13 January 2019

International security- 2019 forecasts (I)

Niculae Iancu

Image source: Mediafax

Analysis premises

An analysis of the global security developments in 2019 can only start from the anticipation of forthcoming Washington's foreign policy decisions in the context of the long-lasting centrality of the United States within the international system. After three century quarters since the end of the Second World War and almost three decades of unipolarity motivated by the principles of liberal democracy, the world has evolved toward a global pacifying hegemony, possible once with the collapse of the opposing, corrosive and, finally proved illusory forces of the concrete walls and iron curtain.

The rise of the Unipolar World and the American Primacy was prefaced by persuasion, justified by winning the Cold War and bolstered by spreading democracy and liberalism values. Enlargement was achieved through the sometimes soft, other times violent, confrontation of all the political, cultural, economic and commercial obstacles, regardless of their geographical distribution. The whole evolution was developed along with the creation or consolidation of the system of international institutions and organizations with global governance functions. In essence, the unifying vision of this great strategy came from an essential postulation of the liberal security theory, that of morality, consistency and solidity and, therefore, the impossibility of war emerging as consequence of the structural lack of threats within a system of liberal-democracies.

But hegemony, whether liberal or not, means the uniqueness of power. Furthermore, hegemonies allege the continuous power accrual for discouraging, repressing or defeating any rival force which could endanger the position of the hegemon. Hence, although it may seem self-contradictory, the instauration of US unipolarity has resulted in the expansion of a network of global alliances, the deployment of military headquarters and troops all over the world, and the establishment of institutions and local, regional and global political and economic tools. All of these have meant huge financial investments funds, initiatives and budgets of all kinds that have continuously fuelled the global mechanism of liberal hegemony, but have also produced counter-effects. Externally, there has been consolidated and, sometimes, radicalized distinct forces and movements which were directed against everything that represents the symbolism of a universally assumed Western model, and internally it has been registered the decrease of the economic and technologic advance growth, as well as diminishing citizens' confidence in the motivational strength of the US exceptionalism.

This is why, in the past two years, the new US administration started to interrogate the benefits of the huge costs for the support of the international system created at the end of the Second World War and the international order established at the end of the Cold War. Both, realities of the great theories which allow us to better understand the international security, seem to have lost their drive, like it is happening with the long-distance runners who lack of energy, in a competition whose finish line becomes more and more blurred and distant and whose prizes seem to have lost they meaning for those who were still believing, or hoping, to get something different when they got in line at the starting grid.

The façade is that across this global domination competition we are not witnessing the last minute launch of some competitors who would have saved their energy better, either we are talking about Russia or China, to endanger US’s foreseeable victory, the indisputable champion of various decades of competitions, but we are witnessing a moment that is redefining game rules, starting from competition meaning, up to confrontation frameworks and questioning the competence and authority of the referees .

Paradigm changing signs

A year since adopting Trump’s Administration first National Security Strategy, one can state that the reality of international security evolution is even more blunt that it could have been anticipated when launching it. “Returning to realism’s principles” is no longer just a theoretical delimitation from liberalism pacifying visions, increased by globalization’s forces which have been dominating the international system for almost three decades. US’s National Defence Strategy, issued in January this year, was defining “states strategic competition” as “the main concern for US’s national security”. The defence policy blueprint of the world’s biggest military power, undoubtedly sets out as the primary objective of national security the “restoration of the US military supremacy to deter Russia and China to challenge the US and its allies or to even try to overthrow world’s order created at the end of the Second World War” as national security’s main objective. In order to remove any doubt, president Trump was clearly stating, across the national defence strategy, that “the main concern for US’s national security is not terrorism, but the strategic competition between states”.

Today, almost a year after, the strategic thinking elites and the US news outlets are criticizing more and more Trump’s Administration insufficiency of concrete policies to deter and isolate the two big competitors which aim to become global powers. If in the relation with Beijing there were adopted some economic measures, seen as not enough analysed comparing with their benefits, in the relation with Moscow, the criticizes seem to be more severe about president Trump’s possible weakness, created by Russia’s long-debated interference in supporting his campaign during the presidential elections from 2016. The tensions revolving around the solutions are creating a greater pressure over the model as well. As it happened also during the previous presidential mandates, the success of the “containment strategy” against the strategic competitors, firstly the Soviet Union, but also communist China and the authoritarian regimes from Central and South America, Africa or Asia, was the firmness and perseverance of assuming offensive, some aggressive, measures, supported with great financial costs. But, maybe more important than the mercantile measures of success, was the intangible input of trust, offered by the deep coordination and cooperation with the Western allies.

