Political, economic and military power are the three main parameters on which any assessment of global security hinges. The past two decades have witnessed a gradual shift from a bipolar to a more or less unipolar world, with the US occupying the pole position — maintaining its dominance both militarily and economically. However, it’s ability and desire to intervene and affect outcomes globally seems to have diminished due to heightened domestic tensions and economic downtrends. It is reducing deployment of troops overseas, and appears to be reluctant in getting embroiled in extra territorial conflicts — withdrawing from the role of a “global policeman” that it was performing for decades; even though the country is quick to respond when its own interests are threatened.
China’s economic, military and political rise is by far the most important change in the international world order in the current century. The massive thrust on its economy over the past three decades has resulted in it being recognized as the ‘factory to the world’, ensuring a positive trade balance with most of its trading partners. China has made massive economic investments in a number of countries and international organizations as part of the Belt and Road Initiative, though doubts have recently surfaced regarding the degree of the success achieved.
China had simultaneously embarked on a massive modernization and expansion program of its armed forces. It progressively increased defense spending, even though it cannot compete with the US militarily, whose defense budget is over six times that of China. This has, however, not prevented it from pursuing its aggressive posturing in the Indo Pacific, evoking a sharp response from the US. Recently, two aircraft carrier groups, USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz, sailed into the South China Sea in an apparent show of strength. Not to be left behind, PLAAF flew fighter, bomber and surveillance sorties over Taiwan. The Indo Pacific region, which includes a defiant Taiwan and a rogue North Korea, is exposed to numerous threats such as piracy, human and drug trafficking and natural disasters.
China has territorial claims against close to two dozen nations, and is aggressively pushing its boundaries with neighbours, including the recent violent clash with India in Ladakh. The Quad Coalition of the US, Australia, Japan and India was created to check the growing influence and expansionism of China in the region. Recently, the US has suggested a more formal, NATO type structure for Quad and willingness to include Vietnam, South Korea and New Zealand in the grouping. Because of this belligerence, trade imbalances and the added accusation of being the “originator” of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is regarded as a “global menace” by many countries. However, since their economies are inextricably linked with China, they choose to maintain cordial relations and not to overtly oppose it.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russia began rebuilding its military and strengthening the economy, largely on the back of its fossil fuel reserves. The Russian Military Industrial Complex is mostly intact and produces sophisticated weapons and equipment for own use and also for export to armed forces across the world. With its nuclear arsenal and strong military, it is very much a force to be reckoned with. Its occupation of Crimea and involvement in the affairs of Ukraine and Syria signals the pre-eminent status that it craves for in the global order.
Bogged down by economic weakness, over dependence on oil revenues, internal dissensions and fearful of geopolitical encirclement by belligerent former Soviet Union nations, it hardly possesses the economic and political strength to be anywhere near challenging the super power status of the US. Both Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have more or less established their authoritarian (lifelong) control over Russia and China, respectively. With their aim to expand their spheres of influence and their aspiration to be counted in global affairs, they will remain in perpetual conflict with and challenge the US and the ‘free world’.
The Brexit vote threatened to impact the credibility and survivability of the European Union(EU). It was believed that Britain’s exit would trigger a spate of other exits from an otherwise ever expanding EU. Political parties of a number of member nations, such as Italy, Hungary and France argued that they had gained no benefit from the EU, and as such leaders were hard-pressed to keep the flock together. One tactic used was to make the Brexit negotiations so difficult for Britain that it would dissuade other members contemplating exit.
With the efforts of Germany and France, the feared exodus has been presently stemmed. Another challenge is regarding the Euro, the official currency in the Eurozone. It was created to facilitate and integrate the EU economy, but is under pressure from dissident voices who want to have their independent currencies, so that they can regulate them to suit their own interests. The concept of Eurozone will succeed only if the member countries stand to benefit. And on that will depend the future of the EU.
There has been some discussion on the usefulness of NATO, which was created over seven decades ago as a bulwark against communist nations. Donald Trump had criticized it during his 2016 presidential campaign, even suggesting that he was planning on withdrawing from NATO. US, which is responsible for more than half of NATO’s military spending, has reduced its direct contribution alleging that other member nations were defaulting on their agreed share. Recently they have committed to contribute 2% of their GDP. Threats to the viability of the organization emanate from within, with divergent views of member nations, such as the US, Turkey and France. Discontent is simmering in some other nations as well on whether member nations will actually support a nation which is attacked.
Substantial production of onshore shale oil by the US, development of alternate energy sources coupled with the depressed consumption due to the current pandemic has resulted in reduced demand for Middle East crude, and consequent downward spiral in international crude prices. This has created a financial crisis for the oil producing nations, whose economy was exclusively dependent on oil. They have had to drastically cut their budgets and even resort to borrowings on a large scale. Another significant development has been the US facilitating the establishment of diplomatic relations between the UAE and Israel. Bahrain has also recognized Israel and Saudi Arabia is expected to follow suit. The Sunni Arab states have all along been apprehensive of the growing power of Shiite Iran, ever since Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait. Their aligning with Israel is more to do with the common enemy.
The spectre of increased terrorism continues to loom large as a threat to global security. Terrorist attacks can take place anywhere, at any time, with no country being an exception. Nations are forced to spend huge amounts on homeland security, which could have otherwise been utilized for welfare and development. The Af-Pak region is acknowledged as the hotbed of international terrorism and jihadi fundamentalism. They receive overt support from fanatic religious groups and covert support from countries which provides them safe havens. The international community is unfortunately not doing enough to tackle the menace. Going forward, the use of geospatial technologies could be an efficient tool in countering this looming threat.