During the last seventy years of my life, as a reflective but obstinate minority of one, I suggest on this defining moment in time, with the rise of artificial intelligence for which we are totally unprepared, we are faced with different issues, climate and food system disruption; infectious diseases leading to pandemics; poverty and inequality; nature and biodiversity loss; and pollution and waste.
Issues which will not be solved by short term solutions or convenient soundbites and by excluding countries from the global equilibrium. These issues require all-inclusive global long-term solutions and these problems are far more important than a disastrous and unnecessary regional war in Ukraine, since they impact the evisceration if not destruction or survival of our so called civilization.
Our world has often been influenced by American and Russian exceptionalism, just as European culture has been influenced by US culture and not always to the better. The USA has long been the leading power among the free nations and instrumental in the creation of the “free liberal order,” committed to freedom and liberal values, but also a liberal order which has not always lived up to its own ideals and is in a state of crisis.
In this framework the realized position of hegemony with United States control over the U.N. NATO, World Bank and IMF has given the U.S. great economic advantages and prosperity, resulting from this exalted but declining status. This hegemonic status has resulted in a global and foreign policy which is based on U.S. domination, as a national security strategy, a strategy not based on altruism, but on remorseless self-interest.
It is a world in which international relationships are based on laws. The relationship between EU, Russia and US, for instance, was influenced by the 1975 Helsinki Final Act, the post-Cold War settlement and the 1990 Paris Carter for a New Europe. Notwithstanding the US and other powers have always shown a great deal of disdain and hypocrisy and demonstrated a self-serving purpose to international law, the law in general and the use of indiscriminate force.
It is also a world in which there were fundamental differences between the main powers, China, Europe, Russia and the USA. The European Union and the USA were founded on certain values, like human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, as a way to coexist in peace and prosperity.
Russia and to a lesser extend China are amalgams of authoritarianism with significant domination and repression of civil society, corruption and nationalism, which ideology and policies can count on elite- and popular support.
Contrary to the American belief being the indispensable nation in world affairs and the assumption 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 goods such as equality, security, social cohesion and piety.
Humanity never has had, and likely will never have, a common culture. Therefore there will be differences in our perception, which will have to be recognized and if possible accommodated. As Machiavelli already noted, “that the question how people should live – which human goals should be exalted – will never result in a universally satisfying answer.”
During President Bill Clinton (1993–2001) terms in office, which were are qualified by the 4P peace, prosperity, pluralism, and progress, the Clinton administration began in the 1990’s pushing for NATO expansion, which Russian leaders bitterly complained from the start. In the words of Boris Yeltsin during the 1995 bombing campaign against Serbia “This is the first sign of what could happen when NATO comes right up to the Russian Federation borders… The flame of war could burst out across the whole of Europe.”
With the President George W. Bush administration the global chessboard started to evolve and the winds of time started to change with President Bush as the main catalyst, influenced by 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and by encouraging Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO.
In 2008, at a NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania, during which summit President Bush urged to extend Membership Action Plan (MAP) to Ukraine and Georgia, but failed to reach agreement given opposition by some of the members. But the final declaration included “NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro Atlantic aspirations for membership of NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.”
Any uncertainty about Russia determination to prevent Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO should have been dissipated by the Russia-Georgia war in 2008. Today’s crisis is the result and is a fateful, epoch-making moment in modern history and reflects the battle over what the world order will look like.
This at a time with the U.S. is in economic, political and moral self-denial with dilapidated institutions and rising authoritarianism and needs to bring its crumbling domestic house in order. But instead American primacy in the world is prioritized over internal priorities and the needs of America, as a 21st Century civilized society.
In his 2019 article The Self-Destruction Of American Power Fareed Zakaria noted the Iraq war in particular marked a turning point as“ the U.S. squandered away the good inheritance and good name of decades of American global leadership.”
With unipolarity being over, the status of the U.S. as first among equals has weakened in the 21st century, both Russia and China are advocating to limit America’s sphere of influence by consolidating their spheres of influence and want to shape a world adverse to American values and interests thereby challenging US geopolitical advantages and are striving to change the international order in their favor.
However, change and decline are part of the ever changing cycle of history, the question we are faced with is not if the present world order is changed and replaced over time, but what will replace this world order.
The key in this is to accept today the new conflicts are not between civilizations as Samuel Huntington believed, but between those who believe in the clash of civilizations and those who believe in universal values and international law.
As addressed by Zbigniew Brezinski in his excellent book The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives, in today’s environment the bigger picture deserves attention and scrutiny.
With the conflict in Ukraine, which has been festering since the end of the cold war and could as easy avoided as the conflict was created, we witness the struggle for global hegemony and in this fight Ukraine is only a pawn, a springboard for deeper expansion of democracy in the Eurasian Balkans and as envisioned by strategic thinkers like Brzezinski as a part of the critical core of European security.
In this battle for greater U.S. influence on the Eurasian Balkans, part of the Eurasian landmass which is extending from Lisbon to Vladivostok and inhibits 75% of the world population. Europe is its bridgehead, with the unpleasant and undesirable consequence of permanent U.S. military presence in the east of Europe.
Brzezinski refers to Halford Mackinder, who formulated the Heartland Theory in a article The Geographical Pivot of History published in 1904 in the Geographical Journal with successive concepts of the Eurasian “pivot area” with the Central-East European heartland as the springboard for the attainment of continental domination. The theory can be summarized by the famous dictum:
•who rules East Europe commands the Heartland;
•who rules the Heartland commands the World-Island;
•who rules the World-Island (Eurasia) controls the world.
The Eurasian Balkans include nine countries Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia all former members of the former Soviet Union. Influence in region is important not only to the US, but also to Russia and China as a potential economic prize with its concentration of natural gas and oil reserves, in addition to important minerals, including gold.
Next to the economic interest of the US has in developing the region, the interest is also based on weakening Russia position and preventing Russia from exclusively dominating the region geopolitical space and to prevent obstruction of the American geostrategic goal of expanding its sphere of interest and shaping a larger Euro-Atlantic system in order to facilitate the inclusion of Eurasia into the democratic and cooperative order.
After the geopolitical pivot of Ukraine, both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are potential and crucial pivots to be drawn in the US orbit (US,EU, NATO) in order to influence and change in the distribution of power, to counter Russian influence in the Caucasus and the control of energy.
With the declining hegemonic status of America and the rise of an assertive China attempting to establishing regional hegemony, which is meant to unify the Eurasian continent the general temperature has risen. Like with the Japanese phobia in the 1970’s-1980’s, today with the increased strategic competition with China, also the Chinese phobia in the U.S. has risen demanding to articulate a clear strategy and objective.
As President Joe Biden stated he envisions “extreme competition” with China and has shifted away from engagement with China and frames the rivalry in the universal contest between democracy and authoritarianism.
The present war in Ukraine is part of this, but this war, despite the emotional loaded climate, does not change the balance of power in Europe, but only weakens Europe economically and assists the US to push the EU to join the US in their US-China power struggle and is facilitating the start of a new cold war, which for some in the U.S. Congress has already started and for others cannot come a day too soon.