By Omar Hassaan Fariñas*
The Congress of Vienna was undoubtedly one of the most important diplomatic processes in the history of international relations. After the overthrow of the French Emperor in Leipzig in 1813 and finally in Paris in March 1814, the “four great powers” (England, Prussia, Russia and Austria) negotiated with Bourbon France the future of the European continent and managed to maintain a system of geopolitical equilibrium that lasted – in one way or another – from 1815 to 1914, almost a full century. Undoubtedly, the negotiations and agreements of the Congress of Vienna and later the so-called “Concert of Europe” are the origins of today’s United Nations system, and the international multilateralism that characterizes the post-war (World War II) international system.
The problem with traditional conceptions of the Congress of Vienna is that, in the wake of its immense historical and institutional importance for the international system, we forget how geographically (and therefore socio-culturally) localized it was. If we look at the books on the subject, or the documentaries produced on the subject, we can discern that, in most narratives, the congress and the concert are “synonymous” with the international system of the time, which naturally leads to the emergence of criticisms and accusations of “Eurocentrism”, “colonial mentality” and “coloniality of knowledge”, accusations that would be quite correct. In 1815, Our America was fighting very successfully against the Castilian Empire, the United States had recently finished a not very successful war against its Anglo-Saxon cousins, the Ottoman Empire was between reforms and nationalist rebellions, while the great Asian powers – India and China – were living their own political and diplomatic realities, far from the so-called congress.
Although they existed as regional powers, the states, empires and monarchies of the non-Western World during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries did not represent an existential challenge to the emerging European powers. The Great Turkish War (1683 – 1699) initiated the long period of Ottoman decline, and although this power of Central Asian origin continued its relevance in European affairs until 1922, it did not represent a major challenge to the major European powers after 1699. Asian powers such as India (Britsh Raj) and China (the Opium Wars) were already under the yoke of one European power after another, until Great Britain managed to consolidate its dominance over East Asia, and of all these, none managed to challenge a European power until the Japanese victory against the Russians at the beginning of the 20th century (Battle of Tsushima, 1905).
In the early 15th century, China had the best ships in the world, and its admiral Zheng He steered hundreds of them (including the largest wooden sailing ships ever built) to East Africa, Mecca, and probably the northern coast of Australia. The Chinese, however, quickly realized that the geography made these voyages unprofitable, at least for them. By then, as is the case today in the 21st century, the East Asian markets were the most important in the world, so there was little incentive for the Chinese to sail to Europe, let alone venture into the dangerous waters of the Pacific. In the 1430s, long-distance Chinese voyages were discontinued.
For 15th century Europeans, however, geography created a completely opposite set of incentives to those available to the Chinese. Europeans also recognized that Asian markets were the richest in the world and, having learned from the Arabs how to build ships that could cross oceans – along with the skills of navigation – they began to look for new, alternative ways to travel to the East, bypassing the routes under Muslim rule. Initially, the Italians (in a better position to learn from the Arabs in the Mediterranean) led the way, but Portuguese and Spanish navigators (with territories accessible to the Atlantic) quickly displaced them. Of course, the technological factor was always decisive: technology was born in the East, but through stagnation and the lack of incentives to innovate, it moved to the West, where it prospered.
Like ships and navigation technology, firearms were born in China, but it was only in Europe – and in the Ottoman Empire – that they became relevant and became the main instrument of conquest and subjugation. In the 1490s, when Vasco da Gama arrived in India, European firearms and ships were the best in the world. Naturally, there are other examples of technological innovations, but they generally follow the same pattern: they are born in the East, but are transformed by the Western World.
The Portuguese, the Castilians and the Venetians were the first Europeans to master the transatlantic and Mediterranean system. Then, we can observe the rise of powers further north in Europe, such as the Dutch, the French (first, with the Sun King, then with the artillery officer of Corsican origin), the Prussians (first, with Frederick the Great, then with the Hiero Chancellor, and finally with the failed Austrian painter) and the British, at least until the Germans put an end to their hegemony during the Second World War. The only real winners of that devastating world war – the Soviet Union and the United States – created a supposedly “bipolar” system in which they confronted each other for forty years in a geopolitical rivalry that is identified as a “Cold War”, because it materialized as multiple indirect warlike confrontations, always through third parties.
