US’ Geopolitical Power Potential Now Being Challenged by Even Smaller Countries
Brigadier (Retd.) Dr. Ahsan ur Rahman Khan
(Noteworthy News and its Analysis)
It is well–known that the major component of US’ dominating global power potential was its post–WW2 deep–rooted partnership with the countries of European Union (EU). However, it is also known that since last some years US has been losing that support from EU. Factually, by now geopolitically many major EU countries have already drifted away from US; in the sense of acting against US’ policy requirements, preferring to act upon their own policies to serve their respective national interests. To quote just few examples of the serious policy differences between US and many EU countries: the issue of the amount of expenditure demanded from EU countries by US on US–led military defence of Europe, despite the fact that threat from USSR and WARSAW Pact is no more; issue of Climate Change; US’ unilateral withdrawal from Iran Nuclear Agreement; US’ anti–China aggressive policies, etc.
And still further weakening US’ global geopolitical power potential came to light recently (14 August 2020) when US insisted to re–impose UN sanctions on Iran through UN Security Council (UNSC); but US was clearly humiliated by the overwhelming rejection of its proposal by UNSC. Out of the 15–member UNSC, US’ proposal was supported by only one member i.e. Dominican Republic; while China and Russia strongly opposed US’ proposal and the remaining eleven members including France, Germany and UK refused to support US’ proposal by abstaining.
And, the still more significant point to note is that now even the smaller countries have openly started defying US’ geopolitical dictates.
One of such countries, in Europe, is Portugal.
(Map courtesy Google Search) (1)
In this case Portugal, as reported by Reuters, “China looped Portugal into its Belt and Road initiative in December 2018 and in recent years Chinese companies have invested about 10 billion euros in the country, making it one of the biggest recipients of Chinese investment in Europe”. This Chinese investment also included supply of 5G networks infrastructure.
According to the same report, about last week the US’ ambassador George Glass issued the threat to Portugal against Chinese investment in the country by asserting, “Portugal could expect consequences related to security and defence if it choose to work with China over the United States in developments related to 5G networks and others”. However, “Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa told reporters on Monday: “In Portugal it is the representatives chosen by the Portuguese and they alone who decide on their destiny, respecting the constitution and the rights it gives them.” Besides that the report mentioned, “Portuguese government has not banned the Chinese group from supplying the infrastructure”. (2)
The other such country, in south–east Asia, is Cambodia, which is one of South China Sea’s littoral region countries.
(Map courtesy reddit.com). (3)
In the case of Cambodia, US has acted against Chines investment in Cambodia for developing the Dara Sakor tourism zone as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
MCC Singapore has provided the following map of Dara Sakor.
And has mentioned, “Dara Sakor is a 360 km² L–shape development located along the southwest coast of Koh Kong Province, Cambodia, which lies along the Gulf of Thailand”. It “has a Code 4E International Airport that is currently under construction and estimated to operate by 2021. This would reduce the average travelling time within ASEAN to about 2-3 hours and about 4-5 hours within East and Northeast Asia. There would be a 100,000–ton international container terminal, a cruise terminal, a 2,000-ton cargo terminal and a yacht terminal. Developing Dara Sakor into a world class integrated land, sea and air passenger flow system and logistics services”. (4)
The report of South China Morning Post – a Hong Kong–based newspaper – has explained the objection of US to the Dara Sakor development project, and the response by the government of Cambodia. Some of the noteworthy extracts of that report are (5) (italics added for highlighting):
- Chinese company “Union Development Group was granted a 99–year lease in 2008 to build the project. When completed, it will be a coastal resort area spanning 36,000 hectares (89,000 acres) with golf courses, casinos, luxury housing, an airport and a port large enough for cruise ships, taking up around 20 per cent of Cambodia’s small coastline”.
- “The US accused the Chinese company of wrongly seizing Cambodian land, destroying the Botum Sakor National Park where the land was located and being a front for China to “advance ambitions to project power globally”.
- US imposed sanctions against the Chinese company Union Development Group under US’ “domestic law that authorises the US president to sanction, block, and seize assets of alleged human rights abusers”.
- Last weekend, in a speech at the virtual United Nations General Assembly, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen rebuked “some countries” for increasingly interfering in the sovereignty of smaller countries. And, in that context he also declared “Unfortunately, all too often, depending on the political ambition and hidden opportunistic agenda of some countries, Cambodia had to deal with hypocritical double–standards, biased and politically motivated decisions, in short, injustice.”
- Countries caught between the two contesting powers have, however, started to stand up against having to take sides. On Tuesday, Portugal rebuffed a US “blackmail” threat to impose sanctions on Portuguese companies doing business with China, while also rejecting Washington’s call for Lisbon to choose between the US and China. Cambodia too, as indicated in Hun Sen’s speech, has also rejected US control, denying China has plans to build military bases in Cambodia, in particular a military airbase at the new Dara Sakor airport.
Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen’s rejection, of US’ threatening actions to deter Cambodia to progress with China’s BRI investment in Cambodia, was further re–asserted by Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong. He “called on outsiders to avoid “provocation” over the South China Sea issue, saying that any disputes should be peacefully settled by parties directly concerned. Noting that through many years of serious negotiations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China are now working on the draft of the Code of Conduct (COC) to boost cooperation between parties directly concerned to deal with the relevant disputes, Namhong told Xinhua that countries outside the region should encourage ASEAN and China to reach the COC. While ASEAN and China are in the process of settling their difference directly and peacefully through the COC, outside powers should contribute to peace in the region and avoid inflaming the disputes, he said”. (6)
The afore–mentioned extracts of recent news reports clearly show that despite US’ geopolitical, military and economic weightage, not only the major but also so many of the smaller countries are economically (and hence politically) drifting away from US.
