Contemporary Int’l Relations & Georgia’s Possible Response. Part 1

The end of WWI and, later, the 21st century itself, created quite a few mind twisters in international relations. The number of unanswered questions has significantly increased, and the number of clear and unambiguous answers has decreased. As a result, global politics have fallen hostage to extremely risky initiatives and decisions, and the very basis of the world order and international stability has shattered and become dangerously vulnerable. In addition, as if the boiling temperature of global affairs was not enough, the current pandemic has cornered the practitioners and researchers of international relations and is pushing them to make quick decisions under considerable Zeitnot.

Yet the need for a large-scale rearrangement is not new. Every multinational or global crisis is a form of creative destruction, so to speak, and results in the emergence of something new which in some places is positive but in others not. This assumption can be proven by naming just a few of these “destructions”. In the United States, for example, the Great Depression was followed by the New Deal that ultimately prepared the country for WW2. In turn, the subsequent Allied victory and the outbreak of the Cold War led to the establishment of a new and durable international system based upon the Bretton Woods system. More recently, the Great Recession of 2008-09, the Eurozone crisis, Brexit and the rise of populism are also threatening to overturn the world order, replacing illusory hopes and amorphous ideals with more pragmatic rationalism and realism.

It is a fact that, in our post-COVID world, global assessments will be based upon new sets of priorities and criteria. Managing international relations with relatively new emerging actors such as transnational corporations will encourage a new re-evaluation of the roles and influence of nation states and bring them to fore. At this stage of history, the repetition of ‘nationalism’ is deservedly the focus of special attention since, compared to previous centuries, when relations between states played the dominant role in the formation of global processes, our current military, political, economic, technological, human and informational resources are diametrically different. Even the so-called ‘first wave’ created more than enough mind twisters for superpowers, regional powers, medium actors and small nations alike. I will also repeat that the problems of the emerging new world order are compounded by the difficult inheritance of the many unanswered and unsolved challenges of the Cold War period.

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is increasingly being discussed, which is extremely alarming due to the geo-political and geo-economic consequences it will have. It could be said that a certain form of symbiosis pushed academic and research circles to suggest new experimental solutions, whereas decision-makers were left facing a wide and often unorthodox choice. Practically speaking, the crisis of 2008, the kaleidoscope of America’s domestic and foreign policies, turbulence in the Eurozone and China’s ambition to achieve Eurasian hegemony have laid the foundation for a deep and irreversible rearrangement of contemporary international relations.

As a country in a complicated region at the crossroads of bilateral and often mutually exclusive interests, it is therefore vital that we never lose sight of current threats and that we regularly prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s risks. Georgia must develop a series of preventive measures based upon the knowledge and competence that are necessary for the country to successfully continue to develop as a nation and as a state, and must closely monitor ongoing developments in her neighborhood and beyond with the goal of maintaining freedom and stability in the region. Such preparations should have begun a long time ago, but halting them today would be a quasi-criminal form of negligence.

The aftershocks of great geo-political rearrangements

A comprehensive list of these would obviously be quite long. Our aim, however, is to identify those important problems which might not only influence a specific country or region, but also transform our current system, or perhaps even create a new one, thereby leading to the establishment of a new world order. There is a widespread belief that discussing this question must first of all begin with the United States, and in this regard we will not be an exception, for we are not only talking out of curiosity and academic interest. The geopolitical positioning of this super-state is of pivotal importance in the context of global relations, and indeed dictates the focus and calibration of Georgia’s national interests.

Since its triumph over the Soviet Union, Washington has always struggled to build a new set of consistent and feasible rules for the post-Cold War era. The elimination of the Warsaw Pact without direct kinetic conflict and the establishment of a Pax Americana led to the euphoria of a Cold War victory as well as overly optimistic expectations regarding our world’s future development. In this regard, just mentioning Fukuyama’s The End of History and The Last Man would be enough proof of the unrelenting movement of the wheel of history along a more idealist path, far from reality. The feeling was that all the obstacles to the expansion of the liberal order had finally been removed, and that nothing would prevent the emergence of new members in its orbit. But for the sake of objectiveness, it should be pointed out that this process was certainly not mere feeling and perception: its successful accomplishment is manifest in the eastwards expansion of NATO and the European Union.

It is also a fact that this process was accompanied by certain specificities of that period, but discussing the latter here would lead us astray from the main point. The prime message here is that the absence of any real resistance confused Western democracies as they sought to identify precise tasks, and later hampered the accumulation of the resources needed in order to achieve these aims. This was perhaps most clearly revealed during the presidency of George W. Bush, especially in the aftermath of 9-11. This date was a turning point for American foreign policy, whose main characteristic has been the intensity of U.S. involvement in various military conflicts and campaigns. In short, the task of the presidential administrations that followed became achieving total security with the help of a wider structural and intellectual format, whose primary element is direct and immediate local military involvement alongside social engineering and nation-building in authoritarian states or even in countries with experience of state building.

