As the power center shifts from West to East

MDN İstanbul

In an atmosphere where the war in Ukraine, largely dominated by the United States (US) and the European Union (EU), veers into the realm of uncertainty, the emerging multipolarity phenomenon, instigated by the conflict, gains prominence. As our attention zeroes in on the escalating influence of China and Russia and the decline of the US, the world witnesses a series of dynamic shifts across various regions.

Global events fundamentally indicate a gradual eastward drift of the power epicenter. Although the US-led Western alliance struggles to curb this adverse shift, the genie has undoubtedly escaped the bottle. Today, from a Western standpoint, Russia emerges as an immediate threat while China constitutes a distant menace. In terms of the economy, the US lags behind China. We exist in an era where nuclear armaments are on standby. Despite a military capacity eroded by the Ukraine war, Russia, a nuclear powerhouse, steadfastly remains a pivotal element in the balance of power.

While the rivalry between the US and China intensifies within the Asia-Pacific domain, a noteworthy trend surfaces in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and the UAE, long-time allies of the US in the Gulf, strive to chart a more autonomous course.

A unified naval force in the Gulf

June saw the addition of a new development in the Gulf. The conciliatory agreement reached between Iran and Saudi Arabia, under China’s mediation, coupled with Syria’s reinstatement into the Arab League and the positive sentiments in the Gulf, signaled that the US’s influence in the region is waning.

A development that compelled US Secretary of State Blinken to hasten to Saudi Arabia saw the announcement of a maritime coalition in the Persian Gulf, spearheaded by regional countries Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Oman, and under the supervision of China.

The international community reeled from this news. Without prior formal communication to the US, the UAE declared a suspension of its participation in the 38-nation coalition, anchored at the US naval base in Bahrain and responsible for maintaining maritime security in the Gulf under US command. This decision by the UAE undoubtedly delighted Iran.

Iranian Navy Commander Shahram Irani confirmed imminent plans to establish a new maritime coalition comprising regional countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, Pakistan, and India. He noted, “Today, regional nations comprehend that regional security can be achieved through the synergy and collaboration of regional states. Virtually all nations in the North Indian Ocean region have come to a consensus on standing by the Islamic Republic of Iran and safeguarding security through significant synergy.”

China has not been indifferent to these developments. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin confirmed the news circulating the media and stated, “China positively views the establishment of a maritime coalition by Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other concerned countries. Such a coalition will bolster regional security and stability. As a supporter of regional countries seeking to maintain control of their future through solidarity and development, China will continue its positive and constructive role in securing regional peace and stability.”

As it adds another feather to its diplomatic cap, China not only solidifies its global footprint but also prioritizes the Gulf region. By successfully uniting ancient adversaries Saudi Arabia and Iran, and executing strategies that could potentially render the US presence in the Gulf obsolete, China is operating on a military level. China’s multi-faceted diplomacy continues unabated on its current trajectory.

The potential expansion of BRICS?

In June, the foreign ministers and representatives of BRICS members, namely Russia, India, China, Brazil, and South Africa, convened in Cape Town to negotiate the future of the union. At the summit, attended by representatives from Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Cuba, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Gabon, and Kazakhstan, referred to as “Friends of BRICS”, it was announced that relationships would be developed with a range of countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran. It’s worth noting that Egypt, Argentina, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau, and Indonesia also actively participate in BRICS summits.

South Africa’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pandor, the host of the summit, criticized the West’s stance towards them in her opening speech, stating, “Developed countries have never fulfilled their obligations towards the developing world and are trying to shift all responsibility to the Global South.”

It’s well-known that China is calling for the BRICS bloc to start a process for accepting new members. On the other hand, India approaches the admission of new members more cautiously, advocating that candidacies should be determined through a joint policy instead of individual evaluations.

Lastly, let’s recall that the most colorful statement of the BRICS summit came from the Brazilian side. Brazil’s Foreign Minister Vieira declared, “BRICS is a success story”, and added, “The group is also a brand and an asset, so we should take care of it.”

EU asylum reform

The EU announced that it has reached a consensus on common migration and asylum rules after years of deadlock, particularly objected to by Italy and Greece. “Today, we have taken a historic step after long years of negotiations,” said Maria Malmer Stenergard, the Migration Minister of Sweden, the EU’s current President. She noted that the ministers had agreed on two main pillars of the EU’s asylum system reform and a good balance had been established between “responsibility” and “solidarity” for the distribution of refugees among member countries. The established consensus is expected to pave the way for talks with the European Parliament before the European elections in June 2024.

“The mandatory solidarity mechanism we established will provide support to member countries most exposed to migration pressure. Member countries will have the option to choose between different solidarity contributions,” Stenergard announced. She explained that member countries not accepting refugees will pay 20,000 euros per person to host countries, that initially, a maximum of 30,000 refugees will be accepted annually, that there will be a six-month upper limit for the evaluation of a refugee’s application, and that the concept of a safe country will be determined by member countries’ assessments. It will also be compulsory to implement an expedited procedure for examining the asylum applications of migrants with the least chance of obtaining refugee status in centers at the borders for a maximum of 12 weeks, and the number of asylum seekers not eligible for international protection will be reduced.