The important thing is that, since the 16th century, and with certain notable exceptions but not forming long-term trends, political, economic and military “hegemony” in the international system has been shifting from one Western power to another. The Ottoman Empire won certain victories, no doubt, during this half millennium of international history, and certain Eastern countries avoided falling under direct Western domination (such as Iran, for example). Nevertheless, dominion over sea routes, trade and above all the most effective capacity to wage war passed from one European power to another, remaining firmly in the hands of the British, from the victories of Trafalgar (1805) and Waterloo (1815), and until the flight of the British and the French from Dunkirk (1940).
There is, interestingly, an exception to this great “longue durée” trend: the double rise of the Empire of the Rising Sun. Japan was never a Western power, and its first rise since 1868 (the Meiyi Restoration) was through the appropriation of European modernity, but applying its own conceptions of it, and assuming all the national sacrifices that this process implied. The victory against Tsarist Russia in 1805 represents the first victory of a non-European power against one from that continent for perhaps centuries (Ottoman victories are not counted here). It also represents the victory of the Japanese war model of the Meiyi Restoration.
After the catastrophic defeat of the Empire of the Rising Sun by the Americans – and only the Americans, since their European partners did not defeat anyone in the Pacific – the Asian power was reborn from the ashes of the nuclear bombs and transformed into a global economic power, but with the distinctive characteristic of achieving this economic growth, only within the context of an unquestioned US hegemony, and as we can see from Tokyo’s stance on the conflict in Ukraine (January – April 2022), the Asian power still acts under the “umbrella” of US power, as it has always done after 1945.
What is important is that despite these exceptions (and perhaps others which still do not change the general trend), the “mantle” of international hegemony has passed from one Western power to another. When I use the word “hegemony”, I am referring to the ability to determine the “rules” of a regional or international system, and at the same time to be the only actor to violate them, when it is convenient. We are also referring to the power that can dominate production, resource distribution and the arteries of global trade, be they terrestrial, maritime or financial. This obviously includes the development of new technologies that provide strategic advantages. Not all European powers, at the height of their imperial power, possessed all the attributes just mentioned, and the zenith of power of some overlapped with the rise of power of others (France and Great Britain, Holland and Great Britain, Great Britain and united Germany, etc.).
The transfer of the “hegemonic mantle” between Britain and its cousins across the Atlantic was the first time in which hegemony “left” the European system – in a purely territorial/geographical sense – although it remained firmly within the Western system. American hegemony within the Atlantic and Western system is the reason why the City of London remained a global financial center, despite its decline as a global power. The creation of the European Union countered – for a time – American hegemony, but this offered no real challenge to the United States, because it is not a solidly coherent entity, its power projection remains a direct expression of its parts (particularly its “German” part), and not a totality that is more than the sum of its parts. In short, the power of the European Union is the power of Germany, and Germany does not seek to challenge the United States – at least for the time being. This, despite Mrs. Angela Merkel’s few and sporadic independent stances during her tenure in office.
So, what makes our current historical moment a very particular and exceptional stage in modern history? Simply that the “mantle” of hegemony is slowly but surely shifting towards the world’s two largest demographic powers: China and India. For the first time in centuries, the ability to remake the international system on the basis of its rules and not those of others, and the ability to violate these same rules while forcing everyone else to follow them, is shifting eastward toward the two Asian giants: the Middle Country, and Baharata. The Western World’s monopoly on hegemony in the international system is apparently about to come to an end.
For the Western World, it is no longer a question of a displacement of hegemony within its own “team” – as has been the case for the past half millennium – but the displacement could be directed towards other teams, and it is no longer precisely they who will dictate the new rules. This shift of hegemony away from the Western World, which is materializing without clarity about leadership in the new system, implies that the bipolarity of the 20th Century and the supposed and dreamed-of unipolarity of the post-Cold War period – even up to a supposed “tripolarity” – no longer reflect international reality. The coming order is undoubtedly characterized by a multiplicity of poles. And it is precisely this question of how many “poles” the emerging international system will have that defines the most acute and important confrontations in global geopolitics during the third decade of the 21st century.
On August 12, 1998, in a conference at the Palace of the Academies in the city of Caracas, the then presidential candidate of the so-called “Patriotic Pole”, Hugo Chávez Frías, proclaimed the following: “The world of the XXI Century that is already looming on the horizon, will not be bipolar, nor unipolar, thank God, it will be multipolar”. Few paid attention to him, perhaps because of the context of the moment in which the Commander made his proclamation.
