By THO Contributor, Tarik Oguzlu

As the bonds between the two shores of the trans-Atlantic alliance weaken, Russia and China are asserting themselves more confidently in global politics. Traces of Cold War-like polarizations and geopolitical competitions are now being more evident in the post Covid-19 era. It is now high time to offer a comparative analysis of the security visions of the major global powers, for the future stability of mankind is at stake.

Since its foundation, U.S. leaders have not shown strong enthusiasm to pursue ambitious policies abroad to institutionalize American dominance unless other continents, most notably Europe and Asia, came under the domination of anti-American power blocks or any global power threatened U.S. national interests by trying to take a strong presence in America’s “near” abroad. The default position of the American people has been that the U.S. should not engage in entangled alliances and go abroad in search for monsters. However, since the early years of the Cold War era, the U.S. has shifted towards an internationalist mentality and put the containment of its geopolitical rivals and the promotion of its values to other places at the center of its foreign policy engagements. Despite the fact that “realists” and “isolationists” have traditionally abhorred adventures abroad and argued against the use of force unless vital national interests were at stake, they have nevertheless sided with liberal internationalists in defining the U.S as an exceptional country in terms of its norms and values. Pursuing liberal hegemony through the employment of various hard and soft power instruments and shouldering the responsibility of maintaining liberal international order have become uncontested foreign policy options for about twenty years since the early days of the post-Cold war era.

However, the steady increase in material and ideational power capabilities of non-Western powers, the abject failure of American nation-building projects across the globe and the economic crisis that hit the Western world severely in late 2008 have led Americans to go through a soul-searching process over the last decade. Both Obama and Trump administrations have recognized that the U.S. should no longer play the role of global hegemon in maintaining peace and security. The main message given by Washington over the last decade is that American support to the security interests of traditional European and Asian allies should be earned, rather than taken for granted.

With Obama and Trump, the focus has changed to great power politics and competition. Dealing with China and Russia now appears to be more important than focusing on humanitarian interventions, counterterrorism and democracy promotion exercises. The latest National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, adopted in late 2017 and early 2018, respectively, testify to this new mentality. Reverting from national building exercises abroad towards offshore balancing and adopting a more skeptical approach towards globalization process while prioritizing traditional great power relations seem to have strengthened the realist, pragmatic and isolationist tendencies in U.S foreign policy. Such trends will likely strengthen in the post Covid-19 era as the growing tension in American-Chinese relations demonstrates.

Americans appear to have rediscovered that their nation is now more an Indo-Pacific than a trans-Atlantic one. Whereas today’s America seems to adopt a mixture of containment and engagement strategies vis-à-vis China, Putin’s Russia is viewed more as an anti-American headache than an existential global security threat. Americans do not put Russia on an equal footing with China. Russia is a regional power in decay, whereas China is a global power on the rise.

On the other hand, the EU of today is far away from fulfilling the desired goals that its founders set decades ago. At stake now is the EU’s ability to deal with emerging modern challenges while remaining true to its post-modern aspirations. The European dream has been that the post-modern values of cosmopolitanism, multiculturalism, secular universalism, multiple interdependencies and soft-power oriented policies abroad would gradually transcend modern practices of balance of power politics, realpolitik security strategies, self-vs-other distinctions and the prioritization of hard power instruments in interstate relations. Yet, Russian actions in Ukraine, Syria and Eastern Europe do now confirm that geopolitical confrontations still haunt Europe and the constitutive principles of the post-Cold war era security order in Europe are now on shaky grounds. The growing chaos and anarchy in the Middle East and North Africa also presents the EU with very serious strategic challenges, the least of which is migration.

Recent years have also witnessed the rise of illiberal, populist, anti-integrationist, anti-immigrant and anti-globalist parties across the European continent. The EU’s post-modern integration process seems now to be on life support. The United Kingdom leaving the EU is a fatal blow to the EU’s credibility and its ability to act strategically on a global level. Neither Germany nor France can lead the European ship in the uncharted waters of the emerging century. The idea of European integration being based on common identities, social policies and the legitimacy of Brussels-based institutions might further erode in the years to come should centrist politicians in key EU member states fail to provide solutions to the daily problems of their people and continue to lose elections against fringe parties.

Far from having established itself as a credible actor speaking with one voice, the EU now appears as a weak geopolitical actor in the eyes of other global actors. The United States, Russia and China continue to employ the time-tested strategy of divide-and-rule in their relations with EU members. Each sees the EU as a playground in their geopolitical games. At stake for the EU is that should EU continue to remain as a herbivorous power – long on civilian and soft power capabilities yet short on hard power capabilities -, its ability to help shape the key tenets of the emerging world order will remain limited, for in its current form it cannot compete with such carnivorous powers the U.S., China and Russia.

