An era of conflict
Conflicts new and old are cropping up everywhere, and the world is ill-prepared
In an instant, it seems that the world can become suddenly more complicated. Last week, another flare up in Kashmir brought India and Pakistan into conflict once again, adding to the growing list of hot spots around the world that urgently need attention. Is the world, in its current geopolitical configuration, capable of managing all that is going wrong?
►These crises perennially pop up between India and Pakistan. What is different this time?
More broadly, it seems that new sources of conflict are popping up around the world and old conflicts, which we often refer to as frozen conflicts, are no longer frozen, as demonstrated by the incident between India and Pakistan. There is a general concern that two parties possessing nuclear weapons might come close to considering using them. In the old days, when we had a conflict like that, there was a functioning world system of governance, not necessarily perfect, but one which would address this question of Indian-Pakistani conflict and try to make sure that the two sides behaved in a restrained way. That system seems no longer to be operating.
And this is not the only area where we have a conflict. We have a highly confrontational situation in Venezuela and, as we have already discussed on many occasions, a very big confrontation in Syria. The question is whether any one of these conflicts, if not controlled, can drag the world into a global conflict.
The other question is: Because there are so many conflicts popping up here and there, is the world capable of addressing all of them at the same time? The fact is that the major actors in the world, the ones that have historically been trying to manage the world so that conflicts do not escalate, are fighting among themselves. Clearly the U.S., which used to be the leader, offers no leadership at the moment. It is, intentionally or unintentionally, breaking down the very order that it built. Its oldtime partner, the EU, is at loggerheads not only with the U.S. but within itself.
The emergence of populist regimes in the US, Russia, India, Israel and elsewhere has rendered foreign policy very much an issue of domestic politics. This is tying down governments in their responses to international crises. For example, if we look at India, the nationalism that Prime Minister Modi has been promoting makes it more difficult for him to deal in a reasonable way with Pakistan. Interestingly enough, in this particular instance, Pakistan seems to be the more restrained and responsible party. This may partly derive from the fact that it feels more vulnerable but also partly because it has a government that may be a notch less populist than the government in India.
►In the past, desp te the percept on that the U.S. has dictated how the world should operate, the real ty s that t has had to negot ate w th other powers. How has that changed?
One of the attributes of leadership is being able to build consensus among the countries that you lead. In other words, global lead- ership is not one in which the major power simply sits down and issues orders for others to follow. That’s not how the system operates. There is, of course, a system of persuasion in which sometimes subtle threats may also be issued, but nevertheless, leading countries try to build consensus among partners and generate support for the policies they propose. What has disappeared now is the willingness on the part of the Trump administration to build any sort of consensus. It is sitting there and issuing orders and saying: If you want to go along fine, otherwise too bad.
►Is the situation on where the geopolitical game is still being played but the referees are gone?
Maybe, it’s too much of a compliment to call the big powers referees. The major powers have to make decisions as to how much they are willing to sacrifice from their own short term interests to maintain a system that serves probably serves their long term goals. Currently, short term interests have come to prevail so strongly that nobody is willing to make any compromises or sacrifices to sustain a system that serves their long-term interests. We have come to a stage, probably temporary in terms of human experience, in which everybody is in the game for him or herself. Let us hope that this does not lead to a disaster.
►Which conflicts are the most dangerous and why?
This is a difficult question to answer. No one thought, for example, that the killing of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo by a Serbian nationalist would trigger a World War. But obviously where the big powers confront each other more directly, there may be greater cause for concern. When we approach the question with that perspective, I would think that the Middle East is the most dangerous area. This is where the Russians and the Americans are facing each other. This is where important energy resources are located. This is still an important transit route between two major regions of the world. When you look at other trouble spots, the Black Sea for instance, this is very much a Russian-Turkish domain. When you look at Latin America, despite all the positions Russia, China and Turkey may have taken regarding the actions against the Maduro government, there is a general understanding that this is American turf. But where all international forces seem to be coming together and competing with each other is the Middle East. We have many problems, many interconnected, that are occurring at the same time. Of course, this conflictual setting also has implications for how Turkey should conduct its own business in this region.
►Considering the current world disorder, does Turkey have any other choice but to go it alone?
Obviously if the mode of behavior is for everybody to pursue their own narrow interests, no country, including Turkey, can stay out of it. Nevertheless, it’s possible for any country to pursue a policy which keeps it away from becoming party to major conflicts in the region, which is essentially a pursuit of self-interest. Historically, Turkey has managed to stay out of the major conflicts in the Middle East. It is still possible to adopt an equidistant position toward all parties in regional conflicts. Obviously, this is going to take a lot of effort because Turkey has already taken positions and developed involvements with some of the parties. Nevertheless, it is possible but requires determination.