The Coming World Realignment

Posted in United States | 20-Jun-05 | Author: Dr. Michael A. Weinstein and Y

Since the U.S. intervention in Iraq revealed the limits of Washington's ability to implement its security strategy of becoming the unquestioned political and military arbiter of the globalizing world economy, the underlying tendencies towards a multipolar configuration of world politics have crystallized into hard and obvious fact.

The scenario of U.S. power dominating in every region of the world for generations to come was always an ideological construction that was bound to be contradicted by the rise of regional power centers with interests at variance with Washington's aims; the difficulties encountered in the occupation of Iraq simply hastened the awareness of competing power centers that Washington could be opposed effectively without incurring unacceptable costs.

In the summer of 2004, the drift towards multipolarity was evident, but the balance of power in which it would eventuate was still uncertain. A year later, the configuration of multipolar world power is coming into focus and shows signs of settling into a stable alignment in the short term that promises a period in which no great power has an interest in taking major military initiatives -- an era of relative peace in which some powers attempt to regroup and retrench to make up for their loss of momentum, and others try to accelerate their ascent by continuing their economic growth and enhancing their military capabilities.

The short term likelihood of global stability does not prefigure a similar result in the medium and long terms; it is a consequence of a specific conjuncture in which all the major regional power centers are constrained to turn inwards in order to cope with domestic political strains and to fit themselves for achieving their more ambitious strategic aims in the future. The present moment of stasis is just as likely to be a prelude to a period of intensified conflict as it is to presage long term peace.

Assessment of the geopolitical future is broken down into short (up to five years), medium (five to ten years) and long term (10-20 years) scenarios, with any projection longer than 20 years sheer guess work. It is obvious that confidence in projections diminishes rapidly when they move beyond the short term because possible contingencies multiply at a geometrical progression. Even the short term prediction of relative stability could be disturbed by current and possible developments, including nuclear proliferation and intimidation, actions by Islamic revolutionaries, local wars in Africa and perhaps the Middle East, a more drastic turn towards the left in South America, increased tensions between India and Pakistan or mainland China and Taiwan, and a more militaristic policy in Russia, to name just a few.

The Current Power Centers

The short term interest in stability that is apparently shared by all of the major power centers is based on particular circumstances in each case and is actuated either by a perceived need to retrench or by the goal of protecting processes of economic and military development. The restorationist power centers include the United States, the European Union and Russia; the rising power centers are China, India and Brazil.

With the limits of its former military-based geostrategy revealed, Washington has emerged from an ensuing policy void and has begun to craft -- under the leadership of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- a classic balancing strategy dependent upon partnering with regional allies against perceived or potential adversaries. The U.S. remains a genuine world power with global reach, but Washington no longer nurses the illusion that it can act alone, which accounts for its turn towards multilateral diplomacy in dealing with nuclear proliferation in North Korea and Japan, and its reluctance to exert decisive pressure against Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Major aims of Washington's current policy include partnering with Tokyo to contain Beijing, restoring its influence in South America in the face of resistance from Brasilia, stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, encouraging further pro-Western movements in Russia's near abroad, and leaguing with the peripheral states in the E.U. to balance the Franco-German combine. None of those goals depends for its realization on further military interventions.

Having based its geostrategy on economic and cultural power, rather than military might, the E.U. has at least temporarily reached its limits of integration and, perhaps, expansion towards the east with the failure of referenda on the European Constitution in France and the Netherlands, and the cancellation of a referendum in Great Britain. The complex issues behind the constitution's rejection that primarily concern the future of the Western European welfare state demand that the European political class rethink its geostrategy of making the E.U. a power bloc balancing the U.S. and gaining greater leverage in negotiating with China. Adjustment to the E.U.'s loss of momentum towards consolidation and expansion does not spell its decline as a power center, but it does inhibit any bold and potentially destabilizing initiatives, handing an advantage to Washington and taking some pressure off Moscow.

Faced with successful pro-Western reform movements in its "near abroad" in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, Moscow is occupied with cutting its losses, growing its economy and rebuilding its military. Lacking the resources for a proactive foreign policy, Russia is the most compromised of the regional power centers and, therefore, in the short term, the one that threatens global stability the most if its political class takes a more defiant stance as its geopolitical losses mount.

