Currently, the United States, China, Russia and the European Union are all loaded with anger toward each other and desperately want to alienate one another. Together, they fuel chaos in the international arena. To be clear, it is quite difficult to downplay the gravity of current international tensions. My sense is that the crisis of U.S. hegemony lies at the heart of the contemporary turmoil. Had Washington not been experiencing this kind of crisis, China, Russia and the European Union would have positioned themselves in accordance with U.S. policy at the strategic level, even though they would have had certain tactical differences.
However, the U.S. has been going through an increasingly visible hegemonic crisis since 2000. As a matter of fact, U.S. President Donald Trump’s pledge to address this crisis was the driving force behind his success in last year’s presidential election. On the campaign trail, the then Republican presidential candidate promised to reclaim the positions that China, Russia and the European Union had been able to control despite, and sometimes with the help of, the United States. Time and again, he stressed that Washington had ended up paying a heavy price for the failed policies of past presidents.
At the time, Trump wanted to redesign the free trade-based global economic system, which he thought served China’s interests, from scratch and protect U.S. interests through bilateral treaties. In his view, Washington needed to convince Russia to stop mounting pressure on Europe in exchange for Moscow’s interests in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, being respected. For Trump, Russia was, first and foremost, a Christian power with the potential to become a natural ally of the Western bloc in the fight against terrorism. At the same time, he seemed to believe the Russians could be useful as a safety valve against China.
As for the European Union, Trump believed that the organization, albeit having been launched by the United States, since the 1990s had been trying to become a global bloc attempting to undermine U.S. hegemony. According to Trump, his predecessors had taken reckless steps in the past and allowed the Europeans to exploit Washington. In particular, he thought, Germany had a responsibility to lead efforts to meet Europe’s needs, especially in the area of national security and defense.
Needless to say, Trump was proven wrong. Nor is there any reason to believe that his predictions will turn out to be true any time soon. The United States continues to experience serious tensions with Beijing. What once looked like some kind of trade war could turn into a violent confrontation in the Pacific. Meanwhile, U.S.-Russian relations are more strained today than at any time since the Cold War. In recent months, the Kremlin deported U.S. diplomats after Washington announced economic sanctions on Moscow. At the same time, Germany has been using Washington’s policy shift regarding Europe as an excuse to develop a new security doctrine, increase its military capabilities and invest in the defense industry. Simply put, the United States cannot stop China, strong-arm Russia or motivate the European Union. And to nobody’s surprise, Turkey’s neighborhood suffers from the negative side effects of growing tensions between these countries. Tragicomically, the region suffers from U.S. hegemony and the lack thereof all the same. Against the backdrop of global tensions, Turkey finds itself in a difficult position. However, the country’s ability to face the storm will lead to new opportunities, and Turks will be able to turn crises into opportunities as long as their leaders respect their will.
[Daily Sabah, August 16, 2017]