Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

The World In 2022: No Guarantee Collective Security Will Triumph

The World In 2022: No Guarantee Collective Security Will Triumph

Sunday, 16 January, 2022 - 11:45
James Jeffrey
Former US Special Representative for Syria Engagement and Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS

In 2022 we face not a new world order but a return to the world of 1941-1991. During that period the US led a global collective security order whose core goal (beyond various monetary, trade, human rights and other objectives) was to defeat efforts by first Germany and Japan, then the Soviet Union and China, to conquer the “world island,” Eurasia. The US-led coalition won twice, in 1945 and 1991, but questions remain whether it can do so a third time given the disintegration of the US/Western “unipolar moment” over the period 1991-2021.

The challenge the US and its global partners face now calls for the same unity seen from 1941-1991. Whether that unity can prevail remains the key global question today. The current challenge has aspects of 1941-1945 (the two challengers Russia and China espouse no universal, proselytizing ideology beyond the same hegemonic ethnic quest seen with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan), and 1946-1991 (the same states, Russia and China). Today’s China however possesses economic power equivalent to the US, which no single hostile state possessed 1941-1991.

The US under President Biden has made clear dozens of times. including in the “Interim National Security Strategy Guidance,” that it will employ against today’s threats the deterrence and containment strategies of collective security so successful against communism. Despite a proven and previously successful strategy, and (with allies and partners) twice the GDP of Russia and China, a new containment success for the US order is not foreordained. First, the stabilizer element of deterrence, mutual destruction through nuclear (and now cyber) weapons, can by chance, weak leadership or mutual fear be turned on its head and accelerate a potentially fatal confrontation.

But four other factors counsel caution if not pessimism. The first is the aforementioned Chinese economic strength, although it is unlikely to continue growing at the same rate. But problems internal to the US, to our allies and partners, and to our overall approach to foreign affairs over the past thirty years are also worrying.

The United States is an ideologically split society, with both parties pursuing dangerous agendas, either denying electoral results when it loses in one case, or pursuing an aggressive almost revolutionary cultural program horrifying to half of Americans and disliked by many in the other half. To effectively lead in dangerous times Americans despite their domestic differences must unite behind their president. That has happened before but never with divides so deep as now.

Likewise America’s key partners and allies face serious problems. Western Europe and Japan, while their combined economies are now greater than that of the US, have lost much of their economic vitality and demographic health. None make particularly large investments in their military and lack the warrior spirit (with the limited exception of Britain and France). India, the final major partner, has deep internal economic and political problems and does not yet have a well-thought out strategic focus beyond Pakistan.

Finally, US elite public opinion and much of that of America’s NATO Allie’s inside and outside of government over the past 30 years have become addicted to “end of history” triumphalism that has pushed them repeatedly into maximalist diplomatic engagements, most recently Afghanistan. While that experience could be sobering, the tendency still in the West to push for maximalist almost revolutionary “our values are universal” diplomatic goals runs directly counter to the “settle for stalemate and compromise” approach which successful execution of long term containment policy requires. And containment and compromise are once again the only way we can maintain a peaceful stable global order.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks