Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the players that may change the rules of world-power game in her fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The question of a plausible world power shift from the West to Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050 necessitates an understanding of the trends driving change in today’s geopolitical landscape. Geopolitical positioning by the U.S., Russia, and China could continue the status quo. However, trends of increasing geo-economic strategies, geo-technological warfare, and geo-cultural identity suggest possible disruption to the current world order. These drivers of change could influence alternative ways in which the future unfolds.
Continued geopolitical positioning by the U.S., Russia, and China to exploit Heartland power is driving change from a unipolar to a multipolar international system. Following the Cold War, the U.S. moved forward, unchallenged as the sole superpower in a world order characterized by unipolarity. America extended her assumed “greatness” and sought to spread her influence throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Middle East directly or indirectly through regional partners and global institutions. Russia and China did likewise, albeit more gradually and astutely. All three’s tendency to leverage the Heartland to their own advantage shows a pattern of promoting and protecting their geopolitical agendas and interests in the region. Presently, the U.S. hints at purchasing Greenland, whether to block China from establishing a Polar Silk Road or contain Russia’s growing presence on the island. As Russia, China and other stakeholders increasingly drive a multipolar world order, with the U.S. promoting an “America First” policy, America’s greatness is diminishing.
Russia and China’s foreign-policy shifts toward geo-economic commerce is disrupting the U.S.’ extension of power. Russia expanded her foreign policy, desiring partnerships with Muslim majority countries and other non-traditional partners in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa. Beyond political, military, and or security cooperation, Russia organizes international commerce among them by trade and energy imports-exports. China became the manufacturing hub for American companies pursuing competitive advantages through inexpensive labor. She adapted her foreign policy to support state-controlled capitalism, and could become the economic superpower by 2050. Ideally, China’s Belt and Road Initiative will facilitate international commerce across Afro-Eurasia through connectivity. However, India and other stakeholders perceive it as a precursor to economic colonialism in the Heartland. Russia and China’s foreign-policy shifts along with their embrace of geo-economic commerce has the U.S. scrambling to “Make America Great Again.” This change driver signals increasing disruption to U.S. power abroad. Still, China’s handling of COVID-19 may disrupt her superpower dream.
Geo-technological warfare supposedly waged by Russia, China, and Iran is progressively disrupting the international order. In this New Cold War era, they stand accused of cyberterrorism, cyber espionage and cyberwarfare against Western targets. These digital tactics pose as serious a threat to the established international order — based on peace and cooperation — as nuclear weapons, although on a different scale. Election hacking is eroding people’s trust in democracy. Fake news continues to damage the media’s credibility. And thefts of intellectual property and trade secrets are costing businesses, inventors, and artists billions of dollars in unrealized revenues. As digital warfare increasingly undermines international law, disorients governments, threatens national security, and destabilizes societies, disruption to the international order is accelerating. Geo-technological warfare has Western targets concentrated on reactive policies and measures and distracted from Heartland strategies. It is a change driver that could threaten the U.S.’ “Buy American, Deregulate, Innovate” domestic agenda.
Geo-cultural identity as a unifying ideology emphasized by Russia and increasingly adopted by her partners is disrupting Western influence in the Heartland. The underlying cultural spirit of Russia’s foreign-policy is expressed by Eurasianism. Identification with this ideology seemingly implies one’s rejection of Western civilization and capitalism, acceptance of authoritarianism, and or value for unity. South Caucasus, North African, and Muslim majority countries in Central Asia identify with the ideology’s inclusion of the Muslim community (“Ummah” in Arabic). Turkey adopted Eurasianism to symbolize her geopolitical reorientation from the West to Eastern and Central Asia. However, growing resentment among Turkish citizens of Syrian refuges and migrants may disrupt Turkey’s embrace of Eurasianist solidarity, especially if COVID-19 worsens. As Russia increasingly unites much of Afro-Eurasia around a geo-cultural worldview, Western influence in the Heartland is declining. This change driver could transform geopolitics, while Russia’s “Ummah Pivot” (rebalance to Asia) may position the Heartland for a world-power shift to the East.
Will the geopolitical landscape be shaped by a continuation of the same? How might geo-economic strategies, geo-technological warfare, and or geo-cultural identity drive change toward alternative futures? Could world power shift to Eurasia’s Heartland in 2050? These are the questions scenario stories will explore.
Travis Kupp, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects Russia’s attention towards Asia in his fifth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In 2018, former Putin aide Vladislav Surkov wrote that "Russia's epic journey toward the West … [after] numerous fruitless attempts to become part of western civilization" had concluded. If this in indeed true, then the nation’s borders dictate that increased interest in Asia, from the Black Sea to the Sea of Japan, is likely over the coming decades.
China’s future as a great power and its reach west through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) threaten Russia’s influence in the region as a whole. Cooperation between China and Russia in the Western and Central Asian states could be a regional stabilizing force if economic and security agendas can be harmonized. On the other hand, these agendas could lead to flashpoints along Russia’s entire southern border if integration is resisted. Either way, Moscow’s game in Asia will assuredly affect the nation’s identity and regional alignment into the future.
