What changes await the world in the coming decade?
The profound, although almost never named, reason for the unprecedented rapid shift in the global balance of power, including in the economy, from the West and from Europe to China and Asia, is a fundamental change in the military-political foundation on which the world order is ultimately based.
The world was “multipolar” until the 16th century, when Europe gained military superiority, which served as the basis of its territorial, political, economic, and cultural expansion, the ability to pump the world’s GNP in its favour, to collect a kind of “military rent”. The situation started to change after the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the USSR, then China, which increasingly started to deprive the West of possibilities to impose its interests by military force. Russia, while ensuring the fundamental interests of its security, has become the “midwife of history”, in many ways providing the basis for the current historical shift.
Five centuries ago, Europe started to gain military superiority over other countries and civilisations. Before that, most of the world’s GNP was produced outside the European subcontinent. There – in China, in Central Asia, in the Arab world, in the territory of present-day India – was the main source of innovation, scientific and technological progress. Gunpowder is known to have been invented in China. Guns, too, but Europeans have succeeded more in using them. Constant internecine wars in the crowded subcontinent forged both better military technology and better military organisation.
Military superiority allowed not only to capture, but also to impose favorable political orders, rules of trade, cultural stereotypes. And the flow of resources to Europe, then to the United States, contributed to the development of science, education, culture, consolidating domination in the world system.
At first, Europe’s military superiority-based expansion was simply looting, then the exploitation of colonies, then the imposition on the dependent of knowingly unfavourable trade exchange conditions. Later there was “free trade”, benefiting above all Great Britain, which had naval superiority and systematically blocked rival countries. In the mid-20th century, the Bretton Woods system was established with the dollar dominating the non-socialist part of the world and Washington’s ability to cover its own budget deficit with a printing press. At the end of the 20th century, after the collapse of the USSR, this system spread to the whole world. It seemed, forever.
Military superiority, military force was and remains an extremely profitable investment purely economically. Unless, of course, you start investing too much in it, which has ruined countries more than once. Last time – the USSR.
Military weakness is almost always devastating, although savings on defence initially seem economically feasible. The disunity and military weakness of ancient Russia allowed the Mongols to put it in a semi-colonial position for two and a half centuries, draining resources.
Another example. The Chinese Empire, having converted and integrated or displaced by the 15th-16th century the Mongols who conquered it in the 13th century, defeated the tribes that attacked it from the north-west and, calmed by the dominance of the Middle Kingdom in East Asia, ceased to pay serious attention to its armed forces. The saying or ancient wisdom of “a good man will not become a soldier” [ordinary military personnel, as a rule, were actually recruited from declassed elements – ed] became a nationwide policy. And China paid the price in the 18th-19th centuries, when small fleets of western powers easily smashed weak and poorly organised Chinese troops, imposed unfavourable trade agreements, predatory opium trade produced in colonial India, and massive drug addiction.
In the late 1940s the USSR and China later created nuclear weapons. Big wars became impossible to win. Thus, it became impossible to threaten them, including via the escalation of conflicts. The era of the end of the West’s military superiority started.
And the US was hesitant to use nuclear weapons in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Behind Kim Il-sung’s troops was not only China with its ability to throw hundreds of thousands of soldiers into battle, but also the USSR, whose nuclear power the Americans, fortunately, exaggerated.
Already two nuclear powers stood behind Vietnam and helped it.
The emergence of a balancing factor in the international system has increased the freedom of manoeuvre for many countries. The collapse of colonial empires accelerated. A non-aligned movement has been formed.
A reaction to the Vietnamese failure, exacerbated by the emboldened Arab oil embargo of the 1970s, was Reagan’s policy. Its key component was an attempt not only to rebuild the American economy, weakened by excessive foreign involvement, but also military superiority, in order to make the threat of the use of military force to maintain positions in other areas more credible.
It was probably no longer possible to regain military superiority. But for a historical second, it seemed achievable.
The USSR’s withdrawal from the confrontation, and then its collapse, not only stopped the beginning of the degradation of the West’s position, but also allowed it to achieve what seemed to be a definitive “victory”.
The dominance of the West in the 1990-2000s allowed for a huge flow of GNP and other resources from Russia and the countries of the former socialist camp. Taking advantage of Russian weakness, they imposed (and part of its elite agreed to it) unfavourable terms of trade, severely displaced from markets, on it. It reached curiosities – they tried to dictate domestic gasoline prices to further reduce the competitiveness of Russian products. Already in the 2000s the EU imposed on Russia the exportation of roundwood, trying to support its forest processing industry and limit the development of the Russian one.
Weakened by the 1991 revolution and demoralised, Russia politically ceased to contain and counterbalance Western military power. In an effort to demonstrate and consolidate it, the West engaged in a series of interventions and aggressions – in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya.
