By Dr. Ιoannis–Dionysios Salavrakos (*)
The aim of the article is to analyse the evolution of the post Cold War international system. The article points out that the current system is characterized by multiple crises across the global periphery. In addition it challenges the globalization concept and the current economic doctrines as incomplete.
- The Evolution of the Post Cold World 1991-2003
Τhe end of the Cold War created an euphoria to the Western world. Almost everyone was certain that all countries of the world will adopt the western model of parliamentary democracy and the model of the open economy. It was “certain” that the globalized economy with the free movement of people, goods, and services will accelerate the pace of economic development and will produce an unprecedented prosperity for the world. Since all countries would prosper and since they would all accept liberal democratic ideas the possibility of war was diminished if not nullified completely.
Τhis dοctrine would be put in jeopardy with the Iraqi invasion to Kuwait. With that invasion it was evident that a regional power could create problems to the international system. The first Gulf War sent the message that the international community would not accept such destabilizing policies. The civil war in Yugoslavia which followed after the German decision to recognise the independence of Croatia and Slovenia followed (December 1991). This war demonstrated that «a clash of civilizations» was possible since the Orthodox Christian Serbia faced first the Catholic Croatia and the Muslim Bosnia-Herzegovina as well as the Muslim Albanian populations of Kossovo. Yugoslavia, demonstrated that deep historical and religious differences can trigger wars. The Yugoslav experience created again conflicts between the Great Powers, for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Both Russia and China contradicted the Western policy. Russia supported the Serbs. In addition the bombardment of Chinese embassy in Belgrade by NATO infuriated Beijing. Germany and the USA were also at odds. The former emerged as the dominant player in the north of Yugoslavia; whereas the latter dominated the south.
These developments were the first message that the notions of global democracy and of a globalised liberal world were problematic. During the 1990s decade the conflicts of Iraq and Yugoslavia, the Korean dispute, the Indian-Pakistan dispute, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Greek-Turkish dispute, the continuation of poverty in Africa were still present; however the dominant rationale was that these peripheral problems could be resolved easily. Globalization remained the dominant and the unchallenged ideology. After all, the West had started to expand in the East, in the former Soviet block. First was the German re-unification, which was followed by the 1992 Maastricht Agreement and the establishment of the EMU. The countries of Eastern Europe expressed their will to join both the EU and NATO. Under these developments the globalization doctrine remained dominant.
Τhe critical blow to globalizatiοn occurred on September 11th 2001, when Islamic fundamentalists struck the centre of Western power. The US reacted immediately by declaring a global anti-terror war. This was against Islamic terror groups and also against countries which sponsored terrorism (rouge states). These countries included Afghanistan and Iraq; thus a second Iraq war occurred.
The terrorist attacks against the US caused global sympathy towards the US; however when the second Iraq war erupted, the French-German Axis of the EU opposed the US military plans. In addition Russia and China expressed similar concerns pointing out that the US objectives were not just the crushing, of terror groups. Τhat year -2003- was pivotal for the global security. The international community was divided again, for the second time after Yugoslavia. Russia, China and Germany, opposed US hegemony for the second time and for different reasons each. The re-action of the Russian Bare and the Chinese Dragon to the Iraq war was the establishment of the Shanghai Pact. The Organization was officially a forum which promoted regional economic cooperation. In reality however the Shanghai Pact was to become a covered military alliance between Russia and China. Practically Russia put China under the umbrella of her nuclear protection and on the other hand China provided the economic locomotive which would fuel / boost the Russian-Chinese relations and give to the Russian-Chinese alliance immense power.
- The 2004-2014 period-The decline of the West and the emergence of new global security issues.
During the 2004-2014 decade the US gave priority to the “War on Terror Doctrine”, which occurred across the globe. The US were able to destroy various terrorists groups in Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Africa and in other places. However the financing of the War on Terror proved expensive. The US public debt increased from $5.8 trillion in 2001 to $17.8 trillion in 2014. The increase of public debt was not only due to the war financing. The global economic crisis which started in 2007 played its role as well. In addition the share of US to global GNP decreased from 28.1% in 2004 to 22.2% in 2014.
As the US was pre-occupied with the global anti-terror struggle, both Russia and China increased their bilateral cooperation. From 2004 onwards the Russian-Chinese defence cooperation stepped up. The US spent money chasing terrorists but Russia and China spent money modernizing their armed forces, making annual joint military and naval drills, increasing their bilateral trade and energy relations and adopting common diplomatic stance in the UN across various international issues. Finally the epicentre of global industry shifted towards China.
