The just concluded 2016 Munich Security Conference further deepened people’s concerns over an increasing disorder in international situation. Although a war among major powers is unlikely to happen, the possibility of an escalation of conflicts cannot be excluded. Scholars expert in national security are pessimistic about the prospects of the Syria and Ukraine crises. They also harbor deep misgivings about the struggle for power vacuum in Afghanistan, Mali, Libya and Yemen, among varied non-state actors that are fueled by extremist ideology and conflicts between religious sects and ethnic groups.
The finger-pointing game between Russia and the West is escalating. Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev bluntly said Russia and the West have rapidly rolled into a period of a new Cold War and sometimes he found himself wondering whether this was 1962 or 2016. Jens Stoltenberg, NATO General Secretary, accused Russia of destabilizing European security order.
NATO is beefing up an all-out deterrence against Russia. The US will appropriate $34 billion to expand military presence and training in Eastern Europe and Baltic countries. Since the end of the Cold War, people have never been so worried about an explosive situation between Russia and the West as today. A thorough deterioration in the West-Russia relationship is unfortunate, but not inevitable. US neoconservatives should pay the price as they were the powerful forces that pushed the regime change in Ukraine.
Europe is now facing unprecedented profound challenges. The 2003 strategy document of the EU stated a task to “promote a ring of well governed countries.” However, the Europe nowadays has been locked in a ring of fires. Instability, be it in the Middle East or the Mediterranean region, has been exerting a spill-over effect on Europe.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Europe is facing a convergence of the worst crises since WWII, spanning from the European sovereign debt crisis, the Brexit and the refugee crisis, to the nationalist and populist crisis. The Munich Security Conference used to be focused on varied security challenges outside Europe. But now, Europe finds it hard to protect itself.
In addition, the trans-Atlantic relationship has been further questioned. The Eurasia Group, a prominent risk consultancy, holds a negative view over the “hollow alliance” between the US and Europe in its 2016 Top Risks report. Believing the US is retreating from global affairs and has no will, nor the power, to help Europe out of difficulties, European elites have become increasingly discontent and disappointed with Washington.
The US indifference to the refugee problem has irritated Europeans. Addressing the Munich Security Conference, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated the US commitments to Europe, particularly he defended the TTIP, claiming it won’t dampen European interests.
Kerry lived in Germany as a child and has been long engaged in handling foreign affairs. But there are only a few US politicians that have a profound understanding of the geopolitics landscape.
China, together with Russia, Iran and the Islamic State, was listed as a “reckless spoiler” in the Munich Security Report. It’s a pity that Western policy elites lack the honesty to reflect on their own mistakes in regard to challenges to the international order.
However, perhaps Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, is an exception.
According to Haass, “Order has unraveled, in short, thanks to a confluence of three trends. Power in the world has diffused across a greater number and range of actors. Respect for the American economic and political model has diminished. And specific US policy choices, especially in the Middle East, have raised doubts about American judgment and the reliability of the US’ threats and promises.”
Strategists in the US and Europe should be aware that China is a cooperative partner they cannot afford to lose in terms of maintaining global stability. Immune from any religious ideology, China has not waged war for over three decades. It’s a guardian of international nuclear nonproliferation mechanisms and a leading force in dealing with the climate change. More importantly, sticking to market-oriented reforms, the Chinese economy has become more integrated into the world economy than that of Russia, India, Indonesia and Iran.
As to the South China Sea issue, China is just drawing a bottom line. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has started its cooperation with the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. So don’t hype the clichés that China is overthrowing the international order. What China wants is to make it more stable.