Institute of World Economy and International Relations
Russian Academy of Sciences
Over the last two years or so the role of the United States in the post-bipolar world has been widely discussed. Two analytical camps can be defined with a certain degree of conventionality - that of "the optimists" and that of "the skeptics" whose evaluation of this phenomenon comes from absolutely different approaches to the treatment of the current facts and trends.
As for "the optimists", they sincerely believe that the current difficulties the US faces are not to be regarded absolute as they are transitional in character. The nation's economy is still healthy, while the inevitable alternative to the "unipolar" leadership of the United States will be the universal domination of chaos and anarchy. Which means that the "monopolar" world is, in accordance with the paradigm of the sort is more reliable than any other global "project".
"The skeptics" see the situation in a different light. (I can discern the roots of their ideas in the logic and methodology of geopolitics of Walt Rostow). Unlike the "optimists" they believe that the United States has proven itself politically unprepared to play the role of the only global leader, and their "unilateralist" intentions failed to withstand the collision with the fast changing realities of the world at the outset of the third millennium. As a result we are witnessing the shrinking of the project "Pax Americana" that right from the start was a skillfully performed PR act rather than a firmly based political reality. The echo of such "skepticism" can be infrequently heard from the global mass media.
For example, Indian political analyst V.Banerjee argues: "the United States realizes its inability to maintain world order and control it the way it intends. Realization of its limited potential forces the United States to seek assistance from regional powers like Nigeria and South Africa, Latin America's Brazil, China in East Asia and India in South Asia. America senses that the future world order that would be subjected to the influence of new hegemonistic countries will not necessarily meet its own best interests, so it goes out of its way trying to avoid a repeat of the French and British ignominy of the 1956 Suez crisis".
The growing instability of the total system of international relations makes expert communities look for a new efficient paradigm of global development. For example, a well-known economist and sociologist Samir Amin suggests that an alternative basement construction of the "new" world be based on a coalition of "peripheral" states, including China, India, Brazil and Russia. According to Amin these countries as a group are capable of becoming some sort of a "pole" of the global politics, ensuring a "smooth" transition to a polycentric construction of the world.
The late 2004 and the early 2005 gave evidence that coordination of activities of the above four countries is beginning to acquire more and more distinctive features. The trends that begin to take shape could be summarised as follows.
First, understanding of dangers for the fates of the world posed by the "unilateralist policies" pursued by the United States keeps growing. A logical conclusion of an analysis of such kind is more or less seriously expressed intention "to create a multipolar world" and "to introduce multilateralism as the principle to lay the foundations of international relations".
Second. Recognition of the need to form a common approach towards the global system and to work out a coherent vision of at least medium-term prospects of its development is gradually taking shape, too. No doubt we are dealing with "variable speed" processes in a very sensitive area of bilateral relations. However, intensification of contacts between the states of "The 4" proves that there is certain movement in this direction,
Third, relationships between super-large "peripheral" states are more and more often viewed in the world as a real alternative (or an addition) to the stalled "western project" (globalization, liberalization, privatization, "the structural adaptation" and so forth).
Initially, the attitude Russia took towards the idea of a "coalition" of "peripheral" states was rather cool owing to the striving of a sizeable group of Russia's political class to turn Russia into a part of "the North Atlantic civilization". However, the change in the global geopolitical situation and the eastward shift of the canters of economic growth set the Russian authorities thinking over the changing situation. A transfer (mostly in super-large countries) from reforms to development, that is to modernization of all the
social area and raising social and economic viability of their political systems has become a new geo-economic challenge to our nation in the conditions of rather slow development of the nation by the political class in the framework of their worshipped western "model". The introduction into the political discourse of the term "vector multiplicity" was a reflection of realization of defectiveness of Russia's unilateral orientation in a fast-changing world.
Some observers suggest that several factors stimulated the Russian leaders to think that strategic partnership with super-large nations as an element in the system of this country's foreign policy priorities was now more important than before.
1. Western "ingratitude" complete with the continuing eastward expansion of NATO (no matter how functional potentialities and political prospects of this organisation are evaluated), as well as the actual ousting of Russia from the Balkan Peninsula.
2. The skepticism that is growing in Russia in regard of genuine intentions of the United States during the formation of "an international anti-terrorist coalition". Russian authorities' expectations of creating a favourable international background for the solution of "the problem of Chechen separatism" was ill-justified from the very beginning, as the US administration used the factor of "the terrorist threat" for its active entry into the Central Asian states. As a result "special relations" between Russia and former Soviet republics in Central Asia were threatened so that the region can now turn into a field of competition of great powers (including China and India); at the same time internal tensions and conflicts here will grow".