In that context it is of high significance to note that while certain EU’s major countries (which are drifting away from US) are merely taking up their policy stance at variance from that of US’; whereas a large number of smaller countries from all continents (which are drifting away from US) are also geopolitically drifting towards China. And not only that, all such smaller countries are also now establishing wide–ranging relations with China through Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also known as One Belt One Road (OBOR). These relations are basically economic in the form of construction and trade etc activities with oft–available major Chinese economic assistance, but also include the consequential ‘offshoot’ relations of geopolitical ‘bonding’ and socio–cultural connection. A recent publication shows that, as of March 2020, 138 such countries are reported to have joined China’s BRI. List of those 138 countries is also available in that publication (7).
The reason for this huge geopolitical ‘turnaround in progress’ is that China’s development economic provision policies are actually benevolent and easy for the client countries to apply; whereas the policies in this field by the US–dominated institutions (IMF and World Bank) are roughshod and too problematic for the client countries to apply.
It is a well–known fact that IMF and World Bank policies are completely dominated by US; and that, in providing economic assistance to needy countries these policies have many attached strings – not only economic but also political. Even such conditionalities like democracy, human rights, etc are also attached for geopolitical ‘arm–twisting’ of the needy client countries to attain their political subjugation. Reason for that problematic aspect of the policies of US–dominated IMF and World Bank has a historical background right from the very inception of these financial institutions. Many publications clearly highlight these facts. Excerpts from just few of those are:
- Some excerpts from US’ University of Kentucky publication Political Geography, 13, No. 3, May 1994, titled ‘Recasting geopolitics: the discursive scripting of the International Monetary Fund’ (p.p. 258 – 262) are: “From its very inception, the IMF was not a neutral institution, but based in relations of power. At the end of the Second World War, it was the USA that held world power. The war had ravaged the economies of Europe, and the USA–standing alone as economic hegemon was entrusted with the primary responsibility for ordering the world economy’ (Wachtel, 1986: 35). Thus, the USA had the ability to form a global monetary system conducive to its interests”. ——- “This provided the USA with the politicu1 leverage it needed to induce the acceptance of American multinational corporations overseas, as well as the build–up of US military bases in Europe”.——– “The political dominance of the USA after Bretton Woods meant that the IMF came to be scripted through the discourses of US foreign policy. Foreign policy here refers not merely to the relationship between sovereign states, but to the active establishment of the boundaries which constitute those states and define the international system (Campbell, 1992)”. ——— and, “The connection between the IMF and security discourse can be seen in the words of former Treasury Secretary Donald Regan:……. [the IMF] serves U.S. political and security interests”. (8)
- The conclusion of European Central Bank–Eurosystem Working Paper Series No. 965, November 2008, titled ‘IMF Lending and Geopolitics’, (p. 44), highlighted: “To conclude, we do not intend to provide a judgmental analysis on whether the IMF should favour geopolitically important countries. However, the conclusions of our analysis may question the positive externalities of conditionality since the decision to lend non-concessional loans, i.e. through SBA/EFF, is influenced not only by economics factors, but also geopolitical ones. Furthermore, we believe that geopolitics may also influence other international organizations, such as the World Bank”. (9)
- New Zealand’s largest and popular news site Stuff’s article titled ‘Strings attached to IMF loans’, dated Apr. 03, 2014 asserted: “The number of conditions the International Monetary Fund (IMF) attaches to its loans has grown in recent years, ——– a study showed on Wednesday. The European Network on Debt and Development, known as Eurodad, said nations desperate for cash were at a disadvantage in dealings with the IMF, which were likened to negotiating “at the barrel of a gun””. (10)
These above–mentioned remarks of the Eurodad that IMF’s dealings with the nations desperate for cash are likened to negotiating “at the barrel of a gun” appears harsh, but the cases of Portugal and Cambodia, mentioned earlier in this article, confirm this remark as the undeniable truth.
It is only unfortunate that the ‘power–drunkenness’ of US’ ruling elite – Democrats and Republicans alike – is deeply ingrained in their psyche since decades; hence there are no signs yet of any change in US’ policies. The current roughshod policies of US–dominated IMF and World Bank are therefore more likely to continue, albeit increasing the loss of US’ geopolitical power potential in the international arena.
On the other hand, the development economic assistance provided through China’s BRI has no such attached strings, and is economically client–friendly. Hence China is more likely to increase consolidation of its expanding geopolitical influence in the world.
Keeping in view all these facts, it is more likely that the aforementioned US’ geopolitical/geoeconomic policies are not going to change at least in the near future timeframe. Hence, the in–progress ‘geopolitical turnaround’ of major and smaller countries (away from US and in many cases towards China) will continue and consolidate further. Even US’ military might cannot stop this in–progress geopolitical process, because the days of external domineering through military force are no more – as a proof of this reality: US threatened North Korea to be obliterated, but then had to recoil; US threatened Iran with destructive consequences, but then had to acquiesce; and, now despite its repeated offensive naval posturing US could not browbeat China. Under these circumstances the already visible signs of the formation of new global geopolitical power blocks are therefore going to actualize in the current timeframe – that lurking reality requires immediate attention of the policy–makers of affected countries.