Global cooperation for peace and security in regions and world. Image: dw.co
The global situation in 2016 basically continues moving in a trend that has been formed in 2015 and the previous years, and is unlikely to go beyond the framework of international relations which took shape since 2009. But relations between the countries surrounding the “hot spots” in certain strategic areas are more likely to become tenser than in 2015.
Some major developments in the world security and economy in 2015
First, strategic contradictions of the two pairs of big powers including the US-Russia and the US-China were prominent in the world in 2015. In essence, it is the conflict between the US- the sole superpower which is relatively losing its power and the other recovering and growing powers, challenging the unique position of superpower of the United States. Therefore, the US-Russia and the US-China contradictions mainly relate to strife in the current international system dominated by the US.
In recent years, China and Russia have pursued policies and activities aimed at changing the status quo of the current world system. The US and its allies’ reaction to deal with the new comparative strength correlation to maintain the status quo has led to long-term conflicts among powers without satisfactory settlement.
Tensions in US-Russia relations relating to Crimean issues and conflict in Eastern Ukraine continued in 2015; diplomatic struggle on the Ukrainian issue at international fora remains equally fierce, but this “hot spot” is no longer the focal point as in 2014. In 2015, tensions between the US and Russia were in the Middle East with Russia’s airstrikes against the self-styled Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Turkey’s shooting down of a Russian plane in the Turkey-claimed airspace. However, both Russia and the US have avoided military collision in this area, acknowledged the other's military presence in the war against IS, and sought partnership to the possible extent.
Competition between the US and China has concentrated in Asia-Pacific. In 2015, this competition took place mainly in the area of regional economic linkage and navigation security in the East Sea, East China Sea with disputes over sovereignty in the two areas. The conclusion of the negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement led by the US and the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) initiated by China in 2015 are two typical examples showing the fierce competition for leadership of regional economic linkages between the two powers. In terms of politics and security, China’s illegal land reclamation and construction of artificial islands in the East Sea and the US’s increased intervention on freedom of navigation and aviation in East Sea have turned the waters into a focus of competition for influence by the US and China in the region. The two countries’ failure to reach a joint statement during the visit to Washington by Chinese President Xi Jinping in September 2015 shows open disagreements between the two countries despite bilateral cooperation efforts.
Second, Europe has faced many serious economic, security and social challenges. The “survival” of the European Union (EU) is threatened. Although Greece escaped the risk of default by a deal reached in July 2015 with international creditors but it has to implement harsh measures to reduce spending and tough labor reforms to get the bailout. In 2015, the abruptly increasing number of migrants from Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans caused more serious economic, social and humanitarian implications to Europe. Also in 2015, Europe was shaken by a number of serious terrorist activities, especially the shootings at the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 7 November 2015, and in Paris on 13 November.
In general, the EU’s basic institutions relating to the finance, currency, freedom of movement, among others, are increasingly challenged by the aforementioned crisis, especially when the EU economic recovery is slow and unstable. However, the EU countries’ efforts to overcome disagreements, cooperatively and collectively response to the challenges demonstrate that this entity has maintained unity for the common goals of the region.
Third, the prolonged instability in security environment in the Middle East results in bad developments. Notable are the emergence of Islamic extremists in the political arena of the countries in the region and their struggle with other forces in order to control the state apparatus. In 2015, the Islamic terrorist extremists steeped up activities in both number, frequency and scale; the most prominent development is the IS currently occupies a large area in the oil-rich northeast region of Syria and western region of Iraq. The fight against the IS staged by the US and the West, and recently Russia's military involvement have wrought havoc on the IS, but the organization can still survive and grow.
The highlight in this area is the important breakthrough in Iran’s nuclear dossier. After reaching a compromise with the P5+1 group, the role of Iran in the region heightens significantly, particularly in addressing the problems in Iraq, Syria, as well as the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Fourth, the Asia-Pacific region continues to be a bright spot of the global economic recovery as well as economic linkage, and regional economic integration. Outstanding events in 2015, such as the official formation of the ASEAN Community, the conclusion of the TPP negotiations show that regional cooperation and economic integration are still developing, despite increasing and complicated developments due to deeper involvement of powers. The asymmetry between the trend of strengthened cooperation, regional economic linkage and the fierce competition on security and strategy in Asia-Pacific can cause counter-productive impacts to the regional situation.