Now, what was the historical context of Chávez’s 1998 proclamation? The United States was pushing for a war in Kosovo (in which it finally intervened militarily, without any complaints from the so-called “international community”), and at the same time it was preparing the ground for the future US invasion of the Mesopotamian country in 2003, with the interventions of the UN nuclear agency in Iraq.
In the same context, Mr. Paul Wolfowitz – a military analyst in the US Department of Defense under Ronald Reagan – formulated a new foreign policy towards Iraq and other “potential aggressor states”, in which the strategy of “containment” was discarded in favor of one of “prevention” (pre-emptive strike), with the objective of striking first to eliminate “threats”, real or fictitious. This “doctrine” was novel, perhaps because of its profoundly warmongering and aggressive nature. In December 1998, President William Jefferson Clinton ordered air strikes against Iraq (without a UN mandate) after Saddam Hussein’s government refused to cooperate with UN weapons inspectors following a US “law” that would support Iraqi opposition groups to implement a “regime change” program in the Mesopotamian country.
The four-day bombing campaign by the U.S. and Britain left thousands dead throughout the Arab country. The day before the massacre of Iraqis began, the Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives issued a report accusing Mr. William Clinton of committing “high crimes and misdemeanors” related to the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal. In its efforts to focus media attention on the Iraqi issue and away from the so-called “impeachment”, Mr. Clinton’s administration reported that the objective of the mission was to “degrade” Iraq’s ability to manufacture and use “weapons of mass destruction”, just the same weapons that were never found after 2003.
During the years 1998 and 1999, the United States did all this and much more, with all the impunity it wished to display, without any real objections being heard, except from the very victims it was about to annihilate (Iraq, Serbia, etc.). We can say that in 1998, in general terms, the following was visualized: The United States can do whatever it wants, and wherever it wants, while the Europeans, the United Nations, the so-called “international community”, Russia (Boris Yeltsin’s), China and India do not offer effective objections, do not declare sanctions, do not talk about international law, do not denounce aggressions, do not elaborate campaigns to help the victim of aggression, do not denounce “genocides” and “war crimes”, do not punish all the nationals of a single country for the actions of their government, etc.
Indeed, the only leader of a country that denounced -with pictures- the massacres of the Americans in Afghanistan (in October 2001, more than two decades ago), was the very prophet of multipolarity: Hugo Chávez Frías. No wonder that the following year, the Venezuelan leader would suffer the first coup d’état, of US intellectual authorship.
So, what was Comandante Chávez talking about on that prophetic day in August 1998? The South American leader was not referring to his own world, the one that seemed to be “unipolar”, where the most powerful enemies of the U.S. government were the President’s Republican adversaries in Congress, and his unwise actions with a White House intern. Instead, he was referring to a world that had been looming ever since, a world that was yet to be born, that he could sense but had not yet arrived. He was referring to our present world, the undisputed multipolar world of 2022. It was not a “statement of the present” of the year 1998, as so many ignorant people pretended to allege in order to mock and laugh at the Commander, but a prediction of the not too distant future. It was definitely the Commander who got the last laugh. Even after his sowing, the Bolivarian leader continues to be a nightmare for the apologists of unipolarity.
At present, the United States is facing its real main enemy in the international arena: the People’s Republic of China. This confrontation is mainly economic and financial, of “market penetration” and of presence as an investor and economic power in multiple parts of the world, simultaneously. As the economic sphere and technological development is the true strength of the Chinese giant, the United States is desperately trying to “migrate” its confrontation with China from the economic to the military and military, or at least in the diplomatic and multilateral spheres, in order to “bring the enemy to its advantage”.
For these purposes, crisis after crisis is created, which are stimulated by the United States based on the tactic of “throw the stone and hide the hand”: it acts aggressively, threatens instability and thus “throw the first stone”, waiting for the logical response that any person or entity attacked would give, and then labeling the victim as the only “aggressor”, using for these purposes, one of the most developed powers that the United States has: the dissemination of its narratives, through its media and information. However, the current global geopolitical conflict is definitely between a declining economic power and a rising one.
As the U.S. military power is supreme in the international system – it is the largest war power in human history, at least in terms of the amount of armaments and military expenditures – China cannot stand alone against a power that, in addition to its immense military power, still has control over many international institutions and the flow of global financial power, as well as the ability to impose narratives. For this reason, Beijing has developed a strong alliance with Moscow, although in reality, Moscow does not have a joint vision of coordination for long-range development, but simply shares the need to impede efforts to reverse the natural condition of multipolarity in the international system, towards the imposition of unipolarity.
