As the world watches the events unraveling in Ukraine, Putin’s message is clear: the old world order dominated by the United States, its values and interests is over. This declaration should not be seen as a sudden coup d’état, but a major step in a steady shift in the global power structure that is being tilted towards America’s foes. Through a well-calculated combined effect of strategies, Russia, China, and Iran have been able to undermine the American-led world order and profoundly shake the confidence of the world in American resolve.
2021 was the best year of Russian-Chinese relations in the history of the two historical rivals, as the world saw many signs of complete convergence of Russian and Chinese strategies against the United States. Joint military exercises, some of which included the Islamic Republic of Iran, joint patrols in the Pacific, a united front against the US deployment of a different weapons system, and a united front in international institutions became a definite theme of Russian-Chinese action.
In the first week of December of last year, a rare joint article penned by the ambassadors of China and Russia appeared in the National Interest, sharply attacking the virtual summit of democratic countries from which their countries were excluded. They accused the United States of having a “Cold War mentality.” Following up on the article, the spokesperson of the Chinese embassy told Newsweek, “The more unstable the world is, the more China and Russia need to advance our cooperation… China and Russia always stand together in close cooperation, firmly reject hegemony and bullying practice, and have become a pillar for world peace and stability.”
The emerging strategic partnership between the two powers comes at a time of American political polarization and strife at home and a clear commitment problem abroad. Following the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan last August, many allies and rivals considered it a signal of a global American retreat. The Biden administration’s obsessive-compulsive urge to undo the Trump’s administration steps taken against Iran, delisting the Houthi Iranian proxies, and seeking to rejoin the JCPOA only enforced such signal; the United States is either unwilling or unable to defend the world order she has built by any means necessary. American negotiators in Vienna are working around the clock trying to find a way to meet the demands of Iranians at the same time as Iranian proxies are bombing close US allies in the Arab Gulf. Meanwhile, disinformation and cyber campaigns have been systematically undermining confidence and trust in American democracy and institutions without much retaliation from the US. The American statecraft toolbox seems to have lost the concept of deterrence.
This is the backdrop of the current ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, a clear sign that our world order is broken. American security promises and commitments, once a sure thing, no longer carry the weight they once did. To add insult to injury, President Putin announced his intent to invade Ukraine during the very Security Council’s emergency meeting meant to stop him. Moreover, the Russian ambassador, Vasily Nebenzya, who happened to serve as the Council’s rotating president this month, used his position to justify Russia’s action, the very kind of action the UN Security Council was created to prevent. This is yet another blow to the integrity of international institutionalism, which is already in much doubt.
The good news is that the current events validate US intelligence reports for the past months that have been warning of imminent Russian plans to invade Ukraine. This is indeed an intel success. However, a look at the DC foreign policy bubble analytic behavior indicates that our foreign policy industrial complex is deeply broken. Many analysts have been systematically denying that Russian troops on the Ukrainian border are getting ready to do what they seemed like they would be doing. They believed that Russian plans to invade Ukraine were merely a bluff. Many of the same analysts believe that Iran does not sincerely seek a nuclear bomb but is only trying to gain leverage over the United States.
Complicating things even more, the crisis comes at a time of economic uncertainty at home with high gas prices and supply chain problems. With the midterm elections approaching, Biden surely fears that the high gas prices will cost the Democratic party a high price which is bound to get much worse with Ukraine crisis as oil prices are soaring, which ironically is going to help Russia. Saudi Arabia, a US ally that the Biden administration has been keen on publicly humiliating, already refused Biden’s request to increase oil production. This will also likely limit Germany’s options in dealing with Russia, given that Germany depends on Russia for 50% of its coal needs, 55% of its natural gas needs, and 35% of its oil needs. The US may be able to shut Russia out of SWIFT, but it is doubtful that Germany can find a replacement for Russian energy.
With Iran nuclear negotiations ongoing in Vienna, the new urgent need for Iranian oil may devastate any attempt to contain Iranian revisionist and predatory behavior, which will signal a major revision of the Middle East regional order and power structure.
If sanctions cannot deter anyone, what is their use? This is but only one of the crucial questions the American foreign policy industrial complex needs to rethink. Our world order is broken and falling apart at the seams as we juggle multiple strategic threats that seem to overwhelm our current capacity. The worst nightmare of the United States, having to respond to major challenges to its position in the global structure on multiple fronts, may become a reality soon. Domestic economic problems and political strife are going to compound the challenge for the administration.
Most importantly, the ability of Russia and China to make inroads in the Middle East, especially with Iran and the wealthy Gulf monarchies, can alter the entire global power field. If traditional US allies are uncertain about America’s ability to maintain the current geopolitical structure, they are likely to be open to Russian and Chinese alternatives which, will be of great consequence to Iran’s position and to Israel’s security.
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