The emerging new global order

(Photo: Freepik)
America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was messy and for some, embarrassing. But it was deliberate; it wanted to go out “now”, irrespective of consequences, even at the cost of abandoning whatever it had invested in Afghanistan in 20 years, granted, of war. اضافة اعلان

And it is not only in Afghanistan. American military bases across Europe are getting smaller, and some are disappearing. In the Middle East, decades-long navy and air force presence in different parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Gulf is being reduced, and local partners are strongly encouraged to assume much greater defense responsibilities.

Even in Latin America, which Washington always saw as America’s backwater, the US is disengaging from most files that do not have international implications.

These withdrawals and disengagements have nothing to do with lessons drawn from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, or from disappointments with allies’ commitments and positions. They are about the future.

For over a decade now, America has shifted its strategic positioning in the world and focus toward East Asia, the theatre that will witness the first phase of its strategic confrontation with China.

Strategic confrontation does not mean war, although military clashes are scenarios both America and China have in their calculus; at heart, it means competition in political, economic, cultural, and technological domains so as to secure one’s objectives.

The two sides’ objectives are clashing. America wants to perpetuate its primacy, as by far the most powerful, advanced, and richest country in the world. China’s objectives have changed over the past few years. In the past two decades, China was trying to carve for itself a sphere of influence outside the dominion of the US. Now China strives to significantly widen that sphere and impose its own rules, which are vastly different from the US’.

Views on how to engage with China differ in America. Some call for a measured approach that acknowledges that China’s rise necessitates some form of dominion, primarily over large parts of East Asia. This view is supported, and often championed, by a rich lobby who have financial interests in an open Chinese market, and interests in integrated supply chains between American and Chinese manufacturing and technology companies, and in a meshed American and Chinese financial system.

In others’ view, highly integrated American and Chinese economies and financial systems means acquiescence to China’s rise to become an equal of America, which, for them, is tantamount to defeat – something America never accepted, from its earliest days of rebelling against the British empire to the last days of the Cold War when Reagan challenged the Soviet Union.

In this view, America must work to secure its decades-long primacy, which means halting or at least slowing down China’s rise. In America’s serious decision-making circles, this translates into three work streams.

First: external concentration, which would entail disengaging from all that is not a priority for America’s major military and economic interests. This is the thinking that has led America to greatly lessen its positioning and commitments in Europe, the Middle East and the Gulf, and to actively deepen its alliances in the entire Pacific region.

Second: agenda reorganization, which means putting an end to the American practice, since the end of the Cold War, of engaging separately yet simultaneously in realpolitik, state building, human rights promotion, international development, and free global trade. The past three decades have made it clear that opposing objectives are not conducive to a coherent strategy and that is why America is increasingly reorganizing its agendas by region. Already some voices are warning of potential inconsistencies, but where strategic choices are being made, inconsistency is seen as discretion and prioritization.

Third: internal reconstruction. There is a view, within and without America, that US politics have fallen into fantasy, which is leading to failure. Many see that American politics have become shows where populism, marketing gimmicks, hollow rhetoric, and sensationalism of all sorts have primacy over serious debates and reflections. 

For some, this is an acute decline in democracy. For others, it is also a threat to American national security, because it opens the legislative and executive powers to external influence and obsession with the short-term, and pushes them into mediocrity, hardly the requirement of a superpower wishing to embark on a strategic confrontation to secure its primacy against a highly organized and rising behemoth (China).

This is why there are efforts in America to significantly improve competitive dynamics in key industries, to curb the excesses of major concentrations of capital, to widen the common ground in politics so as to reduce the alarming social polarizations, and to pour hundreds of billions of dollars into new infrastructure.

The thinking behind concentration, reorganization, and reconstruction focuses on the long term. It follows the most memorable words of Bill Donovan, the founder of the Office of Strategic Services, out of which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) emerged: “Establish and nurture”.

America is establishing a new base on which to stand as it exits the three decades in which it was the world’s sole superpower and enters its strategic confrontation with China. 

“Nurturing” entails discipline and determination, which are needed because many in America doubt that America can win this confrontation. This is new in American history and is vastly different from anything America witnessed throughout the Cold War. America has always seen itself as possessing superior intellectual foundations, resources, capabilities, and capacities at mobilization to any of its opponents in the past 200 years. Today, the decay in America has left some wondering. This is why there are voices strongly advising against entering that strategic confrontation.

But that train has already left the station. The three work streams already put in action are seen as the pillars of the strategy to secure American primacy.
The key principle of American decision makers is winning, not merely perpetual engagement. This is important because whereas perpetual engagement with China would have aimed at maintaining the status quo, winning means curbing some of the successes that China has already secured – for example, asserting its influence in large parts of the Pacific.

This is why America’s current strong move towards Asia is much more than signaling; it is direct action exactly on the borders of the area China already considers its immediate sphere of influence.

We will not see a Bay of Pigs soon – that dangerous 1961 moment when America and the Soviet Union seemed seriously close to a nuclear war. But the world has already entered a new phase. The post-Cold War order has ended and a new order is emerging. America is leaning forward, partly anxious, partly relishing the challenge, and certainly taking an assertive posture. The level of intensity of this strategic confrontation – and of the first stage of the nascent global order – will depend on China’s calculations and ways of operating.

Tarek Osman is an Egyptian author, commentator, TV presenter and documentary producer who specializes in regional politics and political economy affairs.

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