It is not easy – it is fair to say – to abandon ideological approaches, paradigms and concepts that have been hard-won over a century in order to understand and embrace the new realities of this fast-changing and dizzying 21st century. The inertia is huge, and finally there is the human factor that leads one to remain attached to the old and out of this inertial attachment to interpret the new with the frame of reference of the old, especially if one lives, as we do now, in a hard and complex transition process between the past and the future.
New realities in the 21st century
First of all, we should bear in mind that the end of the Cold War was more than three decades ago; that, as a result, there is no longer a Soviet Union; but that there are such remarkable realities as the rise of China as a great power; the reconstruction of Russia, which, by virtue of its geography alone, is a major player in Eurasia; the rise of India as an economic and technological power; the remarkable strengthening of Iran despite the war with Iraq and draconian US sanctions; the growing autonomy of Latin America and Africa, which, albeit haltingly, are forging paths against their chronic backwardness. A world, then, that has little or nothing to do with the world of the 20th century, so near and yet so far away.
Issues such as anti-colonialism, the Non-Aligned Movement, North-South relations or the new international economic order that were on the agenda in the second half of the 20th century are now issues that no one remembers or few can remember. It is so, it must be so, because realities are different and priorities and agendas are different. New priorities and agendas require new theoretical and practical frameworks that respond to the great challenges of the 21st century, including wars.
The multipolar order comes quietly
Let us start with the essential issue of the new world order. The world of the Cold War world was bipolar. You were either on the side of the USA or the USSR, whether you wanted to be or not, and in the face of this bipolarity, Yugoslavia, India and Indonesia fostered the Non-Aligned Movement, which was decisive between 1960 and 1988. This world disappeared with the USSR and gave way to a multiplicity of forces suppressed by the superpowers, giving rise to a multipolar society. Like so much of human history, this multipolar order was quietly established. Between 1992 and 2014, the US declared itself a global hyper-power and attempted to reorder the world according to its ideas of unipolarity through a series of wars of aggression–Yugoslavia, Iraq I, Afghanistan, Iraq II, Libya, Syria. The plan failed, and in the meantime China and Russia re-entered the world stage with the will to fight the US unipolar project. Both powers, to the panic of the USA, denied unipolarity and created a new global dynamic. A dynamic that, unlike the bipolar world, has no ideological undertones, as was the case in the Cold War. This is a world that is about pure power dynamics, something that some do not want to understand or accept. In this real world, the strategic alliance between China and Russia is a case in point. The People’s Republic of China is a country that, believe it or not, is steeped in communist ideology, and its president, Xi Jinping, has ordered the study of Marxism-Leninism with Chinese characteristics to be intensified. The Russian president, the demonised Vladimir Putin, is portrayed as far-right in this Atlanticist and Orwellian Europe, but he is not. He is a Russian patriot who is rather conservative on sexual issues (like the USSR, let us not forget, and like revolutionary Cuba) and whose goal is to rebuild Russia, ensure its security and regain its status as a global power.
Vital sectors remain under state control in Russia
In other areas, particularly in the economic and strategic spheres, the Russian state retains control over its vital sectors. The companies that control hydrocarbons, the aerospace industry and infrastructure, among others, are state-owned. This etatist trend intensified with the sanctions over Crimea in 2014 and has received a huge boost with the brutal sanctions imposed by the war in Ukraine. Interestingly, the flood of Atlantic sanctions is reviving Soviet economic models to promote Russia’s economic independence. Incidentally, Putin announced on 18 April that the economic “blitzkrieg” against Russia had failed and that a new industrial era was beginning.
Dogma-free world of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO)
Russia and China did not ally for ideological reasons, but for geopolitical, energy, trade and strategic reasons. For similar reasons, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), almost unknown in the West, was founded in June 2001 and is the most vibrant expression of this pluralistic 21st century.
The SCO brings together a wide range of countries and governments: China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan and, from September 2022, Iran. China points out that “the SCO follows the principle of non-alignment and does not direct its activities against any other country or organisation. It does not seek to divide the world into different camps or incite ideological prejudice or hatred against third parties.” The SCO could be a foretaste of the multipolar, dogma-free world that is emerging. In the SCO, marxist, social democratic, islamic, nationalist and undefined ideas coexist, driven by the desire to have a forum for equitable dialogue.
Important forums without USA and Europe
To the SCO should be added the BRICS forum (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and the RIC format (Russia, India, China) to get a better idea of what exists and moves in forums without a US or European presence, forums that nevertheless bring together countries representing 50 % of the world’s population and 30 % of the world’s GDP. From these three forums, the non-Western countries have worked to create a multipolar order.
Opposing the SCO countries are the US and its NATO partners, determined to maintain a world system based on US maritime and military hegemony. To achieve this goal, the US has been working for years to build a network of military alliances that will enable it to impose its hegemony to the detriment of China, Russia and Iran. Almost all US foreign policy from 2014 to the present, with particular emphasis since 2018, has been aimed at building a military wall around Russia and China. Against Russia it has NATO and against China the US-Japan-Australia axis, with smaller partners such as the UK, South Korea and the Philippines (though the role of the Philippines is dubious). Against Iran, it has promoted the Saudi Arabia-Israel axis, which has more pricks than real stings, because no one knows what would really happen if Israel went to war against Islam again.
