“But, after all, shadows themselves are born of light. And only he who has experienced dawn and dusk, war and peace, ascent and decline, only he has truly lived.” Stefan Zweig —The World of Yesterday, 1941
2020 is turning out to be one of the most challenging years since the end of the Second World War.A coming disruption for Pankaj Mishra,a ‘portal’ in Arundhati Roy’s radical description, ‘figment of neoliberal capitalism’ for Noam Chomsky in his unique expository stance and ‘Medical Katrina’ for Mike Davis,the coronavirus has evinced the global discussion from the leading public intellectuals to confined individuals as how this overnight nerve-racking catastrophe stalled the world and froze the living spaces to a pause mode. We have seen the problems being magnifying as coronavirus pandemic has, among other things, exposed the vulnerabilities of political structures worldwide. Today, states are battling a threat against an invisible enemy that is rising exponentially and putting most of their citizens at risk.There are geostrategic and geopolitical implications of this spread in the wake of ‘containing’ the impact of this virus thus impregnating a thought of how the nature of global order would be shaping up given the ‘progressive’ trend of this pandemic
Before the pandemic had its mark on the global scene there was a spectre of weakening role of international institutions and the spate of regressing markers of democracy across the regimens of global politics. Europe was struggling with existing crisis, Middle East crisis, new age theatrics of absurd governance from Trump to Bolsanaro and downward spiral of US global leadership. This viral disaster has magnified the impacts of the existing fragilities in the kaleidoscopic geopolitical and geo-economic spheres concurrently
Geopolitical Signatures to Sphere of Influences
Developing countries have been faring worse in this fight with already intrinsic governance issues and relatively frail architecture of public institutions, where people defied the lockdown orders as they live in precarious conditions. African Union report suggests that pandemic puts nearly 10 million jobs on the Continent at risk of ‘destruction’ while as in Sub-Saharan Arica World Bank report predicts first recession in nearly 25 years. After the cold war we are first time watching the geopolitical lexicon taking a departure from the oft-spoken bi-polar binary with middle powers rising to the spectacle of global politics with entrance of China and other regional powers. As more countries are getting effected we would see transformation of geopolitical order not necessarily the bipolar or 2.5 world order with regional powers binding in but there would be increasing fragmentation. With countries vying for having Wallerstein’s “hegemonic cycles” in their side Coronavirus opens up some new matrices to be paired/multiplied to their “respective power spaces” .We have seen Russian aircrafts aiding Italy in the form of ‘medical relief’ with Russian military planes emblazoned a message of “From Russia with Love”, Serbian President kissing Chinese flag on account of the aid received from the China .Turkey too joining the bandwagon of showing their presence of flag sending its support to Balkan, Arab and Asian Countries. These examples of soft power dimension have always been in the dictionary of geopolitics popularized by United States and the irony is that America has been absent in the same geopolitical antics. China and Russia put up a great deal of strategizing endeavours on systematically expanding their geopolitical swath and their ‘sphere of influence’ on governments across the world. Europe is their top priority because it is the industrial and commercial base of Pax Americana. Today, U.S. policymakers should recognize that if the United States does not rise to this occasion , the coronavirus pandemic could mark another “Suez moment” like the one in 1956 when United Kingdom saw its end in global supremacy because of that ‘intervention’ (misadventure)on Suez canal
Spectre is Haunting Europe
Europe facing a defining moment in history, the perception that European Union has always been at the forefront in crisis situations was this time missing as the same ideals have taken a massive hit with this pandemic upping the ante on the integrationist fabric of European Union .EU split in the latestEurozone meeting was apparent with the north-south fissures (structural imbalances) looming large as more political power moving to Brussels in fiscal dimensions as Berlin needs to recognise that a Europe-financed restoration will come through Germany, the only European country with enough capital to marshal such a restructuring design. . The result would be further erosion in the confidence of European Union as the pandemic has raised fears of a new euro crisis and its waning identity got further deep as the examples of Spain and Italy unfolded the weakening cooperation and support for these countries when right at the outset European borders were shut.
