In the wake of post-Atlanticism
In a chain of political reactions, Russia acts as a protective fence to China, hindering the US rebalancing strategy against China while the European security structure is challenged by Russia. In this geopolitical game, the western position must refocus on practical co-operation and extended dialogue with the Central Asian region since geographically, Central Asia is divided between Russia and China. Currently, institutional outreach of the EU and NATO is almost non-existent there.
The first stage of contemporary global order transformation took place after the First World War, having a temporary soothing effect while a number of the great economic powers were in the process of recovery. On top of that, an intricate system of alliances before the war induced imperial and colonial rivalry for wealth and resulted in the fiasco of the European balance of power.
The second stage of the global paradigm shift occurred after the Second World War. International actors claimed neighbouring territories and expansionism had been the driving force behind nationalistic states expanding their territorial boundaries by means of military aggression. At the end of the Second World War, the United States perceived its involvement in the European security framework as the top priority in order to avoid the emergence of a new hegemonic power in Europe on the debris of the European balance of power. The risk that the Soviet Union could succeed where Nazi Germany had collapsed elicited the US-European security partnership which formed the basis of the Atlantic political order.
Subsequently, during the Cold War, bloc-based security systems emerged and European states along with the US established a number of security institutions. The aim of multi-layered institutional arrangements was to prevent Soviet pressure and influence in the rest of Europe. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US was the only remaining superpower. China has since emerged among the highflyers while the Russian Federation has come back to the political stage, creating a more multi-polar world order.
Thus, understanding future developments requires a look through the prism of China in the Central Asian region. Needless to say, these territories in the past were under Chinese imperial influence. Still, recent military activities and economic developments illustrate that China’s current bid on its own Central Asian provinces – Xinjiang and Tibet – is significantly projecting power at the Central Asian republics. The outreach of EU institutions is very weak in this region. EU presence in Central Asia is understood through the chain of “neighbours of the EU neighbourhood”. And when comparing the EU’s presence to that of China, Central Asian countries are immediate neighbours for Beijing. By contrast, referring to the Russian approach towards Central Asian countries, these states are still claimed to be in the sphere of Russian influence, similarly as the South Caucasus is claimed as Russia’s backyard.
What is more, common European values in the 21st century in the scope of the transatlantic relationship seem to be losing their importance. Emerging powers like China, Brazil and India are far more attractive and vital for US interests, but the recent strategic pivot from Europe to Asia temporarily sacked the US strategic manoeuvre due to Russia’s geopolitical awakening which poses an open challenge to the European Security framework. Yet, in spite of all the challenges and difficulties based on the wider global context, the strategic move from Europe to Asia is a critical necessity for US interests.
Meanwhile, however, the US is facing a complex political juggle, maintaining a strong Euro-Atlantic bond, avoiding the realisation of the EU’s military dimension, protecting the European Security framework from Russia’s aggressive stance and keeping the Asian rebalancing strategy. Earlier, hegemonic dominance by the US successfully fostered NATO’s enlargement process starting with the German reunification, the Visegrad countries, the Baltic states and finally reaching aspiring countries like Georgia, Ukraine and Macedonia. However, due to geographic proximity, NATO has faced challenges and difficulties from a newly emerged Russian Federation. In spite of intensive co-operative frameworks with particular stakeholders in targeted countries and regions, a possible NATO membership of Georgia and Ukraine became a difficult task largely due to Russia’s strong opposition to any NATO expansion plans. On top of that, the long-term strategic shift by the US from Europe to Asia has put the Euro-Atlantic security co-operation into question.
There is no clear projection whether US policymakers will focus on the Asian continent and let Europe face its challenges alone, or if the transatlantic relationship remains steady. Moreover, the EU is enthusiastic about developing a European military dimension which could ultimately undermine NATO and weaken interoperability within the Alliance. However, Russia’s activities in Ukraine are jeopardising the concept of a whole, secure and free Europe resulting in the US rollback of its rebalancing strategy.
In a chain of political reactions, Russia unreasonably acts as a protective fence to China, hindering the US rebalancing strategy against China while the European security structure is challenged by Russia. In this geopolitical game, the western position must refocus on practical co-operation and extended dialogue with the Central Asian region since geographically, Central Asia is divided between Russia and China. Currently, institutional outreach of the EU and NATO is almost non-existent there.
This op-ed was originally published in European Security & Defence magazine.
Beka Kiria is a political analyst, and a member of the Younger Generation Leaders Network on Euro-Atlantic Security. He is also a former defence and security official at the Georgian Ministry of Defence, and a member of NATO’s Future Alumni Network. He tweets at @BekaKiria.