The world order is shifting and most of us barely take notice.
There are three interlinked, broad trends that are happening which will affect this nation, and the world, in the coming century: 1. There is a rising trend of right-wing, populist authoritarian governments across the globe.
2. There is a realignment of international trade and security agreements that is shifting the traditional alliances around the world.
3. China is making moves that will eventually make it, not the U.S., the world’s most dominate economic, military and political country on earth.
Let’s look at these individually.
Rising nationalism is driving the move toward more right-wing governments, especially in Europe. Certain areas of the world — the Middle East, South America and Asia — have long had a number of right-wing governments.
Europe had been different. Since the end of WWII and the downfall of Fascism in German and Italy (and to a lesser extent in Spain), the world worried more about left-wing communism than right-wing dictators.
That is changing. The end of the Soviet Union in 1991 tamped down the threat of communism. For a moment, many thought the world would be at peace for a generation.
What the world didn’t expect, however, was the impact of the recent migrations of war and economic refugees fleeing the Middle East and Africa moving into Europe. That dislocation has upset many traditionalists in Europe and the backlash has pushed populist, right-wing political parties into office at an alarming rate. Once considered fringe parties, these right-wing political movements are gaining seats in European parliaments as they give voice to anti-immigration, strong-nationalists sentiments.
Recent national elections have seen nationalist parties top 25 percent of votes in Switzerland, Austria and Hungary. In Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Italy, nationalist movements gained over 17 percent of the vote. And right-wing, nationalist parties are on the move in Germany, Greece, Spain and France.
Although sparked by anti-immigration sentiments, this rise of the right has taken on other populist sentiments as it evolves. Most alarmingly, it is increasing the division between the wealthier European countries and the poorer countries. Economic jealousy between nations is a bad omen for the future.
Along with this rise in the political right has been a realignment of the world’s economic order. That is clear in England where the Brexit vote to have England leave the European Union is creating a lot of economic turmoil.
That vote was largely driven by anti-immigrant anxiety in England. If the Brexit does happen, it could be the beginning of the end of the European Union and of the trading alliances that have kept Europe at peace for the last 74 years.
In security, the Trump Administration’s continued verbal assault on NATO threatens to undermine the balance of power in Europe. That’s especially dangerous now as Russia’s Vladimir Putin is slowly putting the pieces in place to reassert Russian hegemony over the Ukraine and Baltic States — and perhaps into Eastern Europe as well.
Russia is undoubtedly trying to put a wedge between the U.S. and its NATO allies so that it can become the major military influence in Eastern Europe. The Trump Administration’s attacks on its NATO allies is playing into Putin’s hands.
Over in the Pacific, the U.S.’s decision to not participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has left our country out of the loop as Asia and its allied nations create their own trading dynamics. The U.S.’s withdrawal didn’t stop an agreement. The other nations went ahead without our participation and created an alliance among themselves.
While the TPP was controversial in the U.S., withdrawing and giving up our seat at the table didn’t do anything to change the overall structure of the deal. It only left the U.S. without any leverage at all in Asian economic and trading alliances.
That comes at a very bad time as China is rising as the next dominate world power. All over the world, China is spreading its influence, planting seeds for the future. Although the U.S. has attempted to stymie China with a trade war, that is only a blip in the long run.
The Trump Administration is gambling that China will back down in the trade war, giving the U.S. a “victory” it can crow about. Indeed, China may give up some things to reach a trade accommodation for the short-run, but that would be just a strategic move designed to give it more room on the world stage.
China is playing for the long-run, no matter what happens with the current U.S.-China trade war. Over the past year, my wife and I have traveled to five developing nations on four different continents and China is having an impact everywhere we went.
China’s strategy is to exert “soft power” with trade and cultural exchanges in a bid to build connections it can later exploit to its advantage. Much of that is wrapped up in China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which has grown from an initial plan to unite Asia and Europe to expanding into Latin America, Africa and the Arctic.
An article in The Diplomat magazine describes China’s BRI plans this way:
“The BRI combines hard power elements, like economic investments, with a soft power strategy, like promoting Chinese culture or improving China’s image, to create an international label for Chinese foreign policy.”
That article concludes by saying, “The BRI is no longer a regional infrastructure project, but a global strategy through which China aims to establish itself as the world’s main economic power. And it’s coming to a place near you — wherever you might be.”
All of this comes at a moment when the U.S. is giving up its place as the world’s leader. The Trump Administration’s “America First” theology is fast becoming “America Alone.”
As America pulls back from being engaged with the world’s economic and political order, that void will increasingly be filled by China and to a lesser extent, Russia. America has long been not just an economic and military leader, but also a moral leader that gave voice to justice and freedom for millions around the world.
That is no longer the case. Under the Trump administration, America has been withdrawing from the world and becoming increasingly isolationist in its foreign policy. And we have lost our moral standing in the world as Trump’s rhetoric extolls nationalistic notions and helps fuel the rise of right-wing parties around the globe.
China’s leaders see what is happening and they are making moves to take advantage of this moment in American weakness.
Sometime in the future, we will pay the price for our nation’s decision to abandon international diplomacy in favor of Tweetstorm rhetoric.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.