China, USA and the Structure of New Global Hegemony
China has capitalised on the widening America’s fault-lines, while making many of its strengths temporarily irrelevant. The world’s most powerful military machine is not much use against a virus when American economic and political systems are both reeling. But a lack of universal healthcare coverage is suddenly a threat not just to the poor but to the whole of US society. Paul Krugman, the Nobel Laureate economist and columnist, recently argued that American democracy itself is in peril given state of domestic affairs in the country
China, however, seems resolved on signifying some of the values with which the West has generally been seen: solidarity and cooperation. China’s decision to send medical equipment and staff to Europe to fight the coronavirus was not only an act of esprit de corps, but a geopolitical exercise: the country has been extending a support mechanism to a West that is facing serious problems. This is not mere altruism; it is a rallying for China’s will to play the role of rising hegemon and make the most of on the growing vacuum left by the US. This argument about US decline has in fact, been ringing on for decades. It could even be the beginning in the end of American primacy with the cries for de-westernisation and de-globalisation getting louder and strong. With the safety and health of their citizens at stake, countries may try to block exports or hold critical supplies, even if doing so hurts their allies and neighbours. Such a retreat from de-territorialisation would make generosity a powerful instrument of influence for states that can afford it. There is an anticipatory risk that is hovering over the US currency losing the world’s confidence but the pattern seems a pointless given the fact hyped alternatives to the dollar still fare worse like the gold, bitcoin having major drawbacks.
Middle East Conflict, Oil Crisis and Viral Suffering
The coronavirus has hit the Middle East and North Africa at a time when the region is already fraught with manifold problems, scarred by a series of prolonged conflicts, sectarian crisis, economic stresses, displacement/suffering and widespread political unrest .There is increasing China-Russia pivot in Eurasia and for that Iran is a conduit for each Eurasian giant’s broader strategic schema in the Middle East. Beijing and Moscow have a unique prospect to reorient both Iran and its regional adversaries towards the China–Russia Eurasian architecture as security architecture of Persian Gulf is now in flux. With the recent historic OPEC deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia ended the deadlock in price war over fall in petroleum prices and the decrease in demand owing to the lockdown across the world. This event can largely set the stage for new dimensions of events in the Middle East now onwards as we recently saw a symbolic truce gesture by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. For nations having reliance on oil coupled with the price collapse and the coronavirus pandemic has given rise to the new fears of poverty and geopolitical tensions uncertainty from Iraq to Saudi Arabia.
The current pandemic can make or break the existing geopolitical and geo-economic order with ‘actors’ vying for the strategic gains over the fleeting state of countries around the world. Whatever power equations would emerge post-coronavirus spectre, one thing is certain world would never be the same.
Biden: No More “Favourite Dictators”
Former US President Donald Trump shared a strong personal rapport with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman (MBS) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. Trump made no bones about the fact, that he got along well with authoritarian leaders – especially in the Middle East. At the G7 Summit in 2019, Trump while looking for Egyptian President had even said, “Where’s my favourite dictator?”
Statements made by Biden before taking over as US President
On the other hand, Joe Biden before taking over as US President had repeatedly criticized Erdogan, MBS and Sisi for their poor human rights record, and had unequivocally stated that none of them would have a free pass in a Biden Presidency. Biden had on numerous occasions flagged the dismal Human Rights record of Saudi Arabia, especially MBS’ involvement in the murder of Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and lashed out at Trump for soft pedaling on the issue because of his personal rapport with MBS. Similarly, in August 2020, Biden had dubbed Erdogan as an ‘autocrat’ and also expressed the view that the US needed to lend support to opposition parties in Turkey. Biden had also issued a warning to Sisi, saying that there would be “no more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favourite dictator’.”
How President Biden has approached relations with the three leaders
During the Biden Administration, ties with Saudi Arabia have witnessed a change. A report which clearly points to MBS’ role in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was released (Trump had refused to release this report). The US has withdrawn support for the Saudi war in Yemen, and defence agreements signed between the US and Saudi Arabia, during the Trump Administration have been put on hold. Yet, Biden while sanctioning Saudi officials in connection with the Khashoggi case, in addition to those sanctioned by the Trump administration, refused to impose sanctions on MBS owing to the strategic importance of Saudi Arabia in the Middle East (Saudi support is essential for the revival of the Iran Nuclear Deal/Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action-JCPOA) and the strong US-Saudi relationship. It would be pertinent to point out, that Biden’s decision not to impose sanctions on MBS has drawn strong criticism from many including members of his own party.
If one were to look at the case of Turkey in recent months, the Turkish President has himself toned down his Anti-West rhetoric and described his meeting with Biden on the sidelines of the recent NATO Summit as fruitful. While commenting on the meeting with Biden, Erdogan stated that ‘ We believe there is no problem that cannot be resolved in Turkey-US relations,’
The US President also said, that the meeting with Erdogan was positive and expressed hope that the bilateral relationship would improve in days to come.