Fifth, cooperation between countries in global issues, such as counter-terrorism, combating weapons of mass destruction and response to climate change have progressed. The most outstanding development is the adoption of the Paris Agreement against global climate change in 12 December 2015 at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention Climate Change 2015 (COP 21). This is considered a historic agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol.
Global situation forecasts in 2016
Based on changes in the world situation in 2015 and previous years, the growth and variability of the factors affecting the situation in 2016, it is possible to provide forecasts on the world situation in 2016 in four major pillars (including key trends, relations between powers, international institutions, and regional conflicts) as follows:
Major trends in the world situation in 2016 can possibly be as follows:
First, the global economy is likely to achieve higher growth. The international economic institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and United Nations (UN) forecast that the global economic growth in 2016 will be 0.5% higher than in 2015. However, the prospects of economic recovery are unclear due to prolonged-instability of the macroeconomic environment since the financial crisis global in 2008, the decline in commodity prices and trade, the volatility of exchange rates, interest rates and capital flows; the stagnation in investment and productivity, the missing link between financial market (virtual market) and real economic activities which makes this market becomes more risky (1).
Second, economic growth and the role of the developing countries and the emerging economies (BRICS group consisting of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in the world political-economic aspects have declined relatively. Meanwhile, the economy of the developed countries, like the US, Japan, France, Germany have recovered at different levels following reform to respond to the crisis. If this situation continues, it can lead to changes in global power relationships in the coming years which will be a disadvantage for the BRICS countries and countries in the South in general.
Third, countries have continued focusing on economic recovery, strengthening stability in the country, and maintaining the external environment of peace and stability for development. However, the implementation of foreign policies for national interests have led to strategic frictions and collision among powers and between big powers and small countries in many key areas. Therefore, regional conflicts continue to persist in 2016, especially in the Middle East, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and East Asia.
Fourth, despite differences in national interests between countries, international cooperation to resolve global issues, and common challenges to both the international community, such as climate change, migration, counter-terrorism, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction have continued developing. This global cooperation process depends greatly on the cooperation and compromise between the US, China and Russia.
Fifth, the role of the Asia-Pacific region on international economic and politic chessboard continues to be enhanced. This region will lead the process of economic recovery and integration of the world (2). There is possibility that in 2016, TPP will be ratified by member states and negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) will be concluded, and discussions on the formation of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) have also been strengthened. Besides, the Asia-Pacific region is likely to become a new region of competition for influence of powers, making the existing problems of the region more complex, and more difficult to resolve.
Relations between big countries (especially between the three countries the US, China and Russia) more likely inherit the characteristics of the previous period, but there are certain new points, as follows:
First, though big countries have focused on economic recovery and strengthening internal political power, they have still followed foreign relations in a positive way in their interests, and responded to the emerging challenges in strategic areas. In 2016 election year in the US, the topic of relations with Russia and China will be given more attention, and the incumbent administration of President B. Obama can hardly be soft with Russia and China. For China, 2016 was "pivotal year" in preparation for the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (2017). In Russia, the domestic credibility of President V. Putin is at high level, creating conditions for Russia to confirm its influence over the CIS and Syria. However, economic difficulties due to oil price fall and the embargo of the West have confronted Russia’s economy with difficulties.
Second, the relations between the US-China-Russia have developed amid increasing tensions in US-China and US-Russia relations. China and Russia have maintained cooperative relations with parallel interests in many international issues, but not form an alliance to deal with the US. The US have consolidated ties with EU allies, and the North Atlantic Treaty (NATO) to respond to the challenges coming from Russia, and with Japan, Australia and India to respond to the challenge from China. However, the US, its allies and partners will not abandon the policy of economic cooperation with China and Russia.