2017 and 2018’s evolutions seem to be at odds with the continuity of this model. President Donald Trump’s decisions for the global security brought to attention different approaches, some quite significant, between the US and its traditional allies, in solving some major security problems. The United States proved its determination in, constantly, making some international policy decisions without consulting or coordinating with its Western allies.

As I was writing in June this year, “the threat against US cutting the huge financial contribution for UN, the revaluation of some bilateral or multilateral free-trade exchange agreements, the condemnation of NATO member states’ lack of resoluteness to respect the common financial commitments, the withdrawal from the Iranian nuclear treaty, the containment of North Korea or moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem were just some of the most visible foreign policy decisions, with immediate consequences in international security field”. To these we add the apparition, hard to be anticipated after decades of global Americanism, the “plus one” decisions type within various “G”s international coordination groups of common policies, wherein the United States is more and more self-isolated.

This is what happened at the G7 summit, from June, Canada, and the G20 one, from November-December in Argentina. Equally, the intensification of some international cleavages regarding threats perception is damaging the common agreements forces on key topics for the human kind, as UN calls them, like migration, climatic changes, weapon production and trade, access to essential resources or technology’s impact over society. Also, major security threats, which can endanger allies’ common or complementary operations security in different conflict areas, are emerging in the public spaces as being unilaterally assumed, not only internationally, but also inside the US political elites.

Analysis fundamentals over the future of security

US’s assumed recoil across the international security architecture has created the proper framework for some strong debates regarding the impact of the rising of some possible authority gaps, over the security of some regions, which are in the traditional US strategic spheres of interest or with long-term US military presence. It is similar to what is happening in Central and East Europe, Middle East, Central and South-East Asia or even on the North-American continent, where the physical walls policy seems to replace the previous free trade and people’s unlimited or largely tolerated mobility spaces. And how quickly these changes happen almost surprised those who were close to Washington’s decision makers, and lead to a wave of resignations at the highest political-military level, regardless if were motivated by differences of vision, adaptation incapacity, the high level of uncertainty and unpredictability or the lack of communication.

The consequences of these dynamics over international system’s functioning is quite similar with the destructive impact of the air bubbles from inside the liquid mechanism, when the piston moves back too quickly comparing with liquid’s depressurization speed. Why should the US isolationist tendencies be seen from a mechanistic perspective? The partisans of decrypting the meanings of the complex security and stability equations of the international system may say that this is how the world works: in the logic of complex mechanisms of gears dimensioned in relation to the stresses induced by the friction of constituent elements and the power balances with increasingly sophisticated strength After the legitimacy of power relation wherein any measure draws countermeasures, any interest clashes with another opposed interest, or any payment comes with a reward. All of these are arguments of the realist study paradigm of security, which offers, once again, the decoding key of the future international security meanings.

It is interesting that there is no cognitive conflict between the realism of Washington’s foreign security policy and what American liberal hegemony means. John Mearsheimer analyses in his latest work, “The great delusion- liberal dreams and international realities”, the conflict between liberalism and realism, as well as the role of nationalism in understating the profound significances of the two major security theories. It explains why, in essence, the liberal democracy is the unifying ideology of universal human values, hence, it provides the legitimate domestic political approach of the US and also in the Western sphere. Yet, in a world wherein the constitutive elements- states- are not all authentic liberal democracies, the only option for security is to follow the power balance logic, motivated by the necessity to survive. This is why, “big powers are rarely following a pure foreign liberal policy”, being forced to think that the international system is anarchical, hence, to adopt a realist attitude on the international scene, stressed by the perception of the omnipresence of the dangers and the lack of endless friendships.

The accumulation over many decades of power in Washington, largely unhindered, has not overturned the logic of power balance theory, as might be assumed at the first glance, in the absence of a consistent enough counter for the operation of the counterbalance mechanism.  On the contrary, such an accrual deepened the “security dilemma” theory, build on the “vicious circle” model of the self-emergency force factors. And today the humankind is heading towards the end of this cycle of excessive accumulation of power. Its benefits are not even mentioned, especially that, comparing with other moments from mankind’s history, this time society has the unseen advantages offered by Westernization, like, firstly, protecting and promoting individual freedoms, emancipation and human well-being.

The question which seems to become present’s profound transformations leitmotiv is “what are the proper costs of security?” and, especially, “who is paying for them?”. Such questions lead to the accumulation of tensions within the international system with the potential for inflammation of the critical mass of power accumulated to date, a phenomenon whose unavoidable purpose will be strain relief through fragmentation. It would be great for this détente, which it seems that it cannot be avoided by finding solutions to preserve the status quo, to not be accompanied by global violent phenomena. But, the worrying signals are enough. We will see how these will look like in 2019.