The Swedish Minister also mentioned that Poland and Hungary have opposed the agreement, while Bulgaria, Malta, Lithuania, and Slovakia remained neutral. It should be remembered that 2022 was the year in which the EU received an unprecedented number of irregular migrants since the migration crisis, with 330,000 irregular migrants entering the EU, a 64% increase compared to the previous year.

Look at the EU Border Protection Agency (Frontex), which reported that the number of irregular migrant crossings to EU countries via the Central Mediterranean has “more than doubled” in the first five months of 2023 compared to the same period last year. Frontex reported that 50,300 irregular migrants arrived in EU countries from the Central Mediterranean in the first five months of this year, and this number is the highest since 2017.

In the statement, which mentioned that the Central Mediterranean is still the “major transit route” for irregular migrants coming to the EU, it was reported that more than half of the irregular migrants entered EU countries by following this route in the first five months of the year. According to Frontex, the total number of irregular migrants who entered the EU in the first five months of the year exceeded 102,000. This number corresponds to a 12% increase compared to the same period of the previous year.

Increasing nuclear arms

As crises and heated conflicts continue worldwide, the Swedish think tank, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), has announced that the number of ready-to-use nuclear weapons globally increased in 2022 as countries implemented long-term modernization and expansion plans. SIPRI warns that the increase in nuclear armament has led the world into a dangerous period, reporting an increase of 86 ready-touse warheads in the military inventory, bringing the total to 9,576.

In the SIPRI report, the world’s nuclear powers are listed as the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel, with Russia and the United States holding almost 90% of the world’s nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, another report published by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) in Geneva noted that the world’s nine nuclear countries spent a total of $82.9 billion last year to modernize and expand their infrastructures. The report indicates that the U.S. alone spent $43.7 billion on nuclear armament last year, an amount greater than the total spent by the other eight nuclear states.

According to the ICAN report, China with $11.7 billion and Russia with $9.6 billion were the second and third highest spenders on nuclear weapons. SIPRI pointed out that China’s estimated number of nuclear weapons increased from 350 to 410 in 2022 and is expected to continue to rise. Unfortunately, nuclear weapons continue to promise a position beyond conventional deterrence for their owners.

Is NATO the solution?

Both Russia and China are synchronously increasing their influence in the Middle East, Latin America, and Central Asia. With its enormous economic power, China is a candidate to become the world’s largest power in the next two years and, based on calculations of purchasing power parity, has already surpassed the United States. NATO is frequently mentioned as the only tool at the West’s disposal to balance the duo of China and Russia. Thus, efforts to expand NATO are becoming prominent as a strategic move for both aligning and motivating allies, and as a powerful and strategic message against competitors.

The topic of President Truman’s speech at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington on April 4, 1949, was crucial: NATO was being established to counter the global threat created by the USSR. War-torn Europe was being brought together under the U.S. security umbrella. Years have passed since the Soviet threat disappeared, but NATO has not lost its functionality. As a useful tool, NATO continues to fulfill its situational mission, now even incorporating the Asia-Pacific region in its purview against the growing Chinese threat.

Speaking at the globally significant Shangri-La Dialogue security summit held in Singapore in June, U.S. Defense Secretary Austin stated that while the U.S. is not trying to establish a NATO in the Indo-Pacific, they will not remain indifferent to regional issues. Building a NATO-like security architecture in the region may not be feasible, but expanding the current NATO has been a long-discussed and ongoing topic.

As the NATO Summit approaches

The recent incidents in Ukraine, on the European margin, are prompting the U.S. to vocalize its need for a broader alliance to defend the Indo-Pacific. After all, it is assumed that the U.S.’s military capabilities may no longer be sufficient to withstand China alone. Thus, the expansionist moves of NATO, which is on a trend of growth, are significant. Therefore, Sweden’s acceptance into the alliance at the NATO Summit to be held in Lithuania on July 11-12, 2023, carries strategic importance. Turkey, the only Alliance member opposing Sweden’s membership, is consequently being pressured.

In the run-up to the critical NATO Summit, as the spotlight is fixed on Sweden’s potential membership, the developments on the margins of Japan are being overshadowed. Recently, Tomita Koji, Japan’s ambassador to Washington, announced that NATO plans to open a liaison office in Tokyo to strengthen cooperation with his country. This announcement may have gone under the radar, but it triggered a reaction from China.

It’s worth remembering that NATO regards Japan as a partner country. Indeed, Kiishida Fumio became the first Japanese prime minister to attend a NATO Leaders Summit, traveling to Madrid in June 2022. Although the focus is primarily on Sweden, we advise not overlooking the Japan-centered developments. After all, Japan, which forms a significant pillar of the strategy to counter China, holds a geopolitically higher importance than Sweden, a key link in the policy of encircling Russia from the north.

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