Many contemporary American experts believe that this choice was a big mistake, since it has led to several fundamentally negative consequences such as the disconnection between goals and resources; serious attacks on universal ideals and the principles of freedom and democracy; giving populist and antidemocratic forces (exploiting differences in color and identity) a unique opportunity to artificially spark and lead anti-American and anti-Western campaigns; etc. These processes have slowly but surely laid the foundations for the changes which we are faced with nowadays.

In this minor historical retrospective, it is important to mention that even during the Obama administration, i.e. before Trump, the American government was trying to reconcile the foreign message of ‘No, we don’t want that’ with the domestic ‘Yes, we can’. It is no coincidence that Obama has been described as an ‘ideological liberal with conservative character’. The eclectic nature of this phrase could be explained by the fact that the Obama administration finally rejected direct military involvement in local conflicts. Obama was sometimes quite controversial in this regard, at first decreasing and later increasing U.S. military forces in the hot spots of the Middle East, and officially distinguishing between America’s ‘essential strategic’ and ‘peripheral’ interests. Many observers mocked this policy as ‘neither war nor peace’, and it is true that announcing a ‘red line’ in Syria and then doing nothing about it justifies this quip. But the main message here is different: the U.S. began to consider the possibility of reducing America’s responsibility to ‘transform the world’ to an absolute minimum long before Trump’s policy of ‘America First’.

Today’s political and historical context

The historical context can really help us to understand big issues; without it, the object of our discussion would have been torn out and incomplete. Current affairs such as increased U.S. military spending and unsuccessful attempts at ‘state building’ in certain regions, and most importantly the American people’s confusion regarding their country’s foreign policy and mission as well as the pandemic and the economic crisis it is causing have led to heated debate between the adherents of traditional U.S. foreign policy and the proponents of a 21st-century isolationism.

The latter formulation is not totally justified, but it essentially resonates with Donald Trump’s political line, which preaches that the U.S should spend more on its own national agenda and only go beyond it in case of special needs dictated by American interests. (This ‘U-turn towards itself’ is also supported by the country’s perfect location for self-defense: as a French diplomat once put it, the United States are ‘surrounded by weak countries to the North and South, and by fish to the West and East’.) Yet this political trend is multifaceted and has several important exceptions, whose general characteristics and attributes I shall now discuss.

Some experts and researchers have recently been calling more frequently for the establishment of a doctrine of ‘offshore balance’ in foreign policy, whose essence, in short, is that in order to further the country’s interests while avoiding extra expenses and risk, the United States will withdraw from the balance of regional powers. More precisely, in order to act in their strategic or tactical interests in a specific region, the United States will rely upon a local ally or allies and will only intervene militarily if the latter fail to stop an undesirable country (from the American point of view) from establishing its own hegemony over the region.

In practical terms, America’s allies must deal with regional security issues themselves while Washington supplies them with intelligence and financial and logistical aid—everything, in a word, short of a military presence. This doctrine is nothing new, however, and was included in the political agenda by Senator Taft shortly after the end of the Second World War; but Taft and his supporters were unable to create a convincing analogue to the ‘offshore balance doctrine’ at that time, and following Eisenhower’s victory in the presidential elections of 1952 and the dislocation of the American military contingent in Europe under the NATO umbrella, this doctrine in any case lost its relevance.

From a practical point of view, Trump’s determination to refocus the foreign vector of the United States is fundamentally changing regional distributions of power (and possibly even on a global scale). The results of this approach include a distancing from the challenges of a Western hemisphere exclusively ‘secured’ by the Monroe doctrine; the creation of a safety belt based upon regional or situational partners on condition of fewer threats and expenses for Americans; getting rid of ‘free riders’ of America’s safety guarantees; shifting the main expenses towards regional partners; avoiding excessive and useless military conflicts; and U.S. withdrawal from ‘unnatural’ alliances.

This briefly depicted foreign policy course is backed up by its own theoretical platform known as ‘realism’. Realists do not hide their dissatisfaction with current geopolitics and America’s position, and call for a fundamental revision. In order to better explain the idea behind foreign policy realism, I will name a few examples capable of explaining cardinal changes as well as mechanisms for the pragmatic development of a Georgian action plan.

Realists, both theorists and practitioners, believe that America’s domination of the Western hemisphere should remain untouched; that the direct military involvement of the US or regional partners is acceptable in confrontation with China; that Carter’s doctrine of ‘attachment to the Middle East’s oil’ should end and be replaced with a maneuvering of forces among regional powers; that the experiment of ‘building’ Afghanistan must end; that Syria’s ‘periphery’ dictates Russian responsibility; that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are deterrents to Iran in the region; that unconditional support of Israel must end; that the countries of Europe should be responsible for their own security; and that the collective security systems that followed the Second World War must be revised.

Continued here.

By Victor Kipiani, Geocase, Chair


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02 July 2020 19:05