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The International Order that the New American Administration and the Euro-Atlantic Community Will Be Faced With
From the Editor

Constantin IACOBIŢĂ

25/10/2020 Region: Global Topic: Geopolitics

During his intervention – via videoconference – at the final plenary session of the 17th annual meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club that took place on October 20-22, 2020 in Moscow, president Vladimir Putin drew attention on one key issue. The Russian leader stated that the era when the United States and Russia decided on the world’s most important issues was in the past, while China and Germany were now heading for superpower status.  

On the other side of the Atlantic, on October 20, 2020 the secretary of defence Mark Esper discussed – via videoconference as well – with the chairman of the Atlantic Council in Washington D.C. about the role allies and partners play in US national security. Mark Esper stressed that the number one priority of his mandate has been implementing the National Defence Strategy (NSS), which showed that “we are now in an era of great power competition, with our primary competitors being China and Russia” (the other two enduring threats mentioned by the NSS in 2018 include rogue countries such as North Korea and Iran, and Violent Extremist Organizations).

In order to prepare the Department of Defence for these challenges, said Mark Esper, the NSS set three main lines of effort and ten related targeted goals. Strengthening alliances and building partnerships, as well as reforming the Department where two of the main lines of effort, while focusing on China was one of the ten related targeted goals. The secretary of defence also revealed a brand-new Department of Defence Guidance for Development of Alliances and Partnerships. And, since in the Euro-Atlantic area we have NATO, all the above highlight the focus on countering China – in the region and globally (mainly the Chinese investments under the One Belt One Road Initiative targeting Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas).

The USA’s strategic focus on Asia in general and China in particular is not new, and the priority given to great power competition precedes the presidency of Donald Trump. And, along with the elements above, it announces the demise of the otherwise short era of unipolar international order following the fall of the Berlin wall.

The quick downfall of the post-Cold War international order is shown by a series of relevant events enabled by the America-first approach of Trump administration, an approach that had a negative effect on the USA and its allies’ capacity to defuse crisis situations crucial for the stability and security of some regions and the world.

Therefore, the future US administration “stands to inherit” an international order where:

  • The Middle East and Northern Africa benefit from a US presence in decline, and with smaller effects when it comes to stabilization. From a European perspective that means a more important role for an EU that is already divided (both domestically and internationally - with relevant lack of consensus on Libya, Belarus or Nagorno-Karabakh) and weakened (mainly because of Brexit).
  • The Iran nuclear deal with world powers has been significantly weakened by the USA withdrawal from it in 2018. More recently (18th of October 2020) expired the UN arms embargo on Iran, and the US efforts to extend the ban were ineffective (only one country on the 15-member panel of the U.N. Security Council supported it). Washington has threatened with sanctions anyone doing arms trade with Iran, but countries such as China or Russia are expected not to be discouraged and conclude conventional arms deals with Iran, each of them aiming to gain more influence in the region.
  • The US and China are in the middle of a trade war, and the US-EU negotiations on bilateral trade show no significant progress.
  • And not in the least, the dialogue between US and Russia on the security and control of nuclear weapons knows no progress. The latest treaty on further reduction and limitation  of the US and Russia’s strategic nuclear stockpiles, New START (signed in 2010), is about to expire on February 2021, and the ongoing negotiations show that a one-year extension will be the best-case scenario. It is worth mentioning that Trump administration’s intention was to include China in a new strategic nuclear arrangement, but the latter firmly rejected such a prospect.