Konstantin SyroejkinEvery year, geopolitics has a surprise for us. The passing 2006 is not an exclusion. Its sad, and far from complete, summary includes the war between Lebanon and Israel, nuclear “games” in North Korea and Iran, the activation of Taliban movements in Afghanistan, the gaining of power by the HAMAS movement in Palestine, the strategy of energy security in Russia, chaos in Eastern Europe, the defeat of the Republican party in the Congress of the USA, and governmental crisis in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
Although the USA was not a solo player this year, the summary of the year will begin with this country. Firstly, they deserve it because of their status as the only global super state. Secondly, what we have witnessed this year happened largely as a result of the preceding policy of the country.
Lonely super state
The main objective that the USA set for this year was to improve its vastly deteriorated image, restore the relations with its European allies, and to clear up the problems that have emerged within the last five years in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Undoubtedly, one of the primary goals of their external policy was maintaining the public opinion of the legitimacy of the USA’s claims to be the global leader.
Apparently, the adoption of a new national security strategy in March was the result of the latter goal; the new document repeats the basic ideas of the analogous one in 2002. In a way, the USA tries to make it clear that they are not going to change the basics of their policy. Thus, the ignoring of the norms of international laws, the policy of “double standards”, the disparaging attitude towards their partners and, most importantly, the right to make a preventive strike in the case of a threat to the national interests of the USA in some parts of the world still remain valid.
The result of the strategy turned out to be mournful. While the USA was busy with the “democratisation” of the Middle East and Afghanistan, a real revolution happened in their soft underbelly. The leftwing political parties of Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Nicaragua came to power. It happened as a reaction to the realisation of neo-liberal reforms, supported by the USA, in 1980s and 1990s, against the background of growing aniti-americanism. In April, the leaders of Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia made a trilateral agreement (“Bolivian alternative for Americas”), to counteract the American influence in the Latin America.
The USA couldn’t completely normalise its relations with EU, which entered into a deep crisis three years ago. In spite of regular contacts between the White House administration and their colleagues in the EU, the positions of Europe and the USA significantly diverged on most of the international problems of current importance in 2006.
The relations with Russia didn’t improve either; on the contrary, they completely collapsed. Indeed, the reason for this is not mainly the “special” position of Russia regarding the problems in the Middle East, the Iranian or North Korean nuclear programs or the “growing authoritarianism of Vladimir Putin’s regime”. The main reason is that Russia’s successful reorganisation cannot help but cause changes in the global economic and political situation, which in most of Western countries is considered to be a challenge, if not a direct threat. It’s no less significant that Russia (and partially China) demonstrate through their successful development that there is an alternative to the Western model of democracy, which, a priori, calls for a negative attitude, especially when the political model used in Russia is supported in other countries in the territory of the former USSR.
Practically nothing was done by the USA in Asia. Afghanistan remains a fundamentally unsolved problem. In a way, during the whole year there was a renaissance of the Taliban movement, which is evidence that, firstly, the statements of its complete elimination are exaggerated and, secondly, the government of Khamid Karzay does not actually control the situation in the country. The perspectives on this problem are sad. The NATO summit in Riga showed that Western Europe doesn’t want to increase its contingent in Afghanistan, thus one would not expect a reduction in the activity of the Taliban. In case of the Taliban’s victory, it is probable that Islamic radical forces would come to power in Pakistan. Moreover, the production of drugs in Afghanistan is constantly increasing; during the six years after Operation “Indestructible Freedom”, drug production increased almost 40 times. It appears that the USA, against its own will, became an unofficial guarantor of Afghanistan’s drugs business.
The main ally of the USA in Asia, Japan, also had a surprise for them. The nuclear ambitions of North Korea and the growth in China’s armed forces encouraged many Japanese officials to re-consider their constitution, especially Article 9, in which Japan’s pacifist position is affirmed. The re-elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has already mentioned that the time has come to “consider the possibility amending the constitution in the parts where collective defence is prohibited”.
With respect to China, its relationship with the USA seem to be based more on competition than cooperation. The main problem for the USA here is the “excessively fast growth of China”. The solution has two directions. Firstly, holding back China from Central Asia (by limiting the access to its energy resources). Secondly, the preparation of a competitor for China in Southern Asia. Judging by the prompt change in the White House’s opinion towards Indian nuclear ambitions, this country, which currently has modest armed forces compared to the Chinese, but no less impressive human resources, is being prepared for the role.
Time will show whether or not this is possible; however, India does not wish to be drawn into a confrontation with China. That can be concluded from the negotiation process during the passing year between these Asian giants.
A serious problem for the USA emerged from its North Korean perspective. The rigidity of the USA’s position with respect to North Korea has frightened American allies in East Asia (Japan and South Korea) so much that they joined an unofficial coalition with China and Russia, the only objective of which is to prevent the Americans from starting a war against Pyongyang. The government of North Korea used the situation to their own interest. The nuclear tests conducted by Pyongyang are an attempt to achieve some concessions from the USA and make them play along the North Korean rules.
