“Each of us has the hope to build a New World Order.”
President Richard Nixon said this phrase during his visit in China more than 40 years ago and it continues to be true today. The US, Russia, the European Union, and China remain the prevailing forces in the global political arena. The goal of building a new future according to a certain vision remains the same, yet the means to achieve that goal that have evolved over time. Presently, the World’s superpowers are making their moves, some very visibly, while others very subtly and often veiled with a smile.
Vladimir Putin, recently proclaimed for the third year in a row as the “world’s most powerful man” by Forbes magazine, has sent Russian troops to Syria. It is the first time since the 1970s that Russians get involved in the Middle East, as Putin strongly supports Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s war against the Islamic State. However, the Kremlin leader has his own reasons for intervening in the region.
The first one is to create a foothold in the Middle East. For the last 25 years, the US has been the one with the greatest influence in the area. American interference in the region has been widely contested not only by American citizens, but by other countries as well. Thus, Putin wants to present himself as a viable alternative to the US.
The other reason is far more significant and it concerns oil, which is in abundant supply in the Middle East. It’s no secret that due to the sanctions imposed by the West; the Russian economy is not faring well. Moreover with falling oil prices, it’s no wonder that Mr. Putin is seeking to control Earth’s second greatest oil supply, as a means of revitalizing the Russian economy. Oil and gas exports count for 70% of total Russian exports, so cheap oil has clearly harmed their economy. GDP has decreased by approximately 4%; inflation has risen to 13%, while the Ruble fell 20% in 2015. This way, Vladimir Putin turns his attention towards what he thinks will be his greatest asset in his rivalry with the United States.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the US has enjoyed the status of a world leader since the end of the Cold War. Now this position is being threatened by both Moscow and Beijing, with the Asian state claiming the waters of the South China Sea. These claims are not legitimized by the US, which has led to increasing tensions between them. Meanwhile President Obama has said time and again that he will not send troops to the Middle East, antagonizing Republicans who are pressing for swift and decisive strikes in Syria and a more pivotal role in world politics.
Obama consoles himself with the difficult economic situation in Russia, which has eased Putin’s foreign pressure. However, the dilemma is that a crumbling Russia is as bad as an overpowered one for the world economy. To completely assess the US role in the future we must consider one currently unknown factor: the outcome of the US 2016 Presidential election.
Lastly, the European Union has found itself involved in another type of crisis. The refugees leaving a war-stricken Middle East seek to find shelter on European shores. Germany is the de facto leader of the Union, mainly because it is among the few that came out of the economic crisis with very few bruises. Many of the European countries find themselves tired from the long economic recovery and have been very distant from the main geopolitical arena. In his latest book, the former Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger raises an appropriate question: Will the emerging Europe become an active participant in the construction of a new international order, or will it consume itself on its own internal issues?
We enter 2016 with weary old players and unreliable and unpredictable new ones. Nevertheless, one thing remains certain: the United States took the mantle of World superpower and patron of freedom long ago. Today, it is imperative that they re-enter the playing field and stand by their allies as they had vowed to do. Otherwise, the World will look a lot more different than today. And not for the better!