3. The growth of US activities in Transcaucasian countries (Azerbaijan and Georgia) with an eye at constructing an oil
pipeline bypassing Russia's territory, thus finding a partial solution to the issue of US own energy security. The situation in Ukraine has also been developing along similar lines, that is using an anti-Russian scenario.
Analysts think that these and other circumstances made Russia's leadership look for "a new coalition paradigm beyond the framework of the traditional policies of blocks". Mass media in a number of countries have been suggesting that the trend to have more dynamic relationships between China, India, Russia and Brazil that is now becoming more evident is an adequate reflection of active search of a "new backbone" of international relations, which is different from positioning one's own country with respect to the United States as "an axis" of the entire strategy of its foreign policies. Some sort of "The Entente" in relations between major "peripheral" states is expedient, as many political analysts stress, also because the global situation is becoming "more and more uncertain". For example, the Indian establishment is very concerned about developments in neighboring Pakistan and in the Middle East region.
In January 2005 in the common context of national security the whole of India widely discussed a US-Pakistani deal that was becoming more and more probable. It was all about United States offer to sell to Pakistan 28 F-16 fighters, a naval reconnaissance aircraft P-3C and 2,000 TOW 2-A anti-tank missiles. The media also gave much attention to the offer by Washington to sell to India the "Patriot" anti-missile systems, which was viewed as the US intention to keep both states on a short lead. In the end, neither Prime Minister M.Singh, nor Foreign Minister K.Natvar Singh, nor Defence Minister P.Mukerji could convince US Defense Secretary Ramsfeld
of "the untimely nature" of such a deal. (The US politician's visit to India took place in the early days of December 2004). The new impasse in India's negotiations with Pakistan over "bringing more order" to their programs of nuclear tests and launches of missiles is viewed in that country as linked to the political support rendered to Pakistan by the United States.
According to some political analysts, the most crucial test of America as a superpower is now the situation in and around Iraq, as well as a complicated dynamics of the Afghan situation.
According to a number of political analysts, the role of Afghanistan in the US strategies in the Middle and Near East is to ensure the functioning of military bases in Belujistan that could prove to be "very helpful" in the event of an American or Israeli attack on Iran. The "narcodemocracy" in Afghanistan has actually fully revived its opium production potential, and the harvest of 2004 was the biggest in that country's history. According to the US Office on Drugs and Crime in monetary terms production of opium there has reached the amount of $2,8 billion, which is significantly more than a half of the national income. Hallucinogenic plants are openly grown in all Afghan provinces and narcobarons make up the main basis of Khamid Karzai's regime. Some military observers conclude that the United States does not control the territory of Afghanistan.
"The imperial overstretch", that is the inability of the United States to fulfill the mission it assumed upon itself in reality is still the more evident in Iraq. (Elections of January 30,2005 both aggravated the situation in that country and created new difficulties for the United States primarily in relation to its foreign policy). Quite sizeable territories in Baghdad remain "uncontrolled", "the Suni
Triangle" continues to live according to its laws, acts of sabotage on pipelines and other fuel supply lines have become so regular that carrying out military operations against insurgents is now much harder. Military analysts forecast that in 2005 the United States will have to increase the number of its expedition corps in Iraq up to 200,000.
Two reasons are cited for such dramatic increase of the US military presence.
1. The four-fold growth of the number of active "insurgents" engaged in regular military attacks on the forces of the United States and their allies.
2. The evident failure of Americans to build Iraqi armed forces with thousands of deserters leaving "the new Iraqi Army" that is engaged in fighting, and they join the forces of insurgents by the hundred.
According to global media, the US administration intentionally and considerably reduces the real number of American casualties in Iraq, which may be logical to some extent. As of today nearly 80% of US troops are in Iraq and on neighbouring territories (taking rotation into account). The United States is approaching its limit of resources to procure military operations, which is indicated by a fast growth of the number of "soldiers of fortune" on contract. The new recruits are residents of different countries from South Africa to Salvador and their number has already reached 40,000.
Unexpectedly for many an American politician, developments in that country can totally destroy its military and political strategy in the Middle East, one element of which is "a comfortable" transfer of American expeditionary forces from Saudi Arabia to Iraq. Such developments make more and more unreal the actual or
hypothetic use of Iraqi territory for preventive "surgery" against Syria, Iran, Lebanon and other countries of the region.
"The imperial overstretch" plays a contradictory role, affecting the global financial situation. First, from the beginning of the intervention in Iraq the dollar lost about one-third of its initial value against the euro (analysts were unable to take into account the correction of exchange rates of both currencies in the first half of February and in early May 2005 -A.V.)and petroleum-exporting countries, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Venezuela and others lost at least 30% of their revenue for 2004. Similarly, certain "nervousness" is experienced by bankers in the Far East and by the Chinese government.