During this period the EU also started to disintegrate from the US. During the period 2004-2014 the EU did not face any serious external military threat. The EU expanded to Eastern Europe (2004) and this added a new huge market and gave access to immense quantities of raw materials. Τhe new united European currency became a reality however the EU GNP as a percentage to global GNP was reduced from 31.4% in 2004 to just 23.8% in 2014. Τhe public debt of European economies increased as well following the US path. In 2004 the average debt of the 28 EU member states was 61.2% of the aggregate European GNP. In 2014 this was up to 86.8% of (EU) GNP. Practically both the US and the EU economically declined. On the other hand the Chinese GNP (as a percentage of global GNP) increased dramatically from 4.5% to 13.4% over the same period, whereas the Russian GNP remained relatively constant (around 3.5% of global GNP). Thus the “united” Russian-Chinese GNP in 2014 was 16.9% of global GNP, very close to the 22% of the US.
As the Chinese economy developed various security issues in the Pacific and Indian Oceans emerged. In the Pacific China seeks to control various islets of the South China sea which possess vast resources of oil and natural gas. The Chinese economy aims to replace coal with oil and gas and the regional deposits are needed. In addition China needs to control the sea trade routes of the region since almost 90-95% of Chinese trade (both exports and imports) is made via the sea. Finally the core Chinese policy of “One United China” assumes that mainland China is united with Taiwan and Hong-Kong. These policies however opposed by the US, Japan, Australia, Philippines, Vietnam.
In the Indian Ocean both China and India are engaged in an intensive naval, trade and geopolitical dispute. In addition New Delhi and Beijing have territorial disputes (the Doklam crisis from June 2017 illustrates the point). Finally China constantly supports Pakistan; India’s main rival by providing to Islamabad diplomatic support as well as military and economic aid. Russia although in the Cold War had very good relations with India; nowadays has seen the emergence of an Indian-US strategic relationship. It is true that India continues to value Russia as a major partner; however the Russian influence on Indian military apparatus is diminishing (in spite of the Russian-Indian deal for S-400 missile systems); whereas the US influence on India increases.
Russia cannot dissatisfy Beijing and thus between China and India has to support the former. The US on the other hand, see India as the balancer of the Moscow-Beijing alliance. In addition the Arctic becomes another region of instability. Important trade routes and resources are identified there as well; creating another flashpoint between the Great Powers.
Finally the problems of the Middle East, Korea, Africa, Caucasus continue to exist. In these regions the Arab-Israeli dispute continues, along with the Iranian nuclear program, the rise of Islamic Caliphate and fundamentalism, the Armenian-Azerbaijan dispute, the Turkish-Armenian dispute, the Russian-Georgian dispute remain unresolved.
- The 2014-2018 period and the new arms race
The crisis in Ukraine started during November 2013 and by March 18th 2014 Russia annexed Crimea. Both the EU and the US re-acted by imposing economic sanctions on Moscow. Russia replied by establishing closer economic ties with China. Only for Russian oil and gas exports in the next thirty years $400 billion contracts have been signed.
However the biggest Russian re-action to the West was a massive Russian re-armaments program which started after 2014 and aims to be completed by 2021. During the last four years (March 2014-March 2018) the Russian armed forces received numerous new defence articles (artillery, tanks, aircrafts, naval vessels and submarines etc), modernised many existing weapon systems and modernised the nuclear arsenal as well. Until nowadays the 60% of Russian arsenal has been modernised, and by 2021 Russia is expected to have 70% of its arsenal with modern weapons; making the 2014-2021 armaments program one of the biggest successes in global military history.
In the Pacific the Chinese Armed Forces have followed a similar re-armaments program. The Chinese have developed an array of anti-ship missiles, have already one aircraft carrier (and built two more), have introduced fifth generation fighters, new transport planes, submarines and surface naval vessels.
On the other hand, the US President asked from NATO Western partners to increase defence spending to 2% but in vane. As Russia changes the military balance (thus backing Russian diplomacy with an iron feast) in Europe, Germany and other major powers remain inert. To illustrate, in the German Armed Forces:
From 224 Leopard-2 tanks only 105 are operational;
From 128 Typhoon jets only 39 are operational;
From 93 Tornados only 26 are operational;
From 13 frigates only 5 are operational and
From 6 submarines none is operational.
The British armed forces suffer also from under-financing. To illustrate, for the 2017-2027 decade there is an under-finance deficit of £179.7 billion. In spite of the new aircraft carriers the Royal Navy has problems with frigates, submarines, anti-submarine warfare airplanes etc. The French Armed Forces face similar challenges and also immense commitments in Africa and in the Pacific as well.
The military imbalance in Europe deteriorates and this is evident by the multiple Russian violations of air space and territorial waters of various countries (Baltic states, Sweden, UK, France, Spain). The Russian military activity expands beyond Europe.