Following its 20-year geostrategic plan of export-driven economic development and military renovation, Beijing sees itself as a rising power that needs time to realize its potential as the dominant factor in East Asia. It is unlikely to take precipitous military action that would threaten its export markets or invite U.S. intervention that it is not yet prepared to handle successfully, particularly over the issue of incorporating Taiwan. Both Washington and Beijing are aware that they are on a collision course in the long term, but Beijing has no interest at present in a confrontation.

Similarly to Beijing, New Delhi is pursuing a policy of economic development and militarization that is not yet complete. India is not ready to force the issue of Kashmir with a nuclear-armed Pakistan that is receiving military aid from Washington and has chosen to implement a dual-track strategy that contains elements of d├ętente and military advantage. Again, like Beijing, New Delhi believes that time is on its side and it will probably remain patient and exercise restraint.

The most dynamic of the regional power centers is Brasilia, which has been emboldened by the rise of left-center governments in the southern cone of South America that do not acquiesce in Washington's neoliberal economic model, and by the stabilization of the Chavez administration in Caracas that has opted for a more socialist approach to globalization, to bid for dominant influence in its region against Washington. Leading the movement for south-south cooperation, advancing a trade agenda adverse to Washington's, offering Mercosur as an alternative to the Free Trade Area of the Americas and experimenting with industrial policies that undercut Western pharmaceutical and software multinationals, Brasilia need simply follow the course that it is taking to achieve its geostrategy aims.

Based on the way in which each of the major regional power centers perceives its interests, assesses its relative power and calculates its future power, a period of short term stability is likely in global politics. After that, the long term strategic aims of the players have the potential of coming into more intense conflict.

The Second Wave

This conflict will no doubt be stoked by actors that are "below the radar" of prevailing geopolitical thinking. Major intelligence and sociological studies are predicting a drastic rise in populations of several states that are currently either regional powers, or are themselves under strong influence or domination by the world's major states. These new geopolitical players will be affected as much by the conditions that may potentially limit the growth and development of the main players, as well as by the unique blend of circumstances indigenous to a specific region.

The formula that supports the emergent geopolitical prominence of several countries in the coming decades incorporates solid governance, strong state institutions (not necessarily run along democratic-capitalist lines), government control over military and internal affairs, as well as strong economies capable of competing in global terms. The absence of one or more of such conditions may render the state incapable of providing safety and security for its population, leaving the door open to possible subversion or influence by outside forces.

One other important factor that will ensure the power of states will be access to natural resources such as oil, gas and various metals and minerals. Additionally, given the strong population growth projections for China, India and a number of other states, access to and management of the agricultural products inside the states or on the international market will likewise be a determinant of states' abilities to secure their populations and to fully participate in world trade.

While the U.S. government, in its intelligence projections, gives due attention to the rise of the E.U., China, India, Brazil and possibly Russia to world power status, other states will soon be in a position to either emerge as the "second power wave" or become problematic obstacles to global stability and security.

One such state is Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, and currently the fourth most populous state on the planet. The C.I.A.'s projections for 20 plus years into the future place Indonesia at such crossroad. Its current population of over 200 million people is expected to rise in the coming decades. Its growing market economy and international presence is a reflection of its government's pragmatic policies. While currently it is presently a U.S. partner in the global war on terrorism, Indonesia's overall stability can be elusive, as a combination of secessionist movements, internal dissent and natural disasters remain powerful impediments to the country's continuing development. Increasing population in the coming decades will put a strain on the country's limited natural resources, potentially forcing it to look to other countries to supplement its diminishing supplies.

Given Jakarta's powerful military establishment and continuing investment in military hardware and development, Indonesia will emerge as an even more powerful player in Southeast Asia. If the state is able to hold together in the face of the mounting social, economic and natural challenges, it will potentially emerge as an even more powerful regional player. If Indonesia is unable to maintain stability and cohesion, it will generate instability in the entire region that will affect its neighbors to the north and the south, especially Australia.

Other potential powers whose status will begin to crystallize by the year 2015-2020 are Egypt and Iran, each with populations approaching the 100 million mark, and each with its own set of geopolitical ambitions. Egypt is already one of the most important players in the Middle East, and is a current U.S. partner on Arab-Israeli issues and the war on terrorism. Iran is an emerging powerbroker in the region, with well-established political, religious and social connections to states such as Syria, Lebanon and beyond. Both countries face a similar dilemma -- their rapidly increasing populations will generate demand for jobs and economic growth, a demand that the government may not be able to satisfy.

