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The multipolar world as an answer?

John Dolva

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The Ukraine and the beginning of the multipolar world


Currently a Research Associate at the INSYTE Group, Dr. Roslyn Fuller has previously lectured at Trinity College and the National University of Ireland. She can be reached at fullerr@tcd.ie

There is an old English saying: “The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind exceeding fine”. Or to put it more colloquially, “What goes around comes around.” Nowhere is this truer than in the sphere of international relations.

To fully appreciate events in the Ukraine and what they mean, it’s necessary to know a bit about the current state of global affairs. During the Cold War international institutions – especially the UN Security Council – failed to perform, primarily because topics on which any degree of consensus existed between East and West were scarce on the ground. It is slightly misleading to say that this led to the USA and USSR carving up (sometimes quite literally) the world between them, because no one was precisely under an obligation to engage in this kind of behavior, but it certainly provided a handy, and not entirely spurious, excuse.

The winner takes it all

When the Cold War ended, Western nations and their allies were abruptly presented with an open playing field. They dominated the international institutions (especially the UN, IMF and World Bank), as well as the global economy (via the G-7), and were now free to wield these tools to remake the world in an image more consonant with the values they had spent the last half century so loudly professing. Democracy, freedom, human rights, economic prosperity – now that the Wall was down all of this stuff would shortly be coming everyone’s way as we entered into a Golden Age of international law and multilateral cooperation. Might would no longer be quite so right, realpolitik would give way to principle.

That was the theory, anyway. What happened, unfortunately, was that a few people – by and large based in Western nations, but by no means representative of their fellow citizens – took this opportunity to “take it all”, or at least as much of it as they could swallow without choking. Historically, this type of behavior has been de rigeur in international relations and old habits die hard. This “take it while it’s going” attitude meant using all the old institutions (the UN, the IMF) and the new ones (like the International Criminal Court) purely in pursuit of their own self-interests. These were quite narrow, as the people in charge of Western nations at this point were by and large corporate-friendly types who didn’t harbor too much sympathy for the unwashed masses. As a result, the post-War Keynesian economic framework was systematically dismantled, whole new nations entered the bond-servitude of IMF debt, and the new International Criminal Court was wielded effectively against recalcitrant third world leaders (Laurent Gbagbo, Muammar Gaddafi), while intervention-happy first world countries like Britain and the United States disingenuously claimed that over the 70 years since the Second World War they had been unable to come up with a definition of “aggression” (a feat all the more amazing, when one considers that the whole realm of international criminal law was kicked off by exactly these nations prosecuting leading Nazis for precisely this crime).

Through all of these short-sighted policies, the message came through loud and clear: my way or the highway. Nothing’s changed.

The multipolar world as an answer?

International law practitioners could not fail to notice that in some respects our world was getting worse. In particular, inequality was increasing and control of our political and economic framework was rapidly devolving on fewer and fewer individuals, who made decisions that very few people could even understand, much less partake in. We were less well-off than our parents were and shut out from the very political processes that we had been trained to participate in. Money and connections were fast becoming the only qualifications one needed to get any job involving public responsibility, and ideas of economic and political equality that had once been mainstream were dismissed as “radical” and “naïve” with a vehemence that increased with each passing year.

And this is why, for at least the past ten years, the multipolar world is a vision that has gained increasing traction in the international relations realm as possibly a fairly decent alternative to rule by the 1 percent. In this particular scenario, the world is again carved up, but this time four or five superpowers are in play.

Who are these superpowers? Certainly, the USA and the EU, which work in tandem on many issues. The EU is, of course, still the lesser partner, but the more human and economic resources at its disposal, the more powerful the EU is going to be ten or twenty years down the line; hence, the impetus for rapid eastward expansion. China is also a certainty. With a billion people at its disposal, it is already the world’s second largest economy and has managed to translate this into spot number three in voting power at the World Bank. In this global chess game, Russia (the fourth power here) has adopted a position that has thus far mainly been defensive, not because of any inherent goodness, but merely because that’s where the chips are lying. Traditional client-States, like Syria and Iran, are firmly in Western crosshairs and the EU has already snapped up much of its former sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. While the EU is expanding as far as possible, Russia is trying to double down on what has traditionally been its sphere of influence in order to stay in the game. These familiar actors may eventually be rounded out by India and/or a more integrated South America spearheaded by Brazil.

