The real threat in 21st century

Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan July 07, 2024
The author is postdoctoral scholar at the International Affairs Department of Kazan Federal University (KFU) Russia


Nation states all over the world and especially the great powers formulate their policies keeping in view the existing geopolitical realities. The US is the only nation and the great power that ignores them, and it does that because it is blessed with the best geography in the world. Separated from the rest of the world by two great oceans it doesn’t have to worry about any military threats around its neighborhood. Under such a given security environment why would America bother about geopolitics in a way that the rest of the world does? Maybe it would do that under the imaginary circumstances in which Canada, Mexico and Cuba become Russian client states under a rediscovered Warsaw Pact — a situation which would be quite similar to how Russia feels now with NATO knocking at its doors. For the US, in the combination of geography and politics, only the latter is important. For China and Russia, it is both geography and politics that are important and how they affect their foreign, economic and military policies and strategies. Geopolitics for both these great powers is far more important than it has ever been for the US.
Changing geopolitical realities bring about a shift in the international system. This shift is gradual in the beginning but at the culmination stage it contributes to completing the parallel process of decline of the existing global power. We are witnessing such a shift of international system in the global politics today and the great powers are utilising all tools at their disposal to cajole, bribe, arm-twist or even pressure medium and ordinary powers to join their sides. In this time of intense geopolitical tensions, the great powers are vying for influence around the globe the outcome of which is proxy wars, trade wars, information wars, cyber wars, civil wars and even war on terror. All these wars are damaging the interests of other states and the leadership of these states is wondering how to defend and enhance their long-term national interests. 
The international system brings the states together in blocs but it splits them apart, and these blocs divide the world. The great challenge for the leaders of many states is how to come to terms with the changing shift in the international system. The shift is transforming the international setting and the great challenge for the leaders is to correctly identify where their states belong in the emerging setting. There is a precedence of how states dealt with the changing shift in the international system in the past.
Why Europe willingly agreed to become the ally of America in the Cold War was because its borders were threatened by Soviet Union’s missiles and tanks at that time. There is no such threat to Europe today. Those that give the example of the Ukraine war as a threat to Europe are wrong because it is not a war that threatens Europe, it’s like any proxy war that has been fought during the Cold War or even in the period beyond that.
It’s a myth and a hoax to consider that Europe will be threatened by Russia in the remaining decades of the 21st century. Since the advent and the last use of nuclear weapons there has been no direct war between the superpowers and there never will be. The proxy wars that the superpowers engage in and fight are of their own making and doing and they will continue. The blame for creating geopolitical disruptions squarely lies with the US which is venturing thousands of miles away into the sphere of influence of both Russia and China and executing predatory geopolitics by bringing NATO to their doorsteps.
Will America remain a dominant power in Asia? Will it be able to dominate Asia in 2050 and also shield its allies against China? Many countries are wondering what if America’s pivot Asia policy ends. What if it recedes from Asia? Take the example of Australia which is almost 10,000 km away from the US. In terms of its ideological orientation, defence and culture, it is completely tied to the US but the geopolitical reality is quite different. China is Australia’s biggest trading partner. Two-way trade between Australia and China in 2023 was worth $326.9 billion. In the same period Australia’s trade with the US was worth $33.7 billion. Over one million residents of the 26 million-strong Australia claim an ASEAN country as their country of birth. Australians are more rooted in Asia and have more ASEAN ancestry. Should it not be in the Australian interest to integrate itself more with China and ASEAN countries? Should Australia blindly follow American interests and policies? Australia stood up with the West against the Soviet Union during the Cold War and supported the containment policy and contributed troops to the US-led causes such as Vietnam War in which 521 Australian soldiers lost their lives. Should it now become part of a containment policy against China? If the US recedes from Asia, Australia will be left as the sole Western entity in Asia. Should it not be in the Australian interest to integrate itself more with China? This is not just an Australian dilemma; it is a question that confronts many countries considering the changing shift in the international system. 
Looking at the ever-increasing gap between the core and the gap countries, one is inclined to make a geopolitical assumption that for the remaining decades of the 21st century the real threat to the world will not be from great powers, Russia and China, but from the countries in the gap i.e. in Africa and Asia. The demographic imbalance and continental inequality will lead to attempts of mass migration from Asian and African countries and this will create great geopolitical disruptions. In 1950, the EU’s combined population was 379 million twice as much as that of Africa, 229 million then. Today, EU’s population stands at 746 million while Africa’s has increased to 1.2 billion. There are more poor people in Africa. So, tens of millions of people will be knocking at European doors to seek better lives and that will have a tumultuous effect on European politics.
If Europe wants to avoid getting into such a position, it must convince the US that instead of creating geopolitical tensions and disruptions it should join hands with other great powers in making the development of countries in the gap as its immediate priority. If people in poor countries don’t get an opportunity to fix their lives in their own countries, they will cross the Mediterranean to reach out to places which offer better incentives. It is up to the US to allow the world to work together in investing in the future of poor countries. It has already spent too much time, effort and resources in fighting needless battles. 


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