What is cyber coercion and how have states used cyber operations to coerce others? These are the questions addressed in the RAND think tank’s recent report “Fighting Shadows in the Dark. Understanding and Countering Coercion in Cyberspace“. The authors discuss cyber operations conducted by four states — Russia, China, Iran and North Korea — and try to determine whether those activities amounted to cyber coercion.
Starting with the study findings, we will highlight the following points. Cyber operations intended to coerce are a small subset of overall cyber operations globally. Espionage remains the predominant purpose of states’ cyber operations. Despite that, the authors think that states like Russia and North Korea appear to be more likely to have used cyber operations as a coercive tool than China and Iran. The authors also find that, contrary to what coercion theory would predict, states do not make distinct threats with unambiguous demands for changes in behaviour often. Instead, they deny responsibility, hiding behind proxies. Despite the low probability of success, the authors anticipate states will continue to use and may, in fact, come to employ cyber operations more often in the future to coerce. To prepare for this outcome, the United States and its allies need to work now to develop methods to discern cyber coercion as it emerges and strategies to deter and counter it in the future.
Even though the report has certain scientific value, the authors have left quite a lot of space for criticism. First, we need to examine several serious methodological issues. Second, setting aside the fact that the study was sponsored by the United States Department of Defence and its affiliated entities, the authors specifically mention that they only used data from open sources. Indeed, the evidence is mostly taken from reports published by companies such as Mandiant and its eventual buyer FireEye, whose leadership has certain connections both with the Department of Defence and with the U.S. intelligence community. So the evidence of countries’ involvement in cyber operations cannot be seen as objective. Finally, it is lamentable that the ways suggested by the authors for solving problems are strikingly one-sided and do not contain the slightest hint of any possible affirmative action.
The authors attempt to base their methodology for defining coercion in cyberspace on the seminal work by the American economist Thomas Schelling Arms and Influence, among other things. They claim that Schelling described two forms of coercion: active coercion (compellence) and passive coercion (deterrence). In their words, the former involves the active use of force in some form to compel action by another. In contrast, the latter involves the threatened use of force to either motivate action or refrain from a particular activity. Schelling himself says the following:
“… partly deterrence has been a euphemism for the broader concept of coercion, as ‘defence’ has replaced words like ‘war’ and ‘military’ in our official terminology. It is a restrictive euphemism if it keeps us from recognizing that there is a real difference between deterrence and what, in Chapter 2, I had to call ‘compellence,’ that is, a real difference between inducing inaction and making somebody perform.” 
“… brute force succeeds when it is used, whereas the power to hurt is most successful when held in reserve. It is the threat of damage, or of more damage to come, that can make someone yield or comply. It is latent violence that can influence someone’s choice — violence that can still be withheld or inflicted … The threat of pain tries to structure someone’s motives, while brute force tries to overcome his strength. Unhappily, the power to hurt is often communicated by some performance of it. Whether it is sheer terroristic violence to induce an irrational response, or cool premeditated violence to persuade somebody of your intent and willingness to repeat, it is not the pain and damage itself but its influence on somebody’s behaviour that matters. It is the expectation of more violence that gets the wanted behaviour, if the power to hurt can get it at all.” 
It is obvious that Schelling draws a clear line between deterrence and coercion and, more importantly, points out that coercion implies limited use of force: force plays a secondary part, while the central condition is threatening damage.
Further, while describing the logic of coercion, the authors quote several scholarly works that repeat the key points made by Schelling. In one of them, coercion is summarized with the phrase “if you do not do X, I will do Y.”  Another work states that a coercive action or threat “demands clarity in the expected result … [and to] be accompanied by some signal of urgency.”  These appear to be true and ought to have been taken as the basis. Yet the authors of the report choose another path: they declare that the observed practice differs from the theory of cyber coercion (which, it should be noted, was inferred from practice) and claim that demands and threats expressed as part of such coercion are sometimes ambiguous, as identification of the threatening party can be. But what remains of coercion if its defining characteristics are removed? Large-scale cyber-attacks are not just a show of force but achievement of specific objectives, so they have nothing to do with coercion.