At this stage of the conflict, we are at the stage of US and its allies’ attempts (whether voluntary or involuntary) to destroy the Moscow/Beijing alliance. This alliance has already been in formation for several years, but its final consolidation took place during the meeting between Presidents Putin and Jinping within the framework of the Winter Olympics in Beijing (2022), when both issued the document entitled “Joint Declaration of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on International Relations Entering a New Era and Global Sustainable Development”, dated February 4, 2022. This document is as strategically important for International Relations, as were (and still are) the treaties that created NATO and the Warsaw Pact, only that the Western ideological machinery does not allow it to be seen in this way, for purely ideological and strategic reasons.
For the United States, separating these two (Moscow and Beijing) “by hook or crook” did not work, and neither side has so far wished to abandon its relationship with the other, in exchange for certain ephemeral and very short-term “incentives” that the United States intended to offer. Thus, Washington had no choice but to destroy the “junior” partner of the alliance, which, despite its reduced “size” (in an economic sense) as a global power relative to such powers as the United States and China, remains profoundly dangerous because of the political and diplomatic leadership it possesses, the advanced (in certain areas) war industry and technology it inherited from the Soviet Union, and the revenues from its massive energy production.
With the expected destruction of the minority partner of the Moscow/Beijing alliance, the United States could more “easily” dedicate itself to the destruction of Beijing, or at least reduce it to an obedient and docile economic giant, as is (or was?) the Empire of the Rising Sun. It is precisely at this historical moment that the necessary operations are being carried out to bleed the minority partner of the aforementioned Eurasian alliance, in a series of battles that are taking place on the territory of Ukraine, and, much more importantly, in the economic, communicational and multilateral international sphere.
Much of this U.S. plan depends decisively on how the U.S. narratives are accepted – universally and beyond the Western world itself. According to these narratives, the international reaction to the “unprovoked” Russian invasion of Ukraine would reverberate far beyond the current crisis. The concerted response to Russian actions could solidify a global alliance that unites democracies against Russia and China and thereby secure U.S. leadership of the so-called “free world” for the next generation. From this point of view, Russia’s war in Ukraine could be a pivotal episode in a struggle between “autocracies” and “democracies.”
Chastened by President Putin’s flagrant violation of the rules, the democracies would unite in a vigorous reassertion of the liberal international order, and fight to subdue the autocracies (which specifically are China and Russia, as well as secondary but still evil ones such as Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, etc.). This utopian vision of a titanic struggle between good and evil can be found in the article titled “The Return of the Pax Americana? Putin’s War is Strengthening the Democratic Alliance,” written by Americans Michael Beckley and Hal Brands, for Foreign Affairs, March 2022.
Simultaneously, as the ground was being prepared for Russia in Ukraine throughout 2021 (and years before), the same ground is being prepared – equally for a few years now – for China, but in Taiwan, as well as in the South China Sea, just in case Taiwan does not prosper as a “hook” to “drag” China into a “Ukraine” type scenario. Soon, we will hear how China is an evil monster that causes war, suffering and violation of human rights without any “provocation”, and it will be the same actors of this moment, who will come out to “heal” the wounds created by that monster in a given scenario or another (the “which” of this matter does not matter, the only thing that matters is the “when”), demanding the rest of the world to decide: either these with the “monsters”, or with “civilization”. The total absence of creativity on the part of Western narratives is flagrant, as the same dichotomies, clichés and simplifications are repeated endlessly.
What is important in all this is not the details of the current Ukrainian battle of this global geopolitical confrontation between the United States and the Beijing/Moscow Alliance, but the actions and positions of the other international actors. The United States organized a coalition against Iraq with the aim of invading it in 1990, but only succeeded in slowly strangling the Arab country until its final invasion in 2003. The United States decided to intervene bloodily in the former Yugoslavia, and no one really objected, beyond the miserable and pathetic complaints of Mr. Boris Yeltsin. Then it decided to invade Iraq without a UN mandate, and beyond the protests in the streets and some futile maneuvering by Gerhard Schröder and Jacques Chirac, the United States proceeded to invade and completely destroy a country without any justification, and with virtually no resistance or complaint from anyone outside Iraq itself.
