This piece explores the controversial thesis that the United States strategically and consistently maneuvers against the emergence of regional hegemons across the globe. Whether it is Russia in the former Soviet space or China across the South China Sea, the United States works to disallow the expression of regional hegemonic power despite its own continued reliance on its global hegemony being accepted. Up to now, most examinations have considered this simply an exercise of American foreign policy and global positioning according to its own best interests. What has gone largely absent from this is how much our understanding of American hegemony (its structure, its theoretical underpinnings, and its ultimate purpose over time) can provide a better explanation not just of American positions but also the interaction with major regional powers in this first fifth of the 21st century.
What is more intriguing to this project is teasing out that consensual/coercive dynamic within American global hegemony, how it has impacted the development of regional power around the globe, and to what ultimate purpose. Some works have deftly pointed out that this consensual/coercive diode has quite literally created a dual state: the ever-famous democratic one and the less-recognized security state. The former is always highlighted by the United States and touted as the reason why American power should not ever be considered an empire proper, that its initiatives and actions can rightly be seen as endeavoring to help the global common good in numerous and diverse ways. The latter is less public but increasingly more potent and seems to be behind many global maneuvers that work against the ideals and principles of liberal Western traditions (think invasive mass surveillance, rendition and indefinite detention, torture, and the violation of sovereignty). While some like to point out these two ‘states’ of hegemony as diametrically opposed to one another, this work posits a perhaps controversial assertion: that they are instead two sides of the same American power coin and have, for years, regularly been interchanged, often with one being used to justify and rationalize the need for the other.
Some have even taken to giving it a sinister-sounding autonomous nickname, The Deep State. But this paper rejects the notion that the Deep State is something running perniciously alongside regular transparent power and undermining its most coveted principles. Rather, it is the functional amoral center of American foreign policy power and it has for a long time been actively serving the purpose of prolonging its global hegemony and preventing the emergence of any other contenders on the regional level. American hegemony is not resting on its laurels and it is not going complacently into the good night. It is, and has been, fighting tooth and nail for its continued dominance on the world stage and has viewed regional hegemonic power expression as a challenge of relevance that demands elimination.
This is not so much global conspiracy theory as merely sound strategy. The United States from the very beginning of the unipolar era has strongly sought to have its power equated not so much to its own individual rational pursuit of national security interests, but rather as the projection of what some call ‘democratic hegemonism.’ This form is easily the most benevolent: not linked to either single-state dominance or class superiority, democratic hegemonism is seen as a fragile consensus of ideals, perceptions, and values demanding a nurturing environment of like-minded states striving to achieve an international system epitomized by civil liberties, freedom, social activism, and transparent democratic institutions. While this is indeed laudable as a goal for humanity, it is curious that we have not been able to draw strategic lines between this project and the manner in which America has always tried to project is global power hegemonically. If you can get others to buy into the idea that your power is somehow ‘good for all,’ then anyone rising to assert their own grander power gestures would not just be about themselves, or even about challenging the United States, but actually serving as agitators against the common global good.
It is an interesting conception, given that the US has so actively tried to suppress publicity away from its pursuit of national interests and cloak/veil them instead under the guise of this benevolent form of hegemony. In short, rather than being two different kinds, the security state in America has sought to rationalize its own actions by convincing others it is in fact working for democratic hegemonism. Indeed, another form of this has been how globalization (the supposed projection of democratic economic hegemonism for the benefit of all) has been accompanied by a powerful increase in American military spending and investment in military R&D. Indeed, the foreign sales of American weaponry has de facto resulted in the deputizing of the select chosen few to act as regional stewards in the name of American global hegemony.
America has always prospered under this idealized image projected outward across the globe. Some might even argue it has been a powerful driver of policy. But what is more likely is that the driver of the policy has been institutionalizing American global hegemonic power and using these idealized images as the means to get to that end. It is this aspect of double standards that levels accusations of hypocrisy against the United States and fuels some of the most virulently powerful anti-Americanism. Indeed, this work is an advancement of what has now been considered a time/context-dependent argument: most of the above critiques exploded during the mid-to-late 00s, what with America in the throes of two open wars and countless other military maneuvers in the Global War on Terror. They were ostensibly anti-Bush critiques about what had been done to real American values, as it were. But we have had two new Presidents since George W. Bush and our foreign policy positions and global power projections have not dramatically altered. Thus, these critiques need to be reevaluated not in the light of simply criticizing a president but in assessing the continued American desire to maintain its global hegemony. And that desire goes beyond individual leader personality and above political party.
