Liu Zhongmin: The U.S. Revives Geopolitics, Hurting the World

In the last few years, increasing sudden unrest has plagued the “world island,” the Eurasian continent. The region has also been noticeably subject to continued unrest across the three large geopolitical regions of Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. This is all intimately related to the “return of geopolitics” and the “new Cold War” that are so hotly discussed today in academia and the media.

In Europe, the outbreak of the Ukraine crisis and its intensification has led to continued tension in relations between Russia and the U.S. and Europe, and is seen as a sign of the arrival of a “return to geopolitics” and a “new Cold War.” In the Middle East, geopolitical games in the form of “proxy warfare” have led to increasing fragmentation in the region. In the Asia-Pacific region, conflict over hot geopolitical issues such as the Korean Peninsula, island sovereignty, and maritime rights combine to create an intense situation. While it is true that the tension present in the European, Middle East, and Asia-Pacific geopolitical regions is closely related to the complexity of regional power structures and a host of inherited historical issues, one of the common characteristics of the tension present in the regions is that other geopolitical tension is closely tied to a changing American world strategy.

For many years now in Eastern Europe, the United States has been militarily carrying out an eastward expansion of NATO while politically stirring up many “color revolutions,” continuously squeezing Russia’s strategic space. Russia and Europe have been hurt the worst, while the United States has been able to accomplish its dual goals of impeding Russia’s rise and weakening Europe. In the Middle East, on the one hand, the U.S. is seeking to withdraw troops and extricate itself from the quagmires of Iraq and Afghanistan, but on the other hand, it is irresponsibly interfering in affairs in Libya and Syria, resulting in a loss of order in the region. Regional powers competing for influence and the simultaneous impact of terrorist extremism have created a new state of disorder. In the Asia-Pacific region, the U.S. has used its so-called “rebalancing” strategy as a starting point to deeply insinuate itself into the Diaoyu Islands (also referred to by English media using the Japanese name Senkaku Islands) and South China Sea disputes by promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, strengthening alliances, increasing military deployments, and conducting frequent military exercises. Not only does this heat up issues such as the Korean Peninsula, Sino-Japanese relations, and the South China Sea disputes, but it also intensifies great power strategic gamesmanship and the propensity of small nations to seek advantage therefrom, and it adds fuel to the fire of the complicated geopolitical situation.

The essential reason the U.S. wants to promote a strategy of intensifying the geopolitical situation in Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia-Pacific region is a strategic anxiety about the rise of new powers, such as China. In order to prolong the decline of its hegemony and influence the current state of power transition across the world, the U.S. has again picked up the tool of geopolitics, traditionally so familiar to the West. The United States and the West deeply believe that world peace is founded on a “balance of power;” this is why the West has enthusiastically discussed the “hundred years’ peace” achieved after the balance of power set at the 1815 Vienna Convention as the foundation for the “Hundred Years’ Peace.” This is also the foundation of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s and other American strategists’ design of Europe’s “Grand Chessboard.” However, they have always overlooked that it was precisely the geopolitical situation after the Napoleonic Wars and under the “hundred years’ peace” that provided the fertile soil that nurtured and produced two world wars.

The United States’ geopolitical provocation will have an extremely negative influence on the transition of power in the international system. First, at the international level, it will create a situation of continuous geopolitical threats to global governance. Currently, increasing geopolitical tension is creating a situation where two forms of global politics concurrently exist: a geopolitical model and a global governance model, and the latter is continuously sustaining the provocations of, and being eaten away at, by the former. Currently, world governance is becoming more difficult in the areas of trade, finance, environmental management, and safety; United Nations reform and the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks are stalled, and climate change talks are unusually difficult, principally because the return of geopolitics has led to countries—particularly large countries—coming under severe attack in the area of international cooperation.

Secondly, global governance has come under pressure by fragmented regional governance, causing a geopoliticization of global governance. Currently, the United States has already set aside and stopped considering many international structures it itself created. For example, if the U.S.-promoted TTIP in Europe and TTP in the Asia-Pacific region are successful, then the WTO—this multilateral trade organization that the U.S. created—will be awkwardly marginalized. Thus, even while newly developing countries like the BRICS are attempting to reform existing international organizations, they are also being forced to seek the establishment of a new international structure and institutions; this will certainly contribute to the fragmentation and regionalization of global governance.

Finally, it’s an indisputable fact that the return of geopolitics will increase safety and military threats such as the threat of a “new Cold War,” an intensified “clash of civilizations,” and an increase in the spread of extreme nationalism, religious extremism, and international terrorism; this point will not be belabored here.

Thus, the greatest problem faced by today’s system of global governance is that the United States, as a creator of international organizations and an advocate of global governance, faces a fundamental crisis in its capacity for governance domestically and internationally. A greater tragedy is that the United States is acting against the tide of global governance and is not engaging in reflection or reform based on developing its own capacity to govern itself, but is instead using the old trick of reviving geopolitics to postpone the decline of its hegemony. Perhaps this is a tragedy that in the end no hegemon can avoid. However, because of the high level of globalization in the world today, this tragedy is not just the hegemon’s tragedy; it will be the world’s tragedy.

The author is a professor in the Middle Eastern Studies Institute at the Shanghai International Studies University—University Think Tank of Shanghai.

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