The current wrangling over the Ukraine has really only exposed some of the ways great powers do business with each other, i.e. testing where the boundaries lie. Will the boundary between the EU and Russia be on the eastern border of the Ukraine, the western border of the Ukraine, or smack down the middle? It’s hardly the type of question where you just sit back and see how things shake out when you are literally responsible for the fate of your nation (especially when military facilities are at stake), and it is a bland truism to point out that when two powerful nations set sights on each other, anyone in between them is in for a rough ride. This painful process is deeply rooted in an international system which shows no mercy for losers and very little for the hapless bystander.

As this indicates, the multipolar world is in many respects regressive and nationally-oriented, but it does present a sea change from what we have been experiencing over the past twenty years, which is rule by an unchecked 1 percent and a world descending into modern feudalism. Russia before Putin was run by oligarchs with many a conservative Western analyst openly proposing emulating them. Had that continued and had China’s thousands of billionaires and millionaires gotten onboard, we might be looking at a much worse picture.

Now I admit that a choice between Cold War Version 2.0 with new and improved superpowers, or global serfdom is hardly inspiring stuff. But if we want to avoid making that choice, we’re going to have to consider some deep changes.

When I talk about the slow-grinding mills of God, I’m not primarily referring to Eastern or Western powers’ ability to call “humanitarian intervention”, “minority rights” or “propaganda black ops” on each other, terms which after decades of misuse retain a legal meaning, but have lost much currency in the broader area of public consumption. I’m referring to us as citizens, citizens primarily in the Western world, because we are still, despite everything, in the strongest position to affect international relations. As citizens we haven’t demanded a great deal of accountability from our governments over the past two decades and have turned a blind eye to policies that have not only served to virtually dispossess us, but also to alienate us from other people whom we, at the end of the day, have no choice but to get along with, given as we’re all inhabiting the same rock. Years of sitting back and hoping that someone else will take care of this mess is all catching up on us now.

The good news is that it is perfectly possible to have an international system which does a far better job of providing a principled framework for dispute resolution than the current one does, but only if we all ditch the “my way or the highway” attitude, which has prevented the World Trade Organization, International Criminal Court, International Monetary Fund and United Nations from fulfilling their roles by putting short-term gains for the few ahead of long-term sustainability for everyone. It does require some effort though. Time to ditch reality TV in favor of tracking your MP’s voting record, and replace general complaint hour at the pub with volunteering for any of the myriad causes that don’t just talk about change, but actually do it. Rolling Jubilee which buys up and then writes off debt is a good example, but there are literally thousands of others. Demanding a (truly) independent investigation into sniper attacks on protesters in the Ukraine also comes to mind. Considering EU Foreign Policy Coordinator Catherine Ashton’s lukewarm response when this point was raised with her by the Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, that might well be necessary. Then there are all the legacy issues: drone strikes, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq… the usual. They’ve blurred the lines of international law – in public perception – and if we want to move forward, those lines need to get sharp again; it means dealing with those issues head on and owning up to what went wrong.

The bottom line is that we have worked ourselves into a corner over the past twenty years by dismantling the very international legal system that would have enabled us to achieve our hopes of peace and prosperity. Trust is at an all-time low. We need to start rebuilding confidence in our international system and international law. Together!

Not willing to go that effort? Well, welcome to the multipolar world then. And just remember, that’s the good option.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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People struggle to come to terms with a new world. A few leaders of 'western' countries appear to be engaged in destabilisation as a way to deal with it (chaos is easier to control) Much of the world continues to rationally and peacefully to go down a different path. Perhaps this divergence of paradigm will be a defining feature of the early 21'st century.


Sanctions effect: Russia to change its economic partners…for the better

Published time: March 21, 2014 15:34

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, China's President Xi Jinping and South African President Jacob Zuma pose for a photo after the BRICS leader's meeting at the G20 summit on September 5, 2013 in Saint Petersburg.(AFP Photo / Sergei Karpukhin )

Western sanctions might push Russia to deepen cooperation with BRICS states, in particular, to strengthen its ties with China, which will possibly turn out to be a big catastrophe for the US and the EU some time later.

On March 18, the spokesperson for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, claimed in a BBC interview that Russia would switch to new partners in case of economic sanctions being imposed by the European Union and the United States. He highlighted that the modern world isn't unipolar and Russia has strong ties with other states as well, though Russia wants to remain in good relations with its Western partners, especially with the EU due to the volume of deals and joint projects.