In 2022, the United States requests NATO’s obedience, and despite Emmanuel Macron’s timid efforts (and Olaf Scholz’s even more hidden ones) to avoid a war in Europe that only benefits U.S. geopolitical interests, NATO members (except Turkey, obviously) have shown dedication and discipline to Washington, at least in public and in the media. Nevertheless, the Germans never tire of declaring day after day that, without Russian gas and oil, the Teutonic country would come to a standstill (Christian Lindner says that the Germans are “poorer” now, a product of the sanctions against Moscow, which raised the price of energy products).
Recently (April 5, 2022), Mr. Josep Borrell – the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – used the refusal of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to justify the impossibility of a total European ban on hydrocarbon imports from the Russian Federation. Borrell also pointed out the difficult situation in which the European Union finds itself, since, on the one hand, the Union wants to help Ukraine, but on the other hand, it does not want to intervene in the conflict and provoke an escalation, arguing that the Union is not technically a military alliance.
Japan and South Korea, attentive to the danger posed by a hegemonic China and their need for US “support” when necessary, have also joined the US demands, although apparently not completely, since Japan has no intention (for the time being) of withdrawing from its oil and natural gas projects in Russia, according to its Minister of Economy, Hagiuda Koichi.
But beyond the “Western” sphere and its few allies (Japan and Korea), international “discipline” with the United States has been rather weak. While few have come out in open support of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, equally few have joined the campaign to “sanction” Russia on behalf of U.S. demands. And just this is the point we wish to make here. China is obviously not going to join a campaign aimed at returning Russia to the “good old days” of Boris Yeltsin, as that would weaken the Moscow/Beijing alliance, and, consequently, it itself will be the next victim of what Russia is experiencing today.
What is most interesting is that India did not go along with U.S. orders, and neither did Pakistan, where its Prime Minister – Imran Khan – is facing impeachment under U.S. pressure. The State Department went to the unprecedented level of threatening Pakistan if Khan is re-elected, demonstrating Washington’s “affinity” for democracy when it does not work in its interests.
While the US was openly criticizing India for not sanctioning Russia, Sergei Lavrov was quietly discussing a rupee-ruble trade deal with Russia on an official visit to New Delhi, undermining Western coercive measures. At the same time, Beijing reiterated that its relationship with Moscow “knows no bounds.” A few days earlier, the Chinese foreign minister had already visited New Delhi to improve relations with the other major Asian power. Mr. Biden talks about how President Putin’s warlike actions brought NATO members together, but he neglected to say how his actions brought together the views of powers that have historically been impossible to reconcile: Pakistan, China and India. That is why former British diplomat Alastair Crooke notes the following in his April 5, 2022 Strategic Culture article, “Today, while Europe and the United States have never been more closely aligned, “the West,” paradoxically, has never been more alone.”
Meanwhile, OPEC countries opted to maintain an agreement with Russia rather than comply with U.S. demands to increase production to lower prices. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, key members of that group, have signaled their indirect support for Russia in recent days. The oil producing countries, after suffering years of the US strategy of “fracking” that since 2014 has ruined so many hydrocarbon exporting countries, are now unwilling to save the United States and its closest allies (the Anglo-Saxon countries: Great Britain, Australia, Canada, and others of absolute loyalty to the Anglo-Saxons). The Arab countries neither sanctioned Russia, nor helped with the energy crisis that the Americans themselves created in the first place.
The energy situation has reached such a critical level that Mr. Biden’s administration is expected to release one million barrels per day for six months, resulting in a total release of about 180 million barrels. Although this release will be the largest release of oil in the 46-year history of the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve, in structural terms it is only equivalent to approximately 1% of world daily consumption and 5% of U.S. daily consumption. Additionally, the Islamabad (Pakistan) Declaration issued on March 23, 2022, following the 45th meeting of the foreign ministers of the fifty-seven members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference refused to endorse sanctions against Russia, nor did it condemn the Eurasian country.
The African continent as a whole remained far behind US demands, valuing the immense Chinese presence in the development of its infrastructure over Washington’s demands. If the same European countries are concerned about the “boomerang effects” of unilateral coercive measures against Russia, much more so are African and Asian countries, many of which do not consider the US-Russia struggle to be their struggle. Uganda’s current President Yoweri Museveni has recently pointed to U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya to justify his refusal to criticize Russia. For Museveni, “Russia’s war against Ukraine must be seen in the context of Moscow being the “center of gravity” in Eastern Europe.”
