Column: Global challenges could energize cooperation

  • Narain Batra. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Geoff Hansen

For the Valley News
Published: 6/5/2022 6:07:25 AM
Modified: 6/5/2022 6:05:13 AM

At the heart of the struggle today is the geopolitical role of democracies and the rule of law in the international order.

This is in light of the fact that China and Russia have been using their growing economic, military and digital powers to create their spheres of influence regionally and globally. Their goal is to weaken the Western democratic model of international governance. Why? Because freedom and democracy in their backyards and neighborhoods threaten their domestic legitimacy. By doing so they want to advance their own authoritarian model of governance.

In 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell, a new world order emerged for a while. Central and eastern European countries opened up and embraced a democratic model of governance. As Bruce Jones and Torrey Taussig of The Brookings Institution wrote, “The quarter-century that followed was unique in world history: For the first time, democratic states dominated the structure of world power with neither a peer military competitor nor a rival model of governance with which to contend. The United States, in particular, stood unrivaled on the world stage, exercising global unipolar reach.”

It was an era when the threat of global war declined and possibilities for cooperation between great powers increased. Immediately after 9/11, Vladimir Putin was the first international leader to call George W. Bush to offer his condolences and support for fighting terrorism. A year earlier, Putin saw it possible to join even the NATO alliance.

But that road, as a Chatham House report said, was not taken. Russia under Putin reverted to authoritarianism. So did China under Xi Jinping.

The rise of the authoritarian China and its global ambitions through its “Belt and Road” initiative has caused a lot of concern and reassessment about its geopolitical intentions. It wants not only to gobble up Taiwan in East Asia but also exclude the United States from establishing its hegemony in the region.

Like Ukraine, Taiwan (a global electronics powerhouse) has become a symbol of freedom and democracy. Taiwan must be defended.

So it is no wonder that in President Biden’s visit to East Asia, he said in response to a reporter’s question that the U.S. would defend Taiwan if attacked by China. Diplomatic ambiguity has yielded its place to diplomatic clarity and commitment. Hence the geopolitical importance of the Indo-Pacific and the Quad, the alliance of Japan, Australia, India and the United States, and the recently formed 13-nation Indo-Pacific Economic Framework to keep the region free and open.

Until recently, Russia used digital tools such as cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns in the United States and Europe for political destabilization while China used them for misappropriating intellectual properties.

But the horrendous Russian attack on Ukraine has transformed the world order once again. America has risen from the ashes of Afghanistan, where its bungled and humiliating exit left no doubt at that time that America was done — done with its role as a preeminent global superpower.

Today it has resumed its role as a most crucial global leader on the world stage for maintaining the rule of law and democratic world order. The United States has the inner vitality and the strength to shape, maintain and protect democratic freedoms.

Saving Ukraine has given the European Union a new moral and political purpose. Only a couple of years ago President Emmanuel Macron described NATO as experiencing “brain death” because of the lack of commitment from the United States, the “guarantor of last resort.” Former president Donald Trump saw no purpose in NATO, regarding it a drain on American resources and considered pulling out of an alliance established more than seven decades ago as a bulwark against the Soviet Union.

But the Ukrainian war has begun to transform European geopolitical thinking. Finland and Sweden have applied to join NATO, ending their long-standing neutrality, thereby strengthening the trans-Atlantic alliance. Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin said that joining NATO is “an act of peace,” and echoing her, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said, “To ensure the safety of Swedish people, the best way forward is to join NATO together with Finland.”

Within a week of the Russian invasion, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany would spend 100 billion euros, 2% of its GDP, to strengthen its military — making its armed forces the strongest in Europe and the third most powerful in the world after the United States and China. With one stroke, Germany transcended its sense of shame and guilt of its Nazi past and became a defender of Europe. Addressing the Bundestag, the lower house of parliament, Scholz said, “We will have to invest more in the security of our country to protect our freedom and democracy.”

Apart from imposing sanctions and sending Ukraine anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles and ammunition, it has resolved to be free from its dependency on Russian fossil fuels.

In the UK, some rethinking is taking place. Simon Tisdall wrote in The Guardian that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who spearheaded the Brexit campaign to take the UK out of Europe, is now using the Ukrainian war to stage a comeback to Europe as a continental power.

NATO is alive again. In response to Russian aggression, a new Europe — democratic and militarily strong — is rising.

After the Ukrainian war comes to an end, the United States will have a very complex global role to play.

Apart from defending Taiwan and managing the rise of an economically strong and authoritarian China, the United States and European allies will have to gradually bring Russia into peaceful working relations. Russia must become part of Europe instead of becoming China’s long tail.

Narain Batra, of Hartford, is the author of The First Freedoms and America’s Culture of Innovation, and most recently, India In A New Key: 75 Years of Freedom and Democracy. He teaches global corporate diplomacy at Norwich University’s graduate college.

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