipolar power structure will shape a new world order.
Ultimately, decisions on war and peace will be made by individual leaders. But to better understand how the new bipolar era might unfold, we must look at its structure: the balance of power, the new system’s origin, and the geographic setting. The U.S.-Chinese rivalry is unique in many ways, and its nature provides us with salient information on the new world order, its stability, and the role that might be played by statesmanship.