As the war in Ukraine escalates, leaders of South Africa’s ruling party – the “African National Congress” – attended an event at the Russian Embassy in Cape Town to mark the 30th anniversary of the country’s diplomatic ties with the Russian Federation. Finally, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said his country abstained from the anti-Russian resolution at the UN because it did not seek “meaningful engagement” with Russia. In this regard, he noted that “…we have seen how, over time, countries have been invaded, wars have been launched over many years and that has left devastation…and some leaders of certain countries have been killed. In our own continent, Muammar Gaddafi was assassinated.”
Even in Latin America, beyond countries like Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Mexico, even countries like Colombia and Brazil did not join the anti-Russian initiatives. Moscow, sanctioned by certain Western countries, is far from being “isolated” in the international system.
We do not wish to discuss the Ukrainian battle in detail here, nor the broader war between the United States and the Moscow/Beijing alliance. What we wish to point out here is precisely what the current international scenario shows us, unequivocally: we live in a multipolar world, the same that was already looming since 1998, and that Commander Hugo Chávez prophesied that same year.
But Commander Chávez not only predicted the multipolar character of the international system, but he actively participated in its creation. The II Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), held in September 2000 in the city of Caracas, was one of the events of his government with the most profound consequences for the international system, much more than what Westerners give it, precisely because of the damage that the results of that conference caused to the US hegemony, in the long term. It was this summit that transformed the global energy market, from then until the US fracking counter-offensive, circa 2014. It was the results of this historic summit, additionally, that aided in the transition from Boris Yeltsin’s Russia to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
We are living in what Commander Hugo Chavez predicted in 1998, and that is why Mr. Dmitry Medvedev – former Russian President – and Mr. Joseph Biden, at least agree on one thing: the post-war international system has come to an end, and a new one is currently being forged, where the most important struggle is for the exclusive right to draft the rules of the new system. While Medvedev states that “the unipolar world has come to an end…the Americans are no longer the masters of planet Earth”, the US President states that “there is going to be a new world order and we have to lead it. And we have to unite the rest of the free world to do it”. These two statements were made in the same month: March 2022.
The structural crisis that the international system is currently experiencing is a product of the fact that, while the current system exhibits a particular reality, certain actors in it seek to reverse that reality, by force, if necessary. Not only is the international system – at present – multipolar, but it is irreversibly so. The crisis of the system can be encapsulated as follows, although we run the risk of issuing certain vulgar simplifications and questionable reductionisms: A struggle to forcibly impose a unipolar system on what is essentially an irreversibly multipolar world.
Ironically, the United States accuses President Putin and the Russian Federation of wishing to return to the days of the Soviet Union, when in fact no one exhibits more nostalgia for the “glorious past” than the United States itself, a past in which China was “buried” in its own internal realities and produced nothing that the world consumes; at the same time, Washington had its own representative in the Kremlin – Boris Yeltsin – and that Eurasian country’s economy was in the ground; sub-Saharan Africa was irrelevant, Europe highly submissive (well, that hasn’t changed much), and oil cost three lochs.
More importantly, it was the nostalgic past in which “regime change” programs used to be, by and large, highly successful, without third parties intervening to disrupt them (as Russia has done in Syria, and both Russia and China achieved in Venezuela). Those were happy times for US foreign policy, when the famous phrase “bomb them back to the stone age” – employed by certain Americans when they wanted to threaten other members of the so-called “international community” – was an articulation that filled them with pride, power and a euphoric sense of supremacy, of empire, rather than being seen as an undeniable testament to crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of genocide. Those were the “good ol’ days,” which now, and at any cost, must return. Unfortunately for the gringos, “John Wayne” has passed away.
Today’s struggle is to reverse what President Chavez prophesized very correctly that the international system will be, twenty four years ago. It is the struggle to revert a multipolarity and impose a unipolarity that may rewrite the rules of this new system, so that all but the author himself will have to obey them. The problem is that the multipolar character is actually irreversible, a product of the nature of power in the current system, and how it is diffused in a highly complex and fluid way.
It is not that “power” shifted from Washington to Beijing, as indeed it did between the two world wars, when it “shifted” from London to the American capital. Rather, the very concept of power has reached a degree of multifactorial complexity that no longer permits the maintenance of unipolarity, no matter how hard they try to impose this highly destructive concept.