But the main problem with these nuclear tests and the adoption by the Congress of the USA of the document on nuclear cooperation with India (which basically destroys the non-proliferation agreement) is that the possibility of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan becoming nuclear states has increased significantly, which would dramatically strain the situation in the region.
Finally, the main failure of the external policy of the administration of the White House is the Middle East. It is worth considering this region in more detail; however, one fact is that the Middle Eastern policy of George W. Bush resulted in the isolation of the USA and the defeat of Republican Party in the Congressional election. The policy has also resulted in a drop in public approval of Bush’s activities, down to 37 to 39% in 2006 from 51 to 52% in January 2005. The percentage of people that believe the country is moving in the wrong direction is as high as ever at 65%. If we add the criticism of White House foreign policy by such figures as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Francis Fukuyama and even Henry Kissinger to the analysis, then it becomes obvious that the conception of a unidirectional world, which Washington has been trying to realise since the cold war, has demonstrated its groundlessness.
Europe at the crossroads
This year, Europe was apparently recovering from the shock of the failure of the European constitution. Of course, Europe has taken a role in the negotiations of all significant international problems, but it seems that this was done somehow reluctantly.
The only problem it was interested in was uninterrupted supplies of energy resources, primarily from Russia. This explains the energetic attempts (down to blackmail, in the case of Poland) to make Russia sign the Energy Charter. Frankly speaking, there is no point in Russia binding itself to the additional responsibilities required by the Energy Charter. For Russia, it is important to maintain a flexible energy policy, including the active consideration of international projects, such as a North-European gas pipeline.
However, it is obvious that Europe will not cease in its attempts to put pressure on Russia. At least, that’s what the results of NATO summit in Riga suggest. After the refusal of the USA’s plan to increase the presence of NATO forces in Afghanistan, the organisation agreed with the suggestion of the Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs of the Senate of the USA, Richard Lugar, about the necessity to consider energy security against the background of new Russian policy. Soon NATO will punish every country not willing to share its hydro-carbon resources with its members. That’s actually how one can interpret the statements formulated and announced on the summit.
Eastern Europe also had a surprise this year. While the appearances of immigrants in the countries of Western Europe happen more or less often, the events in Hungary, Lithuania and Poland created a small shock. However, there are some objective reasons for those events. The situation is far from ideal in the countries of Eastern Europe, which for a long time were referred to as a classic example of the transition from socialism to market relations. While the elites were united by the common goal of integration into the EU, they preferred not to discuss the problem. Now the Polish, Hungarian and other East European peoples are within the united Europe. As soon as it happened, problems emerged. It seems that they don’t have a basis for consolidation, compromise and agreement among themselves.
The hot region
This is about the Middle East. The region is politically hot without any exaggeration, and the events of 2006 have only proved this. With respect to Iraq, the attempt to democratise it has failed. The possibility of another perspective prevailing in the future has increased. The best scenario is the break-up of Iraq or its transformation into a confederation of independent regions, controlled by Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites. The worst scenario is a civil war, which, frankly speaking, is already going on. Let’s not leave out the possibility that the confrontation between the Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq spreads to the whole Middle East, adding to the confrontation between Arabs and Israelis.
However, the main problem is that the USA faced a complete failure in Iraq. The question is not whether to withdraw from Iraq, but how and when to withdraw.
However, the withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq would almost definitely lead to catastrophic results, because, as the result of the USA’s invasion in the Middle East, the regional balance of power has changed, such that a perspective emerged to change the map of the region. And today there is now power that could somehow control the process.
The USA, despite of all its efforts to keep the role of global leader, is obviously incapable of realising it. Not only because of financial difficulties, but mainly because of moral and psychological factors. It is not unconceivable that the result of the defeat in Iraq would be a post-Iraqi syndrome in the USA, with all its consequences.
Israel is still the regional superpower. But after the war in Lebanon, Tel-Aviv has found itself in a difficult situation. Firstly, regardless of what is being said, Israel has lost the war; thus, it has been proved that the Israeli armed forces are not almighty and they can be confronted by irregular forces. Secondly, the manifestly uneven response towards the Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” has not only increased the isolation of Israel in the region but also changed the world opinion towards it. Today it cannot undertake the role of regional peacekeeper. Moreover, there seems to be a political crisis within Israel, as there are no perspectives of Israeli-Palestinian agreement. In addition, the slip of the tongue of Ehud Olmert about Israel’s possession of a nuclear weapon is a hint towards the possibility of a preventive strike against Iranian nuclear objects. Indeed, this slip of the tongue may lead to the spread of nuclear weaponry over the whole East. Because Israel and Pakistan have nuclear weapons and Iran is pressing towards the creation of the scientific and technological basis for the production of the weapon, it is possible that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will also try to gain access to it.