While the meeting between Biden and Erdogan was positive, differences between both sides still persist over Turkey’s purchase of S400 missiles (the Trump administration had imposed sanctions in its final days and Turkey had also been removed from its F-35 fighter jet program)
Turkey’s strategic relevance
Turkey has stated that it is willing to play a role in security in Afghanistan, and guard Kabul airport, after the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Turkish President did say that Turkey would require diplomatic, logistic and financial support that the United States. The Biden administration’s outreach to Turkey indicates that in spite of differences over key issues, Istanbul’s potentially important role post the US troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is something, the US will not ignore. Erdogan on his part needs to have a reasonable relationship with US, given the fact that the Turkish economy has slowed down significantly.
If one were to look at the case of Egypt, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi role in the ceasefire between Israel and Palestine, was acknowledged by the Biden Administration. While the US President during a telephonic conversation hailed Sisi for his ‘successful diplomacy’ in the Israel-Palestine ceasefire, the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said:
‘We have had in Egypt a real and effective partner in dealing with the violence, bringing it to a close, relatively quickly. And now, we are working closely together to build something positive’
It would be pertinent to point out, that during his telephonic conversation with Sisi, in May 2021, Biden did flag the need for a ‘constructive dialogue’ on human rights in Egypt
While it is easy to criticise Joe Biden, he has the onerous responsibility of striking a balance between values, which he has repeatedly referred to even after taking over as President, with US interests. Given the complex geopolitics of the Middle East, Biden while refraining from taking steps, which may be counterproductive has flagged his concerns with regard to Human Rights, and sent out a strong message that bilateral relations will be dictated by substance and not mere personal chemistry or optics. At the end of the day it is important not to forget Miles’s law — ‘where you stand depends upon where you sit’.
The liberal international order has not crumbled yet
Since 2017 when Donald Trump took office, the “liberal international order” erected in 1991 has been under serious challenges raised by the United States’ relative decline, the Trump administration’s isolationist policy, and on top of that, the outbreak of COVID-19. Indeed, this order is greatly plagued, which is evidenced by its dysfunction. Against this backdrop, its endurance in the upcoming time is questionable. Nevertheless, the liberal international order has not collapsed yet. It will even revive, and endure in the post-pandemic era.
The victory of Biden
Notwithstanding facing great threats, the liberal international order is far from crumbling. On the contrary, it is gradually reviving. In the Western world, countries are making effort to reform their order that is on the verge of collapse. This is true in the US – the world democracy’s leader. Joe Biden’s victory against Donald Trump may be a positive signal for the US and the global democracy. As a strong advocate for values including democracy, multilateralism and international trade, at no doubt, President Biden will be opposite to Trump in his policy, both domestic and foreign ones. Indeed, during his first 100 days, Mr.Biden has implemented some meaningful things. Regarding the pandemic, he has a stricter approach than his predecessor’s: Mandatory mask wearing, a $1.9-trillions bill, historical vaccination campaign, to name a few. All of Biden’s actions have been so far effective, when the new cases and deaths are steadily declining, and the number of vaccinated people is substantially high. This lays a foundation for Biden to reinvigorate his country’s ruined democracy and governance system, as his efficiency in countering COVID-19 may help him regain American people’s trust on the future of American democracy.
In terms of foreign policy, President Biden has some radical changes compared to that of Trump, which might be favorable to the Western world. At first glance, Biden embraces multilateralism much more than his predecessor, with the hope of saving the American global leadership. He supports Washington’s participation in international institutions, which is illustrated by the rejoining of WHO, Paris Agreement and several multilateral commitments. In tandem with this, Biden values the US’ alliances and strategic partnership as vital instruments for the US’ hegemony. Unlike Trump’s transactional approach, Biden prioritizes early and effective engagement with allies to tackle regional and global issues, especially major ones like NATO, G7. In Asia, he also seeks for further cooperation with traditional allies such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand and deepening partnership with Vietnam, Singapore, India and ASEAN countries.
