By Zdravko Popov
Today it is impossible to describe the world as a peaceful and quiet place in the universe. The picture we see at first sight is that the world is somewhat chaotic, incomprehensible, and aimless. But let's look further and keep our gaze and attention on it. We will find out that it is fragmented not by chaos and aimlessness but rather the opposite – by multiple rational and conscious action and behavioral vectors which instead do not relate to each other or do not consider each other. Still, each follows its interest and purpose. However, these vectors are based on might, not right.
More than 30 years ago, professor Joseph Nye implemented the terms "soft power" and "hard power" in the international relations theory. If "soft power" is diplomacy (negotiations, positions, agreements, compromises), then "hard power" is an aggressive action (threat, sanctions, embargo, expansion). These concepts describe the nature and ways of conducting the foreign policy of every country. They both are "powers," but "soft power" is a tool of peace, and "hard power" is a tool of war.
Nowadays, the world is woven by power vectors of the so-called "hard power." Russian war aggression in Ukraine seems to have unlocked and justified such actions in the international environment. For some countries, the use of war power to solve conflicts is laid down officially in their foreign policy doctrines; for others – the decisions for expansionist power actions are taken ad hoc due to emerging circumstances in their foreign policy favor.
Russian military and political doctrine have formed and crystallized in the years after the fall of SSSR, but it retained in its essence the spirit of the Soviet empire. Each empire suggests and imposes its idea of order and safety. The Russian understanding of national security includes the whole post-Soviet space ("near abroad"), regardless that separate sovereign countries structure it – European, Caucasian, and Central Asian. We can call this space an "area of influence" by Russia, and we will not be wrong, but this description will not be enough to understand its foreign policy and its defensive doctrine of Russia. It includes a mandatory response and countermeasures not only to military and terrorist threats emerging in the countries of the post-Soviet space, not only to economic, commercial, and financial threats, not only to threats to the Russian ethnic population in these neighboring countries but also to political, geopolitical and ideological threats. That means there is a significant influence of Western liberal or American-style neoliberal ideology on the political elites and civil structures of the post-Soviet countries, or if their governments and societies wish to implement a definite pro-Western course of development, this will be interpreted in Moscow as a threat to its national security and identity. The reactions of the Russian military in the attempts to "change the course" in Georgia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and especially in Ukraine are indicative.
In this relation, the war in Ukraine is not a usual local conflict between the two countries. It is about a "clash of civilizations," if we need to cite Samuel Huntington. And this is seen in the support both sides in this war receive from other countries and international organizations. On Ukraine's side is the whole Western, liberal, democratic world, represented by national countries and NATO, EU, CE, OSCE, and others. It is moral, political, military, educational, technological, expert, and financial support. Solidarity can also be expansionist. Washington and Brussels have not stated that Russia is a threat to democracy and civilization for the US-led liberal global order established after the end of the Cold war. After the failure of the Minsk agreements to provide a regulating and restraining role for Russian "hard power," the West responded by arming Ukraine and with a series of sanctions and bans on Russia of all kinds. To which the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, replied that the sanctions under certain circumstances could be qualified as an act of international aggression and even as a cause for war (casus belli). To every action of Russia, there is corresponding opposition in the West and vice versa. Actions and counteractions constantly escalate almost according to the laws of physics. As Henry Kissinger says, the question is, "How to end this war?". At the G-7 meeting in Germany, Chancellor Scholz admitted: "We don't know how the war in Ukraine will end." But it resonates globally.
It seems the world is separating again into areas of power and influence. Essential questions are asked – "Whose side do you take?" "Who is a friend, and who is a foe?" G-7 united the interests of the "great seven" (USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Japan, Italy) against Russia and China. The heads of India, Argentine, Indonesia, Senegal, and South Africa were invited to the meeting of G-7 and Chancellor Scholz, for the sake of inclusiveness, called them "the democracies of the future,” but these countries have not condemned Russian aggression, do profitable business with Russia, and will hardly be drawn into the West's team.
At the NATO summit in Madrid, where its new strategic doctrine was adopted, Russia was declared the most significant and most immediate threat to the Alliance, and China the greatest challenge to the interests, security, and values of the Alliance. A new bipolar opposition is born, with a tendency towards acrimony and escalation. The two global projects – the Chinese "Belt and Road Initiative" and the American "Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment" (PGII) are no longer in peaceful competition but in overpowering and confrontation. We have been regrouping and expanding. Sweden and Finland joined NATO, and with this expansion, the entire coast of the Baltic Sea fell entirely under NATO control. NATO is also moving East with the decision to send more than 300,000 troops to a rapid reaction force on its eastern flank in Baltic, central and south-eastern Europe. Accelerated military modernization and rearmament of the member countries are underway. Germany voted for an additional surprise budget of more than €100 billion, and the 2% military spending of GDP is no longer a recommended but a mandatory rate.
In the context of Transatlanticism, the ambitions of some European leaders to make the idea of "strategic autonomy" of the EU, especially in the field of security and defense, seem illusory. It is unlikely that President Biden's administration will allow the European investments in the military capacity to be directed to the EU and not to NATO. In the field of security and defense, the EU will remain dependent and controlled by the US for a long time. But in the Eastern enlargement policy, the EU can take independent decisions, as demonstrated by the accelerated acceptance of Ukraine and Moldova as candidates for EU membership.