Looking to Far East Asia, one can notice that China has pursued the so-called “peaceful rise/peaceful development” strategy since the late 1970s. However, China’s recent assertiveness seems to have led both the Obama and Trump administrations to redefine China as a potential hegemonic threat that needs be contained. Hence the strategic pivot, rebalancing, Quad and trade tariffs.

While Chinese see their country’s efforts to leave behind the “centuries of humiliation” as China’s rightful return to its glorious days, the majority of Westerners tend to feel skeptical about the end results of this process. Through such initiatives as “Belt and Road” and the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, China is trying to give the message that there is a mutually constitutive relationship between its development at home and the development of others abroad. The goal is to bring into existence more China-friendly regional and global environments in which China’s march to global primacy would not only remain uncontested but also be accommodated easily. Chinese rulers have never adopted an imperial mission whose driving logic was to conquer non-Chinese territories and project Chinese norms and values onto others in a universalistic fashion. Instead, China has been to trying to midwife an international order in which China remains at the center of the global cobweb and all road lead to Beijing. China is now waging a connectivity war against its rivals.

The main characteristic of Chinese foreign policy, particularly concerning its relations with the U.S., seems to be avoiding taking clear stances on issues that directly touch upon vital American interests or global concerns. Traditionally speaking, unless the issues at hand concern Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, the Uighur region or the islands in the South and East China Seas, China tends to avoid taking responsibility in global governance issues. Yet, with Covid-19, Chinese leaders seem to have come to the conclusion that there now exists a suitable atmosphere for China to assert its claim to global primacy while the U.S. and many liberal democracies experiencing strong challenges at home. American abdication from global leadership seems to have encouraged China to embrace a more assertive and aggressive foreign policy stance.

Nevertheless, China is not questioning the Western-led international order in a revolutionary fashion. What it wants is to see its growing ascendance in the global power hierarchy be accommodated institutionally and peacefully. In case of Western reluctance to do so, China does not hesitate to mastermind the establishment of alternative institutional platforms under its patronage.

Focusing on Russia, one notices that Russia has witnessed a national revival process following Putin’s ascendancy to power in late 1990s. Yet Russia has lately come under the international spotlight once again following its annexation of Crimea, the support that it gives to separatist groups in eastern Ukraine, its military involvement in Syria on the side of the Assad regime and its continuous political meddling in Western liberal democracies. The major criticism directed to Russia is that Russia acts as a typical realpolitik power which deeply believes in the primacy of material power capabilities, the use of brute military force and commanding spheres of influence. Russia is believed to have been acting as a nineteenth century power in the twenty-first century.

Putin’s Russia has been striving to help bring into existence a multipolar world order in which Russia plays a decisive role. Despite the growing strategic rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing in recent years, one not should conclude that Russia would act as a fiddle to China whenever its relations with Western actors deteriorate. In the best of circumstances China appears to be a trump card for Russia in its dealings with Western powers.

In Russian strategic thinking, Western institutions, most notably NATO, should not be the main regional platforms in which questions of European security are discussed. Putin being no exception, Russian security elites have been subscribed to the view that Russia has been deceived by Western powers in that NATO’s enlargement occurred to the detriment of Russia’s geopolitical interests and priorities.

Russia offers a textbook example of traditional nation-states where sovereignty, state survival and territorial integrity are still the most important security issues. Having the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world, possessing sophisticated conventional military capabilities, and sitting on abundant natural resources and a huge land mass are considered to be the main power resources of Russia. To Russian rulers, there are no universally agreed human rights and the use of force in the name of “responsibility to protect” would only mask Western imperial designs on other places.

Ascribing a messianic mission to Russia, Russian leaders wish to resurrect the defunct Russian empire in new clothes, which acts as the protector of traditional Christian values against the challenges stemming from the post-modern or post-religion societies in the West and religious fundamentalism in the East and South. Russian elites are very much obsessed with the ideas that Russia is historically and empirically entitled to have an equal standing with the West and Russia’s greatness and distinctiveness should be recognized by outside actors. As Westerners question Russia’s equality and continue to lecture Russians on the superiority of Western values and Russia’s shortcomings, Russia tends to define itself in opposition to the West.

The years ahead will likely see that major global powers will adopt a more realist than liberal foreign policy outlook. The only exception might the European Union. Yet, it remains to be seen how a liberal post-modern EU would survive in the world of emerging realist challenges from all directions.

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Redefining National Security for the Post-Pandemic World

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Three decades of efforts to broaden the definition of “national security” have largely failed, and it is time to try a new approach. Thinking instead in terms of global security would expand policy discussions beyond national governments and lead to a stronger emphasis on making societies more resilient.

