Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Crumbling Bridges

The expansion of the US ABM shield into Europe, especially into Poland and the Czech Republic, will further shift the balance of security and power in the world over to the side of a single country, a single system of development. The United States is driving a wedge into the current relations between two systems of power in the world, which may be the easiest strategy to ensure the dominance of its system. The United States is pursuing its own national security interests, and it should be applauded for doing so; but its status as a global power and leader of a dominant system gives it responsibility for the security balance in the world as well. Global security and national security are not always intertwined, sometimes there are tradeoffs.

An existing definition of a superpower gives it three characteristics:
· Global economy. An economy with efficient multi-trillion dollar capital markets, which affects significantly the capital markets of other countries. An economy with extensive capacity for overcoming recessions and continuous expansions without hurting the combined wealth of its population.
· Full military self-sufficiency. In other words, the capacity to produce all types of weapons without any significant outside help (whether in terms of knowledge or material resources).
· Ability to impact almost any part of the world, whether economically, politically, militarily, socially; this may be for reasons of promoting a country’s own values, or for protecting national interests.

Despite the fact that today’s global powers are considered to be the US, UK, Germany, France, China, Russia, and Japan, the only country in the world which fully possesses the above characteristics is the United States. It is also apparent that the UK, Germany and France rely to different degrees on the United States for their military production needs, most obviously as a by-product of NATO. The UK, German, and French economies are very heavily intertwined with that of the US (although globalization is reducing the importance of this aspect). Some would debate the alignment of political views of the European countries with the US, but the views converge on most issues of national and global security in the long-run. Consequently, it seems evident that the US is the dominant country in the US/UK/France/Germany system.

The remaining countries are China, Russia, and Japan. Japan, while clearly not tied as strong to the US, as the European countries, is of a similar nature. However, its only strength is an independent global economy, which does not give it much leeway as a system on its own.

Russia and China, to various degrees, possess all of the three characteristics at a “discount” to the scale of the US (except for Russian military self-sufficiency, roughly on par with the US). Yet, these countries are undoubtedly not aligned with each other on their global outlooks; their national interests conflict each other more often than not. China and Russia have enough power and independence to be enlisted as two additional systems.

The ideological differences between the three systems are not as dominant as they were during the Cold War, but it is important to note them; each system’s ideological structure is a variation of capitalism. The US system, a form of progressive democratic capitalism; the Russian system a form of democratic capitalism with a large interest of a centralized government, and the Chinese system a form of capitalism controlled by a highly centralized government system.

The presence of three systems ensures a multi-polar world, with a significant dominance of one system. The realpolitik nature of the relationships amongst the systems makes the end goal complete dominance.

The actions of the US in the past 15 years thus seem perfectly obvious and justified, as the actions of a system trying to win full dominance. In an environment where full-scale military conflicts are impossible, the only way to beat a system is to contain it enough to continue reaping its resources, but preventing it from exerting influence upon your system.

The expansion of NATO to cover the entire Western border of Russia, the stirring up of ex-Soviet republics and support for their inclusion into the US system, are tools to prevent all Russia exporting its influence. The US system’s corporate expansion into Russia’s key assets (oil, gas, mining) and prevention of Russian corporate expansion into global downstream markets is the simultaneous reaping of resources and barrier set-up to prevent reciprocal influence. Of course, companies that attempt to expand into Russia’s key resources are not governmental companies, but the US system promotes indirectly an expansion of the US system’s economy into Russia, while promoting the barriers for Russian corporations in Europe. This has happened with Gazprom’s attempts to access the downstream market, Rosneft’s (Russian oil giant) failed attempt to get full-scale access to European capital markets. In return, Shell, BP, Exxon-Mobil, are all present in significant oil and gas projects on Russian territory.

It is self-explanatory why Russia promotes, almost openly, the expelling of foreign corporations from its strategic assets. It sees a threat to its national security. Tying these actions with an authoritarian regime is an attempt to shift blame; Russia’s actions if it were to ignore total foreign dominance of its key assets would be considered self-destructive and overly loyal to an indefinite country.