The above seems to challenge the accuracy of the question asked at the beginning of the paper under review: “What is cyber coercion?” Let us first consider what coercion is. It appears to be primarily a form of policy aimed at maintaining or changing the existing order of distribution of power and wealth in the global community . From this standpoint, the essence of coercion is to change the political behaviour of other actors in the global political arena with the possibility of a limited demonstration of force that does not escalate into full-scale warfare. To some extent, the essence of coercive policy is described in the Art of War by Chinese General Sun Tzu: “Therefore the skilful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.” Even so, coercive violence is also possible: discussing this, Schelling cites an example from the history of the Wild West: raids on some Indian settlements were intended to break the resistance of and subjugate all tribes. But here the Indians were clear about the source of the threat, the possible consequences of resistance and the demands that were put forward, as well as the ways out — either to submit or to retreat.
If we base our discussion on the above premise that coercion is a form of policy, a more appropriate question arises: can cyber-means be used to implement a coercion policy and, if so, how effectively? Based on the definition of coercion, its implementation generally requires A to demand that B change its policy in a specific way — with a demonstration of force that can be used to its full extent if the demand is not satisfied. In individual cases, demands, threats or demonstration of force can be implicit. Still, it is evident that the victimized party needs to be aware of such risks and understand them correctly. This imposes certain conditions on the means used for implementing a coercion policy.
The ICT environment has a number of properties making it an attractive medium for influence. First of all, it offers anonymity and action across borders, which complicates attribution, i.e., identification of the source of influence. The “plausible deniability” of involvement in cyber-attacks is one of their most significant benefits as a military-political tool. Experience shows that cyber-attacks can be used to project and demonstrate power. Still, the party that uses them for coercive purposes has to assume responsibility or reveal its involvement in some other way. According to some statistics, numerous cyber-attacks are carried out against the Russian public infrastructure every day (2.4 billion hostile actions were detected in 2017, rising to 4 billion in 2018). Recognizing a demonstration of force or a demand to change one’s policy within such a torrent of events appears impossible. Using the possibility of a cyber-attack as a threat also seems ineffective because it allows the potential adversary to prepare for the attack and to fend it off.
The authors of the report claim that, as the development of more connected and interconnected information systems and networks proceeds, the potential for actors to use cyber operations to exert influence and impact the economic, political, and social wellbeing of other states is incresing. When examining possible episodes of cyber coercion, however, the authors confine themselves to just four key global political actors identified by the U.S. Government: Russia, China, Iran and North Korea. For each country, open-source research was conducted to develop an overview of their capabilities, published doctrine on cyber operations, as well as available data on government-affiliated cyber operations groups.
The authors’ research into doctrines and documents disclosing states’ positions concerning operations in cyberspace is incomplete, inconsistent and sometimes merely erroneous. For example, when quoting strategic planning documents of the Russian Federation, the authors state that “[a]lthough Russia sees its adversaries conducting such [information] operations against it, these writings indicate how Russia thinks about the potential role for cyber operations in its operations as well.” Here it would suffice to consult the Russian Federation Armed Forces’ Information Space Activities Concept, which reads: “Cyberspace conflict settlement shall be carried out in the first place by means of negotiation, conciliation, addressing to the U.N. Security Council or regional agencies or agreements, or by other peaceful means.” The authors also quote Chinese experts, who point out a whole range of disadvantages of network deterrence and coercion operations, above all the fact that the ambiguous nature of cyber operations may reduce their efficacy . Successful deterrence and coercion results from effective signalling — the adversary must first be aware of the source and motivation for the influence for it to take actions expected by the attackers. The authors conclude that China “is taking a more circumspect approach to using cyber operations for coercive purposes, focusing largely on stealing data or silencing critics of the regime. China may, however, seek to expand its use of cyber operations to coerce in the future.” It is an entirely groundless conclusion, especially considering all the disadvantages the Chinese experts have pointed out.
