It’s Bifurcation, not Bipolarity: Understanding World Order after the Ukraine Invasion


By Richard Higgott and Simon Reich


Changes in world order require policy adaptation on the part of governments. The pre-requisite for good policy adaptation is an accurate reading of the nature and magnitude of that change. This is easier said than done. While there are always competing interpretations of change, the temptation to proclaim an irreversible shift in the state of the world is understandable. Several years of the COVID pandemic, the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan and now Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have produced “heroic” readings of change which might not be the most useful basis on which to make policy. Academics and decisionmakers are declaring, in cavalier fashion, that we are at a “turning point,” ‘tipping point’, ‘inflection point’ or ‘watershed moment’ the consequences of which include ‘the end of globalisation’, the arrival of Cold War 2.0 and a return to containment in a bipolar world.