Conflict and Leadership
International Challenges 2021: Geopolitics After the Pandemic

The melting “icebergs” of geopolitical risks should not be cause for comfort or complacency. A new form of international competition and the rules of the game associated with it are emerging. It is important for Russia not to be left on the sidelines of this process, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

We often have to deal with the consequences of global political events that we have no ability to influence. These include pandemics, currency collapses, sanctions, and the conflicts experienced by neighbours on our borders. These and other sudden events foster fatalism.

However, one can and should think clearly and objectively about global risks — at least in order to understand how the “ocean currents” of world politics are arranged and from which side an “iceberg” may be expected to appear.

Every January, MGIMO analysts present their forecast of key political risks for the coming year. Our new International Threats 2021 forecast focuses on the key political issues that will determine the development of global events in the coming months. Let’s name three key ones.

1. Will the political transition in the USA be peaceful?

The seizure of the US Congress building by supporters of President Donald Trump on January 6 was a shock to the American political system. The 2020 elections showed that Trumpism is the new constant of American politics. If not for the pandemic, Trump would confidently won the US presidential election. Joe Biden will begin his presidency, inheriting not only the consequences of the pandemic, but also a low degree of legitimacy in the eyes of half of the population. However, the Democrats who gained control of the White House and Congress have begun to squeeze the Republican agenda out of public politics. This threatens to further radicalise the positions of the respective parties.

The American economy has not yet noticed this conflict. The stock market showed little reaction to the January 6 riots in the American capital. Much more important to investors are the environmental priorities of the Biden administration, which can shift the priorities of the global economy significantly.

Morality and Law
Biden’s ’Climate Manifesto’: Global Carbon Footprint Games
Valentin Uvarov
Taking into account recent events, such “universal” themes of American foreign policy agenda as promoting democracy and the fight against terrorism no longer resonate, even among overly loyal supporters of the United States. What remains is what a person cannot live without: clean air and clean water, writes Valentin Uvarov.
Expert Opinions

2. Will China remain cautious or respond to US provocations?

Deng Xiaoping’s stratagem “Hide your strength, bide your time” is again becoming relevant. In the documents of the Fifth Plenary Session of the CPC Central Committee, which determined the guidelines for China’s development for the next 15 years, the word “security” is found more often than “openness” or “innovation”. It is the interests of the stability and security of the political system that will dictate China’s foreign policy prudence.

Security is understood in Beijing as the absence of systemic risks affecting the country’s modernisation. The focus of attention of the Chinese elite is no longer limited to GDP growth rates and other economic indicators. Having accumulated industrial, military and technological power, China acutely felt a new vulnerability — having integrated into the world trade and financial system, but without playing a leading role there, Beijing became highly dependent on the United States. The abrupt change of course in Washington will hit China’s development plans hard.

3. Will Germany push its version of the Green Deal into the EU?

Germany’s strategic goal is to transform Europe into a climate neutral continent by 2050. This is an expensive and ambitious project: from the outside, it is often called environmental madness. However, the result of Germany’s Green Deal will be a new economic and ecological landscape for the EU with German business playing a leading role, thereby setting production standards.

For Berlin, this is the optimal leadership strategy. Not wanting to compete with other major players in its ability to project strength, Germany is betting on the formation of a new “green” economy, where it will set its own rules by asserting itself as a pioneer and technology leader. The expectation is that not only China and Russia, but also the United States will have to abide by German recommendations.

We see that the “ocean currents” of world politics are turning towards environmental priorities, as reflected in international systems of standards, government regulation, economic opportunities and sanctions policy. The melting “icebergs” of geopolitical risks should not be cause for comfort or complacency. A new form of international competition and the rules of the game associated with it are emerging. It is important for Russia not to be left on the sidelines of this process.

The struggle of states for dominance can be seen as a struggle for a place in the future order. Or as the choice of an investment strategy: in which asset to invest resources, in order to receive dividends in the future. The United States, China and Russia are investing in both military power and technology. However, there are other countries that choose either military power (Turkey) or technology (Germany) as a key asset. We believe that next year will bear the first fruits of all three strategies.

The Modern State and the Effects of the Pandemic on International Stability
Nikolai Silaev
The Modern State is an organisation that is always busy, either with war or with preparations for war. Therefore, there is nothing surprising in the fact that the return of this Leviathan (more precisely, the actualisation of this image) arouses expectations that conflicts in international affairs will grow, writes Valdai Club expert Nikolai Silaev. The publication of this article continues online collaboration between Valdai Club as part of its Think Tank project and Argentine Council on International Relations (CARI).
Expert Opinions

“More state” is the leitmotif of the coming year, as governments became the agents of the fight against the pandemic, rather than international institutions, corporations, or non-governmental organisations. It is from states that citizens expect effective measures of protection and guarantees against economic losses. States are bringing to the fight against the pandemic their characteristic spirit of national selfishness and the struggle for primacy. The trend over the past few years has been a return to nationalism, protectionism and great-power rivalry based on strength and power. The pandemic only reinforces this trend.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.