Russia is keenly aware of its need to have a non-hostile relationship with China. While it is possible that a more complete alliance could form, the mid-20th century psychology of great power politics remains alive and well in Moscow. It is therefore more likely that the coming decades will see a warm-yet-wary relationship emerge with Beijing. In this future, Russia will play a careful game of reinforcing its security and economic partnerships with China while engaging in bilateral relationships with India and Southeast Asian nations as a hedge. Russia will also take advantage of its natural gift as the wide belt of land that separates China and all other nations to its South from direct access to the Arctic.
As interest in the northern pole heats up and Siberia becomes more inhabitable, Russia will likely take full advantage of the desire for influence in the region. Moscow may begin to welcome an increasing number of immigrants from India and elsewhere into its Far East in order to balance out the increasing presence of Chinese workers and reap the rewards of diverse labor force. This could in time start to tip the scales of economic power in Russia’s favor. However, at least in the coming few years, Moscow will be more focused on holding its ground as an energy enabler and economic beneficiary of the Chinese powerhouse.
Without friendly relations between Russia and China, Western and Central Asia could become a hotter geo-economic, if not literal, warzone. Chinese political influence through the BRI buildout could lead a threatened Moscow to push neighbors like Kazakhstan to pick a side. This is a future in which Asia’s middle increasingly resents the exploitative mindset of its behemoth neighbors, resists integration into this different flavor of globalization, and descends into fracture and volatility. Weakened economic relationships along its southern border, along with the need to secure it, could force a reluctant Russian reunion with Europe. However, Moscow will not be keen on making the concessions to the West that would likely be necessary.
Asia has long been a key arena of Russian foreign policy but is likely to now become the primary focus as an Asian Century looms. It remains unclear what course this future will follow, whether more cooperative or competitive. Cultural differences will continue to be a wedge between still-European Moscow and its southeastern neighbors, but over time an alignment of values could add fuel to the fire of Asia’s global growth. On the other hand, mismanagement of this partnership could serve to ignite conflicts in the unstable Central and Western Asian region. Regardless, if an Asian Century is inevitable, Russia may come to belong more and more to the continent over the next few decades.
Kimberly Daniels, a member of our Emerging Fellows program identifies players that could likely affect the world-power game in her fourth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
India, Iran, and Turkey are three regional powers being wooed as part of U.S., Russian, and Chinese geopolitical agendas. How they align their aspirations with the civilizational values of the U.S., Russia, and China may upset the balance of power. One of these or other stakeholders could influence a world-power pivot to Eurasia’s Heartland.
To advance their respective civilizational values, the U.S., Russia, and China have extended their rivalry through India, Turkey, and Iran. The U.S., an ally to Israel, firmly defends the values of Western European civilization. She seeks to cozy up with India in Asia and desires Turkey to support her interests in the Middle East. Russia is a self-described Eurasian civilization state. She’s friendly with Iran, pursues an alliance with India, and is improving relations with Turkey. China has been characterized as a civilization state due to her historical heritage, religious diversity, and distinct cultural identity. Despite border disputes with India, she aims to preserve their cultural and economic exchange, dating back to the Old Silk Road. She sweetens relations with Turkey through increased trade and wants Iran as a strategic partner. These regional powers could play critical roles in shifting the balance of world power.
An aspiring emergent global superpower determined to safeguard her borders, India has civil relations with the U.S., Russia, and China. Her foreign-policy agenda is aligned with a multipolar power balance. Supposedly, India is moving away from some Western values — liberalism, individualism, and secularism — that conflict with traditional Indian culture. Yet, she may promote U.S. and Japanese interests in Asia. India could counter China’s encroachment into Central Asia through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Still, for her security, India will “make nice” with China, including joining China’s Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Recently, India purchased Russia’s S-400 missile defense system against strong U.S. objections and sanctions. Her bilateral relationship with Russia across mutual interests likely will mean continued economic, political, security, and nuclear cooperation in the future.
Turkey is a wild card and complicates the rivalry between the U.S., Russia, and China with her own aspirations. A NATO member and Western ally against communism during the Cold War, she aspires to be a major regional power. Even so, she faces a Kurdish rebellion, Greek territorial disputes, and threatening Iranian power. Potentially, Turkey may stabilize the Middle East and contain Russia’s expanding influence. Still, she defied U.S. expectations and joined Russia in backing rebels in the Syrian War. Having secured Russia’s S-400 missile defense system, she is abandoning Western liberal democracy and embracing authoritarian rule. Plans to connect Turkey’s Middle Corridor transportation network with the BRI supports China’s trade ambitions in Eurasia. But how they address a bilateral trade deficit that favors China could better or sour their relationship.