Palestine is on the verge of a civil war. The fact that Hamas came to power in Palestine became one of the sensations of 2006. However, this sensation only exacerbated the situation in the region. The legitimate victory of Hamas in the parliamentary elections not only removed the significance of the plebiscite democracy model, supported by the West, but also resulted in the confrontation between Hamas, supported by the majority of Palestinian population, and the more moderate Fatah, headed by the present president, Mahmoud Abbas. It seems that today the confrontation has reached its apogee.
The situation in Iran is not completely clear either. In January, it declared on the subject of removing the seals from the centers of nuclear research and, repeated its threat to significantly reduce oil exports if the question is transferred to the UN Security Council, and also called for the destruction of Israel. Throughout the year, there was some kind of bargaining process going on about the nuclear program of Iran. On one hand, the USA insisted upon the immediate unconditional termination of the program. On the other hand, the EU countries, took a position of compromise; the absence of sanctions if Iran refuses form the military part of its program. And, on top of this, Russia and China consider any sanctions unsuitable. Iran balanced between the parties, while continuing the research in nuclear technology and making rough lunges towards Israel.
Today the situation has changed qualitatively. The discussion of another resolution, suggested by Russia on the UN Security Council, fouled up. And it happened with help from the USA. Thus the solving the Iranian nuclear problem has been postponed again, and the threat of air attack on Iran’s territory is still valid.
Moreover, it need to be considered that after the USA have eliminated the main opponents of Iran, being the regime of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban, the Iranian influence in the region is not counterbalanced. Thus today it seems timely to speak of Iran becoming the regional superpower, the opinion of which has to be valued when realising a plan of political settlement in Iraq. If the conflict between Sunnites and Shiites spreads to the whole Middle East, the prospect of a new Middle Eastern war, with the participation of Israel, emerges.
Finally, we need to look at another result of the USA’s invasion in Iraq. Anti-American opinion in the region continues to grow. Everywhere, from Pakistan to Turkey and from Egypt and Sudan to Algeria and Morocco, Islamists are becoming active and their political weight is growing. In some countries they are trying to come to power (Afghanistan), or strengthening their positions in already controlled countries (such as Somalia and Palestine). A characteristic feature of this time is the reduction in the potency of police and armed forces compared with irregular non-governmental armed forces that are lately becoming better-equipped. The result of the confrontation between the Israeli armed forces and “Hezbollah” demonstrates the above.
Dragon is concentrating
This year was generally successful for China. Although it was mainly aligned towards solving internal problems, it has not left external issues without attention. For example, the visits of Hu Jintao to the USA, India and Pakistan, and also the unusual activity of Chinese diplomats and businessmen in Africa, Latin America and Central Asia demonstrate this.
In 2006, China continued to build its external policy according to the new strategic priority of “global rise of the country”, expecting China to gain the role of the main super power in Eastern Asia and gradual achievement of position of parity with the USA on the main directions of global policy. This strategy defined the main points of Chinese external policy, and its operational tactics on the world arena.
Firstly, China tried to crowd out the USA in Eastern Asia, considering it as a zone of Chinese influence. In a way, the country managed to do it. North Korea helped by placing the USA in front of a difficult choice between a bad situation (agreement to restore six sided negotiations in response to the nuclear blackmail by North Korea) and a very bad one (permit the spread of nuclear weapon to all of Eastern Asia). Largely due to the rigid position of China, North Korea made some concessions and agreed to continue the negotiations.
Secondly, China managed to keep normal relations with the USA. Although the Pentagon’s regular report called it the main military competitor for the first time, the American mass media more often prints material that calls for arranging normal relations with China. Moreover, the meeting between Hu Jintao and George W. Bush in April showed that the USA doesn’t have a lever to directly influence the policy of Beijing.
Thirdly, China activated its policy in the European direction. The tour of the Premier of the State Council of China, Wen Jiabao, of the countries of Europe and the agreements signed speak for themselves. Although Europe still considers China to be an outsider in terms of its democracy, economically China is an important partner. The evidence for this is the Chinese access to European markets, including the purchase of European assets by Chinese companies.
Finally, China achieved significant success in diversification of its resource, primarily energy, policy. This was the aspect where Chinese activity was the most noticeable everywhere, starting from Latin America and finishing with Africa. Everywhere China bought stocks of oil companies, sometimes even over-paying for them.
The Central Asia was not excluded either. Here, unlike in the previous year, this year China didn’t limit itself to Kazakhstan. It tried to purchase the shares of “Rosneft” (an unsuccessful attempt), made an agreement with Turkmenistan for the delivery of natural gas to China (30 billion cubic meters annually for the period of 30 years), reached an agreement with Uzbekistan on participating in joint venture in geological exploration and development of oil and gas fields in the Uzbek part of Aral sea.