As for the specific cyber capabilities of each state, the work done by RAND is not based on concrete facts. For example, as corroboration of the claims of Russia’s involvement in cyber-attacks on Montenegro in 2018, they refer to an article stating that: “Three international I.T. security companies say the emails [containing malware] came from APT28, also known as Fancy Bear, which U.S. intelligence services say is connected to the Russian military intelligence service, GRU.” China’s involvement in cyber-attacks on South Korean networks and systems, as well as other episodes of cyber influence, are proven similarly. A case from 2017 is mentioned, when the U.S. Department of Justice brought cyber-espionage charges against three employees of the Chinese company Boyusec. Even though federal prosecutors deliberately avoided the question of whether Boyusec was affiliated or connected with the Chinese government, private sector representatives noted that they assumed that Boyusec had been working for the Ministry of State Security of China. Myths are born from repetition and persistent emphasis on facts long disproven. For instance, Russia is alleged to have carried out cyber-attacks on Estonian government agencies in 2008, even though this allegation has long been refuted: an independent investigation confirmed that the operation was, in fact, the work of activists with no government affiliation.
The RAND report relies on a biased selection of evidence provided by entities associated with the United States intelligence community, and it gives the impression of stretching facts to create a negative image of Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as malicious actors in cyberspace. Meanwhile, it is the current U.S. strategic planning documents that articulate a clear vision of a threat to freedom and democracy and set the goal of ensuring peace using force. This implies identifying adversaries and exerting influence using all available means. Coercion policy has already become the norm in the United States. Take, for example, this summer, when The New York Times published a piece claiming that the U.S. secret services have carried out offensive operations against the Russian electricity grid and power plants. The purpose of that publication is still unclear: was it a leak and, if so, was it intended? Or was it disinformation? U.S. President Donald Trump accused journalists of treason, and representatives of the U.S. National Security Council said there were no risks to national security. If we take the lead from RAND, however, and look at the broader context, we see that, against the backdrop of tension between Russia and the U.S., this publication was a clear signal of coercive policy.
Establishing peace through force does not provide a mutually acceptable mechanism for reducing tensions in the ICT sphere. And though, as the authors themselves note, not all of the cases examined in the report are explicit acts of cyber coercion, it is necessary to develop the means to detect early signs of cyber coercion and to craft deterrence and resilience strategies. It is assumed to be enough to respond successfully to cyber coercion. The authors see no ways of solving the problem other than developing strategies to counter this phenomenon (it may be assumed that those will include all available means, including “public attribution”).
In conclusion, the authors repeat the message that cyber operations may not be accompanied by clear signalling of a threat or expected behaviour, let alone means that can be used for coercion. It is also challenging to determine what exactly cyber operations carried out against another country are aimed at. Maybe the argument would benefit from Occam’s methodological principle: “entities should not be multiplied without necessity.” Indeed, just as the authors state, ICT tools are widely used by many states to accomplish military and political objectives. Yet, if an action is not aimed at changing the political behaviour of another country and if there is no direct threat or use of force (which would be a violation of the United Nations Charter, by the way), should we speak of so-called coercion or is it just regular cyber activity, which is now commonplace? A vivid example of a coercive policy that is mentioned, but not discussed by the authors, is the cyber-attack on Iranian nuclear programme facilities in 2010. First, specific countries demanded that Iran wind down its nuclear programme. Second, there was talk of a possible strike if the conditions were not fulfilled. As we know, Iran did not change its policy, and the cyber-attack that followed was not an act of coercion or a limited demonstration of force but fulfilled particular tasks: Iran’s nuclear programme was slowed down considerably.
What we need is not strategies against cyber coercion, which RAND experts call for, but international frameworks for precluding conflicts in cyberspace. One such framework could be built up from the norms, rules and principles of responsible behaviour in the ICT environment formulated by the international community through the United Nations Group of Governmental Experts.
From our partner RIAC
1. Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1966., P. 174–175.