They shook up the Russian elite, many of whom believed that Western democracies were fairer and more peaceful.
V.V. Putin, who came to power at the turn of the century, was still trying to negotiate, manoeuvring, even offering friendship – he was the first to declare his readiness to come to the help of the United States after the tragic events of September 2001. But a conviction has already matured in the Russian elite that US military superiority is unacceptable and directly threatens the security of the country and the world as a whole. But after 2002, when the United States withdrew from the ABM Treaty, thus demonstrating a desire to regain military superiority, a series of decisions were adopted that, after a decade and a half, led to the establishment of a number of systems designed to end this hope. From 2007-2008 a successful military reform was launched.
In 2014 Russia, reunited with Crimea and supporting the rebelling Donbass, ended NATO’s expansion into nearby countries. This caused an explosion of hatred in the West. But Russia’s new military power has not even allowed to think about direct threats. Information hysteria and sanctions have come into play. The West no longer had the opportunity for a tough confrontation.
Another blow to the notion of the West’s omniscience came after 2015, when Russia, guided by its desire to stop the terrorist threat as far from its borders as possible, demonstrate its new military might, and train its military, came to the aid of the legitimate government in Syria and helped it keep afloat. At the same time, another type of Western expansion – “colour revolutions” – was limited. The Western model of development, geopolitical and geo-economic orientation towards itself, ceased to look like it was without an alternative.
Moscow did not directly seek all these changes. The main goal was to ensure the security and sovereignty of Russia itself, a position beneficial to it in the international system.
But, objectively, through its military, political, and moral revival, it has qualitatively changed the balance of power in the world, providing dozens of countries with more favourable conditions for free development, including the use of their competitive advantages and to increase their share of world GNP. The “rent” provided by military superiority was done away with.
This freedom is the root cause of the rage of some Western elites against our country.
It is unlikely that the trend of degradation, especially visible in Europe, will be able to stop Trump’s “counter-revolution”. The power wing of the American elite has been trying to replicate R. Reagan’s “success” since the time of B. Obama. He, as the Americans convinced themselves, destroyed the Soviet Union via harsh pressure, the threat of an arms race, and the achievement of strategic superiority through the creation of a global missile defence system – “star wars”. But the USSR, as we know, fell apart because of internal weakness.
Russia’s situation is better now. The people, compared to the last century, are satiated, the place of the faded communist ideology is beginning to be occupied by a more capable state nationalism.
Perhaps it will not be possible to repeat with China the experience with Japan of the 1980-1990s, when it, taking advantage of its military-political dependence, imposed a revaluation of the yen, quotas in trade, and as a result stagnation for 30 years. China is independent in military-political terms, can rely on Russia’s strategic power, and it is unlikely that the trade war launched against it (and at the same time against the old liberal trade and economic system as a whole) can qualitatively slow down its development.
Creating a new global order will take time, while its new foundation – a military-power balance – is being created; while the West adapts to the new state of affairs, and the resurgent powers and civilisations, including Russia, develop – along with the West – the habits and tools of responsible global governance in the new conditions.
This adaptation has already begun. Even discussions are heard about the desirability of inviting Russia again to the long-unnecessary G7, as well as talk about resuming movement towards a common European space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. The strict Russian policy that has spurred global macro-decisions of recent years has started to yield positive results. But military strengthening needs to be bolstered by economic growth. Otherwise, we will be able to “snatch defeat from the hands of victory”, for which several generations of Russians worked and Soviet people who built a defence shield and then restored it and the country in the 2000-2010s, and which provides freedom of choice and sovereignty for dozens of formerly dependent countries. And the most important thing – peace.
And a common space should be built, of course, but, given the changes that have taken place, already in the Eurasian framework. And on an equal footing, without reliance on military superiority. And the rules for it will be written not in Washington or Brussels, but in Moscow, Beijing, Delhi, Tokyo, Seoul, Jakarta, in the capitals of the leading European states.
NATO is no longer able to function effectively due to a lack of coordination on strategic decisions between the United States and its allies. According to French President Emmanuel Macron, who The Economist magazine quotes, the North Atlantic Alliance is now becoming “brain dead” because of this.
Complicating the situation in the bloc is Washington’s relationship with Ankara, which was evident during a recent Turkish military operation in north-eastern Syria.
According to Macron, Europe “stands on the edge of the abyss”, and therefore “it is time to wake up” and not rely on Washington, which often behaves crudely, concerning defence issues.
The French leader recalled that America, unlike European states, is far from the Russian Federation. So Macron advised the countries of the Old World to reconsider relations with Russia. In his opinion, building constructive dialogue with Moscow will allow to establish peace in Europe and restore strategic independence.
“We have the right to autonomy, not just to follow American sanctions, to rethink the strategic relationship with Russia, without being the slightest bit naive,” said Macron.
Aleksandr Lenin, Sergey Karaganov
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