The major changes that have taken place in the international arena in recent years have reconfigured the balance of power at the top of the international system, and what is announced to be the new Trump era tends to clarify, on the plane of possibilities, several lines of future developments. However, what is certain is that there are several systemic “givens,” meaning incontestable facts that cannot be denied and avoided in an analysis and that define the backdrop of any future developments.
Thus, it is obvious that the U.S. and Russia remain the most powerful states of the planet from a military standpoint, particularly because of their nuclear arsenals but also because of their massive fleets present on the oceans of the world, which facilitate a projection of power at global level unequalled by other major actors. Another constant induced to the system is the fact that China continues to be one of the systemic actors experiencing economic growth and enhanced systemic scope. Equally, but also closely connected with the aforementioned elements, the system has entered a period of rapid reformulation, which entails the abandoning of the post-Cold War order and the construction of a new one (or the maximum refinement of the existing one) whose outline cannot be yet clearly discerned.
This is proven by the multiplication of analyses which detect an end of the “Pax Americana” but also the fact that the system is undergoing transformation (see ‘A World in Disarray. American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the World Order,’ a book written by Council of Foreign Relations President R. Haas and which has just appeared in American bookstores), or by the moves of long geopolitical outlook made by the system’s top actors. Thus, the U.S. started the “Asian pivot” as early as 2011, and new president D. Trump is repeatedly announcing developments incompatible with “Pax Americana” – such as giving up on the “One China” orientation, an axiom of U.S. foreign policy since 1972, or the fact that NATO is obsolete. On the other hand, Russia, while declaring itself the adept of the old order (see president V. Putin’s speech at the UN in September 2015, in which he stressed his country’s contribution to the birth of the current order at the end of the Second World War and at the end of the Cold War), is implementing systemic changes that show that it positions itself in an aggressive revisionist posture.
Thus, in 2008 it went on to carve out a new republic on the territory of Georgia, in 2014 it annexed Crimea and encouraged separatism in Eastern Ukraine, also increasingly adopting a position to undermine the EU, etc. On another level, the old order is undermined by unforeseen developments, Brexit being at the forefront in putting an end, alongside other elements, to a systemic trait of strengthening the existing order through state integration (the EU’s evolution is the most globally significant example but not the only one registered in recent decades), signifying the return to power politics and creating significant disturbances in Europe, at least until London finalises the process of leaving the EU. Alongside Brexit, the shifting of the global political centre of gravity away from Europe after 500 years of incontestable domination of planetary politics, which spurred long-term transformations of substance in the paradigm of systemic evolution, is also visible. In this last case, China’s enormous growth has made Beijing a capital that generates developments of substance at systemic level, a role that thus announces not so much China’s revisionist posture but the imperative need for the global order to be adjusted to this new reality.
A sign of this reality is China’s new “Belt and Road” grand strategy (OBOR) launched by president Xi in 2011, which links the East to the Atlantic, the railway links to Warsaw and London, via the former Soviet republics of Central Asia and Russia, having been inaugurated already. Of course, there are also other developments that have the role of “game changer” at systemic level, such as Jihad’s hegemonic challenge, which forcefully started on 11 September 2001 and continued with the Sunni revolt in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria, where an extremely dangerous Sunni caliphate (ISIL) unexpectedly appeared in 2014, organisations from several continents – Europe (Caucasus), Africa (Nigeria etc.) and Asia (Indonesia) – forming associations with it. Likewise, the phenomenon of migration, whose waves are prompted by long-term events – such as the war in Syria – but are also motivated by huge economic inequalities between the rich North and the planet’s poor and exploited South. Given its immediate impact, as shown in 2015 in a Europe experiencing an unprecedented crisis featuring the inflow of almost 2 million refugees from the South, the migration phenomenon has the systemic strength to call for the adjustment of the global order. National states are becoming increasingly jealous of their identity – which gradually puts an end to the phenomenon of multiculturalism – but similarly they are subjected to an atomising impact, the communities within them considering themselves justified to secure by themselves their security, threatened from an identity or economic standpoint.
Such a phenomenon goes beyond the perimeter of geopolitical realities as etiology, but, at the same time, prompt reactions of substance at the level of geopolitical confrontations and the rearrangement of systemic power factors with overwhelming impact on the global order (among others, triggering the temptation of separatism, visible from Scotland to the Caucasus, which multiplies systemic actors). What was an upward trend generator of important systemic mutations seems to have exhausted its resources. Even Trump’s election in the U.S. is deemed to have been prompted by the backlash of globalisation, through which this phenomenon of migration grew, the Republican candidate’s voters being the partisans of the relocation of industries to their countries of origin and of the recovery of the jobs lost, having as consequence deep poverty in the third world and, as unavoidable result, the growth of the wave of migrants moving toward rich regions.
What geopolitical trends are foreseen for the time being? The answer to this question is decisive because, at least for 2017, this is how power realignments not yet fully accomplished but that have a high probability of plenary accomplishment on the short and medium-term can be defined, and also because it identifies fissures of significance in the current order, which could outline/seal its manner of disintegration, and the outlines of the birth of a new order (maybe even its rhythm and authors).
First, we must focus on the U.S.-Russia relationship, because it is decisive. U.S. president-elect Donald Trump has recently summed-up his views on this relationship that is crucial for the future of the global order. Insistently attacked by the heads of U.S. intelligence services for his privileged ties with Russia and V. Putin, who are accusing Moscow’s influence in his election to the White House, Trump very clearly responded on Twitter: “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think that it is bad! We….. have enough problems around the world without yet another one. When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now and…. both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the WORLD!” (7 January 2017).
Recently, ‘Sunday Times’ (15 January 2017) announced that, in a few weeks’ time, Trump and Putin will meet in Reykjavik, Iceland, a location that is symbolic for such a summit’s decisive character for the future of the system. In October 1987, R. Reagan and M. Gorbachev – the leaders of the U.S. and USSR respectively – met in the same capital of Iceland, reaching agreements that are valid even today, but which in the short term led to the end of the Cold War. The Trump team, as well as Moscow, denied that this meeting in Iceland is being considered, without denying the possibility that the “Big Two” could soon meet. At any rate, this meeting will significantly influence the future of Europe. In what way?