When Joe Biden was elected back in 2020, a couple of us friends and fellow analysts made a speculative post about how a career politician like him would upset the semblance of balance and international quiet that a political novice like Donald Trump had managed to achieve.
We did assume quite correctly, about the bombing of Syria; about his administration providing a fresh lease of life to the ISIS (this time in Afghanistan); about him doing a 180 degree on Pakistan; opening American floodgates to illegal immigrants or giving into mindless ‘green’ and woke projects. We did assume about how he would needle the fledgling ties developing between Israel, UAE and KSA and how he would appear impotent about Turkey.
We failed miserably about Europe. None of us, in our wildest dreams, could be fertile enough to visualise America destroying Europe just so it could get even with Russia – a country that isn’t even its primary adversary anymore!
And yet, Europe apparently doesn’t mind. It was Germany, and to some extent, France – the two giants within the EU – that had shown initial hints of disagreement with the US when the Ukraine crisis was building up. But as Putin marched on, those differences took a backseat and NATO-EU clumped and rallied behind the US. At the cost of economic, industrial, and social destruction of their continent, as we now see.
While most of us can see the result of a successful defanging of West Europe – mighty colonisers of the last century – for America’s benefit, there hides a different kind of lesson here; a lesson crucial for the regional powers that are vocal about a multipolar world.
One of the key features of multipolarity is the reduction of the power of the big ones. The Soviet Union dropped out of the game in the 90s; that left the world with the USA. So, a workable plan for that feature is to keep the US restricted as a regional power in the western hemisphere only and create that space that allows smaller regional powers, like Iran, India, Russia, China, the Arab world etc to grow in importance in the eastern hemisphere.
But it is easier said than done. For any of these states or clusters to grow individually in a manner that enables them to establish an area of influence around their neighbourhood is an extremely tough task. Actually, ‘impossible’ is the word that we should be looking at.
Given the time (1945 till now) that the US has enjoyed being a global power, and given the overall changes that they have forced and brought upon the West, and later, the entire world, none of these nations have the individual competence to undo them – even if it is only locally – and then bring about their own (better or worse irrespective) version of upgrade before settling themselves as leaders of their regions.
Yes, they can, if they work together. They can usher in new systems, create new zones of influence, and present a new working alternative to the Western systems – if they have genuine mutual understanding and cooperation among themselves.
But do they? How are their dynamics?
Russia has a working relationship with Turkey and Iran. It has a fairly good relationship with China. It has old ties with India, something that began vibrating negatively when they decided to cut distance with Pakistan. Perhaps certain actions of New Delhi in the recent past gave the Russian leadership a reason to choose this path. Perhaps China influenced this behavioural change in Russia.
Iran has decent ties with China. Its relationship with Turkey is like the dead clock that reads right twice a day – all about timing. Iran-Russia ties have old issues pertaining to the Caspian Sea classification that are unresolved. Indo-Iranian ties swing between opportunism and optics. The Arab states are trying to be model partners, but given their history of fomenting Salafi-Wahhabi terrorism around the world, the trust factor is low. And Turkey wants the world to register its aura, and yet, under its current leadership, it remains the most opportunistic state in the world today.
As the leader of the regional powers that bat for multipolarity today, China presents an elaborate picture of this quandary. China has a very good relationship with Russia. And yet, it has a chartered plan to take over Russian territories around the east, sometime in the future. They had, till about last year, an all-weather friendship with Pakistan. Now Pakistan is tilting towards the USA because China isn’t paying for their upkeep. One expected China to understand the prerequisite for friendship with Pakistan; personally, it is difficult to find Pakistan’s fault here.
To its east, China has serious socio-cultural influence over the ASEAN states, yet it remains incapable of building on that, and these powerhouses keep inching closer to the West. The only good relationship that China has is with Iran; I suspect that is because they don’t share common borders.
In a normal world, China and India should have been natural allies, given their civilizational roots and similarities. And joining hands with Russia to create a Eurasian Bloc – one that would naturally be the undisputed power (at least in the eastern hemisphere). But India considers China to be a land grabber – given our experience; and China considers India to be a Western stooge, given New Delhi’s history of bending over backwards to accommodate American opinion in its domestic and foreign affairs. So, India remains wary of the next Chinese salami slice to follow along the Himalayas, and China remains busy funding separatism in India. [Amidst so much wariness, it is better to avoid writing about the Arab-Iran equation!]
Different mindsets (from pre-industrial to post-industrial), too much mistrust, a host of unresolved issues, significant socio-cultural hangovers, and other unknowns – is the collective baggage that these contenders of global multipolarity carry on their back. And by the looks of it, they are quite unwilling to let that go.
At the other end, a Joe Biden, to serve the Military Industrial Complex, cascades a plethora of disasters all along and, like Jimi Hendrix setting his guitar on fire, is about to burn Europe – an act that has the potential to destroy the continental economy along with the lives of millions – but his bloc stands united!
There are two thoughts here: One: We may laugh at the EU leaders, but this is precisely why, despite wokeism and general callousness, the West remains ahead. Two: This is a tricky chapter to pick up from; then again, lessons about international relations and alliances never come easy.
Arindam Mukherjee is a geopolitical analyst and the author of JourneyDog Tales, The Puppeteer, and A Matter of Greed.
Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.