Those “new partners” are not really new since Russia has been closely interconnected with them for almost 13 years. This is all about the so-called BRICS organization, consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. BRICS represents 42 percent of the world’s population and about a quarter of the world’s economy, which means that this bloc of states is an important global actor.

The BRICS countries are like-minded in regard to supporting the principles of international law, the central role of the UN Security Council and the principles of the non-use of force in international relations; this is why they are so actively performing in the sphere of settling regional conflicts. However, the cooperation between Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa goes beyond political aspects and is also demonstrated by dynamic trade and multiple projects in different areas. Today, in total, there are more than 20 formats of cooperation within the BRICS which are intensively developing. For example, in February the member-states came to an agreement about 11 prospective directions of scientific and technical cooperation, from aeronautics to bio- and nanotechnology. In order to modernize the global economic system, at the center of which stand the US and the EU, the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa have created the BRICS Stock Alliance and are creating their own development bank to finance large infrastructure projects. On the whole, despite fierce criticism of BRICS as an organization with no future, it is developing and increasing cooperation with its members and, in fact, BRICS is showing pretty good results.

With suspension of Russian participation in G8 and possible strengthening of economic sanctions, the experts expect some particular industries to be targeted, including limits on imported products. While the West seeks to hit Russia hard, it is important to notice that Russia is ready to switch to other markets, for instance BRICS, and increase trade volumes with countries from this bloc.

Indeed, Russia buys significant amount of products from NATO states, for example, 50 percent of fruits and berries come from Spain, Holland and Poland. Nevertheless, Russia is intensifying its economic ties with the developing world. In 2012 Russia was buying 41 percent of its beef from Brazil, though this index has recently decreased to 20 percent, and Russia is likely to increase its import in case of need. In February 2013, Russia and Brazil reached an agreement on the long-standing problem of pork exports to Russia, as well as agreeing on a list of sanitary and quality requirements for the annual import of millions of metric tons of Russian wheat. This is a shining example of the substitute partnerships that have yielded positive results, although some problems with sanitary norms had to be resolved. In other words, it’s beyond the power of the EU and US to make Russian people suffer from products scarcity since they are not the country’s only trade partners.


Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.(Reuters / Sergei Ilnitsky)

The biggest brick in BRICS

It’s hard to ignore the fact that the role of the biggest and strongest member of BRICS is China’s, and obviously Russia will seek to improve its relations with Beijing even more than before. During the last year, relations between Russia and China have been enhancing and actively developing in various spheres. In particular, in 2013 the states signed 21 trade agreements, including a new 100 million ton oil supply deal with China’s Sinopec. In October 2013, the Xinhua news agency also reported that the two governments signed an agreement to jointly build an oil refinery in Tianjin, east of Beijing.

Moreover, China promised to pump $20 billion of investment into domestic projects in Russia, focusing on transport infrastructure, highways, ports, and airports, and it hoped to increase investment in Russia four-fold by 2020. In 2013, the trade volume between the states reached $89 billion, with bilateral economic relations showing positive signs, meaning that further cooperation will increase.

Indeed, leaders of the states called for annual bilateral trade between the two countries to be boosted to $100 billion by 2015. Besides, the two countries are considering further partnerships in the energy sector, particularly in the gas industry.

Currently, Russian gas is not supplied to China, though in 2013 Russia’s biggest independent natural gas producer, Novatek, signed preliminary memorandums with CNPC to sell at least 3 million tons of LNG per year between Yamal LNG and PetroChina International. Another Russian company, Rosneft, which is 75 percent state-owned, is vastly expanding its LNG projects to diversify its portfolio, and is focusing heavily on eastern markets, like Japan and China. In terms of confrontation between the West and Russia, the gas contracts between China and Russia could really gain momentum. At the same time it’s possible that Moscow would sign contracts on the sale of the Sukhoi Su-35 fighter to China before President Putin embarks on a visit to Beijing in May.

In 2014, Russia and China have a full agenda for bilateral cooperation, which includes not only trade but also such spheres as energy, aircraft building, mechanical engineering, military and science cooperation, tourism, etc. At the same time, cultural ties between the two nations are also strengthening, with 2014-2015 being named years of youth exchange. The leaders of Russia and China also decided to prepare jointly celebration events for the 70th anniversary of the victory over German fascism and Japanese militarism in 2015.