Be warned: this is not a hyper-liberal diatribe against the US trying to maximize its power to the fullest. That is the realist system of international relations we still exist in today. It is, however, a criticism of the academy for not making the realization explicit of how the security state is literally pretending to represent benevolent democratic hegemonism while perhaps only pursuing selfish interests. This present argument adds a new dimension and relevance to the neorealist vs. Gramscian hegemony debate: the neorealist version emphasizes the role of a great power to set up institutions, policing, norms, etc. The Gramscian version focuses not on brute force but on ideas and consensus, on the establishment of dominance by consent through means of ideological and political leadership. To an extent, at least when it comes to American power, this debate has been a false one: the so-called struggle between the security state and democratic hegemonism in America has been no struggle at all. The relationship was misdiagnosed: America has, in the 21st century, been propping up a publicly-declared Gramscian notion of hegemony while simultaneously enforcing it and overwhelming potential regional challengers to it with a decidedly aggressive neorealist form of great power hegemony. This combination, never before made explicit, has been monumentally successful in frustrating and blocking regional hegemonic efforts to influence critical global security neighborhoods, especially given the United States has engineered a powerful misdirection against many fine intellectuals: by making them believe in a fictitious Deep State that is secretly marauding against more transparent American interests, they are missing the less mysterious but perhaps even more impressively dangerous political reality.
Cuba Counts On Russia’s Economic Support
Cuba’s Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz, on an official working visit this June, has laid out his country’s plans, soliciting support for countering the United States, respect for its territorial integrity and support for resuscitating the Island’s falling economy. With many obstacles driving up basic cost of living, Cuba is consistently experiencing exodus of its citizens most them exploiting the geographical proximity, and migrating to settle in the United States.
During most of the meetings with Russian officials, Marrero Cruz underlined the necessity to make efforts in strengthening military relations and seek effective ways to boost agricultural exports to the Russian Federation. In addition, the Eurasian market may also open diverse opportunities and beneficial partnerships for Cuba.
Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin indicated, during a meeting with the Cuban delegation in southern coastal city Sochi on May 7, that “Cuba is one of the important partners in Latin America. Our cooperation rests on solid traditions of friendship, solidarity, mutual respect and trust. Together, we are resisting unprecedented sanctions pressure from unfriendly states.”
“The forum ‘Russian-Cuba business dialogue’ organized by our business council was held on the sidelines of the intergovernmental commission,” Titov who also heads the Russian-Cuba business council, also said. “Forty-six Russian companies participated in it. Before the forum our portfolio contained 11 investment projects, while after the forum it already had around 30 projects.
According to the intergovernmental commission for trade, economic and scientific cooperation, which is addressing these tasks of improving aspects of the bilateral relations, Moscow and Havana need to restart cooperation in order to boost trade and investment. In addition, Russia attaches great significance to implementing large-scale projects with Cuba, including those aimed at increasing oil recovery at Cuban fields and upgrading the metallurgical plant in Havana.
“Despite the unfavorable external environment, bilateral trade approx. 60 billion rubles, or more than 20 billion Cuban pesos, last year. The positive dynamic was retained this year, with trade growing nine times in January-April compared to the same period in 2022. I have no doubt that it will keep growing,” Mishustin said.
“We are planning to actively cooperate in tourism,” he said, adding that Aeroflot Group was about to begin regular flights to and from Cuba. This would increase the number of mutual trips between the two countries, and would strengthen business ties and cultural relations.
Giving an additional voice to tourism, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko also said “Cuba is Russia’s key partner in Central America, and it is completely logical that economic relations on all tracks need to be developed. Regular air travel with Cuba is resuming starting on July 1 by the president’s order. The Aeroflot company received a relevant directive.”
“The Aeroflot group will start operating flights to Cuba from July 1. It is a long-awaited event for all tourists because Cuba has always been a place of attraction not only for tourism traffic, but also for business traffic,” Aeroflot – Russian Airlines PJSC director general and board chairman Sergei Alexandrovsky noted.
Rossiya Airline, a member of the Aeroflot Group, will open flights from Moscow to Varadero, Cuba, from July 1. The company plans initially to make two flights per week But a third flight will be added from September 5, according to the airline’s information. The tourist flow from Russia to Cuba may rise to 500,000 people per year.
Marrero Cruz was on his first visit to Russia. Gerardo Penalver Portal was in his delegation that visited Moscow. Russian foreign ministry said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov and his visiting Cuban counterpart, Gerardo Penalver Portal, discussed the two countries’ efforts toward building a multipolar world based on the principles of international law.
“The sides reiterated mutual commitment to further strengthening Russian-Cuban cooperation in a wide spectrum of fields in the spirit of strategic partnership,” the statement posted to the website said. According sources, bilateral trade tripled to $452 million in 2022, and it increased ninefold to $137.6 million in the first four months of 2023, compared with the same period 2022.
Official visits to and from both capitals proliferate, Russian State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin visited Cuba in April. Earlier Russia’s top diplomat Sergey Lavrov visited Havana. Cuban leader visited Moscow late November 2022. At a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, pledged to continue developing bilateral relations. The delegation also addressed both houses of Russia’s legislature.