China will continue to be one of the main players in a new international system when it is consolidated, without a doubt, but it will be impossible to impose its will blatantly as the United States did during the last decade of the 20th century (and wishes to continue to do so today), since there will be powers that Beijing may never be able to dominate, such as New Delhi, for example. The United States, although suffering from its own decline, will not disappear from one moment to the next as a major player on the international scene, although its role will change drastically. It is not Chinese or Russian “power” that makes the longed-for American unipolarity an impossibility, but the very nature of the system we have today.
The micro dilemma for the United States is that Russia regained some of its ability to disrupt U.S. foreign policy, within the very framework of the current, post-war international system. While Putin’s Russia is not the Soviet Union of Leonid Brezhnev, neither is today’s United States the same as that of John FitzGerald Kennedy or Lyndon Baines Johnson. The macro dilemma for Americans is that China has asserted itself as an effective rival within the framework of the current international – and economic – system, which is a type of rivalry that the United States has not really had to face since the twilight of the British Empire at the beginning of the 20th century. Despite these “micro” and “macro” dilemmas, the real challenge for American power is the nature of the international system itself, and how it impedes rather than facilitates the imposition of unipolar hegemony. Ironically, the great impediment to the longed-for American dream (unipolarity) is the very system they themselves designed and implemented.
The design and rules of the international system were specifically created by, and for the benefit of, the United States since 1945. Indeed, we can easily argue that the Second World War was fought for the express purpose of determining who will create the rules and dominate the foundations of the future international system. Now, in the third decade of the 21st century, and as a result of certain unforeseen and unpredictable transformations and changes, “poles of power” are emerging that challenge the hegemony of the author of the system, but interestingly, they emerge from within the system itself, and not from outside it.
Naturally, as a result of these unpredictable challenges, a new international system is required in which the challengers to the intellectual author of the current system are either reincorporated under a new American “umbrella” (as West Germany and Japan were, after World War II), or are disarticulated and reduced (as the Austro-Hungarian or Ottoman empires were, after World War I). That is why we hear Mr. Biden uttering phrases that no American president has ever uttered before, such as “a new world order (that) we have to lead”. Perhaps we cannot articulate ourselves better than the international analyst and former Indian Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar, in an article he authored in the Tribune, April 7, 2022:
“Fundamentally, what needs to be understood is that the confrontation that has been brewing over Ukraine for the past decade is really about the contours of the world order. The specter haunting the West is that its five-century-old global dominance has faced a serious challenge as multiple power centers (such as China, India) have emerged in various regions. This is a last desperate roll of the dice, so to speak, to push back the forces of history. The West’s real agenda is the reimposition of a unipolar world order to perpetuate its domination of the international economic and political order.”
For Venezuela and Venezuelans, for the countries and peoples of the South, for all those who inhabit South (and Central) America, all of Africa and Asia far from the great powers (i.e. the majority of humanity), the socio-political, socio-economic and geo-strategic realities of these conflicts are and will continue to be of immense importance, perhaps even an existential necessity. What is happening in Ukraine is not “war” per se, but a “battle” in a war to reconfigure an international system that everyone – China, Russia, the United States and their subservient allies – already knows will not last. This battle will end, and the war will continue because one international actor in particular continues to stubbornly aspire to finally obtain a dreamed and longed-for unipolarity, in a terrain that is already irreversibly multipolar. This was understood by Comandante Hugo Chávez twenty-four years ago, and it is understood by many of the countries of the South today, but it is not accepted by the people in Washington.
In the coming years, we will see the intensification of this geopolitical struggle on a global scale, and the main stage of this struggle will be provided – obligatorily and against their own will – by the countries of the South. But before we get to another “Ukraine”, which will surely be paid for by one or more countries of the South, we will have the narratives, since the essential element of this struggle will always be the “narratives”. Whoever succeeds in imposing their narratives will have at least half of the victory assured, and this imposition of narratives will take place not in the populations of the respective powers, but in those of the South. The United States needs the whole world – and not just its NATO allies – to defeat the Moscow-Beijing Alliance, for it is no longer the same power of 1945, nor is it still the same international stage as it was then. And this need will be an intrinsically fundamental part of international relations in the coming years.
For all of the above, understanding global geopolitics will be an essential need for the peoples of the South, since much of what lies ahead will be manipulation through the media and the statements of the leaders of this global geopolitical confrontation, to ensure the triumph of some narratives over others, and to be able to claim that certain opponents in this conflict “lead” the world, because their narratives have more diffusion and absorption than those of their adversaries. Take, for example, the current battle in Ukraine. The US media never speaks of “America” when discussing any anti-Russian stance, but of the so-called “Free World”, or the “International Community”, and when it criticizes the Indian government for not joining the Western “camp”, it does so from a superior and white moral posture, which looks with contempt and indignation at the posture of confusion and weakness of the “other” peoples.