President Dilma Rousseff (L) speaks before the BRICS summit in Saint Petersburg in the sidelines of the G20 summit on September 5, 2013.(AFP Photo / G20RUSSIA)

Another important aspect of cooperation between Russia, China and India touches upon Afghanistan. The trilateral involvement of those nations into the Afghan issue has been actively developing since 2013 and could become a major factor for the Afghan leadership following the US withdrawal. It is important to note that the Afghanistan issue is vital to the regional security of Russia, China and India.

Once again, the recent Olympic Games emphasized the specific character of relations between China and Russia. The Chinese president, unlike European leaders, was present at the Opening Ceremony, which is especially demonstrative given that it was the time of the Spring Festival in China, when the Chinese prefer not to leave their homes except for visiting relatives and close friends.

Thus, China may become the biggest beneficiary of the sanctions against Russia since it means further rapprochement between Russia and China. One should remember that China has always been mainly interested in doing business and for sure it would be silly for Beijing to lose such a great opportunity to strengthen its ties with Russia. If I were someone responsible for decisions in Brussels or Washington, I would revise my opinion on implementation of sanctions against Russia. I wouldn't call it a possible revival of the “Sino-Soviet axe” which existed during the Cold War and was an ideological counter-balance for the West, although this time the West itself is pushing one of its main rivals closer to another, creating a massive power that would surpass both the US and the EU by a long chalk. So the question is whether the West really wants this to happen? And what will it do when the Chinese dragon and Russian bear form an alliance?

Brazil is not only about meat

As was already mentioned, another BRICS-member Brazil is one of the Russian suppliers of meat, and trade in this industry is likely to rise if the West resorts to economic sanctions. However, meat import isn’t the only thing that binds these states. Over the last few years, Russia has also imported Brazilian coffee, sugar, juices and alcohol and exported mainly fertilizers. Moscow and Brasilia made a commitment to develop comprehensive cooperation in various areas, although for the moment particular attention is being paid to the military sphere. For instance, in December 2012 the states signed a treaty on supplies of Russian helicopters to Brazil.

The total trade volume between Russia and Brazil in 2013 made up $5.7 billion, however the two states seek to increase it up to $10 billion in the near future. The trade index in January 2014 reached $438.9 million, which was $25 million higher in comparison with January 2013. The distinctive feature of the cooperation between the two countries is the complimentary character of their economies, which makes ties between Brazil and Russia even stronger. In fact, there is a great potential for Russian-Brazilian cooperation and results of these ties could also be disappointing for the West.

I is for India

In his speech at a joint session of parliament on March 18, Russian President Putin thanked both India and China for their stance on the Ukrainian crisis. But why is India supporting Russia? Maybe the Indian government equates some similarities with Crimea in the history of Sikkim’s referendum and further merger with India when it became the 22nd Indian state in 1975 with Russian support. Maybe India is just seeking to develop closer ties and mutually beneficial partnerships with Russia.

Anyway, let’s look at some facts and figures. In 2012, bilateral trade volume reached $11,000 million which is rather modest in comparison with China or Brazil. Moreover, in 2013 this index slightly decreased. However, 2014 promises the renewal of bilateral contracts between India and Russia. For example, Defexpo India 2014 has reaffirmed the special relationship that exists between the defense industries of Russia and India, with a pavilion that houses exhibits of Russian companies being visited by top members of the Indian establishment. In general, the defense interactions between Russia and India are quite diversified, with almost every defense contract providing the creation of joint ventures or licensed production. In 2013, India’s import of Russian weapons reached $4.78 billion. Another industry which attracts India is computer-guided weapons, produced by the Russian Morinformsystem-Agat Concern.

In February the two states also confirmed their plans to boost cooperation in nuclear energy, with the former backing the construction of more units at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project (KNPP) and other parts of the country. Besides, India and Russia are set to sign an agreement aimed at productive cooperation in many spheres: space and military cooperation, trade, construction of a pipeline from Russia to India, and plans to set up a Joint Study Group to look into the scope of the CECA (Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement) with member-countries of the Customs Union (the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Belarus). It is certain that after this issue is addressed, trade volumes between Russia and India, as well as between the Customs Union and India will increase significantly.


AFP Photo / Prakash Singh

Costs for the West

It’s not really rational for the US and the EU to antagonize and try to isolate Russia. And there are several reasons for this. First of all, Russia is the largest oil and gas producer in the world and it simply means that imposing economic sanctions on Russia would shake up the global energy market and, therefore, the entire global economy. Not to mention the EU’s dependency on Russian gas. Are the global economies ready to witness a new crisis, given that they are still recovering from the latest financial crisis? It’s doubtful.