2. Ibid. P. 3.
3. Erica D. Borghard and Shawn W. Lonergan, “The Logic of Coercion in Cyberspace”, Security Studies, Vol. 26. No. 3, 2017, pp. 433–34.
4. Christopher Whyte, “Ending Cyber Coercion: Computer Network Attack, Exploitation and the Case of North Korea”, Comparative Strategy, Vol. 35, No. 2, 2016.
5. For a definition of policy, see Kokoshin A.A. Global politics: theory, methodology, applied analysis [Mirovaya politika: teoria, metodologia, prikladnoy analiz]. Komkniga, 2005. ISBN 5484000874 (in Russian).
6. Shou Xiaosong, ed., The Science of Military Strategy [战略学], Beijing, China: Military Science Press, 2013, p. 194.
COVID-19 lockdowns are in lockstep with the ‘Great Reset’
In October 2019, a pandemic simulation exercise called Event 201 – a collaborative effort between Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, World Economic Forum, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – concluded that a hypothetical new coronavirus may end up killing at least 65 million people worldwide within 18 months of an outbreak.
When COVID-19 coincidentally emerged from Wuhan two months later, scientists were rushing to generate similar alarmist forecasts using a variety of questionable scientific models. Researchers from the Imperial College London, for instance, approximated death tolls of 500,000 (UK) and two million (USA) by October this year. To those following the metastasis of the global vaccine mania, the Imperial model was predictably “tidied up” with the help of Microsoft.
While scientific models are admittedly fallible, one would nonetheless be hard-pressed to justify the endless string of contradictions, discrepancies and wilful amnesia in the global pandemic narrative. In fact, one should question whether COVID-19 even deserves the tag of a “pandemic”. According to the United States’ Centre for Disease Control (CDC), the updated age-group survival rates for COVID-19 happen to be: Ages 0-19 (99.997%); 20-49 (99.98%); 50-69 (99.5%); and 70+ (94.6%). The mortality rates are only slightly higher than the human toll from seasonal flu and are, in fact, lower than many ailments for the same age cohorts.
If the CDC statistics don’t lie, what kind of “science” have we been subjected to? Was it the science of mass-mediated hysteria? There are other troubling questions yet unanswered. Whatever happened to the theory of bats or pangolins being the source of COVID-19? Who was Patient Zero? Why was there a concerted media agitprop against the prophylactic use of hydroxychloroquine that was backed by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) no less? And why did Prof Neil Ferguson, who had led Imperial’s contagion modelling, repeatedly breach lockdown measures to meet his paramour – right after his recommendations were used to justify draconian lockdowns worldwide which continue till today?
Most damning yet, why are Western media and scientific establishments dismissive of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine? After all, Moscow’s credibility, both scientific and otherwise, is on the line here. In a real pandemic, nobody would care where an effective remedy comes from. The virus does not care about borders and geopolitics; so why should we politicize the origins of an antidote?
Perhaps what we are really dealing with here is a case of mass “coronapsychosis” as Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko aptly called it. Who benefits from global lockdowns that are destabilizing all facets of our society? The following four “great” undercurrents may provide a clue.
The Great Deflection
As the author had warned for more than a decade, the world is staring at a confluence of risk overloads, socioeconomic meltdowns1 and a Second Great Depression. For the ruling classes, COVID-19 is fortuitously deflecting public attention away from the disastrous consequences of decades of economic mismanagement and wealth fractionation. The consolidation of Big Tech with Big Media2has created an Orwellian world where collective hysteria is shifting loci from bogeymen like Russia to those who disagree with the pandemic narrative.
We have entered a “new normal” where Pyongyang, North Korea, affords more ambulatory freedom than Melbourne, Australia. While rioting and mass demonstrations by assorted radicals are given a free pass – even encouraged by leaders in the West –Facebook posts questioning lockdowns are deemed subversive. This is a world where Australian Blueshirts beat up women, manhandle a pregnant woman in her own home, and perform wolf pack policing on an elderly lady in a park. Yet, the premier of the Australian state of Victoria remains unfazed by the unflattering moniker of Kim Jong Dan.