Poland has its interest and its expansion vector. The chairman of the ruling party "Right and justice,” Jarosław Aleksander Kaczyński, again raised the claim for reparations from Germany for the damage to his country during the Second World War of more than $500 billion, despite Berlin's insistence that Germany paid its debts to Poland back in 1991 with an agreement of €1, 3 billion. Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared that his country is ready for a war with Russia and systematically supplies Ukraine with weapons, supporting the thesis that there cannot exist peaceful agreement between Kyiv and Moscow until the Russian troops get pushed back on their territory. At the same time, there is an attempt at an extraordinary integration of Poles and Ukrainians – that Polish citizens have the same rights as Ukrainian citizens when voting and being elected to governing bodies of the government of Ukraine. Even territorial aspirations of Poland and Romania towards Ukrainian regions are visible.
On the other hand, a kind of integration between Belarus and Russia is also underway. Since 1997 there has been a Union Treaty for economic and defensive integration and equal access to citizenship and workplaces. The Western sanctions against both countries and the rearmament of Ukraine further strengthen their unifying processes in all possible areas. President Lukashenko is said to have ordered that "all decision-making centers in Western capitals" be targeted.
Erdogan's Turkey also does not miss its chances for expansion in all possible directions. Like empires, expansion is also predicated on its military-political doctrine, resting on the ideology of neo-Ottomanism. Turkey wishes to become a global player, and it has some primary conditions for this – ideology, large young population, geostrategic location, and military power. Its expansion vector includes the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. It aspires to leadership in the entire Islamic world (But here, we must not miss the power vectors of expansion of Saudi Arabia and Iran). In the still virtual military project Międzymorze or Intermarium, where Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Romania, Moldova, and Bulgaria, Turkey would undoubtedly have a leading role. The news from Ankara that President Erdogan is banning the access of his citizens to the radio stations "Voice of America" and "Deutsche Welle" went somewhat unnoticed, which is symptomatic. Turkey's conflicts with Greece over the islands sometimes subside, then flare up. That, in turn, causes Greece to rearm, a sign of which is the recent request to purchase fifth-generation F-35 fighter jets in large quantities (45).
China will not allow Taiwan to declare independence. At the Security Forum in Singapore, Chinese Minister Wei stated, "We will fight no matter the cost, and we will find to the end." Moreover, the Chinese leadership believes that now is the time to realize the Chinese dream of national reunification. Three weeks before the invasion of Ukraine, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin released a declaration of solidarity in which they disputed the legitimate military presence of the United States in the territories of its near abroad and justified the de facto control of these areas as areas of its national security. Russia and China do not accept the existing world order, dominated by the USA, and the role of static and formal international rights, which no longer reflects the current balance of power in the world and their views and influences. For China and Russia, international organizations such as NATO and the EU have a Cold War mentality and functions and do not meet the needs and goals of the transformed modern world. According to the spoke person of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, NATO produces conflicts not only in Europe but also in Asia, and as an example, he pointed out the sending of military naval ships and aircraft into the South China Sea and near the Asian mainland.
On March 9 this year, the US Senate heard Admiral Philip Davidson predict that China will take over Taiwan in the next few years and that even if it is not prevented, China will supplant the US as a world leader, including militarily, by 2050. That seemed to fit with China's second-in-command General Xu Jiliang saying that China should prepare for a possible war with the US soon.
This verbal skirmish also included North Korea, which accused the US of militarizing Europe and turning the Asia-Pacific region into a NATO zone through the US-Japan-South Korea tripartite military alliance. (At the last NATO Meeting in Madrid, Japan was also invited for the first time).
We should look at organizations like BRICS, SCO, and others in the East as building a parallel, mirror, and alternative world to the West with its unique vectors of development and expansion. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) account for 30% of world GDP and cover 40% of the world's population. Iran and Argentina have already formally applied for membership. The Organization seeks to achieve strategic autonomy through the development of a new world currency based on the national currencies of its members, through the creation of new investment and economic zone, and its idea of a multipolar world. That was officially confirmed at the BRICS meeting on June 23 this year.
SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) unites China, India, Pakistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. Observer countries are Belarus, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, and SCO partner countries are Turkey, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Nepal, and Cambodia. The Organization's leading goals are security, the fight against terrorism and extremism, sustainable development, and cooperation in energy, science, and culture. There is no doubt that BRICS and SCO, uniting non-Western centers of power, have as their ideal end goal the creation of new non-Western world order. That includes both the tools of "soft power" and, if necessary, the actions of the "hard power." To these centers of power, we must add countries gravitating towards and dependent on them from Africa and Latin America with distinct anti-Americanism and marked anti-liberalism. Let's recall that only a few weeks ago, Colombia elected Gustavo Petro as its president (for the first time in their history), an extreme leftist, Marxist-Leninist, former partisan, and political prisoner. On August 7, he will take office, and it is very likely for him to rapidly change the country's foreign policy course, especially since the parliament majority in Colombia already belongs to the left of the revolutionary type.
The above-described picture is not complete. More power fields and participants are missing from it. The subject of the vectors of expansion of civil societies, the role of their resistance and rebellious potential in a regime of crises – food, labor, energy, inflation, health, migration, politics, etc. is not touched at all. However, I believe this is also enough for us not to be naive optimists regarding the near future of the planet. The world is preparing for supremacy, and there is no sign that it is looking for peace. Do they realize that a global war will not cast a winner?