By Dr. Panagiotis Sfaelos∗
The new US administration under Joe Biden has begun to unfold its agenda regarding the US’s position in the world. Former US President Donald Trump had withdrawn the US from international cooperation by withdrawing from various international treaties and international organizations. He also pursued a protectionist policy in the economy. Joe Biden’s presidency created optimism for the return of USA to international co-operation. The return of the United States to international cooperation, however, seems to be accompanied by a hegemonic US presence on the planet and an invasive attitude. Already, the first moves of the new President indicate a shift on US foreign policy. The attack on Iran, the row with Russia and China show a new ambitious US policy towards its geopolitical competitors. And we are still at the beginning…
USA – Russia
A new Cold War seems to be emerging on the planet. The US President calls Putin a “murderer” while Russia recalls its Ambassador from Washington. Already, since the Trump presidency, there have been allegations of Kremlin’s interference in the Trump election, creating a climate of mistrust between the two countries. Competition between the US and Russia is expected to intensify in the future, especially in the energy sector, as the EU and Germany in particular depend on Russia for energy.
In fact, the agreement on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which provides for additional transport of gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea, sparks geopolitical developments. The pipeline will deliver 55 billion cubic meters of gas a year from Russia to Germany resulting in the EU’s further dependence on Moscow in order to meet its energy needs. The US is affected by this development as it would prefer to sell its own Liquidated Natural Gas (LNG) to the EU, as it already sells to Asian countries. The United States is threatening to impose new sanctions on companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, demanding the withdrawal from the German-Russian pipeline.
The new tension in US-Russian relations is a continuation of Putin’s growing power in Russia. From the mid-2000s, US-Russian rivalry gradually intensified as NATO was expanding dynamically in Eastern Europe, threatening Russian interests. Ukraine has been at the center of US-Russian geopolitical rivalries. Russia responded to NATO expansion by invading and annexing Crimea, which also gave it a port of strategic importance in the Black Sea. Even US interest in the Western Balkans is due to Russian influence in the region, especially Serbia. So in order to prevent further Russian penetration in the Balkans, the US definitely wants the Western Balkans to join the Euro-Atlantic institutions.
USA – China
The relationship between the US and China is very competitive as China becomes a world power. The United States has criticized China’s unfair economic and trade practices, as well as China’s stance on Hong Kong and Taiwan. China considers Hong Kong and Taiwan to be internal affairs and denies any outside intervention by the United States or other countries. New US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken directly accuses China of “genocide” against Muslim minority Uighurs, “Hong Kong, Taiwan, and cyberattacks against the United States, as well as economic sanctions towards our allies. Each of these actions threatens the rule-based order that guarantees global stability. That is why it is not just a matter of internal affairs”.
China is a rising giant in the international geo-political and geo-economic arena and of course poses a threat to the United States, especially in technology, trade, investment and infrastructure. China is steadily and dynamically building the “One Belt One Road” or Silk Road, a development strategy that focuses on cooperation and connecting the countries of Eurasia by sea, rail and land. This is precisely the creation of Eurasia that the British political geographer Halford Mackinder (1861 – 1947) had talked about saying that whoever controls the Eurasian region, controls the whole world. China and Russia have studied the benefits of the Silk Road and the geostrategic importance of Eurasia. The US is reasonable to worry about this geopolitical development. As Henry Kissinger put it: “Sovereignty by a single force in the two main spheres of Eurasia – Europe or Asia – remains a good definition of strategic risk for America.”
USA – EU – Germany
The EU hopes to rekindle relations with the US, since during the Trump administration, US-EU relations with were difficult. The US wants more convergence with the EU. But there have been frictions in Euro-Atlantic relations already before Biden’s arrival, such as the EU-China 2020 investment agreement. Germany has also advanced agreements with Russia on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. while also refusing to exclude Chinese Huawei from Germany’s 5G networks. These decisions of the German government displeased Biden, who has planned to put the solidarity of democracies at the center of his strategy against China.
The EU is in the middle of US-China competition and Chinese penetration of its European market will create friction with the US. In fact, to understand the magnitude of the situation, we must emphasize that China became the EU’s main trading partner for the first time in 2020, surpassing the US, thanks to its rapid economic recovery, which was less affected by the Covid-19 pandemic than the economies of the West. For the whole of last year, the EU trade with China amounted to 586 billion dollars against 555 billion for the USA, according to Eurostat data. This shows that EU-US relations may be squeezed harder to choose an alliance.
Overall, the geopolitical balance of powers is changing in the new multipolar world that is being created. China is emerging as the new global political and economic superpower, challenging the traditional US leadership role. But Biden will not follow Trump’s predecessor protectionist policies, but will move more dynamically in an effort to restore US hegemony on the planet, even if this involves interventions in various parts of the world. This will bring great reactions, competition and conflicts in the course of globalization. The geopolitical interests are huge and the conflicts will be many as in international relations there are no permanent friendships but only permanent interests.
*Dr. Panagiotis Sfaelos is Lawyer, Political Scientist, Journalist, Secretary General of the Association of European Journalists (Greek Section), Member of the Arbitration Committee of the International Board of the Association of European Journalists, Member of the National Union of Journalists (UK) and the International Federation of Journalists. Research Director of the Center for International Strategic Analysis (KEDISA) and Academic.
(The article expresses exclusively perosnal views of the editor)