Author: Gilles-Emmanuel Jacquet – 31/10/2019
In 1997 Zbigniew Brzezinski exposed in his book The Grand Chessboard the strategic vision shaping US foreign policy: in order to establish its global hegemony, the USA must control Eurasia, especially its periphery (the “rimland” according to Nicholas J. Spykman) and contain continental powers of the “heartland” such as France, Germany and Russia, or more recently China and India.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War’s bipolar order, the USA tried to establish and control on a global scale a unipolar system whose Western liberal values would bring peace, democracy, human rights and prosperity to the peoples of the world. The 9/11 attacks contradicted these expectations but the US government under G.W. Bush and the US neoconservative thinkers never reassessed their vision of the world.
Multilateralism, international law and the United Nations were disregarded and in 2003 the USA attacked Iraq, even though this country was not trying, at that time, to develop weapons of mass destruction nor had it any connection to the 9/11 attacks or Al-Qaeda.
Iraq was devastated by a conflict with no end in sight and the situation in the Middle East was seriously aggravated by such an aggression. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process as well as the issue of the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights were gradually abandoned. The 2011 Arab Spring was an opportunity for the USA, their Gulf allies (Qatar, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates), Turkey and Israel to destabilize countries such as Syria or Libya, whose regimes inspired by Arab Nationalism represented obstacles to their regional agendas. The foreign policy led by the USA and its allies in the Middle East or in Afghanistan during the Cold War and then during the Arab Spring, as well as their support for Islamist parties or armed groups, played a role in the regional and global development of terrorism.
While Iran was looking in the last decade to establish new diplomatic and commercial relations with Europe or even the USA, Washington decided to go back to confrontation with Tehran. Unlike what US President Donald Trump declared during his trip in Saudi Arabia, Iran is not a sponsor of Islamist terrorism and is not a threat for European countries.
Iran has been also a victim of Sunni Islamist terrorism, especially ISIS, and cooperates with many countries in the fight against terrorist groups. With regard to the crisis with Iran, the USA are not following their national interest but rather the interests of Saudi Arabia and Israel that are opposed to the rise of Iran as a regional power.
In Europe, NATO and US expansion during the 1990s and 2000s revived and aggravated old conflicts in the Balkan or the Caucasus, such as the conflict in Georgia and South Ossetia in 2008. The conflict affecting Eastern Ukraine since 2014 is one of the symptoms of the EU’s political and geopolitical weakness, as well as its strategic dependence on the USA through NATO. A bit less than 20 years after the war in former Yugoslavia and some 15 years after the conflict in Kosovo, the European Union failed to prevent the outbreak of a new conflict in Europe and enabled the USA and NATO to strengthen their influence on Russia’s borders.
This policy aiming at establishing a unipolar world system under US hegemony led to several conflicts over the last 30 years and seriously undermined international law, as well as the functioning and credibility of many international organizations such as the United Nations. Washington and NATO have also recreated a new Cold War in Europe by exploiting old national rivalries or ethno-linguistic issues (Ukraine) and using the memory of Communist crimes (Ukraine, Poland) to widen the gap between Russia and its neighbors.
With the rebirth of China’s power and its new Silk Road, the world axis has moved eastwards, towards Asia and the Pacific Ocean. Remaining in NATO and the absence of a privileged partnership with Russia could prevent EU countries to be strong enough to counterbalance China’s power in Eurasia.
While US neoconservative thinkers and European Atlanticists continue to defend a unipolar world system put under a supposedly benevolent US leadership, the rise of the BRICS shows that the world system is now a multipolar one and that it’s time for some Western powers to respect the fundamental principles of international law that were undermined by the weaponization of human rights.
Respecting international law, the states’ sovereignty and the UN Charter goes along with the vision of a multipolar world system, a system acknowledging the plurality and freedom of nations, in which every state really enjoys the same rights and remains master of its own fate.
The United Nations provide an adequate forum but some world powers, mainly Western powers, have subverted some of its principles and its functioning. In order to really and fairly reflect the evolution of the world towards a multipolar system the UN Security Council must be reformed but there’s no consensus because of historical and political disputes between some countries (China and Japan, India and Pakistan).
Respecting the Chapter VII of the UN Charter and implementing its articles 46 and 47 on the establishment of the UN Military Staff Committee (whose task is to assist the UN Security Council) could prevent NATO from violating international law and the UN Charter or to exceed its mandate, as it happened during the conflicts in Kosovo and Libya.
Gilles-Emmanuel Jacquet is an assistant professor of World History at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations. He is also senior analyst at the Geneva International Peace Research Institute (GIPRI)