The stars of the United States are waning. Their military might is questioned by insurgents, their economic credibility gone. If America fails to recover, what does this mean for the future of world politics? What will a new world order look like? And what should be the answers of the European Union, of Germany? Realistic answers can only be found by thinking outside the box without rocking the boat. A comment by Peter Eitel
The United States has failed. It has failed to maintain its superpower status, militarily as much as economically. Neither in Afghanistan nor Iraq were the United States and its allies able to achieve the desired outcome of peace and stability. Like the black hole in American history, Vietnam, the US has again demonstrated its lack of strategic thinking and focus on tactical solutions. Could they have foreseen Iran as the regional profiteer of their campaign in Iraq? A look into history books certainly would have hinted towards that scenario. Could they have foreseen instability and chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan? A quick chat to the Russians, by then still allies, before drawing post conflict scenarios might have helped. Could they have foreseen the longevity of both campaigns? Yes, if they would have considered that a lot of those people they have to fight now, never wanted to fight the United States. Now the equation is a little different.
Georgia, epitome of American incapacity
How much influence American might have lost, is epitomized by the Russian operation in Georgia, and the subsequent events in Ukraine. Both countries sought NATO partnership, a desire welcomed by the United States – too tempting was the geopolitical opportunity to extend the European bridgehead towards the Russian borders. In Georgia, the Russians did everything correctly – judging from how swiftly they succeeded to the legitimation of their actions. Their leverage was the double standards played by the United States led coalitions, and they used it superbly. As a consequence, the pro-western government in Ukraine split, leaving the political battlefield in Kiev open to those actors that seek a stronger alliance with Moscow. The US reactions mirrored its incapacity to project power into the region – nothing apart from political statements was uttered, and it was blatantly obvious that this was their only option.
Ooops, down goes the economy
Not only in the political-military sphere is the waning influence of the United States feasible; also in the economy. Billions of dollars were earned in the last years, billions of dollars that never existed. The bubble created by that had to blow eventually – and now, that it burst, the United States need to find real billions to fill the void. But where will they come from? Outsell the country, as is good practice already? That would mean that America does not any longer belong to Americans. Printing money? A recession is the sure outcome, pulling down not only the US, but also the world economy. By raising taxes drastically and letting average Americans pay for the conscious mistakes of those in power? A political catastrophe will be the outcome, as nerve wrecking wars will be coupled with economic downfall. Similar to their military short sightedness, the administration of the United States has shown its willingness to compromise long term goals for short term gains – without seriously considering the consequences.
The news is not good. In fact, it is very bad – not only for the United States, but for the whole world. Whether it is China, who is tied to US performance by being the biggest creditor of the massive US trade debts; or Europe, who still regards the US as the most important export market; let alone all those small countries who have no leverage to influence decisions, but suffer their consequences. The question is, whether the United States can recover – and most analysts will argue that the US has the potential to recover – certainly once the interregnum is ended by the presidential elections in November. But even if they recover, the United States will have to pay tribute to a changed world, where they are but one of those that influence world politics – aside Europe, Russia, China, India, and to a certain extent Brazil. What if they don’t? What should European or German policy-makers have on their mindmap?
Without any doubt – China will play an increasingly important role. Its vast human resources, and its potential for development will ensure its prominent role. So will India. So will all those states south and east of the borders of the European Union, which are regarded as developing. Why? Because unlike in the saturated markets of the United States and Western Europe, where money could only be made by speculation on credits, development of the poor promises real money and real gains.
Russia, holding a strategic position will continue to profit from its resources and grow in military capability. This demands a shift in focus of European and German politics. In a world where several centres of gravity exist besides Washington it is imperative for the European Union to regain control of its own course and diplomatic alliances. The influence the United States can exercise through NATO needs to be minimized and the EU must be able to act on its own behalf. The demand and rationality for a political European Union has been demonstrated by the crises in Georgia, Iran and Lebanon.
Secondly, Russia should be regarded as a key ally, and treated as such. If real economic growth as opposed to speculation is most likely to happen on the southern and eastern flanks of Russia, then Russia’s role is vital to gain access to this growth. Again, the war in Georgia has clearly demonstrated the Russian resolve and ability to control its southern flanks.
Forging pragmatic alliances
If the European Union, the world’s largest economic power, wants to remain in this position, there is no viable alternative to move a little closer to Moscow. And this has nothing really to do with Russia itself. The only viable way to penetrate China, and all those countries in the south of Russia, is to regard Russia as an ally, rather than a foe. For the European Union, for Germany, pragmatic alliance should be the name of the game. The talks about a free trade agreement with Russia, the talks of Russia about free trade agreements with China, are as positive a development in this regard as is the freight train that moves goods from Beijing to Hamburg.
Before shying away from thinking Russia and China as allies rather than enemies, one ought to follow the passage of those goods on the map, and consider the economic opportunities they pass.
The cultural factor
Finally, there is also a cultural affinity between the old continental powers of Europe, Russia, China, India – all of them share their understanding of the importance of history, culture, traditions and values. The United States on the other hand, are ahistorical by definition, which leads to a mechanistic, managerial and technocratic approach to problem solving in world politics. Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as many other humanitarian interventions during the nineties have shown that in the United States tactics often come before strategy.
It is no surprise that it was a Chinese that said 3000 years ago that tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. The Americans, unfortunately have not understood this aphorism. Russia, China, India and Europe, perpetrators of wars, victims of their own ill fated developments or former vast empires that have experienced decline have learned and understood the importance of strategic thinking.
…the big bang in world politics?!
Such a scenario, leaving Washington isolated in the Western Hemisphere, of course is far distant and depends on many ifs. In fact, it is less likely to happen than the United States is likely to recover. This notwithstanding, at a time where the United States must answer serious questions, its allies must carefully weigh their options, and answer some questions of their own. What is the situation? How will it develop? Where are we? Where do we want to be? How are we going to achieve it?
Such questions will not be answered overnight, or by one person. They are in essence the product of history – because they can only be answered in retrospect. Policymakers on the other hand, cannot wait until the judgement of history, as they are busy shaping it by their deeds and actions.
However, their deeds and actions will only be able to make a difference, if they are able to think outside the box without rocking the boat. If the United States fails to recover, German, European strategist ought to take a pragmatic look at the globe – and ought not to be blinded by idealistic considerations. Alliances can shift, and if the US continues to be in decline, the European Union must be able to shift its alliances by itself.
This would mean nothing less than a major shift in the tectonic plates of global politics. Does it mean that the consequences will be as disastrous as those that usually accompany earthquakes? Not necessarily. Unlike natural phenomena, which change the map in an instant, politics is a human phenomenon. And it is up to their caution and ability to alter our perceptions of the world without creating yet another big bang.
The pictures are public domain.