Unusual happenings show that big powers have lost bearing and suffer individual upheavals. They attack each other, gang up against one, and reevaluate the meaning of threat. With hegemonic tendencies disappearing, they are on the skids.
Russia, the focus of Western ganging up, attacked Ukraine in February 2022 and found it rough ‘winning’. Ukraine is a proxy battleground for unfinished American-Russian Cold War confrontation. By invading Ukraine, however, Russia seemingly applied the Bush Doctrine of self-defence through pre-emptive strikes to eliminate perceived potential threat before it actually materialises.
Americans had applied the Bush Doctrine logic to destroy Iraq and Libya and got away with it. For Russia, the intended NATO expansion into Ukraine was a threat that required robust application of the Bush Doctrine.
Although Ukraine has resisted and bloodied Moscow’s geopolitical nose, it is ultimately the loser as continues being bombed. Those who prodded Ukraine to provoke Moscow, paradoxically, appear helpless or unwilling to engage Russia militarily. Though bloodied, Russia is seemingly willing to raise the military stakes and, besides destroying Ukraine, is winning through other means. Those other means involve energy-related socio-political disquiet in Europe.
The US appears confused, weak, and lacks depth in its domestic and foreign policies. It is hemorrhaging due to Donald Trump-inflicted wounds, upsetting orderly behaviour that leads to virtual civil war. American politicians increasingly accuse President Joe Biden of leading the world into global catastrophe.
Biden’s foreign policy misadventures, having gone against sound advice not to provoke Russia by trying to extend NATO into Ukraine, boomeranged. The initial Western solidarity erodes as Europe questions American leadership. With OPEC rejecting his oil policies, Biden did a policy about-turn and looked to Venezuela for energy.
As Russia and the West erode each other’s economies and global standing, China is re-organising its institutions. President Xi Jinping is on a power asserting mode and believes he is greater than New China’s other leaders, Mao and Deng. He has thus rubbished Deng’s governance reforms by eliminating the two-five-year term limit. The public humiliation of his predecessor, Hu Jintao, seemingly crowned Xi as China’s perpetual Number One. Sending sabre-rattling messages that time for incorporating Taiwan into the mainland may not be far, Xi takes advantage of the seeming inability of the US, besides talking big, to act big in Ukraine or elsewhere.
Ukraine remains a source of European misery due to the looming energy shortage in the coming winter. Initially, the European Union enthusiastically supported American desire to ‘punish’ Putin through sanctions. Russia retaliated by inflicting pain on energy-dependent Europe which was hit hard. The prospects for a cold winter inspired internal uprisings, nationalistic fragmentation, and search for reconciliation with Russia as some countries accuse Washington of profiteering from their misery.
Nationalistic interests turn European unity into disunity and questions about the actual source of threat to European well-being arise. Since that source increasingly appears to be American hegemonic tendencies, not Russia, a reassessment of the concept of ‘threat’ is taking place.
The UK, having led in the fragmentation of Europe through Brexit and in propping up Ukraine, also feels the economic misery leading to political instability. This led to the dumping of PMs and production of Rishi Sunak, the second youngest PM after William Pitt the Younger. While blaming Putin’s war in Ukraine for energy-induced economic disaster, Rishi politically benefitted from this crisis.
Hardly any power benefits from the Ukraine war. Many powers are on the skids.