A new world order
American policies create geopolitical confusion as they unsettle allies and alienate other countries
By Jean-Luc Burlone
Revised version – 18-08-2017
President Obama wore white gloves to “avoid stupid actions” in dealing with international issues. President Trump dribbles with the planet as he goes, seeking good deals rather than strong institutions. His erratic attitude is deemed a threat to U.S. security; it steers international politics to an unknown and potentially dangerous set up. On the domestic front, Washington drudges in turmoil.
On his first international trip last May, Trump addressed Sunni leaders in Ryad at the Arab Islamic American Summit. He eschewed talk of liberty and democracy — a common objective to all American presidents for the past hundred years. Instead, he blamed current tensions on terrorism and encouraged his hosts to eradicate extremists, clearly mentioning, with some reason, Iran as the culprit albeit most jihadists are Sunnis.
Sunni leaders, mostly autocrats from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and U.A.E., appreciate his support. They responded with fawning words, securing the condonation of the President of the United States to act according to their personal political ambitions. Closing his trip with a 24-hour stop in Israel, Mr. Trump left Mr. Netanyahu with an open hand in dealing with Palestinian issues, not even mentioning the “Two States Objective”.
Trump’s erratic attitude is deemed a threat to U.S. security; it steers international politics to an unknown and potentially dangerous set up.
On his trip to the G-20 in July, Mr. Trump started by showing his solidarity with strong authoritarian European leaders. Cheering President Duda of Poland and Prime Minister Orban of Hungary, who are failing in their obligations vis à vis European rules with respect to human rights, the issue of refugees, the separation of powers and the freedom of the press. In Poland, Mr. Trump endorsed the Three Seas Initiative, increasing the wedge between the 12 participating countries and the rest of Europe led by Germany.
Stating his priorities, circumscribed to promote Western values, Mr. Trump raises doubts among allies about the United States’ reliability and alienates nations of other cultures. His determination to seek bilateral deals rather than to reinforce international institutions disrupts the global community. It creates a power void that China and Russia are eager to fill.
The overall result is a clear breakdown of the world order as we knew it. Two competitive visions are now on the table to replace it. The first, already in progress, is the authoritarian model promoted by Russia, China and others like Egypt, Turkey, and the Philippines, whose leaders’ first aim is to secure their personal stronghold.
The overall result is a clear breakdown of the world order as we knew it. Two competitive visions are now on the table to replace it.
Russia is a declining power with an economy in disarray as the result of falling oil prices and the lack of economic reforms and diversification. To compensate the economy shortcomings, Mr. Putin looks towards the international landscape to improve his image by reviving the belief of a grand Russia sphere of influence.
Vladimir Putin has shown his willingness to use military forces to keep Georgia and Ukraine under Russian influence. He resents the membership of Poland and the Baltic States to NATO and he justifies his military actions by the expansion of the organisation next to Russian borders.
In this context, Mr. Trump’s language, logic and policies were real gifts to Mr. Putin as they meet the Kremlin’s own preferred policies on most international issues. Henceforth, Mr. Putin can pursue his hegemonic ambitions, unhindered in Ukraine and Belarus, while eyeing towards the Baltic States and Eastern Europe.
Russia is a declining power with an economy in disarray as the result of falling oil prices and the lack of economic reforms and diversification.
China is the growing world superpower. Its leadership is pragmatic rather than ideological. It deems that economic and financial liberties have triggered the 2008 crisis and that democratic processes have created chaos in Great Britain and in the United States with the Brexit vote and the election of Trump.
Celebrating the People’s Liberation Army’s 90th anniversary on July 30, President Xi warned the military: “The world is not safe at the moment”. He urged them to follow the Party’s command faithfully and to fulfil their duty to the Communist Party (not to the nation!). On August 2 at the Great Hall of the People, Mr. Xi gave an hour-long strong warning that China will not tolerate any infringement of its territory — a clear statement with respect to Taiwan and an ambiguous one with respect to the naval arbitrage America is (or was) expected to play in the South China Sea atoll issue.
Clearly, China wants to regain its past dominance, to secure needed resources for its economy and to take, on its own terms, its place as the only power overseeing the Western Pacific. China does not seek to be a welcome honorary member of the global system under American leadership. But the Chinese unwillingness, as a member of the World Trade Organisation, to follow the rules of international trade is a bad omen for its eventual role as a superpower enforcing international laws.
China is the growing world superpower. Its leadership is pragmatic rather than ideological.
The message is clear; Russia and China resent America’s hegemonic power and both want to promote the superiority of their authoritarian model to their population. Mr. Putin’s efforts to disrupt elections in the United States and in Europe and to discredit democracies as broken down systems, are convincing.
The second world vision, barely emerging in America, intends to include China in international organisations such as the IMF, not as an honorary member but as a full participant in shaping decisions and meeting the responsibilities that come with it. It also aims to build a coalition between allies with an increased role for emerging countries. As this vision stands, the United States will not make all decisions nor will it absorb all the cost. It will build a stable coalition and use networks to solve international problems that no single country can fix by itself but that cannot be resolved without the U.S. In stark contrast to Mr. Xi’s vision, America’s role will make sure that its allies are strong and that no country can dominate others.
The freedom of navigation in the South China Sea — a sea-lane that allows a third of global trade tonnage — epitomizes the common interest all nations have in a stable world order. If it was ever shut down by China, it would cause a major economic breakdown.
Currently, only the United States has the power to bring about a new world order where economies are interconnected and hence, where its national interest is compatible and linked to the national interest of most other countries. It enjoys an access to global networks from the private and public sector to build international coalitions to tackle global issues.
Currently, only the United States has the power to bring about a new world order where economies are interconnected and hence, where its national interest is compatible and linked to the national interest of most other countries.
As with many countries, including China, America’s core problem is to shape an economy that benefits everyone. The solution can hardly be expected from Donald Trump, whose only input is to act as a catalyst for change and political innovation. It is impressive that though the Climate Accord was rejected by the Trump administration, the country will nonetheless meet its objectives because policies at the states (both Republican or Democrat) and city levels are making the needed changes for a clean energy future. Corporate America as well has joined in with investment decisions driving policies to a greater extent.
Chinese naval power has grown and its reach is getting global. It launched its first state of the art aircraft carrier In April and its first destroyer, similar in size to the U.S. ones, in June. Its troops were shipped to Djibouti to establish the first Chinese foreign military base in July and it is coordinating war games in the Baltic Sea with the Russian navy in August. Mr. Xi may be right in saying: “The world is not safe at the moment”.
Let us hope that common sense and reason will come back in the geopolitical field to the benefit of all nations.
Image: IoSonoUnaFotoCamera via Stockfolio
Jean-Luc Burlone, Ms. Sc. Econ. FCSI (1996)
Economic Analysis & Financial Strategies
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The text above is my personal view, based on reports and data from the economic and financial press. – JLB, August 2017