More than 20 years ago in 1990, Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, crossed the border into Kuwait. The international community responded in an exemplary manner against the violation of a nation’s territorial integrity. The outcome is well-known: The United Nations Security Council approved a resolution to form a coalition of countries that successfully expelled Iraqi troops from Kuwait territory via the operation Desert Storm. The operation ended there; it did not produce a regime change in Iraq — something that came about more than a decade later, although under very different circumstances. The logic of the 1991 operation corresponded to the North American hegemony, as the U.S. was considered to be the world superpower at that time. That moment of unipolarity came after the fall of the Soviet Union and the breakdown of the communist bloc. Today, 23 years later, the situation has radically changed.
On March 21, 2014, the Russian Federation’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula was formalized. Once again, the territorial integrity of a nation, Ukraine, was violated, despite having been explicitly recognized by Russia on three previous occasions. On the 27th of that same month, a vote was taken by the General Assembly of the United Nations regarding a resolution to condemn Russia’s actions. The resolution was approved with 100 votes in favor, 11 against, and 58 abstentions. The result was quite different from the unanimity of the 1991 vote.
The Security Council, which authorized the use of force in Kuwait in 1991, remained silent in 2014, since one of its permanent members was responsible for the annexation. Unlike the practical unanimity of 1991, in this year’s vote, all of the non-Western powers abstained from voting — in addition to Israel’s conspicuous absence and Russia’s clear negative vote. In international politics, perceptions occasionally matter much more than reality, and everything suggests that the United States’ moment of unipolarity has ended. Today, the United States and the European Union are considered powers in decline, while other players — with widely varying world views — are filling the void that the traditional powers are leaving behind. This is the situation in which we now live.
The balance of power has changed and one vision no longer rules the others; rather each player expresses its own vision on equal footing. However, this new reality comes with a contradiction. In a multipolar world that grows more and more interdependent, any one player’s action or lack of action can have profound and rapid consequences for the rest of the world; and yet, as this interdependence grows, the world’s major players become less and less willing to assume global responsibilities.
This contradiction creates risks. Multipolarity is the least stable of all international orders and if it is not accompanied by multilateral institutions and a political willingness to resolve conflicts through dialogue, the powers in charge tend to collide with each other. But, we are no longer living in 1991. This multilateral method no longer translates into securing agreements around our original proposals, but rather in defending our own principles while respecting those of the rest of the world.
The most obvious collapse of geopolitical stability has been the conflict in Ukraine. The annexation was carried out despite its illegality. Ukraine has been an independent state since 1991 and is fully integrated into the international system — let us recall that in 1994, Ukraine surrendered its nuclear weapons via the Budapest Memorandum and the nation has chaired up to three sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Currently, however, Ukraine is experiencing turbulent times. Despite the fact that the Minsk Agreement, which involves a cease-fire between Russia and Ukraine, in addition to other aspects that are already being applied, opens a window of hope for peace, the world’s international stability has already been compromised.
The pieces have already been put into motion for the next decade, for which we know there are at least two leaders who will not change: Putin in Russia and Jinping in China. Obama’s time is coming to an end, and changes in Europe are on their way, from the new commission to the worrisome political tendencies of many member states. The BRIC countries have already founded their own Development Bank, and the International Monetary Fund has not kept its promise to adjust voting rights to the new international reality, as was established in the G-20 Summit in Seoul.
It’s important to note that up until now, China has possessed the same voting rights as Belgium. Meanwhile, the Near East, together with the South China Sea, has been confirmed as a focal point of unavoidable global instability. In addition to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the problems following the Arab riots, another global threat has arisen from the Islamic State’s jihad, which is no longer a network of dispersed cells, as was al-Qaida, but rather a territorial entity operating as a pseudo-state, which emerged from the Syrian civil war and the chronic instability of Iraq and which now occupies parts of the both countries’ territories.
The United States, which is no longer willing to be the sole guardian of world security, has rushed to form a confusing coalition of almost 30 countries — including 10 Arab countries — in order to fight the Islamic State group, but the organization and performance of this coalition have yet to be tested. In the 2011 intervention in Libya, the United States applied the so-called “leading from behind” approach, which forced Europe to assume a great part of the responsibility. It’s crucial that the European Union is conscious of the role that it can and should play in these crisis. It’s necessary to understand the enormous responsibility that will be needed in coming years in terms of global safety. The geographic areas that surround Europe are returning to the center of international politics, and Europeans are concerned with handling these situations in the best possible manner, in order to ensure prosperity and stability inside and outside their borders. The delay to the commencement of the Association Agreement with Ukraine, formalized simultaneously in Brussels and Kiev on Sept. 17 of this year and intended to help seek solutions for a consensus with Russia, can be considered a good sign in this regard. Ukraine will hold presidential elections on Oct. 26, when it will commemorate a decade since the beginning of the failed Color Revolution. Let’s hope that this time it will be able to find a national project that can sail the country to a good harbor.
These global turbulences have arrived precisely at the end of summer of 2014, which marked the 100th anniversary of World War I. The world needs inclusive, representative and renewed multilateral institutions to free itself from the shadow of eternal return. It is of utmost importance to build strategic confidence between the varied protagonists of this new global environment. Only respect, dialogue and the ability to adapt will guarantee security and stability in this current moment when millions of people are climbing out of poverty and entering the middle class.
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