Second. The Bush administration tries to close the eyes at the negative consequences of the fall of the dollar exchange rate for main foreign trade partners of the United States, and is unwilling to realize that such problems should be settled at multilateral negotiations. Otherwise, well-known US economist Lindon Larush argues, a global financial crisis can precipitate geopolitical shifts of "a tectonic" character. Third, the "dollar crisis" increases unpredictability of behavior of markets and governments, bringing closer "the era of currency wars". So, a politically monopolar world becomes more and more polycentric in terms of finances.
The entire global situation is badly affected by two circumstances of "subjective character". First: the lack of competence of George Bush as a statesman, his inability to "rise himself over the strife" in order to control the confrontation of different groups inside the US ruling elite. Second: the persistent striving of American neo-conservatives to arise from the evident foreign political scandal by virtue of making real a "madcap" idea of dismembering the Mid-East nations and turning them into ethnic and
confessional "enclaves" under the dominance of "Great Israel". The burden of "the global responsibility" forces the US to act on several fronts at one and the same time. Aside from Afghanistan and Iraq these include the growing anti-American sentiment in Muslim countries (including growing activities of the political Islam), the political re-grouping of forces in Latin America potentially directed against the United States, the growing difficulties of maintaining the regime of non-proliferation of nuclear arms, etc.
Political analysts stress that the United States is beginning to face problems in relations with its closest neighbours in Latin America; similar to problems Russia is now facing in the post-Soviet space. First, the United States still fails to isolate Cuba from other nations of the American
continent. Moreover, the influence of supporters of re-integration of "Freedom Island" into South America's structure of economic and political relations is getting stronger in the Organisation of American States that lists 34 members. Second, the most influential states on the continent, including Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Chile are governed by "independently thinking" leaders, and then what is taking place "to the south of the Rio- Grande" is a painful re-assessment of neo-liberal values imposed on Latin American nations in the 1990s in the US interests and those of a narrow layer of local elites. Third, the Bush administration has so far been unable to knock together a coalition against Venezuela's President Ugo Chavez, whose government suspended its military cooperation with the United States, and began purchasing weapons from Russia and Spain. At the same time the USA imports about 15% of its oil from Venezuela, which is just a little less than its imports from Saudi Arabia. More than just that, "the evil example" has proven infectious, so other states on the American continent are beginning to make statements about desirability of cooperation in the area of energy with China, India and Iran.
A special problem for the USA is the disequilibrium of the Non-Proliferation Of Nuclear Arms Treaty (NPT), and here the weaknesses of the United States are also evident. "Israel, India and Pakistan have already joined the nuclear club without invitations and ignoring the rules of conduct fixed by the Treaty", - writes the exasperated Christopher Reeves, editor-in-chief of London-based journal "Asian Affairs". "Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Taiwan, Brazil and even Indonesia would no doubt wish to join it, too. It is quite clear: all control over nuclear non-proliferation has gone out of control".
At the same time invading Yugoslavia in 1999 the US proved to many in the world that to own nuclear arms was the best way to ensure national security. Small wonder that North Korea now speaks about developing its own nuclear programme as "legal protection" against the activities of American "unilateralists". Korean leaders argue that transfer of some of Korean nuclear technologies to Libya is an act of exercising the right of "protecting the weaker one". According to media reports, North Korea can theoretically sell fissionable materials.
Experts underline that the US pressure on India and Pakistan is highly inefficient; workability of US sanctions against Iran is also doubtful. The Bush administration may demonstrate prudence in its approach to the North Korean situation regardless of the never-ending calls of neo-conservatives to "destabilise" the regime of Kim Jing Il. China is also interested to see a tranquil North Korea. Under the circumstances Pyongyang will get more space for manoeuvring that it will use successfully.
As American columnist Paul Woodworth sarcastically remarks:"Power of people is good for the overthrow of regimes in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East. However, the arrival of this "wave" to America can deprive us of the feeling of inner comfort... What if the demands of holding other governments responsible find their way from the streets and squares of Kiev and Beirut to London and Washington? And what if we have already started to glide down the imperial orbit?"
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Patriarch of the world's social studies Walt Rostow, who right from the beginning expressed doubts over possibility of existence of "the unipolar" world, called America "the power of critical margin", whose successes depend on the ability of the American nation respond to new development trends and use them to its advantage. The current US administration acts in a totally opposite direction, wasting unsparingly "the capital" that many generations of Americans have been accumulating. Its activities further aggravate the world's chaotic character, laying layer after layer of new conflicts without settling the previous ones. A transition from the "unipolar world", if it ever existed, to a multi-polar world cannot be performed without the participation of Russia, which should finally become a truly independent subject of the global policies charting its way with an eye at its own best interests rather than anything else.
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