Cuba’s has an estimated 12 million population. Around 55,000 people of Russian descent live in Cuba. A 2016 survey shows that 67% of Cubans have a favorable view of Russia, with 8% expressing an unfavorable view. Cuba became dependent on Soviet markets and military aid and was a major ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. After Soviet’s collapse, Russia has maintained their diplomatic relations with Cuba.
India: A Strategic Partner or an Unreliable Friend?
The Future of Geopolitics Will Be Decided by 6 Swing States
The world is witnessing a new era of great power competition between the United States and China, with Russia playing a spoiler role. The outcome of this rivalry will shape the global order for decades to come. But the fate of this contest will not be decided by the actions of Washington, Beijing, or Moscow alone. It will also depend on how a group of influential countries in the global south navigate the shifting geopolitical landscape.
These countries are the geopolitical swing states of the 21st century. They are relatively stable and prosperous nations that have their own global agendas independent of the great powers, and the will and capabilities to turn those agendas into realities. They are more demanding, flexible, dynamic, and strategic than they could have been in the 20th century, when they had to choose between alignment or non-alignment with one bloc or another. And they will often choose multi-alignment, a strategy that will make them critical—and sometimes unpredictable—forces in the world’s next stage of globalization, and the next phase of great power competition.
These geopolitical swing states fall into four overlapping categories:
– Countries with a competitive advantage in a critical aspect of global supply chains.
– Countries uniquely suited for nearshoring, offshoring, or friendshoring.
– Countries with a disproportionate amount of capital and willingness to deploy it around the world.
– Countries with developed economies and leaders with global visions that they pursue within certain constraints.
Six countries stand out as exemplars of these categories: Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Indonesia, and Brazil. These countries have more power today than ever before for several reasons: They have more agency, they benefit from regionalization, and they can leverage U.S.-China tensions.
The geopolitical swing states have more agency than ever before because they have grown more confident and capable in pursuing their own interests and values on the global stage. They have developed their own sources of soft and hard power, such as cultural influence, economic clout, military strength, diplomatic networks, and technological innovation. They have also diversified their partnerships and alliances, seeking to balance their relations with both the U.S. and China, as well as other regional and global actors.
Turkey has emerged as a regional powerbroker and a global player in defense, energy, humanitarian aid, and mediation. It has pursued an assertive foreign policy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has sought to expand Turkey’s influence in its neighborhood and beyond. Turkey has intervened militarily in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Somalia; challenged Greece and Cyprus over maritime rights in the Eastern Mediterranean; supported Qatar against a Saudi-led blockade; hosted millions of refugees from Syria and Afghanistan; mediated between Iran and the West; and built close ties with Russia despite being a NATO member.
India has risen as a major economic and strategic power in Asia and the world. It has pursued a multi-aligned foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has sought to enhance India’s role as a leading voice for democracy, development, and diversity. India has deepened its strategic partnership with the U.S., joined the Quad alliance with Japan, Australia, and the U.S., engaged with China on trade and border issues despite tensions; expanded its outreach to Africa and Latin America; invested in connectivity projects in its neighborhood; and championed initiatives such as the International Solar Alliance and the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure.
Saudi Arabia has transformed its economy and society under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), who has sought to diversify Saudi Arabia’s sources of income away from oil dependence, modernize its social norms and institutions, and assert its leadership in the Arab and Muslim worlds. Saudi Arabia has launched an ambitious Vision 2030 reform program, led a military intervention in Yemen against Iranian-backed rebels, normalized relations with Israel, hosted major summits such as the G20, invested heavily in emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and biotechnology, and established strategic partnerships with China, India, and Russia, while maintaining its alliance with the U.S.
The geopolitical swing states have also benefited from regionalization, the process by which regions become more integrated and interdependent economically, politically, and culturally. Regionalization offers opportunities for these countries to enhance their influence and interests in their respective regions, as well as to cooperate with other regional powers on common challenges and opportunities. Regionalization also creates a buffer against the pressures and uncertainties of the global system, allowing these countries to pursue their own models of development and governance.
South Africa has played a pivotal role in advancing regional integration and cooperation in Africa, as well as representing African interests and perspectives on the global stage.
It has been a founding member and a leader of the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). It has also participated in peacekeeping and mediation efforts in countries such as Sudan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. South Africa has leveraged its position as the most industrialized and diversified economy in Africa to attract foreign investment and trade, especially from China, India, and the EU.
