Increasing predictability of international processes, albeit on a negative basis of possible crises, might return an awareness of the value of peace and the responsibility for maintaining to world politics, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
The arrival of 2022 brought with it more predictable international processes than we saw in 2021. This predictability primarily entails bad news — most international trends point to rising international tensions. Nevertheless, this clarity makes it easier for policy analysts and strategists to better prepare for the future ahead. Let’s highlight three key international trends in 2022 that are making the future more predictable.
First, the United States, China and, possibly, Russia, are heading toward a new confrontation in the Pacific. The cause of containing China has gained bipartisan consensus in the United States and has become the main task of American foreign and defence policy. This turn in international relations can be considered the largest in the past decade. It looks even larger than the confrontation between Russia and the West in Eastern Europe. However, it is clear that a literal repetition of the Cold War in East Asia is not expected: there is no former bloc discipline among the allies on each side, and deep interdependence limits Washington and Beijing in their choice of political and military strategies. The influence of the American-Chinese confrontation on world politics will grow. This poses both threats and opportunities for some countries in the Pacific region and beyond.
Most observers view Taiwan as a possible geographic location for the next Caribbean crisis. Some of them have gone so far as to name conditions that could lead to an aggravation of this crisis in 2022: for example, increased pressure from American allies on Beijing, or the internal political aggravation of the situation in China in connection with the extension of Xi Jinping’s powers, or an international provocation, which may coincide with the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games. Although on the horizon of one year we do not see the conditions for the Taiwan issue to turn into an acute military-political crisis, the growing tension in relations between China and the United States forces us to view improving these bilateral relations as key to bringing out peace and stability in the 21st century.
The search for a new balance continues in Europe. The largest European countries retain their enormous economic potential and enviable prosperity, which is clearly evidenced by the directions of migration flows to Europe. However, the new era presents European countries with the need to develop a new foreign policy strategy. Europe will have to define its role in the US-China confrontation and develop a new course towards Eurasia, because the countries of this continent have long been unwilling to act as passive recipients of European values, norms and practices.
However, the vacations from strategic thinking which have absorbed most of the elites of the countries of the Old World, have prevented them from taking a sober view of the real state of affairs. In these conditions, they find it difficult to develop new principles that can be used as the basis for strategic planning among the leading EU countries; and this does not encourage Europe to return as one of the influential centres of world politics in 2022.
The situation is especially dramatic due to the fact that at the end of 2021, the Ukrainian crisis and the military-political contradictions between Russia and the United States in Eastern Europe sharply worsened. In this regard, most of the countries of the Old World, in fact, began to act as outside observers, not playing a leading role. Their lot is only to speculate: will a war start in Ukraine or not? The media of European countries describe scenarios of how it might look, and also indicate the conditions that could lead to it: for example, the start of a military operation by the Ukrainian authorities in the Donbass or the expansion of military assistance from NATO states to Ukraine, including the supply of weapons. One way or another, the Ukraine crisis, a consequence of the irresponsible policy of the Kiev authorities and the unsettled state of affairs between Russia and the West in connection with NATO’s eastward expansion, will continue to structure security policy in Europe in 2022.
The third key process will be the restructuring of Central Asia and the South Caucasus, which has begun to experience more and more influence from the Middle East. The second Karabakh war and the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan created a new power configuration in the area between the Black Sea and the western border of China. Turkey’s intervention in the South Caucasus has made the region a part of the Middle East’s international agenda, and the Taliban’s power in Afghanistan has presented the Central Asian countries with new security challenges. The year 2022 should show how manageable the situation in the two regions will be kept and whether the contradictions between the most influential acting forces will turn out to be so dangerous that both of these regions once again run the risk of open conflict.
Apart from Russia, Turkey remains the most active player in the region. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with his offensive line, not only aggravated international processes in regions where Turkey maintains a presence, but also alienated many of his allies, including among the NATO states. On the domestic front, Erdogan is not so simple either: experiments with the national currency have led to a drop in household incomes and an increase in social tensions. It is possible that in an attempt to seize the initiative, the Turkish leader will again announce early elections, which will have to confirm the confidence of the population in him. However, a slowdown in economic growth in Turkey amid rising inflation may prevent this scenario from coming true. A tougher US and EU stance on human rights and democracy in Turkey will also create additional problems for Erdogan. Finally, the expected rise in energy prices could exacerbate the already precarious situation in the Turkish economy. The decline in Turkey’s activity as one of the most influential players in the South Caucasus and Central Asia may have both positive and negative effects. It is more convenient for Moscow to maintain relations with a partner which is responsible, albeit not always ready for compromise, which is how Turkey seems to operate now. We will observe the development of the state of affairs in this part of the world.
A significant proportion of the processes in international development in 2022 will centre around these outlined three key trends. Let’s hope that the increasing predictability of international processes, despite the higher likelihood of crises and other negative outcomes, will return to us an awareness of the value of peace and the responsibility for maintaining cordiality in world politics. In theory, this should lead to the end of experiments to impose other norms, values and political practices, as well as to an increase in attention to national traditions, interests and thinking among the national elites on the part of the leading international actors.