Checks and balances in world politics
It is a rather challenging time for observers of international politics to keep up with the developments in world politics. Those who focus on great power rivalry nowadays are trying to make sense of what is taking place among the great powers and power blocs.
Over the last couple of years, there have been significant shifts and transformations in the relations between major world powers. Adding more complexity to these shifting dynamics, alignments, unpredictabilities, uncertainties and foreign policy decision-making crises there are also significant movements within the domestic politics of great powers. The rise of populism and protectionism in the U.S., the economic problems in Russia and the power consolidation in China together with the increasing euroscepticism and anti-European Union sentiments among the citizens of the EU member countries make the already complicated scene more difficult to analyze.
It would be sufficient to see the developments in the last one week to understand the intensity of instability in relations among these countries. First of all, as mentioned in a previous column, the issue of Russia has become a domestic issue in the U.S.
In addition to the Mueller probe and the convictions, cooperation and prosecutions in the Russian-related issues, last week a Russian spy, Maria Butina, pleaded guilty after agreeing to fully cooperate with the prosecutors, who are not from the office of special counsel Robert Mueller.
Russia responded to this prosecution by denying any ties with her. Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a statement saying that none of his directors of intelligence agencies knew anything about her.
The world powers are stuck in domestic and foreign crises, struggling to deal with rising problems and damaging the balance in world politics
In the meantime, the Russian Foreign Ministry launched a “Free Butina” campaign while the spokesperson Maria Zakharova called her a “prisoner of conscience.” In the midst of this spy crisis between Russia and the U.S., Russia sent two nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela.
The U.S. reacted to this deployment immediately, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted about the flight as the action of “two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer.” The foreign ministry of Russia called the statements as unprofessional and unacceptable.
Furthermore, Russian officials criticized U.S. military expansion and stated that the U.S. could feed the whole of Africa with half of its defense budget. However, the crisis winded down this time when on Wednesday, the White House announced that Russia will withdraw the planes Friday.
Of course, the tense relations between the two countries in two other ongoing conflict zones in Ukraine and Syria also continued this past week. National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that there will be no summit between President Trump and President Putin unless Russia frees the Ukrainian ships and sailors in it, indicating the U.S. persistence in its policy. John Bolton last week also announced the U.S. strategy on Africa.
In this strategy announcement, it was seen that there was a sharp focus on countering Russia and China’s influence in Africa. He stated that “the predatory practices pursued by China and Russia stunt economic growth in Africa; threaten the financial independence of African nations; inhibit opportunities for U.S. investment; interfere with U.S. military operations, and pose a significant threat to U.S. national security interests.”
There has been always some rivalry between these countries in Africa; however, with this new strategy, it became much clearer that the U.S. intends to target the influence of these two countries in Africa more aggressively. In the meantime, the economic disputes between the U.S. and China gained a new characteristic after the detention of a high-level Huawei executive in Canada at the request of U.S. law enforcement officials last week.
Although it took place as a result of the violation of the Iran sanctions, the detention and President Trump’s later statement that he can interfere in the case to get a better trade deal immediately raised the question of the linkage of this issue to the trade wars. Of course, the Japanese decision to block Huawei and ZTE in public procurements further elevated the tone of the debate on the trade wars.
All of these developments took place in one week and it demonstrates the increasing intensity of the crises and decreasing attention span that governments can spare to resolve them. This creates a situation where major powers cannot find long-term solutions to their problems that will bring stability of their relations and predictability to international relations. Instead, they are managing crises without resolving the root causes of them and trying to increase their capabilities and potentials to prepare for the next crisis. This instability also challenges alignments and the foreign policies of the middle powers that balance these major powers. The words transnationalism and transactional foreign policy are dominating the calculations of all countries and changing the equations at the same time.
This article was first published by Daily Sabah on December 15, 2018.