Atlantic front of the USA and encirclement of China
It is the bellicose reaction of the USA to the efforts of the Eurasian powers to create a new model of international society that has led to the situation we are witnessing today. Anyone who tries to interpret or understand the situation in Ukraine without this framework will not understand what is at stake. The war in Ukraine is a reaction to the US and NATO plan to encircle Russia and suffocate it in its territory, what we have called the US Atlantic Front. It is now known that the US has invested more than $ 500 million in training the Ukrainian army as an Atlantic force against Russia.
A more dangerous process is being pursued by the US against China, with the arming of Japan and the constant supply of weapons to Taiwan, as well as maintaining a permanent naval presence off China. So much so that China criticised the US for conducting more than 100 military manoeuvres in the China Sea in 2021, an average of nine military manoeuvres per month. US military doctrine envisages establishing a maritime encirclement against China in the event of a conflict (similar to the military encirclement established by NATO against Russia) in order to damage the Chinese economy as much as possible (even more radical than NATO’s strategy against the Russian economy). All this can be read in official US documents. China has responded by building a navy of 350 ships, the most powerful in the world, and plans to expand it to more than 400 ships by 2030.
The majority of the left is rooted in the 20th century
Faced with the realities of today’s world, there are no clear ideas on the left, since it is a world that confronts us with absolutely new challenges, completely different from the framework created with the Bolshevik Revolution and the Cold War. There are no clear ideas, above all because the majority of the left is rooted in the 20th century and, and from that anchoring in the past, has problems dealing with the present.
The crisis in Ukraine, in this sense, is quite a test. Not a few have understood the Russian invasion as that of a 20th century model “imperialist” country against a poor “natural brother” of Afghanistan. A simplistic and unfortunate view that seeks to explain a 21st century geopolitical episode in terms of 20th century parameters. We have called the war in Ukraine the first geopolitical war of the 21st century because we understand it as such. Russia is not trying to grab minerals, energy resources or anything like that. Russia is seeking security, in the oldest understanding of that term. Security from NATO advancing on its borders; security from the threat of an Atlanticist Ukraine; security from being forced into a nuclear attack. For thirty years, Russia has demanded security guarantees, that were always denied. What was known has come to pass. If NATO did not give security guarantees, Russia would take them. A war could have been avoided, and NATO did not want that.
(If you have any doubts about Ukraine, consider the possibility that Ukraine is a country held hostage by an alliance between the corrupt ruling caste and the US – something we know all too well in Latin America – and that the real liberation of that country would be to adopt a neutral status and to demilitarise. It would lose nothing: it would gain. Austria and Finland have been neutral and have done very well. Not spending on armaments has the great advantage that the money can be spent on social investment and development. Guns or butter. And one must not forget that it is in the interest of the USA to prolong the war. Not in the interest of Europe: then it is a ruin).
Washington has tasted blood
Similarly, the US is eager to undermine China’s security and, with its attitude, is pushing the country towards war. For this reason, China has approved the largest military budget in its history to counter the US plan to build a Pacific front that will enable them to suffocate and ruin China. This is to point out that there is a US plan for global hegemony stretching from Alaska to the Indian Ocean, from the Middle East to the Arctic Ocean, and that the EU/NATO is fully committed to this plan for global hegemony.
In case anyone doubts what we have written here, please refer to the following paragraph from the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times entitled “Washington’s geopolitical appetite has been growing”, published in its 18 April 2022 issue.
“More dangerously, Washington, which has tasted blood in the Ukraine crisis, has an urge to take this approach global. People see that Washington is trying to make the most of the Russia-Ukraine conflict by linking it to the Indo-Pacific situation. On one hand, the US is proactively making NATO look eastward. On the other hand, it is sparing no efforts to make waves in the Asia-Pacific. The US has invited, for the first time, Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers to NATO foreign ministers’ meetings, tried to rope Japan into AUKUS and intensified its political manipulation on the Taiwan question. Indulging in extreme geopolitical games, Washington is increasingly becoming the origin of chaos and wars – this should be watched and guarded against by all.”
Faced with such a plan, how should the left position itself? NATO yes? War against China? Given that the EU/NATO has agreed to actively integrate itself into the hegemonic policy of the USA, does everyone stand idly by? No one to confront governments and hold them accountable for policies that could lead us directly into a terrible global conflict? Should Europe die for the USA? Is anyone out there in the left universe who even understands what is going on and what is at stake? Or is it easier to join the herd and get back at Putin, evil Russia, kill the Russians and we, the good little boys, parrot the slogans from the Pentagon? That, that’s all? To let the world die for an outdated and impossible imperial dream leading to World War III? No one for a new European–not American–security order? Or all are servants of Uncle Sam waving stars and stripes?
Nothing else? •
(Translation Current Concerns)
Augusto Zamora Rodríguez was a professor of international law and international relations at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid as well as a lecturer at the National Autonomous University of Nicaragua and a visiting professor at various universities in Europe and Latin America. Zamora was Nicaragua’s ambassador to Spain. From 1979 to 1990, he was legal director of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He represented Nicaragua in the case against the USA before the International Court of Justice for the Contra War and participated in numerous diplomatic missions. He is the author of “Malditos libertadores”, “Política y geopolítica para rebeldes, irreverentes y escépticos” and “Réquiem polifónico por Occidente” and writes regularly for various newspapers, such as Público.
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