The loss of life and devastation caused by this summer’s wildfires, floods, and drought unmistakably show that climate change is going to impact the world sooner and much more dramatically than generally expected. But understandably, many nations are also concerned about food security, and the suspension of the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
On July 10, President Putin told journalists that not a single clause of the grain deal related to Russian interests has been fulfilled.
And last week Secretary Blinken stated the following in an interview with BBC’s Focus on Africa: “Russia was exporting more than ever before in its history. So the notion that there is some big impediment in terms of one bank or another not being involved in the process is simply wrong. Russian food products were getting out – we want them to. We want the world to benefit from their grain, from their wheat, just as the world wants to benefit from Ukrainian grain and wheat.”
In brief, the narratives of Russia and the US regarding the problem are totally different. And it seems that US efforts to rally the Global South against Russia have not made much progress, the main obstacle being the West’s colonial past. But a Russian court’s sentencing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny to 19 years in prison was a shot in the foot for President Putin. Because in today’s world, there are limits to violations of justice even in authoritarian states and dictatorships, especially for those with claims to global leadership.
Black Sea grain is important because people need bread. But people also need water. And this is what the UN says on the world’s water challenge:
“About two billion people worldwide don’t have access to safe drinking water today, and roughly half of the world’s population is experiencing severe water scarcity for at least part of the year (IPCC). These numbers are expected to increase, exacerbated by climate change and population growth (WMO).
“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C compared to 2°C would approximately halve the proportion of the world population expected to suffer water scarcity, although there is considerable variability between regions (IPCC).” [i]
Unfortunately, the world’s leading powers are far from cooperating to meet such challenges and some countries are already suffering from extreme drought. Russia and the West, led by the US, are at war and the “strategic competition” between the US and China is expanding.
As for the war in Ukraine, Western media reports have turned gloomy. Yes, Ukrainian drones have reached Moscow, Russian bridges have been targeted, and Ukrainian sea drones have hit Russian naval vessels in the Black Sea but little has changed in the land battle. And Russia feels no inhibition in continuing its attacks on civilian targets in Ukraine. This is what the Washington Post reported last week under the heading “Slow counteroffensive darkens mood in Ukraine”:
“Throughout, Ukrainian officials and their Western partners hyped up a coming counteroffensive — one that, buoyed by a flood of new weapons and training, they hoped would turn the tide of the war.
“But two months after Ukraine went on the attack, with little visible progress on the front and a relentless, bloody summer across the country, the narrative of unity and endless perseverance has begun to fray.”
Moreover, it seems that F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots faces delays and uncertainty.
What may also be of concern to the Ukrainian leadership is how US domestic political developments might influence Western support for Kyiv. Vice-versa, the likely runners in the 2024 US presidential election are probably trying to figure out how the war in Ukraine might influence the voters’ choices next year. The twentieth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq was an occasion for expressions of regret. Is it possible that in another twenty years, some might look back and say that the war in Ukraine could and should have been avoided?
Thus, despite the usual tough talk, a search for a ceasefire could be in the cards as this would allow the parties to have a moment of calm to take a deeper look into the future. After all, despite being a nuclear power, today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union of the bipolar Cold War world order. It has rich natural resources but has not been able to adapt itself to the global economy like China. It has almost twice the land area of China and the US with a population of only 146 million. In other words, a weakened Russia would face significant challenges after the war in Ukraine. Whatever the background, bringing the war in Ukraine to a conclusion would serve Russian interests better than an endless war.
US competition with Beijing is a different case. Because China, with the coming to power of Deng Xiaoping, has shaped its unique form of modernity through a combination of internalizing Western achievements and its past. It has succeeded in creating, incredibly rapidly, an export-oriented economy connected with the US, Europe, Russia, and the rest of the world. It has established economic bridgeheads in Africa and developed good relations with the oil-rich countries of the Middle East. Accordingly, economic development and trade with the world have become the centerpiece of Chinese foreign policy leading to the prediction that China would become the world’s number one economic power in the 2030s. Nonetheless, the corollary to such predictions has been that the US would continue to be the world’s number one military power for the foreseeable future.
For nearly five decades following President Nixon’s visit to Beijing in 1971, China and the US succeeded in preventing their differences over Taiwan from turning into conflict. But now tensions around Taiwan and in the South China Sea are on the rise.