Supported by Russia and China, Iran seemingly has hegemonic aspirations of being the central regional power in the Middle East and Central Asia. However, her increased involvement in Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria has incited Israel’s military opposition. She rejects westernization and strategizes to limit U.S. influence in Central Asia. Trade with Russia is Iran’s saving grace, given the destabilizing impacts of U.S. economic sanctions to deter her from amassing nuclear weapons. Yet, despite their reciprocal friendliness, Russia refused Iran’s request for a S-400 missile defense system. While Iran sought but was denied full membership in the SCO, it’s likely she will stay connected to China through economic and cultural exchanges along the BRI. Their bilateral relationship could solidify Iran as China’s strategic partner in the area.
India, Turkey, and Iran add to the complex rivalry between the U.S., Russia, and China. Will these regional powers or other stakeholders influence a world-power pivot to the Eurasia’s Heartland? Understanding the forces that could drive or block change is key to reducing uncertainty.
Posted By Administration,
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2019
Craig Perry, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the global influence of the United States of America in his twelfth blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
“We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us.” — Madeleine Albright
International relations have changed substantially in the century since the First World War—and especially after its sequel ended some seven decades ago. Competition between half a dozen or so great powers boiled down to two, then just one as the Cold War culminated in American hegemony. Far from the end of history, however, this uni-polar moment naturally proved unsustainable, and China, Russia, and even some U.S. allies soon began reasserting themselves on the international stage. Should this proliferation of great powers be a cause for concern?
Probably. A consensus has emerged in recent years among international security experts that the potential for great-power conflict is increasing. The 2018 U.S. National Defense Strategy declared the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition by revisionist powers as the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security, superseding terrorism as the principal threat. In 2016, the National Intelligence Council identified the changing nature of conflict as a global trend with key implications, forecasting that the risk of conflict will increase through 2035 in part due to diverging interests among the major powers. The World Economic Forum reached a similar conclusion in 2016, warning that a major conventional conflict between great powers was possible by 2030.
The reasons for these concerns are obvious. During the Cold War, the United States established a persistent security presence in regions once dominated by China, then expanded the NATO alliance right up to Russia’s borders following the collapse of the Soviet Union, setting each of these regional hegemons up for conflict as they began reasserting power within their traditional spheres of influence. Unlike former U.S. adversaries such as Germany and Japan, who learned to play well with others after embracing democracy several generations ago, China and Russia remain ruled by authoritarian regimes intent on challenging U.S. global leadership. And they are each developing high-end military capabilities designed to neutralize American strengths and project force beyond their borders, shifting the balance of power in much of Europe and Asia. A U.S. congressional commission recently warned that the United States might struggle to win—or perhaps lose—a war against China or Russia.
Still, there is cause for hope. Since the end of the last world war, the United Nations and various regional security institutions have provided useful venues for great powers to address their differences, with international law and shifting social norms gradually marginalizing war as an acceptable dispute-resolution mechanism. Globalization of trade and investment has undoubtedly lowered the risk of war between the United States and China, while Russia has seemingly adopted a strategy of indirect action—competition short of armed conflict—in its interactions with America and its allies. And so long as each great power maintains a credible nuclear deterrent, the promise of mutually assured destruction should continue to temper escalatory impulses.
Even though the risk of great-power conflict is rising, there is nothing inevitable about this outcome. Neither China nor Russia is spoiling for a fight with the U.S. military, which is likely to maintain superiority over each adversary through at least the middle of the century. Although anti-American sentiment has drawn Beijing and Moscow closer together in recent years, it is doubtful they will overcome longstanding mutual suspicions to join forces against the United States anytime soon. However, America could easily be drawn into conflicts between these great powers and U.S. allies such as Taiwan or the Baltic states—presuming, of course, that the U.S. government remains committed to defending its most vulnerable partners.
The future of great-power conflict, then, is largely a function of U.S. foreign policy. As a superpower in relative decline, the United States has neither the economic wherewithal nor political will to prevent China and Russia from assuming more prominent roles on the international stage. Washington must now give serious consideration as to which aspects of the liberal world order and its network of alliances—which it built and sustained for the better part of a century—remain vital to U.S. national security an era of renewed great-power competition.
For example, NATO continues to provide obvious security benefits to the United States—including neutralizing the European Union as a potential great-power rival—but it makes little sense to extend alliance membership to former Soviet states like Georgia or Ukraine while Moscow retains the capability and intent to dominate its “near abroad.” Similarly, it’s only a matter of time before Beijing can conquer Taipei while degrading a U.S. military response, which means finding a peaceful solution to the “One China” problem is imperative if America hopes to escape the “Thucydides trap” that has accompanied rising powers for millennia.
Yet even if the United States takes pursues a realist foreign policy approach to China and Russia, it must nevertheless remain true to the liberal principles that underpin its prosperity and global influence. America cannot afford to abandon its steadfast support for democracy, free trade, and the rule of law in favor of isolationism or an “America first” approach that befuddles allies and emboldens enemies. Few other great powers have ever wielded the sort of moral authority and soft-power appeal that the United States enjoyed until recently—and no other nation can claim to be quite so indispensable to world peace.