At the start of the new millennium there were great expectations and chances for a more peaceful and inclusive world, but these hopes were quickly shattered by the arrival of President G.W. Bush. With the 43rd President the “winds of our times” changed and the “dogs of war” arrived, a harbinger of the changes to come.
With President Bush the European Union became increasingly skeptical of U.S. interventionism and unilateralism. The increased differences burdened the EU-US relationship, which shocks are still felt today and are at the core of the present geo-political differences and difficulties.
The Iraq war opened the Pandora box of the Middle East further which tremors are still felt almost twenty years later. The lack of consensus and differences about the absolutist direction of the U.S., were expressed brilliantly at the U.N. by the French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin, views which were supported by Canada, China, Germany, Russia and others, representing the views of the majority of the world.
The divisions in the EU-US relationship were not limited to the war of aggression in Iraq, which as the 1946 Nuremberg Tribunal noted was an international war crime.
But EU-US differences were not limited to Iraq, but also spilled over in other areas, such the U.S. assault on the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the US rejection of long overdue responses to climate change (Kyoto), withdrawal from the ABM treaty by the US together with Guantanamo, torture and rendition, which squandered away US moral authority.
They are a reflection of different views of democratic legitimacy within Western civilization and revolved around American unilateralism and international law. International law which the U.S. helped structure during the last 50 year. But with its actions during the last 20 years in the Middle East (Iran, Iraq and Libya) and unequivocal support for Israel by the U.S. has led to the different perception and approach in China, Russia and elsewhere.
Contrary to the American belief American principles of freedom, liberty and democracy should be universal and be the shape of the world, these principles depending on the history and culture are not defined in the same way everywhere, let alone valued the same way relative to other political good such as equality, security, social cohesion and piety.
With the war in Iraq both President George W Bush and PM Tony Blair shared the misconception that freedom and democracy are universal values of the human spirit and anywhere anytime ordinary people are given the chance to choose, the choice is the same. Freedom, not tyranny. democracy, not autocracy. The rule of law, not the rule of the secret police.
But humanity never has had, and likely will never have, a common culture. Therefore there will be differences which will have to be recognized and if possible accommodated.
These differences which exist between Russia and the U.S were influenced by the unwarranted NATO enlargement, NATO 1999 Serbia war / Kosovo war, the 2002 U.S. withdrawal from the MBA treaty, the 2003 Iraq war and the 2003-2005 support for the colour revolutions in what Russia considers it’s spheres of interests which all have added to the strain and seen from their perspective gave Russia cause to turn away.
The “winds of our times” changed when the “dogs of war” arrived with the unilateral approach of the George W Bush administration. With the unilateral approach the seeds were laid for the decline and ultimately end of the era of Western dominance over world events that began roughly 500 years ago.
The April 2001 U.S.-Sino Spy Plane Standoff, when a U.S. reconnaissance plane collided with a Chinese fighter and had to make an emergency landing on China’s Hainan Island and the twenty-four-member U.S. crew was detained was the harbinger of the things to come and was handled by President G.W. Bush. much like the elephant in the China cabinet.
Also, the Russian perception changed after 9/11 and shifted from support for the U.S. to criticism. This was made clear in the 2007 speech by Vladimir Putin at the Munich Security Conference addressing American unilateralism.
In this regard is it fair to conclude the costs of discounting Russia and qualifying the country as a regional power has been high and have laid the basis for the grand coalition between China and Russia we see today, a coalition united by complementary grievances.
This at a time that both China and Russia are advocating to limit US influence by consolidating their spheres of influence to shape a world adverse to US values and interests thereby challenging US geopolitical advantages, striving to change the international order.
In 2007 China increased its defence spending budget to protect national security and territorial integrity, which was an indication of the rising tension in South China Sea which China considers its sphere of interest, and todays great power competition between China and the U.S.
The conclusion is warranted Ukraine stopped being neutral when the country joined NATO’s “Partnership of Peace” plan in 2006 as already expressed in 1994 which can only be seen as a further measure of NATO’s encirclement of Russia as Ukraine applied to join the NATO Membership Action Plan in 2008.
In 2008 Russian officials emphasized that Ukrainian membership into NATO would be viewed as crossing the brightest of red lines.
The Russian position is not unlike President John F Kennedy stance during the 1962 Cuba crisis, staking his claim to its own sphere of influence in the Western Hemisphere which understandable position brought the world on the brink of WW III because the U.S. did not accept Russia’s missiles on Cuba.
Obviously U.S. interests are not limited anymore to the Western Hemisphere but have evolved over time and are based on global domination, but there are different spheres of interests in the world and not all of them are American spheres.
With the dynamics of the world changing and being effected by global demographic shifts and changing climatic conditions, today the centre of gravity is changing and unipolarity is coming to an end and the need for more inclusive global solutions is more evident than ever.
The world is in transition, unleashed by growing challenges from ambitious regional powers such as China, Brazil, India, Russia, Turkey and Indonesia and this in turn impacts the status of the U.S. as first among equals, which position has been weakened, its ability to dominate others has declined and is being further threatened by the rise of China in our ever-changing world.
The question is not if the EU-Atlantic world order, which had a long run during seven decades of global dominance is fading, but what kind of emerging new world order will replace this, with authoritarianism on the rise.
