Opinion

Mark Leonard

from The Great Debate:

Clashes with Russia point to globalization’s end

Mark Leonard
Jul 30, 2014 14:35 UTC

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As the European Union and the United States ramp up their sanctions on Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s plans for retaliation seem to include an attack on McDonald’s. There could not be a more powerful symbol that geopolitics is increasingly undoing the globalization of the world economy.

The burger chain was celebrated in the 1990s by the journalist Thomas Friedman’s “Golden Arches theory of conflict prevention,” which argued that the spread of McDonald’s around the world would bring an end to war. But almost 25 years after a McDonald’s restaurant opened in Moscow, it seems that deep interdependence has not ended conflict between great powers – it has merely provided a new battlefield for it.

As in any relationship that turns sour, many of the things that initially tie the parties together are now being used to drive them apart. For the past two decades we have heard that the world is becoming a global village because of the breadth and depth of its trading and investment links, its nascent global governance and the networks of the information age. But those forces for interdependence are degenerating into their opposite; we could call it the three faces of ‘splinterdependence’: From free trade to economic warfare

Economic interdependence was supposed to defuse geopolitical tensions over time – or at least allow the two to be compartmentalized. But today the West is using Russia’s participation in the global economy to punish it for its actions in eastern Ukraine. The EU has announced sanctions that will hit Russia in the banking, oil and defense industries. When China felt its interests were threatened, it was also willing to use economic sanctions in its territorial disputes with the Philippines and Japan. In May, Beijing found itself on the receiving end as Vietnam turned a blind eye to anti-Chinese riots targeting Chinese plants when China put an oil rig in the disputed Paracel Islands. From global governance to competitive multilateralism

Many saw global trade relations as a prelude to global government, with rising powers such as Russia and China being socialized into roles as “responsible stakeholders” in a single global system. But multilateral integration now seems to be dividing rather than uniting. Geopolitical competition gridlocks global institutions; the Ukraine crisis came about because of a clash between two incompatible projects of multilateral integration -- the European-led Eastern Partnership and Russia’s Eurasian Union.

Decline of U.S. influence means Iran and Saudi Arabia may just have to get along — eventually

Mark Leonard
Jun 25, 2014 15:34 UTC

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Thirty-five years ago Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran chanting “death to America.” But today Iran wants to work with the United States to stabilize Iraq while negotiating a deal on its nuclear program. The journey from death threats to diplomacy is both a triumph of U.S. statecraft and a symbol of its declining power.

When I spoke to thinkers, politicians and business people on a recent trip to Tehran, I was struck by the strong consensus that America’s hegemony in the Middle East and in global affairs is giving way to a multipolar order in which power is more widely shared and where its nature is changing. Not long ago, they said, the United States bestrode the Middle East as a unipolar power, the main source of order and disorder, the biggest consumer of hydrocarbons and the most active military power. It was not for nothing that it was nicknamed the “Great Satan.” But today the United States is but one of many players in the region’s security struggles, and its purchases of oil are eclipsed by China’s.

The real Great Satan for today’s Iran is Saudi Arabia. As Nasser Hadian, a professor at Tehran University, explained to me in an interview last week: “It is the Saudis who are challenging us almost everywhere – increasing their oil output and bringing down the prices; forming a GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) oriented against Iran; challenging us in Iraq, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, in Lebanon, in Syria and building infrastructure inside Iran.”

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