The asylum granted last week by Russia – after several weeks of refusal – to the American whistleblower that was sequestrated on Moscow’s main airport, without access to the media, reignited the debate about the declinism of the USA. As it is known, after 2004-2005 it was manifested in the American political theory, then it strongly entered the media, the thesis of the declinism of the USA, of the end – to quote a title of a well-known American pundit – the era characterised by Pax Americana (Zacharia Fareed). The theory then was copiously fueled not just by the system turbulence which is a consequence of China’s exponential growth, but also of other emerging powers.
It changed the hierarchy in the top 10 states of the world in terms of power indicators, and equally painful and, in the beginning, inexplicable slowness of the terrible American force to solve the two wars it committed itself to: Afghanistan and Iraq. This last aspect, above all, gave birth to whole libraries about the US declinism. Otherwise, how could it be possible – except a steep decline of power – that the main military force of the planet gets bogged down in Afghanistan where, as a consequence of the huge provocation launched to the American power through 9/11, the Taliban regime had been quasi-instantaneously ousted in October 2001? Or, after two months of clashes – mostly in the media – when the regime of Saddam Hussein was shattered in Iraq, the military might of the USA was prevented by an insurgency fueled from abroad and was incapable to declare the much-awaited victory. The answer to such questions was rapidly identified in declinism, in the internal weaknesses of the USA, also in the huge expenses which the American hegemon had to sustain in order to keep the systemic order. According to the aforementioned thesis, these weaknesses and these immense expenses only fueled the declinism of the USA and made it necessary identifying a solution of recovery. The historic evolution shows what remedy was used: the inward orientation of the USA and the launching of the internal nation-building process, which is a process of global withdrawing accompanied by spending cuts, especially in the military sector. Regarding the last solution of budgetary savings, the autumn of 2008 meant the beginning of the most violent economic-financial crisis of the post-war era at global scale, sparked by the bankruptcy of one of the biggest American banks.
The threat that appeared at that moment, i.e. the collapse of the whole global system, fueled itself the thesis of the American declinism, being obvious that the slowdown/crisis of the US economy pose a serious threat to the whole planet.
The coming to power of the Barack Obama Democrat Administration in 2009 was met with unprecedented enthusiasm around the world. This expressed the global hope that the system will rapidly regain predictability and the calmness of normal times, others than when the war against global terrorism identified rogue states, had arisen fears towards the American ‘hyperpower,’ nuclear proliferation had become a consistent general threat and failing or failed states had a worrying proliferation, forcing the international community to intervene in view of protecting peoples against their own dictatorial leaderships or the internal inability to govern. A significant gesture, charged with the symbolism of this global hope, was – in the new context – the granting of the Nobel Prize for Peace to the new president of the USA in 2009. Just months after he came to power, he announced – the Cairo discourse, the reset with Russia, the relocation of the antimissile shield of Europe or the innovative positions over the acute global problems of poverty, global warming or economic governance at planetary scale – that he is committed to the (obviously difficult) path of reinstating a systemic normality. The withdrawal, announced ever since the electoral campaign, from the two wars launched in Iraq and Afghanistan by the previous neo-con George W. Bush Administration were delayed until the moment when situation stabilised in the respective countries. Concomitantly, dynamic answers were provided to the big socio-political phenomena with global impact, like the ‘Arab spring’ that began early in 2011. But this is the positive interpretation of the new administration’s foreign policy. There is also another interpretation, which lays emphasis on the fact that the new grand strategy of the USA, inaugurated by President Obama, would mean that America abandons its global responsibilities as a systemic leader. As the well-known analyst of international relations Joseph Joffe, Professor with Stanford University, wrote in a column last week, “Mr. Obama’s America seems to be withdrawn from the great-power table …/President/ vowed to end the war on terror and to curtail drone strikes , America’s best weapon in an age of ‘asymmetric warfare’”. But, according to the same analyst, “Terror International will not junk its suicide vests in return. The world is being treated to a first in the history of great-power politics. Traditionally, the might of nations was hemmed in by others in an endless game of pressure and counter-pressure. Now, the reigning superpower is proposing to neutralize itself—no foes needed. The nation that invented containment in the Cold War is now playing with self-containment.” According to the author, the international system, loathes the power vacuum, so the American withdrawal catalysed ‘a number of ‘second-rate powers’, as they are named by Joffe, including Russia and Iran. In this context comes the case of the political asylum granted by Russia to former CIA agent Snowden. Kremlin, more precisely Vladimir Putin skillfully played on the weaknesses/declines of the Obama Administration, the turning of the USA into ‘an XXL power’ and acted accordingly. First, it took advantage of the contradictory evolutions of the ‘Arab Spring’ and reinserted itself – by dislodging naval forces – to the Mediterranean, the Middle East, where Russia had been expelled by the USA ever since before the end of the Cold War, a region where Washington actively struggled for over half a century to prohibit its presence. The opportunity for Russia to make this return to the Middle East as a prominent player was offered by the evolution of the Syrian crisis. The systemic consequences of such a move made by Russia will be measured, because they are massive and over a long term, especially for the neighbouring regions, also for the European Union as a whole. Other moves by Moscow followed, and there will probably be even more, capitalising on the weaknesses displayed by the American power. According to Joffe, Russia behaves like a big power of the 19th Century, meaning that it resorts to acts of force in order to demonstrate its firmness and capacity of dissuasion, aimed at marking its ambition and keeping at bay the rival powers, encouraging its minor allies. “So don’t blame Mr. Putin for what ambitious powers always do, which is to probe their rivals’ positions on the periphery”- Joffe concludes. The Snowden case – now with political asylum in Russia – is more than a simple affair between the secret services of big systemic powers. It reflects the rapidly changing dynamics of the balance of power at the level of the international system of states and develops the high degree of uncertainty of this system.