WASHINGTON, DC – The world has spent the last 30 years trying to redefine “national security” in ways that will allow nation-states to prepare for and tackle a wider range of threats to our existence and wellbeing. Alternatively, national security has been juxtaposed with “human security,” again in an effort to focus money and energy on dangers to humanity as much as to national sovereignty.

But those efforts have largely failed, and it is time to try a new approach. Instead of widening our definition of national security, we need to start narrowing it. That means distinguishing national security from global security and putting military security in its place alongside many other equally important but distinct priorities.

We must begin by asking four essential questions: What or who is being protected? What threat or threats are they being protected against? Who is doing the protecting? And how is protection being provided?

In its classic form, national security involves protecting nation-states from military aggression. More precisely, as Article 2(4) of the United Nations Charter states, it is about preventing or countering “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.”

Nation-states now face other threats, including cyberattacks and terrorism, although such attacks generally must be sponsored by one state against another to threaten a country’s territorial integrity or political independence. Hence, these threats really qualify as subsets of military security. Climate change, on the other hand, poses an existential threat to many island states as a result of rising sea levels, and similarly endangers already arid countries by contributing to desertification and water scarcity.

Moreover, whereas the world of 1945 was almost entirely defined by nation-states, today’s security experts must also focus on threats that transcend national borders. Unlike military aggression, phenomena such as terrorism, pandemics, global criminal networks, disinformation campaigns, unregulated migration, and shortages of food, water, and energy do not necessarily threaten the political independence or territorial integrity of a particular state. But they do endanger the safety and wellbeing of the world’s people.

The distinction between national and global security is not just semantic. It goes to the heart of the third question: who is doing the protecting? National security is the province of national governments, and of a fairly small group of homogeneous people within them who traditionally have focused almost entirely on military security. Those establishments have expanded in recent years to take account of issues like cybersecurity, health security, and environmental security, but only at the margins.

Thinking in terms of global security, by contrast, opens the door to participation by a far wider group of people – starting with mayors and governors, who are directly responsible for the safety and welfare of the residents of their states, provinces, and cities. Since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, for example, US city and state officials have been actively engaged in preventing and protecting against future attacks. They are as likely to talk to their counterparts around the world as national diplomats or defense officials are.

Even more broadly, global security has no official designees. CEOs, civic groups, philanthropists, professors, and self-appointed leaders of every description can launch and join efforts to keep all of us safe. Indeed, the COVID-19 crisis has provided many instances of effective leadership from sources other than national governments.

For example, while the US and Chinese governments have used the pandemic to ratchet up bilateral tensions, myriad international networks of researchers, foundations, businesses, and government agencies have been working together to develop treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, with little concern for nationality.

Broader participation in global-security efforts will also increasingly dissolve the boundary between “domestic” and “international” affairs and policy. Health, environment, energy, cybersecurity, and criminal justice have all traditionally been seen as domestic matters, with foreign-policy and security experts regarding defense, diplomacy, and development as entirely separate realms involving relations between countries and international organizations. But this distinction will progressively crumble.

These shifts will in turn create opportunities for a vastly more diverse range of people to sit at the table on global security issues. Despite some gradual changes in conventional military domains in recent years, far more women and people of color occupy prominent positions in city governments, and in fields like health and environmental protection, including environmental justice.

The final piece of the puzzle is how to provide global security. Traditional military security is ultimately focused on winning. But many global threats primarily call for greater resilience – that is, less winning than withstanding. As Sharon Burke of New America has argued, the goal is more to build security at home than to destroy enemies abroad.

We certainly still want to “win,” if winning means prevailing over a virus, or eradicating a terrorist cell or disinformation network. But the deep nature of global threats means they can be reduced, but almost never eliminated. Arming people with the means to recognize and avoid danger, survive trauma, and adapt to new circumstances is a better long-term strategy.

Nearly twice as many Americans have now died of COVID-19 than died in the Vietnam War. But many national leaders in the US and elsewhere remain focused on great-power competition, and appear less concerned with the pandemic’s mounting death toll than with distracting domestic publics by pointing fingers at other countries. And yet the lessons of this crisis will loom large in how we think about and provide for our security in the future.

That will be particularly true for younger generations. New America’s Alexandra Stark, for example, argues that COVID-19 is her generation’s 9/11. Instead of the highly militarized anti-terrorism response that the US adopted in the wake of those attacks, she calls for a new grand strategy “fundamentally oriented around human wellbeing,” refocusing on human health, prosperity, and opportunity. That sounds like security to me.

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