The world’s traditional order is breaking down. Indeed, recent elements show a major geopolitical change, such as the unexpected election of Donald Trump, the general crisis of the European Union due to Brexit, the massive immigration crisis, and the economic crisis in nations in the Southern hemisphere. In Syria, the poorly understood strong Russian influence also incarnates the sharp movements in the Near-East. How can we explain this coming, unpredictable geopolitical situation?
The Conservative & Nationalist Takeover
Recent events prove that the population and political stakeholders in Europe are no longer split between a traditional left and a right opposition (or, in the U.S., Democrats vs. Republicans). The divide is now between Internationalists vs. Nationalists, which are coming to power on both sides of the Atlantic.
Indeed, Brexit embodies the EU’s shift on the political spectrum from a strong European partnership to Conservatism and Nationalism. The referendum cut the country almost perfectly in half. Voters in Scotland and thriving metropolitan areas in the south of England (including London) opted to stay in the EU (48%). Small towns and post-industrial regions across Northern England and Wales voted to leave (52%). This observation is comparable to the election of Donald J. Trump in the U.S. Rural and post-industrial areas that were feeling left behind in a fast-changing world are now taking their revenge by finding new leaders, like Donald J. Trump or Theresa May to represent their plight.
Nationalist movements are stronger and especially uninhibited in other European countries such as the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary, Sweden, and France (through the Front National). Marine Le Pen, the only French politician who supported Trump’s victory is now running a Trump-style populist campaign and calls for closer ties with Russia.
Two major causes could explain this breakdown in Europe.
The financial and debt crisis in Southern countries like Greece and Spain has raised anti-austerity populist groups such as Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece. EU has also been forced to cope with the biggest immigration flow of the last half-century sparked by the turmoil in Syria. This immigration issue took on an important political dimension in the last two years. European nations have opposing views, questioning the Schengen area. Even very liberal states like Sweden have been in trouble regarding this historical humanitarian event with the rising of a new far-right in their country.
The Germans’ policy regarding the migrants, while harshly criticized by Donald Trump, could have been a European exception regarding other policies such as the one led by Budapest, driving the EU to closing borders.
Brexit, the rise of the Front National in France and the anti-union parties in Southern nations of the EU are serious indicators that alarm observers regarding a possible EU dissolution.
The Russian Western Leader
Following the tightening of relations between Russia and the European Union during the crisis in Ukraine and the Russian annexation of Crimea, which led to U.S. and European sanctions against its historical partner, the traditional geopolitical Eastern-Western block opposition seems to have taken a sharp turn. Indeed, one of the best examples could be Russia’s active diplomacy on several international issues.
Nationalist movements observed in Europe and in the U.S. seduce Vladimir Putin. Moscow and the West (EU and NATO) have opposing and competing visions of the world and divergent strategic priorities. While NATO functions as a supra-national organization ensuring a collective security, Russia places national security and state sovereignty as the base of its world conception, and Donald Trump seems to agree.
Thus, Russia is regaining in international recognition. Beyond Russia’s seat at the Security Council and the right to veto, recent events confirm this observation with Russia’s influence in Syria, during the U.S. presidential election, and possibly in France through the reign of François Fillon or Marine Le Pen.
Indeed, Putin’s alliance with Assad in Syria allows them to think about a possible victory against the resistance and against ISIS. According to the Russian strategy (hidden by its energy interests in Syria), President Assad is a solution not as bad as an ISIS victory in Syria. As in other past armed conflicts, Moscow is, once again, positioning itself as a solution to end the war.
The former Prime Minister, François Fillon, a serious candidate for the French Presidency, is officially supporting the Russia-Syria alliance and Putin’s behavior. His election in France would create a new leverage in Europe for Russia. President Trump is also supporting the alliance between Vladimir Putin and Bashar Al-Assad while de facto supporting his own victory and legitimacy in the U.S. President Trump has already withdrawn the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP); a possible economic deal with Moscow could create new strategic issues, notably questioning NATO, which the new President has disparaged.
An Impossible Security Union
“NATO is obsolete.” Adding to this notion his serious lack of interest for the EU, future diplomacy between the U.S. and the EU is going to be tricky. Encouraging the continent that produced two world wars to dissolve could be dangerous. “The EU will, and perhaps should, lose more members.” By saying so, President Trump is effectively telling Europe to rearm itself, especially during a rising sense of insecurity due to a wave of terrorist attacks (France, Belgium, Germany) and a border-closing tendency. Could the Old Continent return to its old days of geopolitical competition?
Unless NATO provides absolute military security, the EU’s economic and operational security and European sovereignty could remain embryonic. But this may also prove to be impossible.
In terms of figures, military forces and budgets between the member states are heterogeneous. This is essential to understanding the impossible union on security. For instance, France is the main military power with 10.38% of the military force in the area. The UK comes in second with 7.50% of the military force.
A country like Denmark has extremely limited capabilities to ensure the security of its immense maritime territory with Greenland (respectively 2,186,000 km2 and 615,000 km2). Since World War II, Denmark has delegated a big part of its defense to the U.S. and UK—today two euro-sceptic countries.
In terms of strategy, a European military cooperation could be bilateral between two states or multilateral by gathering states around a common political approach. The pooling of European forces comprises three levels: 1) interoperability, 2) the essential technical and operational starting point, and 3) the pooling and the sharing of forces. There was a European security strategy adopted in 2003 and evaluated in 2008, but there is still no European Defense White Paper.
Moreover, international cooperation can lead to what can be called the three traps of multilateralism: 1) to be left alone in an operation because a partner removes its troops, 2) not being able to participate in an operation because a partner with significant military abilities does not want to participate, and 3) give to others who wouldn’t make any significant national effort for security, taking advantage of the opportunity to be present at a lower cost.
There is therefore a legal or moral obligation to act, which limits the exercise of national sovereignty.
The year 2017 will be a transitional one when it comes to the new world order. Many factors such as the results of the elections in Europe, the evolution of ISIS or the policy that will follow Trump and Putin will be expected indicators that will confirm or deny the worrying new world order.
About the author: Victor Chauvet is a contributor to several think tanks, such as IPSE and Hudson Institute. He is also a consultant in risk management. His primary research interests include regional integration process and globalization challenges applied to geostrategy. Victor has published research work in several outlets and has published monographs about Arctic issues, Russia, and Europe.