The corona-totalitarianism is unsurprisingly most pronounced in the Anglosphere and its dependencies. After all, these nations are staring at socioeconomic bankruptcies of unprecedented proportions vis-à-vis their counterparts. Even their own governments are being systematically undermined from within. The US Department of Homeland Security, created in the aftermath of 9/11 to combat terrorism, is now providing$10 million in grants to organizations which supposedly combat “far-right extremism and white supremacy”. This will further radicalize leftist malcontents who are razing down US cities and its economies in the name of social justice. There is however a curious rationale behind this inane policy as the following section illustrates.
The Great Wealth Transfer
While the circus continues, the bread is thinning out, except for the Top 0.001%. Instead of bankruptcy as recent trends indicated, Silicon Valley and affiliated monopolies are notching up record profits along with record social media censorships. US billionaires raked in $434 billion in the first two months of the lockdown alone. The more the lockdowns, the more the wealth accrued to the techno-elite. As tens of millions of individuals and small businesses face bankruptcy by Christmas, the remote work revolution is gifting multibillion dollar jackpots to the likes of Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook). Azure (Microsoft) and AWS (Amazon) cloud eco-systems, among others, have expanded by 50% since the beginning of the pandemic.
In the face of such runaway wealth fractionation, panoptic contact tracing tools from Big Tech are increasingly employed to pacify restive populations. And of course, to prevent a second, third or Nth wave of COVID-19 for our collective good!
In the meantime, Big Banks, Big Pharma, Big Tech and other monopolies are getting lavish central bank bailouts or “stimulus packages” to gobble up struggling smaller enterprises. COVID-19 is a gift that never stops giving to a select few. But how will the techno-oligarchy maintain a degree of social credibility and control in an impoverished and tumultuous world?
The Great Philanthropy
Oligarchic philanthropy will be a dominant feature of this VUCA decade3. According to a recent Guardian report, philanthropic foundations have multiplied exponentially in the past two decades, controlling a war chest worth more than $1.5 trillion. That is sufficient to bankroll a horde of experts, NGOs, industry lobbies, media and fact-checkers worldwide. Large sums can also be distributed rapidly to undermine governments. The laws governing scientific empiricism are no longer static and immutable; they must dance in tandem with the funding. Those who scream fake news are usually its foremost peddlers. This is yet another “new normal” which had actually predated COVID-19 by decades.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) is a prime example of how oligarchic philanthropy works. Since 2000, it has donated more than $45 billion to “charitable causes” and a chunk of thisis designed to control the global media narrative. The Guardian, rather tellingly, credits the BMGF for helping eradicate polio despite contrary reports of wanton procedural abuses, child death tolls and poverty exploitations which routinely mar the foundation’s vaccination programs. Bill Gates even interprets vaccine philanthropy in terms of a 20-to-1 return on investments, as he effused to CNBC last year.
As for the BMGF’s alleged polio success, officials now fear that a dangerous new strain could soon “jump continents”. After spending $16 billion over 30 years to eradicate polio, international health bodies – which work closely with BMGF – have “accidentally” reintroduced the disease to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran.
Poverty, hunger and desperation will spawn a tangible degree of public gratitude despite elite philanthropy’s entrenched bias towards elite institutions and causes. By the Guardian’s own admission, “British millionaires gave £1.04bn to the arts, and just £222m to alleviating poverty” in the 10-year period to 2017. Contrast this with the annual $10 billion earmarked by the philanthropic pool for “ideological persuasion” in the US alone. The rabble is worth their weight only for the potential havoc they can wreak.
There is enough money floating around to reduce our cities into bedlams of anarchy as seen in the United States today. (It will only get worse after the Nov 3 US presidential elections).The crumbs left over can be delegated to threadbare charities. One only needs to reflect on soup kitchens in the post-1929 Weimar Republic. The most popular ones were organized by the Nazi party and funded by wealthy patrons. The march towards a new order has a familiar historical meme. The new Brownshirts are those who terrorise citizens for not wearing masks, for not being locked down in their pens, and for simply supporting a political candidate of choice. Even children who do not follow the oligarchic narrative are not spared!
