Mutual accusations in revisionism have become an essential element of rising rivalry between the United States, Russia, and China. At the beginning of the 21st century states associate revisionist policies with the challenges to global governance rather than territorial expansion. Global governance developed into a multi-level network of agreements, interstate fora, and transnational bureaucracies. It confers a range of rights and obligations to states, regulates access to crucial markets, and contributes to international stability.
It is not surprising that the major powers seek to influence the rules of the game to advance their interests. However, not all deviations or contestations of existing institutions represent cases of revisionism. The latter manifests itself in attempts to undermine or replace the established institutions of global governance with alternative regulatory frameworks. This policy manifests through the rhetorical denial of existing norms and organizations, combined with consistent practical steps aimed at weakening them.
Throughout history, Russia, the United States and China adhered to different approaches to the international order. The United States, both during its rise and times of relative decline, strived to shape international institutions in accordance with its interests. Both Barack Obama and Donald Trump, despite their great differences, tried to revise global governance to maintain American predominance. In this context, it is reasonable to expect further efforts to transform existing norms and regimes from the administration of Joseph Biden. However, it struggles with the lack of fresh ideas for transforming international institutions so far.
While the United States consistently pursued revisionist policies in the international arena, Russia has often acted as a staunch institutional conservative. At some points during the Soviet era, Moscow switched to a more proactive course seeking revolutionary changes in the international order. However, today Russia returned to a mostly conservative agenda, except for its dissatisfaction with the regional architecture in Europe. Such a course is justified due to the sizeable institutional legacy from the Cold War period, on which the Russian Federation relies in its foreign policy. At the same time, it needs to be aware that, despite its efforts, other major powers will inevitably seek more extensive revisions of norms and regimes which emerged in the second half of the 20th century.