Indo-Pacific tensions are increasing dramatically. The Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, made up of the US, India, Japan and Australia) is becoming a household word. That is continuing the bifurcation of the globe, which is impacting the Middle East. The past week amplified the divide, with confrontational comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and several high-ranking Chinese officials in the talks with the US in Alaska.
America’s doctrinal changes are the most important to understand as to why the East is making such amazing progress, moving westward and into the depths of the southern hemisphere, including Latin America. This is not new but it is accelerating because of the pandemic.
US President Joe Biden’s new Interim National Security Strategic Guidance appears to lower the relative strategic importance of the Middle East. It goes further than the 2017 National Defense Strategy, which refocused America’s defense on major strategic competitors China and Russia after two decades of attempting to counter violent extremism in the Middle East. Biden’s interim guidance states: “Our vital national interests compel the deepest connection to the Indo-Pacific, Europe, and the western hemisphere.” India, New Zealand, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Pacific Island states, the UK and the EU are all highlighted ahead of the Middle East.
The Biden team refers to the importance of the “rules-based international order” for designing policy options. Enacting those values after the Trump administration is making the Biden team look weak to Washington’s opponents. Such moves involve boosting ties with both Moscow and Beijing, particularly the former given its now dominant role in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) following this month’s visit of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the Gulf.
The planet’s economic center now lies closer to Beijing than it does to London.
Events since the Biden administration took office are accelerating the creation of a new geopolitical environment where key countries such as Russia, China and Iran are moving away from the West by showing America’s weakness. This behavior is not new. The antecedents for bifurcation can be seen in discussions over access to the SWIFT banking network and increased sanctions activity against these states. In Iran’s case, the situation is reversed, which is part of the problem with the “forever wars” adherents who fail to see the big picture. The expansion of logistical networks, combined with the requirements of the post-pandemic economic recovery period, is accelerating the divisions. In other words, the planet’s economic center now lies closer to Beijing than it does to London. Iran stands to benefit from such a shift and also from the desire of the West to lift sanctions over time.
A global bifurcation is undoubtedly at the core of today’s primary geopolitical crisis. There is a string of countries that are now linked by a desire to act against the Biden administration. This phenomenon is splitting the globe into two halves, with the will to use business as a political statement expressed through sovereignty and other associated rights in the post-coronavirus international order.
What we are witnessing is a new political atmosphere much different from that seen in the Cold War, and it is likely to become worse because of deteriorating US-Russian relations and America’s attitude toward North Korea and Iran, along with with a US domestic situation that is prompting foreign hedge fund managers to ask themselves what the investment risks in America are. The mind games are on, as Russia stretches itself from the Arctic to Antarctica and many locations in between with both optics and a presence.
The East-West split is about Russia and China creating spheres of influence that counter the West by emphasizing their robustness against a “flaying, divided West riddled with racism.” Other countries see Moscow and Beijing as useful partners and moderators in the many conflicts and other strategic problems that are happening globally right now, especially ahead of Lavrov’s visit to China this week. The Russian-Chinese relationship is tightening and Middle Eastern states are developing enhanced ties with both. The language of the past few days shows little will to cooperate at the peer-to-peer level, which will have a direct impact on MENA conflicts and disputes.
For the emerging East, the global bifurcation is becoming more pronounced as time passes. As geopolitics heightens the divide, the impact on global relations will need to be reconsidered, while avoiding stereotypes of “good” and “evil.” But, then again, this is pathogen-driven realpolitik. –AN