The Great Reset
A great pruning will inevitably occur in the mega-billionaire club as whatever remains of the global corona-economy is systematically cannibalized. The club will get smaller but wealthier and will attempt to sway our collective destiny. Control over education, healthcare, means of communications and basic social provisions is being increasingly ceded by governments to the global elite. Governments colluding in the “new normal” will sooner or later face the ire of distressed masses. Politicians and assorted “social justice warriors” will be scapegoated once they have outlived their usefulness.
In this cauldron, the century-old technocratic dream of replacing politicians, electoral processes and businesses with societies run by scientists and technical experts4may emerge – thanks to advances in panoptic technologies. It will be an age for the “rational science of production” and “scientific collectivism”. The latter is eerily redolent of the Soviet sharaska (prison labs) system.
The production and supply of goods will be coordinated by a central directorate5, led not by elected representatives (whose roles, where they exist, will be nominal anyway) but by technocrat factotums. Perhaps this is what the World Economic Forum refers to as the Great Reset. In reality though, this idea smacks of a global Gosplan minus the Doctor Sausages for the innumerable many.
(Some emerging economies like Malaysia and India casually refer to technocracy as an infusion of greater technical expertise into bureaucracy. This is a misinterpretation of technocracy’s longstanding means and goals).
One intractable problem remains: will the emerging global oligarchy tolerate the existence of various deep states worldwide? Initially, both groupings may cooperate to their mutual benefit but their respective raisons d’être are too contradictory to be reconciled One thrives on an “open society” run by obedient hirelings who will administer a global Ministry of Truth while the other depends on secrecy and a degree of national sovereignty to justify its existence. Surveillance technologies ushered in by the ongoing “coronapsychosis” may end up being the deciding factor in this struggle.
After all, if social media posts by the President of the United States and the White House can be blatantly censored today, think of the repercussions for billions of people worldwide tomorrow?
Author’s note: An abridged version of this article was published by RT on Oct 14
1. Maavak, M. (2012), Class Warfare, Anarchy and the Future Society: Is the Middle Class forging a Gramscian Counter-Hegemonic Bloc Worldwide? Journal of Futures Studies, December 2012, 17(2): 15-36.
2. Maavak, M. (2019). Bubble to Panopticon: Dark Undercurrents of the Big Data Torrent.Kybernetes, Vol. 49 No. 3, pp. 1046-1060. https://doi.org/10.1108/K-06-2019-0403
3. Maavak, M (2021). Maavak, M. (2021). Horizon 2020-2030: Will Emerging Risks Unravel our Global Systems? Accepted for publication.Salus Journal, Issue 1 2021.
4. Elsner, Jr., Henry (1967). The Technocrats: Prophets of Automation. Syracuse University.
5. Stabile, D.R. (1986). Veblen and the Political Economy of the Engineer: the radical thinker and engineering leaders came to technocratic ideas at the same time.American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol, 45, No. 1, 1986, pp. 43-44.
Should Turkey and Azerbaijan Be Worried About Killed Syrian Mercenaries?
Just a few weeks ago many analysts and observers were sceptical about reports of Turkey’s transferring units of its Syrian National Army (SNA) proxies to Nagorno Karabakh, even more so because Turkish officials denied any such claims. However, as evidence of massive casualties among the Syrian mercenaries continues to mount, there is little space left for doubt: SNA fighters have become cannon fodder in the Turkish operation in support of Azerbaijan.
The first batch of bodies of those Syrians who perished in Nagorno Karabakh counted over 50 people, according to messages and videos that went viral on opposition WhatsApp and Telegram channels. Among the dead who were delivered to Syria over Hiwar Kilis border crossing and were given a hasted burial were men from Aleppo, Idlib, Homs and other regions of Syria. Many of their relatives, like families of Muhammad Shaalan from Atareb and Kinan Ferzat from Maarat al-Nuuman, were shocked to learn about their death.