Pakistan received more than mere criticism, and Khan is already in the process of fighting for his political future. It should be noted that both Narendra Modi and Imran Khan were democratically elected. Former Indian Ambassador Bhadrakumar states the following in the same article above:
Washington expects India to comply with its “sanctions from hell” against Russia. This paradigm has been presented as a battle between democracies and autocracies. But India will not be swayed by such dissimulation. The fact that Prime Minister Modi made a notable exception by hosting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a 40-minute meeting against the tumultuous backdrop of global politics has conveyed a powerful message. Modi has stressed that India attaches utmost importance to relations with Russia in its global strategies.
More than twenty years ago (2001), the United States had declared that the World as a whole must decide: either they are with “civilization” (Washington), or they are with the “terrorists”. The definition of “terrorist” – and here we have the key element of this equation – was reserved exclusively for the State Department: “groups” that advance Washington’s interests are groups that fight for “democracy” and “human rights”, and groups that do not advance these interests are indeed “terrorists”, although all these groups can switch positions at any given moment, depending on US geopolitical need, at any given time.
Today, the situation repeats itself, only it is even more difficult for the United States to impose its unstable and contradictory dichotomy. Either you are with the “authoritarians” – even though they include the world’s largest democracy (India) and democracies that hold elections in front of international referees (Venezuela) – or you are with the “democrats” – even though the “democrats” include the fascist “Azov” regiment in Ukraine and political parties like “Prawo i Sprawiedliwość” (Law and Justice) in Poland. No one will be left out of this forced dichotomy, no one can claim “neutrality” or not to be part of the conflict, movements of non-aligned countries will not be tolerated, because it is no longer about a new imperial adventure to occupy the space where the largest amount of oil is generated in the world (the Middle East), but now it is about undisputedly occupying the top of the new international system. As the Anglo-Saxons say, “the stakes are much higher”.
That is why it is our duty, from the countries of the South, to prepare ourselves for the coming years of instability and conflict, since the next battle could take place anywhere, but it would usually be in one of the countries of the “South”, where it is more convenient to take place in the context of a cold war. More importantly, the powers in conflict – particularly the United States – will drag the vast overwhelming majority of human populations into the conflict, forcing them to take one position or another. It is essential that we are prepared with the two most potent weapons we possess, and which we must continue to develop, from our own spaces: knowledge, and our own criteria: the ability to discern autonomously, independent of the great waves of manipulation that exist today, and which will grow in size and devastation, over the coming years.
Without real, rational and socio-historically determined knowledge (and not mere ideological narratives assembled externally for our internal consumption), and without our own critical and contextualized criteria to judge properly instead of reproducing what others generate, we will be the first victims of this conflict, either by supporting those who sooner or later will enslave us, or by following the same unaccountable steps of the current government in Kiev, and lending ourselves to intimidate a power, and then crying when that power, which is cornered thanks to our actions, attacks us instead of standing timidly and submissively waiting for its destruction and annihilation.
The nature of the conflict in which we live no longer allows the luxury of being spectators or ignorant of it, but we are now obliged to participate, but not with tanks and bayonets, nor with poisoned unilateral coercive measures, such as those that have caused so much damage to the Venezuelan people, but with awareness, knowledge and our own ability to discern, all of these applied to our view and understanding of the international arena.
In a war of narratives, our salvation lies in avoiding taking the same sad path that the Ukrainian people have taken. Therefore, this salvation can only be achieved through our innate ability to resist the toxic and distorted narratives of the stakeholders, and instead perceive reality through our own critical lens, a lens that must always in its analysis look for the manifestations of power and socio-economic interests wherever they are present, without wasting time with supposedly “civilizing” dichotomies (civilization/barbarianism) and “cultural” discourses (“cultural” motivations to explain purely power and wealth issues), since these usually hide imperialist and highly racist contents.
* Omar Hassaan Fariña is internationalist and Professor of International Relations at the Bolivarian University of Venezuela. Former Bolivarian Diplomat in Honduras expelled in 2019 by the coup dictatorship.
Original in spanish: https://noticiaspia.com/la-profecia-del-comandante-chavez-y-la-irreversible-mulipolaridad/, translation by Ana Dagorret.