More importantly, President Biden’s policies towards the US’ competitors and “rogue states” are far different from Trump’s. Granted, despite seeing China as the biggest threat to the American global leadership, Biden adopts a more flexible and multilateral policy. His administration looks to cooperate and compete with China, which implies a different trajectory of the US-China relationship in the upcoming time. Additionally, as noted above, instead of unilaterally escalating tensions with China as Trump did, Biden has been forging relations with traditional and potential Asian allies to contain China together, given China’s increasing assertiveness. With regard to Iran, Washington is now working on the Iran Nuclear Deal with other six parties, promising a potentially positive future on the relations of Iran with the US and the West. The bottom line is, a radical change in Biden’s foreign policy will be a clear message to the world that the US will still try to save the liberal international order and make this world safer for democracy.
The European Union is recovering
Things are happening in the same pattern in Europe. European leaders are also closely cooperating, both inside and outside the bloc, to defeat COVID-19. That said, they are ardently supporting multilateralism. So far, the EU has spent billions of dollars in vaccine development as well as humanitarian support, demonstrating its solidarity in the battle against COVID-19. As such, if EU leaders can successfully lead their bloc out of the current crisis, they can reform this currently plagued institution in the post-pandemic era. Not only seeking further intra-bloc cooperation, but also European leaders are working with other major actors around the world to substantiate the global battlefront against COVID-19. Recently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her country and China to jointly develop COVID’s vaccine in an open, transparent way, and to a further extent, maintain good and stable bilateral partnership, regardless of two sides’ differences.
Similarly, the EU has been putting the Transatlantic relationship among the priorities of its foreign policy agenda. After Biden’s election, the European Commission has proposed refreshing the US-EU alliance and establishing a Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council, being seen as an informal tech alliance with the US to prevent China from dominating this critical sector. The Transatlantic relationship is perhaps one of the pillars for the liberal international order, given its long history and its contribution to maintain the global stability. In the last decades, this axis has been damaged by numerous issues, from economic to security, which is one of the main causes for the decline of liberal international order. Thus, a fresh Transatlantic relationship is conducive to the re-emergence of this order. In this respect, the EU’s effort to strengthen the Transatlantic alliance, despite being questionable in terms of feasibility and outcome, is still paving the way for reinvigorating of liberal international order. More notably, the most recent G7 Summit has illustrated the Western’s solidarity, when there is a convergence in most issues related to global governance and maintaining the Western-based order. This may be a harbinger of the liberal international order’s revival, at least in a foreseeable future.
Non-Western world is struggling
The dynamics outside the Western world is also changing in a more favorable direction. Many non-Western countries, once were effective in combating against the pandemic, are now struggling with a greater threat. Taiwan, in spite of being praised as one of the most successful states in the battle against COVID-19, is currently facing another wave of pandemic when the new cases in this island are surging recently. Other successful stories, let us say Thailand, Japan or South Korea, are questionable of maintaining their momentum in preventing the virus, showcased by their relatively inefficiency during this new wave, in implementing strong measures and getting their people vaccinated. This raises question about these countries’ model of governance, which was used to be praised as a better alternative for a plagued, dysfunctional Western one, thanks to its merits in helping those above-mentioned states contain COVID-19.
Major non-Western blocs are in the midst of COVID-19 crisis as well. The clearest example is the BRICS. Except China, all other countries in this bloc have been tremendously suffering from the pandemic. Due to this, they are far from being recovered quickly. This failure in dealing with the virus undermines the bloc’s previous effort in establishing its position as a major, effective one, not to mention building a new, non-Western international order. This is also the case with ASEAN, as the organization was sharply divided by COVID-19. There are countries doing well with controlling the pandemic such as Vietnam, Singapore, but the Philippines and Indonesia are unable to do so, making this bloc suffering from institutional sclerosis without having any coherent COVID-19 policy. Therefore, non-Western blocs and countries are far from being more efficient than Western ones, implying they are unable to come up with any better international orders than the current liberal international one.
More importantly, Western values underpinning the liberal international order are universal. This is noteworthy when arguing for the long-lasting of Western order, as its existence and endurance mainly hinge on the universality of Western values. These values have been embraced by many countries for a very long time. Hence, despite being deteriorated in recent years, they cannot be easily changed. On the other hand, non-Western values are also not as highly embraced as Western ones. China, desiring to topple the US, is initiating numerous projects and agreements to spread its values around the world, making the world less Western and more Chinese/Asian. Nonetheless, Beijing has yet achieved any remarkable achievements in making their values more widespread and embraced by the rest of the world. Even worse, its image has been tarnished due to its rising assertiveness. Its projects in developing countries, especially BRI-related projects, have been notorious for a large number of problems related to environment or local corruption, and it is raising strategic uncertainty in the region by its increasing militarization, particularly on the South China Sea. These movements have turned China into a “malevolent” major power, hindering its process of disseminating and socializing its values to the world.
