Monday, May 31, 2010
The Axis Mundi tilting
Will America lead once more?
“Time and again in our Nation’s history, Americans have risen to meet — and to shape — moments of transition. This must be one of those moments. We live in a time of sweeping changes” thus spoke Barak Obama, stressing the strategic choices of the US in the latest National Security Strategy Report.
The President of the United States believes that his country is today: “part of a dynamic international environment, in which different nations are exerting greater influence, and advancing our interests will require expanding spheres of cooperation around the word.” He cites China, India, and Russia as being “critical to building broader cooperation on areas of mutual interest.”
Obama’s conclusion is: “America’s greatness is not assured… in a young century whose trajectory is uncertain, America is ready to lead once more.”
The US President is certainly right in saying that America’s top slot in world leadership is not assured.
The first indication came in Copenhagen. On April 18, some of world's most powerful heads of State had assembled in Copenhagen's Bella Center to work out a solution for the future of the planet.
Most of the top shots were there: Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel, Manmohan Singh, Lula. The meeting was dubbed the ‘mini-summit of the 25’. But there was an anomaly: facing the US President was seated China's deputy foreign minister, He Yafei. His boss, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao had remained in his Hotel room. He had not been ‘properly’ invited, he said.
It took a few months to get a clearer picture as to what happened during the last day of the Climate Change Conference. But it is now clear that the UN climate conference in Copenhagen will go down in history as a turning point. New forces emerged while old were sidelined.
The Spiegel was able to get a recording of the last meeting. According to the German magazine, it reveals “how China and India prevented an agreement on tackling climate change at the crucial meeting. The powerless Europeans were forced to look on as the agreement failed.”
I was in France at the time of the Conference. During the preceding days, the French President was upbeat, explaining on TV and in the newspapers that France and Europe would lead the World towards a better future.
Unfortunately for him, during the final meeting, it did not happen that way: the Chinese Premier was not even present. Sarkozy used strong arguments to present the position of Europe which had pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent, but "in return, China, soon be the biggest economic power in the world, told the world: commitments apply to you, but not to us." Sarkozy shouted, “ce n’est pas acceptable” (it is not acceptable); he even spoke about hypocrisy (from the Chinese side), but this did not change anything.
The Spiegel says: “As if viewed through a magnifying glass, the contours of a new political world order become visible, one shaped by the new self-confidence of the Asians and the powerlessness of the West.”
The next day China convened a last-minute meeting of the BASIC countries (South Africa, Brazil, India and China). Beijing did not want to be alone to carry the blame for the failure of the Conference. The four countries managed to take a common position despite Obama dropping in uninvited at the end of the meeting. The Europeans were nowhere to be seen.
This explains Jairam Ramesh’s recent statement: “following an ambush by the West”, India’s support was ‘absolutely essential’ for China. The Environment Minister added: “The Chinese know, in their heart of hearts, that we saved them from isolation. It is not an exaggeration to say that the top Chinese leadership acknowledges the Copenhagen spirit”.
This, I believe, marked a turning point in the influence of Europe in the World affairs. In the years to come, the slide can only accelerate.
It deteriorated further with the Greek crisis. You must have heard about the PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain).
The rising government deficits and debt levels of these countries triggered a wave of panic on the European (and later world) financial markets. It began in Greece, with serious concerns about the cost of financing the public debt; it then spread across other States of the Euro Zone. Finally, on 2 May 2010, the Eurozone and the IMF had to decide to grant a €110 billion loan to Greece, while Athens had to implement extremely harsh Greek austerity measures (which may in turn trigger a recession). On 9 May 2010, Europe's Finance Ministers approved a package worth nearly a trillion dollars to insure European financial stability. Will it help?
The point is that when Obama says “America’s greatness is not assured”, the European Union and its member-States are also not at all assured of their future role in a changing world.
The situation on the world scene is moving tremendously fast. In April, two important meetings were held in Brazil. Siddharth Vadharajan of The Hindu wrote: “At this week's summits of IBSA and BRIC nations, India and Brazil were the lucky two who had overlapping membership in both forums. But South Africa, which is only part of the former, would very much like BRIC to become BRICS, while China, which is part of the latter — as well as of the climate change ginger group of BASIC with India, Brazil and South Africa — would not be averse to IBSA becoming CHIBSA.”
A senior Indian official accompanying the Prime Minister explained: “What makes BRIC a good fit today is that the four countries have complementary factor endowments and national skills.”
But that is not all. We are witnessing the birth of a new world order. Russian President Dmitri Medvedev said that the four countries could collaborate in fields such as nuclear and space technologies, aircraft manufacturing, nanotechnology and other fields.
But more importantly, these strange acronyms represent a challenge to the United States’ domination. And India knows it well, treading carefully with its newly-found partners.
Another example: after Turkey and Brazil announced a deal with Iran which would see Iran send some of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey (a previous IAEA proposal which Tehran had earlier refused), Zhai Dequan wrote in The People’s Daily an article, Iran deserves a break: “The recent tripartite agreement on nuclear-material swapping among Iran, Turkey and Brazil shows that influential countries other than major Western powers have started helping resolve sensitive global issues. Such efforts should be applauded and encouraged.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reacted strongly. Reuters quotes her saying that actions taken by countries like Brazil to help find a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear program have made the world more dangerous. She affirmed: "We think buying time for Iran, enabling Iran to avoid international unity with respect to their nuclear program, makes the world more dangerous not less."
Without entering into the merits of the deal, it becomes more and more obvious that we are no longer living in a unilateral world and new players, the so-called emerging countries have come to have a say in world affairs.
A small, though significant news items demonstrates the way the new world players try to sideline America. On 13 May, Novosti, the Russian state-owned news agency, quoted the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov: “Russia is ready to help settle the conflict between China and the Tibetan spiritual leader, Dalai Lama.”
During a speech in the Federation Council, Russia’s Upper House of Parliament, Lavrov affirmed: “We are following carefully what is happening between the leadership of China and the Dalai Lama and we know that the Chinese leadership is deeply committed to the Dalai Lama dissociating himself from any kind of political activity and separatist tendencies in regard to one or another territory in China.”
According to Lavrov: “If all the parties make attempts to separate clearly pastoral contacts from political associations, this would be a solution to the problem. We are ready to assist in this.”
Clearly, the move was triggered by the visit of President Hu Jintao to Moscow a week earlier.
During his stay, Hu called upon Russia and China to consolidate their strategic partnership and promote ‘multipolarity’ in the international system as well as ‘democratization of international relations’. In other words, the United States cannot continue to rule the world unilaterally.
Moreover, Hu spoke of China’s ‘new security concept’. For Beijing, this means “to rise above one-sided security and seek common security through mutually beneficial cooperation … and promote the democratization of the international relations.” The surprising announcement about Tibet was clearly in line with Beijing’s new policies who feels Washington is interfering in its dealing with the Dalai Lama.
When asked about Lavrov’s declaration, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ma Zhaoxu stated: “as China's strategic partner, Russia has always firmly supported China's positions and principles on Tibet-related issues. China has highly praised Russia's position.”
For Beijing, it was a way to show its unhappiness with the US before the visit of Hilary Clinton who was scheduled to reprimand China about human rights and Tibet. To ask Moscow to be the intermediary is one way to pull the carpet out from under Washington’s feet.
The Axis Mundi is undoubtedly slowly tilting towards the East.
“We live in a time of sweeping changes”, rightly said Obama.