As Zbigniew Brzezinski in his book The Grand Chessboard – American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives” notes, how America manages” Eurasia, during the last five hundred years the geopolitical axis of the world, is vital to the U.S. strategic interests, as the power that dominates Eurasia controls two of the world’s three most advanced and economically productive regions.
Potentially with the U.S. internally and monetarily overstrained the future hegemon Eurasia is able to challenge American primacy in the world, as its cumulatively power vastly overshadows that of the U.S., leading to a distribution of power.
As Henry Kissinger recently recognized the rise of China threatens U.S. supremacy and its strategic autonomy on the medium to long term, having consequences for all the privileges and economic advantages which have resulted from this status.
The rise of China can also effect the role of the U.S. Dollar of the international reserve currency and as a result the decrease of the inflow of foreign capital negatively influencing U.S. economy and prosperity. This in turn, could also affect its role in the international institutions shaped by the U.S., which are already changed by China’s increasing participation and influence.
If China can reach this status is not certain but depends if the fundamental problems the country has are addressed sufficiently. From the demographics, the middle income trap to the low water supply, flawed credit system and other earth shaking problems.
We Europeans should be cleareyed about the yearlong unbalanced position between the European Union and the U.S. as well as the present dysfunctional political climate effecting institutions, society.
We must consider the real possibility of disengagement when another more able and qualified authoritarian candidate comes along in the next U.S. election cycle, also giving the authoritarian disposition of part of the American electorate. This is not new as also in the 1930’s the ideas behind the slogan “America First” and authoritarianism had its supporters.
Given the immense problems the country, as the greatest debtor nation in the world is faced with, Europe should be pragmatic and supportive, but have no daydreams what President Joe Biden can accomplish in the short time given.
We should also not be blind to the disagreements with our American friends on assessment of the China threat and Europe should not get sucked into a contest between China and the US for global hegemony, this at a time that the President Biden administration vowed to pursue stiff competition with China.
As Henry Kissinger recently noted at the McCain Institute’s Sedona Forum on global issues, “the strains of this conflicts between Washington and Beijing poses “the biggest problem” for the world, and a failure to improve relations risks a new “cold war” between the largest economies.”
This conflict could lead to an Armageddon clash with weapons which have the capacity to extinguish humanity in a finite period of time. Weapons given the advances made in nuclear technology and artificial intelligence whereby machines have become a partner and machines can develop their own judgment.
A harbinger of the technological developments to come, capabilities which are so incredible, formidable and should give any reasonable person cause for pause.
We Europeans should remember our own history and conclude Europe can, has, and will exist apart from American-led NATO domination.
As Angela Merkel rightly concluded in May 2017
Given how our world has changed, European politicians have since the German unification shown an embarrassing lack of dignity and fail to recognize a polity is judged by the will of countries to ensure their own defence and not to depend on a foreign protection. Accepting a protection is always limiting countries sovereignty,
In matters of European defense and defense spending, we Europeans have lived rather cheaply and the EU must end this subservience and and dependency on the US and become gradually more autonomous.
Since the start of the new millennium the facts are clear. President George W Bush pivoted in 2003 away from West Europe towards New Europe; President Barack Obama pivoted away to Asia and blasted Europe, but returned when he needed Europe for the sanction against Russian interests. for which Europe is paying the economic price. The former guy had his own “America First” agenda. but so does President Joe Biden.
Despite views to the contrary, Russia and Europe live under the same roof and despite our ideological and value differences have no alternative but to coexist respecting the limits of this relationship. But there are also contrasting views between Europe and the US which only confirm the need for greater strategic independence of the European Union as President Emmanuel Macron has suggested.
Today its more necessary than ever and worth trying for parties, once circumstances allow this, with the clear understanding of Russia’s geopolitical goals, to seek and find common ground on the many issues which divide us. One of them is the outdated security arrangement and negotiate a new security arrangement in Europe, reconcile the broad difference between Russia and Europe, in order to reduce the risks of miscalculation and escalation of the conflict leading to war.
Although the Ukraine only a pawn is on the great chess board for influence in Eurasia, to find an serious arrangement for the Ukraine issue will take time and most likely will be based on a large territorial settlement with land swaps and population transfers which already have been and are taken place, enabling the Ukraine to concentrate on solving its more direct problems and execute the required reforms, whereby a NATO or EU membership of the Ukraine is not realistic.
Conceivably Russian history and culture can give some needed guidance and perhaps it’s time to modify our objectives and recognize the sanctions have served no real purpose and have only worked contra productive. Perhaps it’s time to realize Russia will hardly change with or after Vladimir Putin.
Looking at this pragmatically, the Crimea is an rather insignificant family dispute and the annexation of the Crimea has become a fait accompli, not uncommon in our European history which has known enough peace treaties which have had territorial concessions enabling overall solutions.
Perhaps in time when wisdom prevails and a better international climate has been created pragmatic solutions can be found.
Obviously, further violations of International Law by Russia, a Russian invasion in the Ukraine or regime change in Kyiv would take any solution off the table in the near future.
Travelling on the never ending road of history, change is always inevitable and Europe should remain open to co-operation and constant dialogue with China or Russia in order to finding areas of cooperation and be pragmatic for that matter when that is in Europe’s interests, with the understanding what is in U.S. interest is not always in Europe’s interests.
The European Union should be realistic and pragmatic and use its influence to ensure that both China and the U.S. use their power with restraint. This triangular relations between the three powers will have positive elements and also some elements of hostility.