It is also worth noting that although Western values have declined, they have been proven to be benevolent for this world. Most recently, it is Western countries that have successfully developed good COVID-19 vaccines to save themselves and save the world from this unprecedented health crisis. Non-Western countries, for instance China and Russia, have their own vaccines, but they are not as welcome as other developed countries in the West in the vaccine race, because their vaccines are relatively less effective than Western-produced ones. Democracy, liberty, lassaiz faire are values that help Western countries or ones embrace such things able to produce massive amount of effective vaccines, and more broadly to develop a strong science and technology foundation. Producing and distributing vaccine for the rest of the world would make the West become a savior, which is good for saving the liberal international order.
Without doubt, the liberal international order has been in its worst time since 1991 when it reached its heyday. However, thanks to its merits, the liberal international order will not die. Instead, most countries will jointly save it, because they have been benefitting from this order for a long time, and will be so in the future. The order’s founding members are recovering, and cooperating closely to reform it, as well as there are no better international orders that can replace the existing one. Given these circumstances, the liberal international order would re-emerge as a dominant form of ordering this world after the pandemic, and would be perpetuated.
Who benefits more from the Biden-Putin summit in Geneva?
With the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva around the corner, the question is who actually benefits more from the meeting in the small Swiss town.
Mainstream media and right-wing foreign policy thinkers alike have argued that a joint press conference would “elevate” President Putin to the level of the American President.
Ivana Strander, the Jeane Kirkpatrick fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington DC, argued that the upcoming Geneva summit is actually “a gift” to Putin.
In a CNN story, Kaitlan Collins and Kevin Liptak mention that “officials who have been involved in arranging past US meetings with Putin say the Russian side often pushes for a joint press conference, hoping to elevate Putin’s stature by having him appear alongside the American leader”.
Whether as a subconscious bias or an actual reflection of attitudes, prevalent is the idea that coming close to the US President is a privilege that other leaders can only dream about. But who gains more from the upcoming summit?
In fact, it is the American President who is vying for other leaders’ approval and acceptance once again after a humiliating period – not the other way around. American is emerging from Trumpism, which revealed the other, ugly face of America. Trumpism is not gone and the other face of America is still there.
This week, US President Joe Biden is eager to show the world that America is “back”. In meetings with the G7, NATO countries’ top leaders, the NATO Secretary General, the Queen of England, and President Putin in the same week, Biden is asking the world to forget the last four years. And he is not doing this from the position of power or superiority. That’s why assuming that other heads of state, be it Putin or anyone else really, can only gain by coming close to the superiority of the American President is a misplaced and misguided. The US President is asking the international community to take America back – not the other way around.
President Putin doesn’t need the US President’s acceptance – Putin already got that. That happened back in 2018, in Helsinki, when President Trump sided with Putin over the US government’s own intelligence agencies, by rejecting the idea of Russia’s meddling in the US presidential elections. Trump slapped across the face and humiliated the US intelligence community in front of the whole world. Ever since, the US intelligence community has tried to figure out ways to prove Trump wrong and show him otherwise. And they have gone to incredible lengths, only so that they can get their pay pack of a sort, and prove Trump wrong. So, Putin already got what he wanted. He doesn’t need more “elevation”.
What’s also striking is that in Geneva, the UN is absolutely missing from the action. Geneva is the home of numerous UN agencies and international organizations, and not one is actually involved, which speaks volumes to questions of relevance. It is the Swiss government from Bern which is organizing the Summit. The UN is nowhere to be seen which is also indicative of the current Biden priorities.
If Trump was about “America First”, then Biden is about “America is still number one, right?”. But as the United Kingdom learned the hard way recently, it is sometimes best for a declining power to perhaps elegantly realize that the rest of the world no longer wants to dance to its tune, or at least not to its tune only. Discussions about how much Putin gains from coming close to the presence of the US President are misguided. In trying to climb back on the international stage on crotches and covered up in bruises, America is not in a position to look down on other big powers. And as regards who benefits more from the Summit, it seems like one side is there with a clear request asking for something. My understanding is that it is Biden who wants Putin to hand cyber criminals over to him. Putin still hasn’t said what he wants from Biden, in return.
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