Indonesia has emerged as a key player in Southeast Asia and the wider Indo-Pacific region, as well as a bridge between Asia and the Islamic world. It has been a driving force behind the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the Asia-Africa Strategic Partnership (AASP). It has also engaged in dialogue and cooperation with other regional actors such as China, Japan, India, Australia,
and the U.S. on issues such as maritime security, counterterrorism, climate change, and pandemic response. Indonesia has leveraged its position as the largest economy and the most populous Muslim-majority country in Southeast Asia to promote its vision of a democratic, tolerant, and prosperous region.
Brazil has been a leader in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as a voice for the global south on issues such as trade, environment, and human rights. It has been a founding member and a driving force behind regional organizations such as Mercosur, Unasur, and Celac. It has also engaged in dialogue and cooperation with other regional actors such as the U.S., China, India, and the EU on issues such as energy security, infrastructure development, and social inclusion. Brazil has leveraged its position as the largest economy and the most populous country in Latin America to advance its interests and values in the region and beyond.
The geopolitical swing states have also gained more leverage in the global system by exploiting the opportunities and challenges created by U.S.-China competition. They have sought to maximize their benefits from both sides, while minimizing their costs and risks. They have also tried to shape the rules and norms of the emerging global order, according to their own preferences and principles. They have not hesitated to challenge or defy either of the great powers, when they perceive their interests or values are threatened or violated.
Turkey has sought to balance its relations with both the U.S. and China, while pursuing its own strategic autonomy. It has maintained its NATO membership and cooperation with the U.S. on issues such as counterterrorism, Afghanistan, and Iran, while also resisting U.S. pressure on issues such as human rights, democracy, and Syria. It has also expanded its economic ties with China, especially under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), while also expressing concern over China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. Turkey has also defied both the U.S. and China by acquiring Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems, despite facing sanctions and criticism from both sides.
India has deepened its strategic partnership with the U.S., especially under the Quad framework, while also maintaining its engagement with China on trade and border issues, despite tensions. It has welcomed U.S. support for its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, its membership in multilateral export control regimes, and its role as a net security provider in the Indo-Pacific region. It has also increased its trade with China, especially in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, electronics, and renewable energy, while also pushing back against China’s assertiveness along their disputed border, where a deadly clash occurred in 2020. India has also defied both the U.S. and China by joining RCEP, despite U.S. withdrawal from the pact and China’s dominance in it.
Saudi Arabia has maintained its alliance with the U.S., especially on security and energy issues, while also diversifying its relations with China on economic and technological issues. It has relied on U.S. support for its military intervention in Yemen, its confrontation with Iran, and its normalization with Israel, while also facing U.S. pressure on issues such as human rights, democracy, and nuclear proliferation. It has also increased its investment in China, especially under the BRI framework, while also seeking Chinese cooperation on issues such as cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology. Saudi Arabia has also defied both the U.S. and China by pursuing its own nuclear program, despite U.S. opposition and Chinese competition.
The rise of these geopolitical swing states will have significant implications for the global order and the great power competition.
The global order will become more multipolar and complex, as these countries will shape the rules and norms of the emerging system according to their own preferences and principles. They will not accept a binary choice between the U.S. and China, but will seek to preserve their strategic autonomy and flexibility. They will also demand more voice and representation in global institutions and forums, such as the U.N., the IMF, the WTO, and the G20.
The great power competition will become more nuanced and dynamic, as these countries will leverage their relations with both the U.S. and China to maximize their benefits and minimize their costs and risks. They will also exploit the opportunities and challenges created by U.S.-China rivalry to advance their own interests and values. They will not hesitate to challenge or defy either of the great powers, when they perceive their interests or values are threatened or violated.
The global challenges and opportunities will require more cooperation and coordination among these countries and the great powers, as these countries will play a key role in addressing issues such as climate change, pandemic response, cyber security, nuclear proliferation, terrorism, trade, development, and human rights. They will also offer new markets, sources of innovation, and partners for cooperation to both the U.S. and China.
The geopolitical swing states of Turkey, India, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Indonesia, and Brazil are the middle powers of the global south that will decide the future of geopolitics. They have more agency, they benefit from regionalization, and they can leverage U.S.-China tensions. They have their own global agendas independent of the great powers, and the will and capabilities to turn those agendas into realities. They are more demanding, flexible, dynamic, and strategic than they could have been in the 20th century. And they will often choose multi-alignment, a strategy that will make them critical—and sometimes unpredictable—forces in the world’s next stage of globalization, and the next phase of great power competition. The U.S., China, and Russia should not take these countries for granted or ignore their interests and values. They should engage them with respect and pragmatism, seeking areas of convergence and managing areas of divergence. They should also recognize that these countries are not passive bystanders or pawns in their rivalry, but active players and partners in shaping the global order. The geopolitical swing states should not be complacent or reckless in their actions. They should be aware of the risks and responsibilities that come with their power and influence. They should also be constructive and responsible in their contributions to the global order. They should not only pursue their own interests and values, but also uphold the common interests and values of humanity.
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