Just like the majority of the Syrians who travelled to Nagorno Karabakh, Muhammad and Firzat were primarily motivated by lucrative rewards of up to 2,000 dollars promised by Turkey. “I came here to make money and have a better life back in Syria where the living conditions are miserable. I consider this a job, nothing else,” a member of Liwa Sultan Murad, one of the first SNA factions to deploy its fighters to the contested region, told Guardian.
The reason behind heavy casualties of the Syrian mercenaries is that they are thrown into action where the clashes are the most violent, including Jabrayil, Terter, Fizulin and Talysh. This move allows Azerbaijan to keep its military, who mainly provide air support including operating Turkey-made Bayraktar TB2 UAVs and coordinate artillery and missile strikes of the Armenian positions, out of direct contact with the enemy.
The estimates of the numbers of the Syrian mercenaries present in Nagorno Karabakh are wildly different. While initial reports put their number at 500 men, it is currently believed that the actual number may be in thousands. This data indicates that at least 10 percent of the fighters were killed during the very first days of the escalation – a serious alarm for the mercenaries as well as their Turkish backers.
These developments must ring a bell for Azerbaijan as well. The longer the conflict protracts, the higher the risk of casualties among the Azeri servicemen becomes, who have already suffered losses in Armenian retaliation strikes. Baku has managed to avoid discontent among the military as well as the civilian populace – not least thanks to the Syrian mercenaries crushed as cannon fodder – but this can not continue for long.
Emerging Multipolarity and its consequences
“Make America great again” a slogan that formed the nucleus of trump’s electoral campaign vividly suggests that America is no more a great country. It is, in fact, an implicit admission that U.S is gradually losing its clout in international politics and hence, its image as a sole superpower of the world has virtually tarnished. Let me rephrase this connotation; it means that the era of unipolar world is over and the world has now transitioned to a multipolarirty.
Currently, new power centers are emerging in transnational political landscape. China, Russia, India and Turkey are excessively engaged to carve a niche for them in evolving international order. Most importantly, with China and Russia’s mushrooming proximity, balance of power is now shifting from west to east. Former United States (US) Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton at her state visit to New Zealand was one of the first to observe “a shifting balance of power to a more multi-polar world as opposed to the Cold War model of a bipolar world”. This conspicuous change in multi-national political setup was also realized by Ban ki Moon, the then secretary- General of United Nations who stated at Stanford University in 2013 that we have begun to “move increasingly and irreversibly to a multi-polar world”. Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, also declared at the Russia-China Conference 2016 that “international relations have entered into a conceptually new historical stage that consists in the emergence of a multi-polar world order and reflects the strengthening of new centers of economic development and power”.
These manifestations of political spin doctors have since then revealed a general acceptance of the idea of multi-polar world as a concept that is inescapable political reality in the contemporary international dynamics. However, when it comes to the transitions and inevitability of power structures, there is a little agreement among the international states.
A much stronger resistance to forego unipolarity remains embedded in the Trump administration vision to “make America great again”. Political pundits such as Robert Kaplan continue to question, whether there is an overlap of unipolar and multi-polar world realities; where US continues to retain the supremacy in military realm of affairs and is anticipated to remain so for a considerable future time, whereby China leads in the economic realm. Additionally nations in the former Third World are acquiring status as rising powers, notably India who have over the years with smart diplomacy have acquired global outreach to shape international agenda.
Chronologically, After World War II, the U.S. became the undisputed and unchallenged global superpower. It was the only country, equipped with nuclear warheads and was one of the few countries involved in the war that came away from it relatively unscathed at home. The U.S. underwent a meager loss of approximately 400,000 soldiers and a fractional amount of civilians in the war. The Soviet Union, meanwhile, incurred a gigantic loss of around 11 million soldiers and some 7 million to 10 million civilians. While Soviet and European cities were undergoing the process of rehabilitation, American cities flourished. It seemed clear to all that the future belonged to the United States.