Second, Russia is investing massively in the US financial market, especially in Treasury bonds, and consequently, if Russia decides to withdraw its investments in response to Western sanctions, it would hit the US economy and cause a real financial crisis. So, crisis again.

Finally, during the last few years the Russian market has become one of the world’s largest markets for EU goods, products and services, while the EU is actively investing in Russia. In case of further worsening of relations between Russia and the West, the EU will have a serious headache, searching for new markets and suffering lasting damage because of suspended joint contracts.

So is it really worth pushing for such a gloomy future, or is it better to recognize the will of the Crimeans and give the whole of Ukraine a chance for a better life?

Irina Sukhoparova, RT

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Edited by John Dolva
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Granma :

A multipolar world

Emir Sader

The most important shift in contemporary history came with the end of the Cold War, as it had been known, when one camp in the bipolar world disappeared, opening the door to the hegemony of U.S. imperialism.

mundo1.JPGChinese President Xi Jinping (right) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, signed an agreement in Shanghai to broaden cooperation in all areas, and coordinate diplomatic efforts, to consolidate a comprehensive strategic relationship. Foto: Pang Xinglei / Xinhua Press.

The United States immediately took advantage of its unquestioned superiority, taking smoldering conflicts to the level of military confrontation. This militarization was seen most acutely in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. Although each of these conflicts had distinct characteristics, they were all resolved militarily, following the pattern of invasion, occupation, bombing and overthrowing of the government.

Despite complications, this strategy was imposed without the presentation of serious obstacles to U.S. domination, until recently, when the conflict in Syria took an unexpected turn. Bombing of the territory was imminent, when a proposal formulated by the Russian foreign minister was accepted by the United States.

mundo2.jpgMilitary conflicts were unleashed by the U.S. in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, all following a pattern of invasion, occupation, bombing and overthrowing of the government.

The burden of previous military operations had begun to erode the hegemonic capability of the United States. It was significant that the first refusal to participate in the bombing of Syria came from the principal U.S. ally – Britain. Parliament refused to approve the country’s participation in another adventure, as a direct consequence of the invasion of Iraq, which led to the undoing of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Moreover, Obama was obliged to accept the Russian proposal since U.S. public opinion was not inclined to support another war with an uncertain outcome. Nor was the military convinced that a ‘surgical’ bombing operation would be successful. Not even his family supported a military solution.

mundo3.jpgThe U.S. and European powers could not prevent Crimea from joining the Russian Federation, after a referendum on the issue was held.

Support for negotiation in Syria was extended to Iran – a related conflict. There has been progress, despite difficulties, in both cases, with Russia as the new protagonist within the process. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has seen its military options limited and been obliged to accept political terms negotiated in agreements between governments.

The situation in Ukraine, with its distinctive features, reflects this same trend.

mundo4.jpgBrazil, India, Russia, China and South Africa, as members of the BRICS alliance, are gaining influence economically and politically on an international level, as evidenced in this graphic from the St. Petersburg Summit.

With the disappearance of the USSR, western powers avariciously approached Eastern Europe, looking to incorporate the former Soviet Republics into the European Union and NATO.

Ukraine is a special case, since it is located directly on the Russian border and the ports of Crimea are essential to Russia, both militarily and commercially. The violent actions of pro-European Union forces - including the prohibition of the Russian language - have weakened their ability to unify a country with much regional diversity.

Clearly a dynamic has developed in which western powers and their media are denouncing Russia as supporting the dismembering of Ukraine, but find themselves prevented from intervening directly, generating a situation in which their options are limited.

The process of integration underway in Latin America and the Caribbean is
indicative of what could become a multipolar world. Pictured is the 2nd CELAC Summit (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), held in January this
year, In Havana.

While western powers resorted to innocuous sanctions of Russia, Putin was meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping to sign a broad energy agreement, as well as a plan to limit use of the U.S. dollar in trade between the two countries. The agreements contribute to the development an independent field of action, in opposition to that of the U.S. led bloc. The change is already noticeable in the Ukrainian situation, in which the U.S. has its allies – some more compliant than others – while Russia enjoys the support of BRICS countries, Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

The agreements reached by China and Russia; the strengthening of the BRICS alliance; and the process of integration underway in Latin America and the Caribbean are indicative of what could become a multipolar world. The coming years will confirm, or invalidate, this perspective.

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