cc. Every year the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service publishes a comprehensive situation report. This year’s complete report “Security 2020 – Situation Report of the Federal Intelligence Service” published on 27 October 2020 is more than 100 pages and can be consulted and downloaded at https://www.newsd.admin.ch/newsd/message/attachments/63415.pdf. The following passages represent the first part of the press release of the Federal Intelligence Service (https://www.admin.ch/gov/en/start/documentation/media-releases.msg-id-80848.html), also published on 27 October. It deals with an assessment of the current global political situation. We have added the commentary of a Swiss expert as a box.
Berne, 27.10.2020 – In today’s international system, there are several actors competing for spheres of influence. The Federal Intelligence Service’s (FIS) anticipation and detection capabilities play a leading role in identifying and assessing threats in advance so that preventive measures can be taken in time. The FIS annual report presents the most important developments in the intelligence scene over the past year.
Although we cannot yet know what the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be on security policy, the FIS’s findings suggest that the pandemic has reinforced and probably accelerated existing tendencies in the international system. The pandemic has provided further indications that the future world order will no longer be dominated by the US, its system of alliances, and institutions under strong American influence.
The currently evolving changes in the international system will continue. It is uncertain whether this will lead to a new stable order in the foreseeable future. A new bipolar system dominated by the US and China is one possible outcome, but is not yet clear that this will happen. The emergence of a multipolar system is another possibility, but this is a more unlikely development.
Strategic rivalry between the major powers
Switzerland’s strategic environment is shaped by the rivalry between the USA and China, Russia’s ambitions to consolidate its sphere of influence in Europe, and a range of conflicts and crises at Europe’s borders. While the US will remain the most influential global power beyond 2020, the importance of transatlantic relations and the American presence in the Middle East will continue to decline. The US’s challengers on the geopolitical stage will attempt to benefit from this and will seek to expand their power and assert their own interests in areas of waning US influence.
China sees itself as a rising great power on a par with the US. The gulf between the Western-style liberal model and authoritarian state capitalism will continue to widen. There are growing indications that the international system could be increasingly shaped by strategic competition between the US and China – to the extent that each establishes its exclusive zone of strategic influence.
Russia continues to pursue its goal of acting on an equal footing with the US and seeks to establish and strengthen its sphere of influence. This policy is yielding success, but it is striving for more. Ukraine remains at the centre of Russia’s strategic interests, as does Belarus; following the protests in the wake of the country’s presidential election on 9 August 2020, the Kremlin has warned the US and the EU not to interfere in any way. The Black Sea and the Mediterranean are further areas where Russia is competing for influence with other actors. •
gb. Russia has succeeded in stopping the eastward expansion of the EU and NATO in recent years, and it could now start to regain the positions it had lost in the 1990s. The limited resources of Russia and the domestic political situation force the Kremlin to proceed with a sense of proportion.
The Middle East remains an unstable region in which Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia claim a leadership role. The influence of the West in the region has declined. After the “Arab Spring”, stabilisation in North Africa was insufficient, and the creeping destabilisation of Africa south of the Sahara threatens to undo any progress.
The conflict in and around Ukraine is currently only the extreme example of the structural problems faced by many countries in the former Soviet Union. Antiquated notions of the nation prevent an adequate treatment of national minorities. The states often remain in the hands of political and economic elites (oligarchs) who established their dominant position in the days of the fall of the Soviet Union. A young part of the population has different life plans than their parents’ generation. Building democracy and the rule of law is limping, and the latent conflicts are increasing the influence of the security apparatus.
Consequences for Switzerland
At a time when old camps are re-emerging, the pressure to adapt to neutral and independent states to clearly position themselves will increase. The argumentation will certainly tie in with the “Concert of Democracies”1 from 2004. The way in which the big players deal with such states will show to what extent they still believe in cooperative coexistence. The same applies to international organizations and multilateral platforms such as the OSCE and ultimately also to the UN.
1 In May 2004, the Americans Ivo Daalder and James Lindsay proposed an alternative international organisation called the Concert of Democracies or League of Democracies in an article in the “Washington Post”. They advocated that a group of countries they considered as democracies should form their own group within the United Nations. Since they classified 60 countries in the world as democracies, they also spoke of a D-60 group within the UN. The two’s proposal was taken up again and again in the years that followed, most prominently by US presidential candidate John McCain.
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