In so far as China’s economy is concerned, according to some, the current shortage of domestic demand and lower consumer prices suggest a deflationary trend. Moreover, there is a sharp fall in China’s exports due to weaker global demand.
Thus, with a weakened Russia, Washington is turning its attention increasingly toward the Far East to contain China militarily and block its path to becoming the world’s number one economic power through sanctions and other economic measures.
At a campaign reception in Salt Lake City, Utah, President Biden said “For years I was the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. And when I was Barack’s vice president, I handled a significant portion of the — of the foreign policy we had to deal with because I knew all these people. I knew the heads of state from being around a long time.” And he continued with the following:
“And we have China to deal with. And China is a ticking time-bomb in many cases. But it is — I’m the only one — now people are beginning to agree: China is in trouble. China was growing at 8 percent a year to maintain growth — and now closer to 2 percent a year.
“China finds itself in a position where it’s — it’s — it has the highest unemployment rate going. It’s in a position where it’s — the number of — the number of people who are of retirement age is larger than the number of people of working age. So, they got some problems. That’s not good because when bad folks have problems, they do bad things.
“So — but my point is: managing China and managing that relationship. And I’ve spent more time with Xi Jinping than any world leader has. They’ve kept every — they keep tabs of all of it — 68 hours of personally — just he and I with an interpreter each — and another 15 hours on Zoom.
“And this is a guy who is a — who I think I understand. And this is a guy who — we’re not looking for a fight with China. But we’re looking for a rationale relat- — a rational relationship to have with China.
“I don’t want to hurt China. But in the meantime, I watched what China was doing. So I put together a thing called the Quad. We brought together as an alliance India, Japan, Australia, and the United States. We put ourselves in a position where now we have the Philippines and, soon, Vietnam and Cambodia wanting to be part of a relationship with us because they’re — they don’t want to — they don’t want to have a defense alliance, but they want relationships because they want China to know that they’re not alone.” [ii]
It is worth remembering that at his closing press conference on July 12, 2023, at the end of the 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg said that NATO leaders met on that day with the leaders of Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea, as well as the European Union; that NATO is a regional Alliance, but it faces global challenges; what happens in Europe matters to the Indo-Pacific, and what happens in the Indo-Pacific matters to North America and Europe; Beijing’s global assertiveness and Moscow’s war against Ukraine require even closer coordination between NATO, the EU and NATO’s Indo-Pacific partners. He then added that NATO is reinforcing our ties with Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Korea with tailored partnership programs, including joint work on issues like maritime security, new technologies, cyber, climate change, and resilience. [iii]
Before the Vilnius Summit there had been suggestions, that NATO would open an office in Tokyo – its first in Asia – in response to the growing challenge posed by China and Russia. But President Macron had said the move would be a “big mistake”. And “NATO [stands for] north Atlantic, and both article V and article VI [in its statutes] clearly limit the scope to north Atlantic,” a French official, who asked not to be named, had said in June.
When Mr. Stoltenberg was asked about such an office in Tokyo, he simply said, “The issue of a liaison office is still on the table, it will be considered in the future.”
The Cold War was a confrontation between capitalism and communism in a bipolar world. What followed the dissolution of the Soviet Union is, unfortunately, a confrontation between democracy and authoritarianism, diverse and sometimes conflicting national interests, and a more complicated world with emerging powers and international groups, among them the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), BRICS, the African Union (AU), and the G20.
President Obama advocated democracy. Yet his pledge for multilateralism was the defining feature of his foreign policy and earned him the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. It is time for all nations to recognize that the competition between democracy and authoritarianism will continue, and it should. Still, effective multilateralism is the least costly way of managing if not eliminating confrontations.
Speaking of President Obama, he arrived in Türkiye in 2009, after attending a G20 summit in London, a NATO summit in Strasbourg, and an EU summit in Prague. In other words, this was his first bilateral visit abroad.
The following paragraph is from the speech he delivered before the Turkish Grand National Assembly on April 6, 2009:
“This morning I had the great privilege of visiting the tomb of your extraordinary founder of your republic. And I was deeply impressed by this beautiful memorial to a man who did so much to shape the course of history. But it is also clear that the greatest monument to Atatürk’s life is not something that can be cast in stone and marble. His greatest legacy is Turkey’s strong, vibrant, secular democracy, and that is the work this assembly carries on today…” [iv]
Unfortunately, that was then this is now and nobody knows the answer to the question “Quo vadis Türkiye?”