Monday, May 16

Of war, geopolitics and new global orders

In these days when the war in Ukraine has made the word ‘geopolitics’ fashionable again in the media, it is worth pausing to reflect on how this discipline can help us understand armed conflicts.

Classical geopolitics was born under accusations of serving to justify imperial actions and enjoyed a very bad press for decades due to its link to military thought. However, it is a tool that makes it possible to identify the structural elements that condition the political behavior of international actors. As a study of the strategic thinking behind the decision-making of political power related to territory, space and resources, geopolitics focused on the action of States.

These continue to be the main actors involved in a hierarchical power structure, determined by economic development and the historical evolution of relations between them. Through international institutions and rules of mutual recognition, States seek a balance in the international system to avoid anarchy, chaos and competition that, for realistic or Marxist theoretical schools, is a central characteristic of international order. When balance is not achieved or agreements are broken, war appears. War can be seen as an exception or as an inevitable tendency of the system. Depending on what we include in its definition and where in the world we are, we will have different answers.

The case of the war in Ukraine allows us to see how, depending on where we put the focus, the explanation of the origin of the conflict will be different. So while for most people reported in the mainstream media this has erupted with the 2022 Russian invasion, for many Ukrainians the state of war dates back to 2014.

The war in Ukraine also leads us to geopolitical debates from other times. The verbal pacts between the United States of America (USA) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) that accompanied the end of the Cold War have been broken with the gradual expansion of NATO towards the East.

The final result, warned by various specialists in international relations, has been the breaking of the difficult balance of existing security. The outrageous reaction of the Russian Federation to the possibility of Ukraine’s entry into the Atlantic Alliance has ended up being a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that undoubtedly compromises Russia’s image in Western public opinion while favoring US interests. But how can a war in Europe benefit the US? The answer lies in the geopolitical struggle and in the geoeconomic interests that accompany the expansion of States and their companies, be it by territorial means or by way of business.

Although it is not the only one, the search for economic pre-eminence through the control of resources or by neutralizing antagonistic commercial blocs is one of the geopolitical keys behind any conflict.

In this logic is the use of the economy as a weapon of war. However, little is said about this topic. US strategic documents have for years viewed Russia as a threat. The National Security Strategy of the Obama administration, published in 2015, established the “unique capacity” of the United States to “mobilize and lead the international community” in the face of growing challenges, among which was “Russian aggression”, at the same level than cyber security, climate change and the outbreak of infectious diseases.

One of the problems highlighted with Russia, the world’s second-largest oil and gas exporter, was “European dependence on Russian natural gas and Russia’s willingness to use the energy for political purposes.” At the same time, the US celebrated its own leadership as the leading producer of oil and gas in the world energy market and the reduction of its dependence on foreign oil. The American production, unlike the Russian, was presented as something positive to “keep markets well supplied and prices conducive to economic growth.”

Europe’s energy dependence on Russia was seen as a security problem that led the US to “promote the diversification of fuels and energy routes”, even at the cost of sacrificing the economic interest of its European allies. For this reason, in 2019, under the presidency of Donald Trump, the US enacted a European Energy Security Protection Law that sanctioned companies and individuals involved in the construction of the Russian Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which connected Russia with Germany.

In July 2021, the Biden government agreed with Germany that it would join efforts with the US to contain Russia in support of Ukraine and European energy sovereignty, including sanctions on the Russian energy sector “to limit Russian export capabilities to Europe in the sector energetic”. With the outbreak of the war, the US has managed to overcome the previous reticence of some EU states and the European Commission agrees on the “joint European action for more affordable, secure and sustainable energy” (REPowerEU). One of the results of the war in Ukraine is that several European countries are now going to stop buying Russian gas to buy gas from the United States at a more expensive price.

However, since the war began, European and American leaders such as Joe Biden, Josep Borrell, Ursula Von der Leyen or Jens Stoltenberg, followed by a large part of media opinion experts, have raised the need for Europe to fight Russia in Ukraine as a struggle between “autocrats” and “democrats”.

This is nothing more than the construction of a story that serves to present, as in other wars, a binary world where “good” faces “evil” but that omits the geopolitical and geoeconomic elements that guide the behavior of political actors. . Social support is sought by going to the simple and emotional because asking the population to support war efforts to contain Russia geopolitically, especially if it has to be done at the cost of economic sacrifices and human lives, is more difficult.

But, as the American intelligence company warns Stratford – little suspected of being pro-Russian – this speech fails to hide the fact that many of the allies of the US and the EU are not democracies and negotiations with them are needed. The contrast generates uncomfortable questions when it is shown that geopolitical affinities or confrontations are not based on high ethical values ​​but on simple and pure interests. By the way, ask Nicolás Maduro what values ​​he has had to change for the US to sit down with him to negotiate the sale of Venezuelan oil after years of proscribing and harassing the Bolivarian Revolution. Taking Russian energy companies off the market has made the US and the EU forget about Juan Guaidó and the “fight for democracy” in Venezuela. Geopolitical stuff.

Trying to explain the geopolitical disputes behind the current conflicts goes through exposing the questionable actions that every imperial State carries out to impose its domination on an international system that is in transition. The transition to a new order led by China, the main “strategic competitor” of the US, whose containment is a priority in the new National Security Strategy of 2022, is not expected to be peaceful. We will soon hear about the danger that China’s New Silk Road poses to global security. We can then believe that the problem for the US is the attack on the values ​​that gave rise to the institutional order after the Second World War and its replacement by a new order led by autocracies or “illiberal democracies”. Or we can believe that the problem is that states like China or Russia have geopolitical projects of their own that undermine US global leadership. In fact, we might believe American ethical concerns about other countries’ crimes if it weren’t for the fact that its ruling class has no objection to other energy suppliers, such as its ally Saudi Arabia, maintaining a pre-eminent position in the world oil market at the same time that bomb the civilian population of third countries such as Yemen or murder some of their own critical journalists with impunity.

Although it is hard to see from Europe, the US has long lost moral leadership among most countries in the Global South. A Global South that has proven that there is no effective equality in the international system since power is settled, ultimately, through the use of force and international law is a dead letter from the moment that the sovereignty of its States is violated if their peoples do not elect leaders who are docile to hegemonic interests. Now that the invasion of Ukraine has made us all aware of the dramatic consequences of wars on civilian populations and the dangers of violating international law, it is urgent to remember that respect for international law should not be an enunciative and biased act but a requirement to all international actors, regardless of their weight. As long as this is not done and the victims of some wars are more important than others depending on who our allies are and our interests in the conflicts, or some crimes must be more prosecuted because they are carried out by our geopolitical enemies, the credibility of our political leaders , journalists or analysts will continue to be questioned.