But it didn’t take long for the luster of unrivaled power to tarnish. The U.S. military machine relaxed as quickly as it had mobilized, and wartime unity gave way to peacetime political debates over government spending and entitlement programs. Within five years, a bipolar world emerged: The Soviets attained an atomic bomb, and the U.S. was caught flat-footed in a war on the Korean Peninsula that ended in a stalemate. Soon thereafter, the U.S. was withdrawing from Vietnam and rioting at home. In 1971, then-President Richard Nixon predicted a world that he said would soon emerge in which the U.S. was “no longer in the position of complete pre-eminence.” Within 26 years of the end of World War II, Nixon’s prediction saw the light of the day and the U.S. had to resign to its fate.
Theoretically, multipolarity refers to a distribution of power in which more than two states have nearly equal amounts of military, cultural, financial and economic influence.
If we look at the contemporary world, we find that with the rise of like China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Turkey and Brazil, global power will spread across a wider range of countries, hence, a new world order with multipolar outlook is likely to emerge .
Realistically speaking, several revisionist powers are and will shaking up their regions. For instance, Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014 – annexing Crimea, over which it has fought several wars throughout history (mainly with Turkey). In turn, Turkey is asserting its sovereignty over the eastern Mediterranean to the frustration of countries like Greece, Egypt, Cyprus and Israel. Meanwhile, India has upped its aggression in its border dispute with Pakistan as Modi began a process to revoke the autonomous status of the disputed territories of Jammu and Kashmir.
Notably, after the age of city-states and nation-states, we are now entering the age of continental politics. The most powerful countries of the 21st century (the U.S., China, Russia India, Indonesia, and Brazil) are the size of continents. They have broad economic bases and their digital economies potentially have hundreds of millions of users. Internationally, their scale requires them to seek broad spheres of influence in order to protect their security.
Here the question arises what will be the impact of growing multipolarity in the world? First of all, revisionist powers will increasingly ignite tensions. The growing assertiveness of countries like Russia, Turkey and India is the new normal. As they grow more powerful, these countries will seek to revise arrangements in order to reflect the new realities of power. Because these (continental) states seek broad spheres of influence, many places are at risk of destabilization.
Second, one of the biggest risks is the growing paranoia of the hegemon (the U.S.). The current trade war has shown how destabilizing the policy of the (financial) hegemon becomes as it feels threatened by the rise of a rival. Historically, this has been the most important source of violent conflicts. Indeed, the biggest source of uncertainty in the coming years is how the U.S. will react to the rise of China.
Third, the world order will become more ambiguous. Two developments deserve our attention. First, the growing use of shadow power will make conflict more unpredictable. With digital tools, states (and non-state actors) are manipulating each other in subtle ways. For example, Russian hackers posed as Iranians to hit dozens of countries and Americans blamed Russia for tampering with American elections. Second, alliances will also become more ambiguous. With ever changing dynamics of world economy, new alliances, motivated by the concept of triangulation (to keep balance in relation with the US and China, the trade warriors) will form and such alliances, as predicted by spin doctors; will be less stable than the blocs, formed in 20th century.
To sum it up, before we reach a multipolar world order, we will see a period of growing uncertainty based on the rise of revisionist powers, the paranoia of the U.S. and growing ambiguity of conflict and cooperation. Moreover, the political pundits are divided in opinion that whether multi-polarity is unstable than unipolarity or bipolarity. Kenneth Waltz strongly was in favor of “bipolar order as stable”. On the other side, Karl Deutsch and David Singer saw multi-polarity as guaranteeing a greater degree of stability in an article published in 1964, “Multipolar Systems and International Stability”. Simon Reich and Richard Ned Lebow in “Goodbye Hegemony” (2014), question the belief whether a global system without a hegemon would be unstable and more war prone. However, whatever the system the world is likely to witness in the days to come, let’s hope that this should be in the best interest of humanity and it should make the lives of the inhabitants of this planet peaceful and prosperous.
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