In May china declared its plans to produce own high-technology weapons. The announced plan, which is developed for 15 years, considers development of new military technologies and modernisation of armed forces using new systems of management and communication. The main objective of the plan of military technology development is reducing and ultimately eliminating the technological gap between China and the leading producers of arms, the USA, Russia and the EU, in different fields the gap ranges from 5 years to two and even more decades.
Two problems stayed unsolved in 2006. The first is the major headache of China – relations with Taiwan. The second is the stiff relations with Japan.
In January the president of Taiwan announced the cessation of the activities of National council on reunification because of “military threat from China”. China considered this statement as a dangerous step towards the “independence”, thus the subsequent demonstration of Chinese abilities to suppress any attempt to realise the intents of Taiwan.
The fact that new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has come to power in Japan is unlikely to change anything in the relations between China and Japan. The new Prime Minister gained the national fame in 2002, when appeared with a strong condemnation of Northern Korea, which admitted kidnapping Japanese citizens in early 1980s. Then there were rough statements towards China and South Korea that accused Japan in the desire to rehabilitate its militaristic history. By the way Abe, as well as his predecessor Koizumi, repeatedly visited the Japanese temple Yasukuni, which is considered by some Asian countries to be the symbol of Japanese militarism and aggression of the beginning of 20th century.
Besides, Shinzo Abe intends to continue structural reforms, launched by Koizumi. One of the main tasks for him as Prime Minister he sees re-consideration of anti-militaristic articles of the constitution so that Japanese forces of “self defence” received the complete status of army and could participate in international operations abroad. According to his opinion, military countries should have the right for “collective self defence” inside Japan as well as abroad.
Showdown in the CIS
The processes over the post-soviet territory were determined by several circumstances. Firstly, by the fight for influential power in Transcaucasia and Central Asia between Russia and the USA, considering these regions as zones of their national interests. Secondly, by the formation of two camps with different external policies on the territory of the CIS. One group of countries is inclined towards the EU and NATO, the other – towards Eurasian territory, CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organisation), SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation). The main problem of the CIS is impossibility to unite both of those groups in one integration structure. The summit in Minsk proved this fact. Thirdly, the changes of Russian policy, which on one hand ceased to participate in projects divergent with Russian interests, and on the other hand became increasingly interested in the solution of global problems, for which it usually had an opinion different from the Western, especially of the USA. Although it sounds paradoxical, the growing stability and boldness of Russia exacerbated its arguments with other countries, including members of the CIS. From the beginning of the year Russia dramatically increased the prices for natural gas to its nearest neighbours. And whatever was said, besides the commercial goals, Moscow used the price rise as a way to put pressure on post-soviet countries. On one hand it is totally explainable. Russia decided that it is pointless to pay for anti-Russian policy of Mikhail Saakashvili and Viktor Yushenko. Moreover, Moscow was ready to make some concessions in return for the purchase of shares of oil and gas companies (including gas-pipelines) of these countries. However, on the other hand because of this policy Moscow has repelled its allies – Byelorussia and Armenia, without the participation of which any geopolitical project on the post-soviet territory is pointless. The finishing year has become the year of discord for the relations between Russia and Byelorussia. The statements of Byelorussia became rougher from say to say and the actions of Russia became tougher.
The second feature of the passing year is connected with the Russian-Georgian conflict. It seems that it has arrived at some “point of no return”, and any positive changes in the relations between the countries are unlikely in the nearest future. In any case, the result of the negotiations between Vladimir Putin and Mikhail Saakashvili on the summit of the CIS in Minsk was the statement by the later that “Russia doesn’t play the decisive role for us… The starting point should be the interests of Georgia, but not what interests Russia or what it considers”.
The third feature of this year was “frozen conflicts” turning into hot spots. The initiative by GUAM countries to consider the problem of “frozen conflicts” in former USSR on the UN General Assembly returned back as a boomerang. Referendums in support of independence were organised in all non-recognised countries and they addressed Russia with the request for the association membership. As they say, don’t trouble until trouble troubles you. The Central Asia didn’t distinguish itself this year. Of course, if Kyrgyzstan, which is permanently under revolutionary condition, is excluded from consideration. The processes taking place in this region agree with the logic of confrontation of the triangle Russia – China – the USA. The countries of the region tried to balance and finished the year with good results. The structures of Eurasian integration vector became stronger, especially after Uzbekistan has joined the EEC (Eurasian Economic Community) and then CSTO
The total summary of the finishing year is sad. The unipolarity of the USA has failed. The tendency for multi-polarity was dominant over the year. However, this is not a reason for optimism. The emerging situation of multi-polarity today looks more like chaos, and if a new system of collective international security is not created in the near future, this chaos will only be exacerbated.