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Systemic Conflict? No Thanks! Why Many States Are Not Taking Sides and What That Means for Us

The notion of a “systemic conflict” has increasingly found its way into our discussions on foreign policy in recent years. Russia’s war against Ukraine, mounting tensions between the US and China: all these phenomena are interpreted within the framework of a clash between liberal-democratic systems and authoritarian ones. And although this interpretation might not be entirely misled, we have to face this fact: the overwhelming majority of states worldwide does not show even the slightest inclination to fit into a bloc logic of any kind or to make abstract normative issues the guiding principle of their foreign policy. To know why pragmatism should be our answer to this finding, read the new issue of International Reports!

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System Conflict? No Thanks! Why Many States Are Not Taking Sides and What That Means for Us

  • Editorial

    When the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union disintegrated, it was more than just the final chord of a conflict in power politics between East and West: it was also the end of a clash between two disparate systems, two world views. The concept of the liberal market democracy had prevailed over the utopia of a communist world revolution. In the West in particular, a period of optimism began. Now that this clash of ideologies had dissolved, democracy could triumph across the globe – or so many people thought at the time.

    by Gerhard Wahlers

  • “We Need to Stop Looking at Things Solely from a European Perspective”

    On “Value-driven Pragmatism” in Foreign Policy and the Work of Political Foundations

    Being pragmatic is not the same as being arbitrary or betraying your values – in fact, it is an imperative for German and European foreign policy, says Caroline Kanter, new Deputy Head of the European and International Cooperation Department at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, in an interview with International Reports. She explains why this applies equally to the work done by the foundation abroad.Department at the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, in an interview with International Reports. She explains why this applies equally to the work done by the foundation abroad.

    by Sören Soika, Fabian Wagener

  • “Nobody Wants to Be on the Wrong Side of History”

    Systemic Rivalry and Unity in Defence of the UN Charter

    In view of the Russian attack on Ukraine, a clear majority of states around the world are demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from the neighboring country when called to vote in the United Nations General Assembly. And yet there are considerable differences in their willingness to impose sanctions and in the interpretation of the conflict and its geopolitical background. Many countries see no reason to clearly choose one global political camp. Their UN representatives present various arguments to explain that position – and the West should listen to them.

    by Andrea Ellen Ostheimer

  • Many New Alliances

    The Middle East and North Africa in the Global “Systemic Rivalry”

    There is consensus in the West that the outcome of the war in Ukraine will decide whether authoritarian states such as Russia and China can be countered in their thirst for power so as to defend the rules-based order. Based on this ­interpretation, the war is a global systemic conflict between democracy and autocracy in which the West expects support from the ­countries ­of the so-called Global South as well. The reality is quite different, however: the “Global South” is going its own way. This applies to the states of the Middle East and North Africa, too. While they condemn the Russian attack almost without exception, they have a different ­perspective on what has been called Zeitenwende in Germany – and are becoming increasingly estranged from the West.

    by Canan Atilgan

  • A Laboratory of Systemic Rivalry

    The South Caucasus between Russia and the European Union

    The systemic rivalry between Russia and the EU plays a central role in the South Caucasus. Moscow regards the region as an exclusive zone of influence, while Brussels formulates offers of cooperation. The states of the South Caucasus act differently in this area of tension – also because the room for manoeuvre varies from country to country.

    by Stephan Malerius

  • What Colour Is the Lotus?

    India Chooses Not to See a Systemic Conflict

    In United Nations votes on Russia’s war against Ukraine, the “world’s largest democracy” regularly abstains, as India continues to cultivate relations with Moscow. Appeals to morality will do nothing to change this. If the Western states want to create stronger ties with India, they must make the country concrete offers that support its economic development and increase its security vis-à-vis China.

    by Lewe Paul

  • “I Am Pro-myself”

    Uganda’s Response to Russia’s War of Aggression against Ukraine

    “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.” This is an African proverb frequently heard in Uganda when people talk about Russia’s current war of aggression against Ukraine, in reference to the impact on the African continent. The United States and the West on the one hand and Russia on the other are seen as the big elephants. The political elite in Uganda has officially adopted a neutral stance, while at the same time attempting to use the international situation that has arisen to its own advantage. Against this background, Germany should clearly define its own interests and strengths and bring these into play in a targeted way to our mutual advantage.

    by Anna Reismann

  • The Courted Bride?

    Argentina in the New Global Order

    In times of an energy and food crisis triggered by the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the countries of the European Union are among those increasingly looking to Argentina again. The South American G20 country is the third largest economy in Latin America and holds enormous potential, especially in the areas of energy and food production.1 Yet Argentina has long been courted intensely by the major powers China and Russia due to its wealth of resources and its strategic location as a gateway to the Antarctic. How is the country positioning itself within the new power structure, and what are the interests and needs that shape Argentina’s foreign policy?

    by Susanne Käss

  • Climate Action in the Global South

    Revitalised Cooperation or Exacerbated Polarisation?

    Combining climate protection with economic progress is key if we want to revitalise our cooperation with developing and emerging countries. Sustainability can provide an added value in this context, if and when it makes concrete contributions to partner countries’ development. Its own ambivalent climate policies, as well as geopolitical dynamics should be enough reason for Germany and the EU to choose a pragmatic, flexible and strategic approach to these partnerships.

    by Sabina Wölkner

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About this series

International Reports (IR) is the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung's periodical on international politics. It offers political analyses by our experts in Berlin and from more than 100 offices across all regions of the world. Contributions by named authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editorial team.

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Dr. Gerhard Wahlers



Benjamin Gaul

Benjamin Gaul

Head of the Department International Reports and Communication +49 30 26996 3584

Dr. Sören Soika


Editor-in-Chief International Reports (Ai) +49 30 26996 3388

Kim Karcher

Portrait von Kim Karcher

Referentin Kommunikation und Vermarktung +49 30 / 2 69 96 - 2387