Speaking in Cape Town in 1966, U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy gave a brief but meaningful description of the geopolitical situation at the time: “There is a Chinese curse which says ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty, but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history”. The times that humanity is going through today are no less interesting than the ‘60s of the last century, and no less open to creative thinking. For Ukraine, which has been in a state of war against its will and lost vast territories, resources and economic potential, it is crucial to realize the outlines of a new world being born in the post-liberal era. Whether Ukraine will be able to take its prominent place in the future world order depends on this realization.
The 19th century was the century of Europe. The 20th, no doubt, took place under decisive American influence, and the 21st will be the century of Asia. China’s unprecedented rise; the shift of world centers of production, consumption and technological innovation to Southeast Asia; and Russia’s transformation back into the past, into imperial ambitions at their worst – all this determines the modern geopolitical landscape of world politics. The main confrontation between the U.S. and China, taking into account a Russian factor; the EU crisis that manifested itself in Brexit, the inability to solve a refugee issue and prevent the coming to power of populist and largely anti-liberal regimes in a number of EU countries – all these factors are decisive in modern “axes”, “triangles” and more complex geometries of relationships between the main world powers. For the United States, China, which has been the world’s second largest economy since 2010 and which continues to grow despite the coronavirus pandemic and its unfavorable image outside the Great Wall of China, is the biggest challenge. China poses not only an economic but also a technological and military threat to the interests of the United States, its allies and partners. Russia, which seeks to disintegrate the liberal world order, is not only creating security challenges for the United States, but is also strategically moving closer to China. Even Beijing’s ‘younger brother’ status allows Putin to effectively blackmail Washington, where Russia-China relations have been closely monitored since Nixon’s time. Fortunately, the interests of Moscow and Beijing do not always coincide in everything, so there is room for some manoeuver. Unfortunately, the EU practically does not take part in such a manoeuver. After several years of strong support for Ukraine in the confrontation with Russia, Berlin has decided to build a highly controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which will not only deprive Ukraine of much-needed earnings, but also eliminate an important safeguard that deterred the possibility of a significant escalation of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. This project, as well as a range of other issues, including the observance of liberal freedoms and manifestations of national selfishness during the pandemic, led to a crisis in the European Union, which in fact fell out of the world’s major powers. The departure of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the Afghan crisis only exacerbated an already difficult situation. However, the biggest challenge was the actual decision of the White House to move closer to Russia, hoping to weaken Moscow’s almost allied relations with China. This wrong path, no doubt, will still be felt, and above all, for Ukraine.
First of all, Ukraine should understand that strengthening defense capabilities, eradicating corruption, and realizing untapped potential in many sectors of the economy are the most important components of success in the confrontation with Russia. Conducting a conscious and well-balanced foreign policy should include the development of a set of proposals for the main partners, taking into account their interests. For example, an almost decisive factor for the United States in its confrontation with China is access to rare earth metals, the actual production monopoly of which is held by Beijing. Ukraine has powerful reserves of lithium, cobalt, copper, graphite, etc., which are used for the production of lithium batteries for the automotive industry and other equipment. At present, these reserves exist only in the form of potential for development. Given the spread of de facto famine in the world, including that caused by the pandemic, Ukraine could offer the world’s leading countries that have interests in Africa and Asia strategic cooperation in the production of agricultural products and food.
Ukrainian developments in the field of information technologies and software could be of great interest to many high-tech sectors of the world’s leading economies.
At the geopolitical level, it is already worth developing a renewed vision of cooperation with Germany, since a new chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany will not necessarily have the same sentiments towards Russia as Angela Merkel. The de facto agreement of the United States not to interfere in the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project, of course, made the completion of the construction possible. At the same time, the Greens’ position and the EU energy directives make a rapid launch of the pipeline problematic.
Strange as it may seem, the U.S. decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, despite all the tragedy of the events taking place around Kabul airport and related to the rollback of the country’s social life to the level of decades ago, has a certain positive for Ukraine. From now on, Russia, which, unlike the United States, is in close proximity to Afghanistan, will have to appropriate significant resources on deterring Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, which are likely to experience a renaissance not only in Afghanistan but throughout South Asia. Also, China will have significant interests in Afghanistan, and clashes between Moscow and Beijing over this are not ruled out. The fact is that in addition to opium, Afghanistan has significant mineral deposits and is strategically located along the routes of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. China has invested tens of billions of dollars in Pakistan, which is perhaps most interested in stabilizing Afghanistan. It should be expected that in the coming months, if not years, the world community will be forced to pay considerable attention to Afghanistan, both in terms of refugees and the intensification of ISIS, as well as the possible launch of a new civil war that will make control over the supply of opium impossible. The countries of Central Asia, primarily Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan, could actually be destabilized in the event of large-scale hostilities and clan clashes in Afghanistan. All this will require the intervention of Russia, which will henceforth be forced to restrain the “southern front” around its borders.
Against the background of security and political challenges, the world is actively entering a phase of formation of a new technological order, when artificial intelligence technologies and business based on the analysis of large databases are gradually pushing both machine-building and resource companies out of the leading positions on world exchanges. It is to be expected that, under the pressure of climate change and the challenges posed by the pandemic, the very concept of capitalism and economic growth, based on constant GDP growth, will be reconsidered. Glaring social inequality in the world’s leading economies will require drastic decisions on a fairer distribution of public goods, mandatory consideration of the needs of the social environment, but not just the interests of corporations and their owners. The transformation of the post-World War II liberal world order that is familiar to the current generation began after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, and virtually everything that is happening today is the result of global shifts caused by the political and military power of the United States. But the current situation is different. The United States has a powerful rival – China. The world has realized the mistakes and miscalculations of the 20-year fight against terrorism, and the coronavirus pandemic has revealed the weaknesses of globalization capitalism and unipolar dominance. In the near future, the outlines of a new geopolitics will become a reality, and in this process the winners are those whose internal cohesion and reasonable use of available resources will allow to find a balance between their own interests and the interests of major world powers. Indeed, we live in interesting times.
SERGIY KORSUNSKY, UKRAINIAN SCIENTIST AND DIPLOMAT. HONORED ECONOMIST OF UKRAINE. DOCTOR OF PHYSICAL AND MATHEMATICAL SCIENCES. AMBASSADOR EXTRAORDINARY AND PLENIPOTENTIARY OF UKRAINE TO JAPAN