The primary reason why Mr. Khodorkovsky, hailed by many in 2004 as the champion of Russian democracy, is sitting in jail, is that he exerted political ambitions while simultaneously trying to sell the nation’s top oil firm (with a 20% stake in the total oil assets of Russia) to ExxonMobil. In response to warnings from the Kremlin, Mr. Khodorkovsky claimed that he was all-powerful. No government in the world likes to be spat on by a high-stakes businessman. The Kremlin was in a position where it was obliged to establish a majority (by no means complete) control over the nation’s strategic assets, if it wanted to have leeway over the economy, rather than be a subsidiary to Wall Street/London City. The United States behaved in the same way to the acquisition attempt by CNOOC (China) of Unocal (a mid-size oil exploration company).

Similarly, actions of an expanding NATO, under any pretext, are seen by Russia as a threat to its national security. Russia does not have many existing resources, apart from strong relations with several European countries, Middle East and Iran, as well as its expanding economy and self-sufficient military system. It attempts to hold on to its existing resources and build on them at all costs. The presence of US ABM shields in Europe served, as US generals claim, to locate and destroy only a few dozen rockets, will not be a threat to Russia within the next ten years. But, a shield against ten rockets can be expanded to 50, 100, and so on. Once the resource is there, no additional hurdles such as the need to gain global consent, or investments into infrastructure are required – simple expansion is easier and cheaper. Russia is concerned about what guarantees exist that the shield will not be anti-Russian in twenty years.

The US in 1999 guaranteed Russia that NATO would stop expanding, but the expansion continues. Russia feels it is being ignored, being given false promises, when NATO is expanding, and when new NATO members carry large-scale projects set to defend the US from multiple-nuclear-warhead attacks; attacks, which could currently come only from Russia and China.

It is of course unquestioned that the club of countries that could threaten the US with weapons is expanding with passing time. India and Pakistan, who each possess such weapons in the Kashmir “powder-keg” zone is a worry for the US especially. The relative weakness of the Pakistani regime, the closeness to a hotbed of terrorism in the face of Afghanistan, the ever-expanding Indian economy, every year becoming more and more tied with US businesses mean that a conflict in the region will deal a powerful blow to American interests in that region. Iran currently does not have such weapons, but will in the near future. The shield will indeed protect the interests of the US system in the world from the rogue states, and give it much more negotiating power on the global arena, but no guarantees are in place as to the possible redirection or expansion of this shield, nor can these guarantees be given to Russia.

Russia will most likely be unwilling to pursues such guarantees; it will do all it can to prevent as much as possible the ABM shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Another reason behind Russia’s attitude can be attributed to the fact that, over the past years, Russia has shut-down two radio-tracking bases, used in its defenses, in Cuba and Vietnam. The official reasoning was the inability to finance these two bases, whose cost was around $500 million annually; a reason which can be put into question, with Russia’s GDP having passed the $1 trillion mark, and simple government oil revenues hitting $200 billion. My assumption is that Russia was given certain guarantees, pushed to close down the bases. If this assumption stands, the expansion of the ABM shield (which includes radio-tracking bases) into Eastern Europe means Russia has given up too much, the promises made to it were false.

Many journalists and political analysts claim that Russia’s reaction to the establishment of the shield, gives Poland and the Czech Republic more reasons to ally with the US and create the ABM shields. First of all, this is an indirect affirmation of the ABM shield’s aim against Russia. Secondly, it is the US which is driving in the wedge between the two systems; the US is defending itself on a major scale, set to outpace the potential threat of an attack from a military superpower. The two systems are driven further apart.

Russia cannot continue agreeing with the expansion of the US system, if no guarantees will exist that the expansion will stop. Russia will most likely be forced to expand its own system at the expense of an alliance with the US. Neither the US system nor the Russian system will benefit from the greater wedge. It seems the US’s benefits from the implementation of the “sanitary cordon” around Russia will not outweigh the costs. The costs would be continued confrontation of the two systems, which would hamper the solution of the world’s global problems, expand the activities of unstable regimes, rogue states, which will pursue a double-game as they did during the Cold War.

Iran’s current double-game pursuit is the most obvious example. Neither Russia’s “all-clear” position, nor the US’s “restrict-all” approach is helpful, but as long as two positions remain, Iran remains in relative safety. Currently there is room for compromise, as the US system and Russia have a lot of mutually dependent issues that they could solve by compromising on Iran. But as time runs by, and relations continue to deteriorate, the compromising could stop. And Iran-s will pop-up all over the world like bamboo trees.

Bottom line: now is not too late to rethink the structure of inter-system relations. Neither system should dominate; each system has the responsibility to keep it that way.