Third, the peripheral areas around Russia, and China became the hottest spots of competition for influence between powers; territorial, sea, and island disputes are “thermometer” of competition among powers. Ukraine and the East Sea are still areas of big power’s competition.
Fourth, competition between powers relating to leading economic linkage is increasingly significant, especially in the “great projects” such as TPP, the Transatlantic Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the EuroAsian Economic Union, the AIIB Initiative, and Strategy “One belt, One path” of China. IMF’s decision to include China’s renminbi in its “currency basket” in December 2015 marked the biggest change in the international monetary structure since the euro came into being. In other words, the economic race and promotion of the “soft power” are new, but of no less intense (3).
Fifth, competition does not exclude cooperation between the powers to cope with common challenges, such as anti-terrorism, anti-proliferation, response to climate change, cyber security, among others. Even in key areas of competition, temporary detente takes place in different periods of time.
Regarding international institutions. The United Nations continues to be respected by countries, especially in dealing with transnational the issues. At the United Nations Security Council, though there are deep division among the P5 on a series of key issues on world security, they reach consensus on issues such as counter-terrorism, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and climate change. The achievement of the Paris Agreement on response to climate change demonstrates that nations attach importance to the indispensable role of the United Nations in dealing with the challenges to the whole international community. However, to realize the COP 21 agreement, countries are facing basic obstacles, such as technology and finance without them the reduction of emissions causing “greenhouse effect” to keep the earth's temperature rise by 2°C compared to pre-industrial time is almost impossible.
As the most powerful military bloc in the world, in 2016, NATO pays attention to the fight against IS, support tor Ukraine, and Russia’s military presence in the Baltic region, Black sea and the Mediterranean. Within this block, there are internal divisions. One side wants to cooperate with Russia to combat the IS and the other wants to limit Russian influence in Syria. The key issue on the agenda of NATO is the discussion on the concept and response to “hybrid war”, including conventional war, minor conflicts and cyber warfare. The conflict in Ukraine and the civil war in Syria are the most obvious example of the new “hybrid war”.
2016 is the first year of the ASEAN Community (from 31 December 2015). An important content of the ASEAN Vision 2025 is to build a sustainable and efficient regional security architecture to maintain a peaceful and stable environment in the region with strengthened ASEAN's centrality (4). Under the chairmanship of Laos, which is quite cautious in its approach to regional architecture, and given the fact that only a summit instead of two summits as usual will be organized in 2016, the regional security architecture in 2016 is expected to have no significant progress. The East Sea issue will continue to be a challenge for the internal unity of ASEAN.
On regional conflicts. The fight against IS is prolonged because the strategic air strikes by the US and Russia will be ineffective in the absence of air support from key Arab allies; when the possibility to deploy US ground troops is low; contradiction between NATO and Russia, the internal contradictions in NATO (Eastern European allies want to focus on Russia, while the southern allies place priority in handling unrest in the Middle East and North Africa).
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea continued development of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles will aggravate the situation in the Korean peninsula. The rift between China and the DPRK sees no signs of healing. In 2016, tensions may return in the Korean peninsula when the US and South Korean launch joint military exercises in the beginning of the second quarter. Up to now, there has not been any possibility of the resumption of the six-party talks on denuclearization on the Korean peninsula in 2016.
In general, “hot spots” in East Asia are likely to become worse due to internal unrest in some countries and deteriorating relations among big countries’ relations, especially in the China-US, and China-Japan relations, while the existing international mechanisms are not strong enough to prevent the conflicts from escalating.
(1) UN: World Economic Situations and Prospects 2016; http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/policy/wesp/
(2) Bui Thanh Son (ed): International integration and the problems faced by Viet Nam, the National Political Publishing House-The Truth, Ha Noi, 2015
(3) Michael J. Green: “Seeking the Right Strategy of Our Time,” in Craig Cohen and Melissa G. Dalton (ed), 2016 Global Forecast, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2015, pp. 15-18
(4) ASEAN Secretariat: ASEAN 2025: Forging ahead together, 2015
This article was published in Communist Review No 880 (February 2016)