Most importantly, both countries have powerful and growing militaries, with the Egyptian military fielding American-made high-tech hardware. The U.S. is already concerned about Iranian geopolitical moves, and it is still uncertain about what steps Iran will take as it attempts to respond to the growing political and social-ethnic pressure of its population. It will be difficult for any other Middle Eastern state to match Egypt and Iran in either military strength, the size of their populations, or their possible economic potential. If the current American efforts to spread democracy in the region do not take root (possibly mitigating the coming pressures on both states), it is likely that these two states will attempt to forge their distinct geostrategies that will not necessarily mesh with those currently deployed by the United States or Europe.

Africa is the clearest case where the emergence of more powerful players will generate frictions along economic and social fault lines. Nigeria, the current powerbroker in Western and Central Africa, will be joined by several states with increasing populations and growing ambitions backed by robust military establishments. The Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.), Ethiopia and Uganda are expected to more than double their populations by 2025. All three were, until recently, involved in military conflicts either on their territory or through participation in civil wars involving other states. Uganda, together with Rwanda (itself expecting a vast population increase in the coming decades), is still involved in low-level fighting over vast natural resources in the D.R.C.

Rising populations in these states have a strong potential to trigger a new round of devastating wars over access to diminishing land and natural resources. Since the international community has been unable to put a stop to weapons trafficking and illicit trade in the vast Central African region, there is a powerful impetus for the powerbrokers in the region to resort to armed struggle to achieve necessary economic and social gains. Nigeria itself is expected to nearly double in population by 2025, and given its military strength, finite resources and the potential for internecine and interreligious violence may generate an implosion that will be difficult, if not impossible, to manage through the current international mechanisms.

Other potential powers that will seek to redress their own grievances will be Vietnam and the Philippines, with populations passing the 100 million mark by 2020. They will face similar problems as the other countries already mentioned -- diminishing resources, limited natural space, and the coming difficulties of satisfying the economic desires of their growing populations. Both states have robust militaries that have already confronted growing Chinese ambitions over access to natural resources in the South China Sea.

Vietnam, in particular, has been living "in the shadow" of China and even fought a brief war with Beijing in 1979. Both countries may not shy away from a confrontation in order to safeguard access to much-needed natural resources, and both will attempt to maintain their own spheres of influence for that purpose. Vietnam already acts as a regional powerbroker when it comes to the domestic and foreign affairs of Cambodia and Laos, which are states with much less geopolitical clout. It is not at all unlikely that Vietnam will attempt to rebuff growing Chinese ambitions across East Asia in order to ensure that its own population can survive the coming economic and social pressures.

Managing Geopolitical Uncertainties

The United States has made public its possible plans for dealing with the stronger and more ambitious India, China, and possibly the European Union. Preparations for dealing with the internal and international demands of these states are being made by the current presidential administration, and will continue to be developed by successive ones as well.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has recently hinted that Washington will help India to become a global power, possibly to counter a much stronger China by the year 2020. Yet, the emerging geopolitical trends hint at another pattern of development, one that will not just involve major and upcoming powers in international competition for power and influence, but the large, populous states of the current third world that may become increasingly more ambitious, or reckless, in pressing their demands.

In particular, some of these states may eschew their current political connections and strategies if they are unable to satisfy their growing needs and concerns. Additionally, a more complex geopolitical picture may invite players other than the U.S., Western Europe, Russia or Japan to compete for influence over these "second wave" powers. Great potential exists for China, India, Brazil and a handful of other states to establish strong links with these countries undergoing similar "growing pains" that the new powers themselves went through in the 1960s and 1970s. Thus, U.S. and European influence may be undermined in the regions that will be hard pressed to deal with the dangers of diminishing natural resources, slow economic development and rising ethnic and social pressures.

If the "second wave" powers consider that the current international mechanisms and laws are unsuitable to dealing with unique pressures prevalent in each country in question, then a new set of political paradigms may emerge that will be better suited to solving problems unique to each country. This possible development demands that Washington and other power centers around the world prepare themselves not just for the more obvious geopolitical challenges stemming from rapidly emerging new powers, but also for the upcoming difficulties and uncertainties in dealing with a dozen new regional players. This new "multifaceted multipolarity" will generate new sets of both setbacks and opportunities, and today's preparation, far-reaching policy implementation and planning will encourage more peaceful problem solving in the increasingly complex world of the coming decades.

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