Geopolitical change is usually glacial. Shifts in economic and military power large enough to alter the international balance take time, lots of time. It’s also true, however, that once the pieces are in place realignments can occur with stunning rapidity. We may be in the midst of just such a revolution.
Those wedded to the existing paradigm are often the last to see it coming. After decades, generations or in some cases centuries at the pinnacle, the existing arrangement can seem to have all the force of a law of nature. That may be even more true when the top dog’s view of itself as exceptional pre-dates its ascendancy.
From Beijing’s point of view, the Ukraine crisis was a case of Washington crossing every imaginable red line to harass and isolate Russia. To its leaders, this looks like a concerted attempt to destabilize the region in ways favorable to American interests, supported by a full range of Washington’s elite from neocons and Cold War “liberals” to humanitarian interventionists in the Susan Rice and Samantha Power mold. Of course, if you’ve been following the Ukraine crisis from Washington, such perspectives seem as alien as those of any Martian.
Pepe Escobar thinks a most unusual brew may be fermenting. One that adds Germany to the Eurasian ascendancy he believes is already well underway.
Three months ago, German chancellor Angela Merkel visited Beijing. Hardly featured in the news was the political acceleration of a potentially groundbreaking project: an uninterrupted high-speed rail connection between Beijing and Berlin. When finally built, it will prove a transportation and trade magnet for dozens of nations along its route from Asia to Europe. Passing through Moscow, it could become the ultimate Silk Road integrator for Europe and perhaps the ultimate nightmare for Washington.
It’s a big call, particularly in the wake of Germany aceding to the latest round of sanctions against Russia. Then again, it’s fair to say they didn’t do so with much enthusiasm. And, Merkel is still chatting with Putin.
Germany would like nothing better than to be the principal cultural and economic bridge between the west and Russia, as in many ways it has been in recent decades. It certainly doesn’t want to have to choose. Truth is, China and Russia would probably prefer not to have too as well.
In the present, the Kremlin keeps signaling that it once again wants to start talking with Washington, while Beijing has never wanted to stop. Yet the Obama administration remains myopically embedded in its own version of a zero-sum game, relying on its technological and military might to maintain an advantageous position in Eurasia. Beijing, however, has access to markets and loads of cash, while Moscow has loads of energy. Triangular cooperation between Washington, Beijing, and Moscow would undoubtedly be — as the Chinese would say — a win-win-win game, but don’t hold your breath.
Faced with this perpetual intransigence, Russia and China (and quite a few other countries) are making alternative arrangements.
Meanwhile, the expanding Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a possible Asian counterpart to NATO, met in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. In Washington and Western Europe essentially no one noticed. They should have. There, China, Russia, and four Central Asian “stans” agreed to add an impressive set of new members: India, Pakistan, and Iran. [ . . . ]
[T]he SCO is slowly but surely shaping up as the most important international organization in Asia. It’s already clear that one of its key long-term objectives will be to stop trading in U.S. dollars, while advancing the use of the petroyuan and petroruble in the energy trade. The U.S., of course, will never be welcomed into the organization.
Who knows how all of this will turn out. Much can happen which is currently unknown. Nevertheless, a betting man might be wise to place his money on a transformed international architecture, and sooner rather than later.