New Eastern Outlook
by Vladimir Terehov
The abbreviation USA occupies almost a central place in public rhetoric and texts devoted to various aspects of world politics. In recent years, even just mentioning this abbreviation in Russia has provoked strong polarised emotions, which are rather indirectly related to the complicated content that it contains within.
Most of those who hold emotions such as adoration currently constitute a marginal political trend and hardly deserve to be involved in any disputes.
A much more serious problem is the massive dominance of the varying degrees of heated negative emotions. The latter is direct consequence of an inadequate response to the two most important circumstances accompanying the end of the Cold War.
The first case is due to the persistent pain caused by the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Cold War. In this sense the frequent attempts by adults to ignore the obvious formal evidence of the aforesaid deplorable fact in an emotional and childish way are not fitting.
The second case is related to the other (and also undisputed) fact that since 1991 up to the present day the United States has played a “particularly unique and leading” role in the new emerging global game. And it is not because President Barack Obama said so or because the same words (addressed, incidentally, more to the internal, not external audience) are written in certain official documents.
It is so, because at that’s the way the cards were dealt at the end of the previous game; and to be “offended” by this fact is no less senseless than to get upset at bad weather. Besides, the obvious existence of such formal signs such as the highest levels of economic development and military power in the world, and the (ongoing) possession of the potential of “soft power” are significant justification for the current US claims to the world leadership.
Apparently, many people feel the depressing effect of living in such a reality. But before trying to find a “quick-fix” for the new hierarchy in international relations, it is necessary to answer a number of questions ourselves.
The most fundamental of them is not so much related to the assessment of ammunition, available to the potential “reformer”, but to the issue, long-debated in academic circles, of the advantages and disadvantages of the existing “unipolar” and the future “multi-polar” world order.
No single solution to this problem has been found, and it may not even exist because of the diversity of responses to another question: “what is good and what is bad” (for whom and from what point of view)?
In particular, it may be assumed that the reaction to some of the consequences of establishing a “multipolarity” (such as those affecting the problems of strategic stability in the world) will be the sacramental phrase “the achievement of the dream” of a citizen, who is not very wise.
There seems to be one indisputable thing: global leadership is such a burden that it is more and more obviously beginning to press upon its current holder. Notwithstanding the public ‘cheese for the camera’ smiles.
Washington is currently solving the important (but intermediate) issue of whom to place as leader instead of itself in the Greater Middle East (GME), that is, in the can of worms opened by them (where it is unclear who is with whom, and who is fighting for what).
Washington itself, however, is going to focus on parrying the main and quite traditional in nature (rather than mythical or “unconventional”) challenge, which is brought about by the fact that China is transforming into a second global power.
The NEO has already discussed the struggle between the supporters the continued global dominance of the United States (“primarists”) and those who propose a sharp reduction of US involvement in many problems of the world, suggesting focus be paid to the main ones. During the currently unfolding presidential race in the United States, these discussions have begun to move from the sphere of scientific discussion to real politics.
When solving an issue it is sometimes useful to mentally consider the extreme (even very unlikely) development scenario of the process, which itself provoked the very appearance of the issue.
Since in this case we are talking about the evaluation of the place and role of the USA in the modern world order, then such (purely qualitative) assessment may be made by considering Washington’s “extreme” response to new world trends.
Out of all these, one of the main trends is the almost universal increase in anti-American sentiment, and an extreme response to this trend could be expressed in the following wording: “You are all malicious, you do not appreciate my efforts, I’m going back home, you can all live without me.”
Thus, the above-mentioned dream of a particular person will come true, obviously, to his great happiness. But there would be no happiness in China, which is now the main geopolitical opponent of the United States.
Even with the recent US military provocations in the area of the South China Sea, which is extremely important for PRC, and plots around Taiwan. Even in the context of the comprehensive support that the US provides to the largest regional opponents of China, such as India and Japan (not to mention the Philippines and Vietnam) as well as to an exiled Dalai Lama XIV as the spiritual leader of the world Buddhism, and, in particular, of the Tibetans.
For the ancient Chinese culture enables China to separate the wheat from the chaff in the current political fuss. The search for such “grains” is reflected in an article under a notable title “Why China wants the US in Asia,” published in one of the recent editions of the world’s largest financial newspaper Nikkei Asian Review.
Answering his own question, whether the purpose of China’s policy is “to squeeze the US out of Asia,” the author unequivocally says “no”, in spite of the opposite opinion widespread in the American establishment. The author of the article’s remark that the opinion above is based “on powerful emotions, not on logic” is remarkable.
The main and well-grounded argument, proving the erroneousness of the said sentiment in the US political circles, is that a hypothetical US withdrawal from Asia would lead to the inevitable consequence of a dramatic complication for China in the task of providing national security.
For in the place occupied by the present main geopolitical opponent of PRC, with whom the rules of the game have been more or less established, several new ones would certainly appear. The author of the said article indicated “Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and, possibly, Taiwan.” But India and Australia can quite possibly be added to this list.
Beijing has a rather complicated story of relations with several of these neighbouring countries; and the present ongoing process of China’s transition into a global power is perceived by almost each of them as a threat to their national security. Despite the obvious benefits of developing economic relations with China.
If the US-Japan military-political alliance is terminated it is most definite that the process of Japan’s militarisation will be drastically accelerated.
Moreover, it is safe to say that in this case, Tokyo would immediately launch a program to develop its own nuclear weapons. Such a possibility was discussed as early as in 1950s and was declined only upon receiving US security guarantees. According to the experts of IAEA, Japan needs not decades (as Iran), but a few months, to start the production of high-quality nuclear weapons.
China undoubtedly takes all these factors into account while building its political course with the USA.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the United States is not the “conscientious policeman” of the modern world, because the state of the world dictates the state of the policeman. Nevertheless, the hopes of those who believe that everything would be better without this (rather imperfect) guardian of the world order, are exceedingly unlikely to come true.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook“.