“A World in Turmoil”, an article by Dr. Leonel Fernández

May 28, 2018

In recent days, the United States and the People’s Republic of China, surprisingly agreed to a ceasefire in their trade war. The war began with an increase of tariffs on imports of Chinese household appliances to the North American market, to which steel and aluminum were later added.

China responded with a threat to increase, in a similar manner, tariffs on imports of more than a thousand US products into its market.

The trade
war between the world’s two biggest economic powers has been generating uncertainty and nervousness in different areas of the world economy. Their truce has resulted in momentary relief.

However, this is not the first time that the current incumbent of the White House has undertaken such risky, unilateral and aggressive actions, which have caused confusion and perplexity among many leaders and in different regions of the world.

For example,
shortly after he took office, President Donald Trump cancelled negotiations that the United States was conducting to join, along with several Asian countries, the Trans-Pacific Economic Cooperation Agreement.

Almost simultaneously, the new US president questioned the United States’ benefit gained from the free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada, and pushed for a renegotiation of its terms.

What has happened in terms of international trade
has been replicated in the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris environmental agreements, in the reevaluation of the nuclear proliferation treaty with Iran, in NATO’s role as guarantor of the political and security stability in Europe, and in the relocation of the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

In all of these cases, the question being asked by European countries that are friends of the United States is whether the
so-called Transatlantic Alliance, which was created at the end of the Second World War for the protection of Western world values, has come to an end.

The uncertainty lies in the relationship that the Member States of the European Union have established with President Trump. Faced with the radical changes in policy and foreign trade that he is seeking to introduce in a variety of areas, his counterparts in the Old World are, in principle, trying to court him and to
persuade him to shift his views.

However, this approach has failed. At every single opportunity they have had, the US head of state, in principle, conveys the illusion that perhaps he might be able to consider their advice only to eventually rebuff them.

From the Bipolar World to the New Containment Policy
At the end of the second world-wide confrontation, humanity entered a period of Cold War, which divided it into two
large blocs: the capitalist led by the United States, and the socialist led by the Soviet Union.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the popular democracies of Eastern Europe, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the post-Second World War bipolar world vanished. Initially, this gave rise to a new global reality of a hegemonic nature, in favor of the United States.

However, one of the most novel phenomena of this new post-Cold War
era has been the emergence of new powers, which have challenged the initially unipolar character of the international system, turning it into a multipolar world in economic and social terms. Among these emerging powers are the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), but, in reality, those that currently have the greatest impact on the dynamics of international relations are, of course, the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation.

This has been recognized in the United States National Defense Strategy Paper, published in January of this year, which states that the Great Dragon Nation represents a challenge because of the way in which it operates in the South China Sea, where it has entered into conflict with several of its neighbors in the region, including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam.

In addition, in the power circles of the United States there is concern for what the
so-called Silk Road, with which China aims to build lines of communication that connect the Asian continent with the ports of the Middle East, Europe and Africa, may represent over time.

In turn, as far as Russia is concerned, the US fear is that it is trespassing into the territories of neighboring nations, and that it is imposing restrictions on them so that they cannot join the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

identifying the People’s Republic of China and Russia in its National Defense Strategy as the two main rivals that the United States will have over the coming years, it is clear that US foreign policy will be oriented towards the containment of these two emerging powers.

But, unlike during the Cold War when the U.S. policy of containment was designed for ideological reasons in order to prevent the spread of communism, at present it is motivated, more accurately,
by geopolitical criteria.

This is so because the strategic interest of the United States is to prevent China and Russia from accomplishing their goal of controlling the Eurasian region, since, according to the old geopolitical conception, whoever controls Eurasia controls the world.

Where Do We Go From Here?
The US decision to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has unleashed the wrath of the Palestinians.
During the opening ceremony, there was an uprising in Gaza, which resulted in the highest number of deaths and injuries in that area in recent times.

The United Nations General Assembly had adopted a resolution with the support of 128 countries, 35 abstentions and only 9 votes against, condemning the action of the United States government, which disregarded a previous decision by the world’s highest body. That resolution declared Jerusalem an international city,
whose final status would be subject to negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

At present, the situation in the Middle East is volatile. Some consider that with decisions such as those adopted by President Trump on Jerusalem, the atmosphere becomes even more explosive, and that the prairie could catch fire at any moment with the ongoing conflicts between Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is making
common cause with the United States to disregard the treaty subscribed with Iran on nuclear proliferation, showing that its main fear in the region comes from the Iranian support to the Hamas and Hezbollah groups, which Israel considers to be terrorist organizations.

While these events were taking place in the Middle East, there had been hope in the Asian region that some sort of agreement would be reached between the US and the North Korean governments to achieve the
denuclearization of the country ruled by Kim Jong Un.

From an initial aggressive verbal confrontation, surprisingly, things had moved on to a conciliatory rhetoric. A date had even been set for the summit between the leaders of the United States and the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.

Suddenly, everything stalled. The date and place originally agreed upon for the meeting between the two leaders were cancelled. The illusion that had been initially
created by the possibility of ending the conflict on the Korean Peninsula vanished.

But then, when all hope was gone, President Trump informed the world that the meeting, once again, had been reconvened.

I hope that is the case. Nevertheless, it would not be surprising if once again it were suspended; and then, once again, resumed. And so on, like Sisyphus, who rolls the boulder continually to the top of the hill to see it roll down permanently when
nearing the top; or like Penelope, who unweaves every evening what she has knitted during the day.

In strategic terms, what is clear is that the global order that had been attempted to be built in the post-Cold War period under the leadership of the United States, now seems to be undergoing a process of mutation, in which an original project of a liberal and multilateral nature has been transformed into one that is protectionist and unilateral.

faced with an international situation that is so blurred due to its main actors’ lack of rationality, it is not unreasonable to say that the world is currently disoriented, and that conflicts unnecessarily tend to multiply.

However, in order to avoid a new world war, there is still hope for wisdom, good judgment and reason to once again prevail at some point.