On October 7th 2015 four Russian warships in the Caspian fired 26 Kalibr type missiles against 12 targets of the Islamic State in Syria in a distance of 2,500 km. away! Similar attacks occurred during 10-1-2016 (with 44 missiles) and on September 5th 2017. In December 2017 Russian nuclear bombers reached Australia in a spectacular demonstration of military might.
After the Scribal Affair (March 2018) Russia mobilized its strategic nuclear forces and during the Ladoga 2018 military maneuvers the Russian pilots were informed for their targets during their flight, making a clear war simulation. Few days later (6-4-2018) the new modernized Chinese navy made massive maneuvers with 40 vessels and the PLA Air Force started drills for 182 days! The military moves of Moscow-Bejing seem to be coordinated; although the author does not possess any information to prove this assertion.
Europe speaks about “common defence” but in reality there is little that has been done. On the other hand the US reacted to the Russian and Chinese re-armaments. The US re-enacted the US Second Fleet in North Atlantic to counter Russia and deployed strong army forces (personnel, tanks, vehicles etc) across Eastern Europe. In the Pacific the US have established a “united Indo-Pacific Command”, expanded their presence and intensified defence cooperation with India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and other countries.
Throughout the 2014-2018 period the Western states have accused Moscow for various espionage activities and even for Russian attempts to influence elections in Western states, via cyber-warfare. Moscow on the other hand accused NATO for concentration of forces in the Baltics, in Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. In addition Moscow has repeatedly accused the West for air space violations, and asked for the removal of economic sanctions.
A similar story developed with China. The West has accused the Chinese for industrial espionage and cyber-warfare. On the other hand Beijing accused Washington for providing military aid to Taiwan, imposing tariffs on Chinese goods, discriminating against Chinese multinationals etc. The Chinese have reduced their exposure to US bonds and alternatively prefer to invest their trade surpluses to Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America building a new trillion dollar silk road, controlling ports around the world, and investing in raw materials, land of developing economies.
The world of 2018 has multiple conflicts, disputes and problems:
- Almost all Asia faces instability due to the Korean crisis, the disputes in South China Sea, the disputes in the Indian Ocean, the Indian-Pakistan-China, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the region.
- The Middle East is in flames due to the Arab-Israeli conflicts, the Kurdish issue, the Syrian civil war, the nuclear program of Tehran, the Arab Spring, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism.
- Ukraine remains in crisis.
- The poverty in Africa, Asia and Latin America trigger social uprisings, boost illegal various activities (drugs trade, illicit arms trade, etc). In Africa many Muslims follow the fundamentalist doctrines.
- In the Caucasus Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, clash.
- In the Eastern Mediterranean Greece-Cyprus and Turkey disputes remain unresolved.
- In the Western Balkans the Kossovo issue remains a source of instability.
- The problem of global debt should not be marginalised or underestimated. At the moment the global debt is three times higher to global GNP. However, a closer look reveals some alarming traits: The distribution of wealth was always unequal in human history and there was always a separation between poor and rich. However nowadays the “super rich” control half of global GNP!. This means that if 1% of global population has access to 50% of global wealth the remaining 99% of global population with access to 50% of global wealth has to repay a global wealth six times higher and not just three times!. This means that this debt cannot be repaid and if the debt-trap explodes then the 1929 crisis will look like a joke…
In addition high debt is concentrated again in the Western economies and the current economic programs simply do not resolve the problem. At the moment interest rates increases are higher to rates of economic growth thus making debt repayments difficult.
- International terrorism remains a threat. It has many aspects and it has connections with organised crime groups.
- The environment can cause additional problems. According to one study Antartica lost during the 2012-2017 period the astonishing amount of 219 billion tons of ice annually! Before 2012, Antartica was losing 76 billion tons annually, thus the current pace of loss represents an increase of 288%. The climate change has already economic and security ramifications. The Syrian Civil war is partially attributed to climate change. To illustrate drought forced rural Syrians into urban centres and this fuelled tensions since the newcomers requested a decent life with access to residential services, clean water, food etc.
This world is not an easy place to live. Armageddon can occur any time even due to an accident. In addition the “cheques and balances” of the system are not perfect. The “solutions” which international diplomats provide to various problems are imperfect and in many times they simply gain some more time and do not resolve the problems.
The instability of one region can influence another. To illustrate, and this is just one example, the poverty and wars of Africa and the Middle East have created a huge inflow of refugees in Europe.
Recently the Director of the IMF has stated that global debt is a problem with broader social, economic and political ramifications however no-one has provided a solution.
In the end of the Cold War the neo-liberals assured the world that a bright future is in front and prosperity will embrace the planet. Anyone who expressed reservations at that time was demonized. Does anyone really continue to believe this nowadays?
(*) Dr. Ιoannis–Dionysios Salavrakos is Economist-Political Scientist. He has taught for many years in UK and Greek universities. All information comes from public sources.