Since the end of the Cold War, most great powers have been pursuing foreign policies focusing on geo-economics while shunning geo-strategic aims and ideals. The rise of China and with it state capitalism also contributed to the emphasis on geo-economics rather than geopolitics.
Geo-economics means that economic tools, like trade, aid and investment, are used to achieve geo-political objectives, like controlling the behaviours and policies of other states. There is also another aspect of geo-economics, that is to use geo-political tools, like war, diplomacy and border management, to attain geo-economic objectives, for instance GDP growth and improving economic conditions of people.
China seems to be the main advocate of geo-economics and, therefore, it has come up with mega projects, like Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), aiming at economically integrating around 60 countries in the Afro Eurasian landmass. So, the geo-economic focus of Chinese foreign policy has made it a really great power and it is on the course of becoming a great power centre of the world. However, another important global power, the Russian Federation, is still very much engrossed in geopolitics of the past. This may be so that a self-appointed President Vladimir Putin has been in the saddle for the last two decades. Therefore, instead of focusing all out on the improvement of the economy, Moscow has been looking for ways and means to increase its territory, a key geopolitical objective, by continuing to occupy Crimea, which historically is Ukrainian territory. Although Russia may have some geo-economic aims by holding on to Crimea, yet the strategy is mainly geostrategic in formulation.
After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world had practically become uni-polar. In the post-Soviet and Cold War era, America has been nearly dominating the international political scene. But the dominance has had its advantages and disadvantages. In the Cold War era, the greatest challenge to US power came from non-state actors rather than any other state.
The non-state challenge to the US-dominated uni-polar world mainly came from Muslim militant organisations, particularly Al Qaeda, which attacked American mainland on September 9, 2001. In response to Al Qaeda’s attack, American launched the global war on terror against Muslim militant organisations spread around the world, particularly in Afghanistan, the Middle East and South Asia. The global war on terror, which has not come to an official end, as the US, after 20 long years, has not been able to defeat the Afghan Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and is about to completely withdraw from Afghanistan. Washington has been engaged in peace talks with the Afghan Taliban to pave the way for its withdrawal from Afghanistan for years and it resulted in the February 2020 historic deal between the two sides. It is important to note that the Afghan Taliban were fundamentally non-state actors but ultimately able to dominate entire Afghanistan by force of arms in September 1996 and it transformed the group into a state actor by establishing an iron-fisted rule in Afghanistan. More importantly, it was the non-state Taliban militia transformed into a state actor that provided sanctuaries, rally grounds and launching pads to non-state global militant organisations, like Al Qaeda and several others Central Asian and South Asian militias and terrorist outfits. Activities of the militant and terrorist outfits precipitated the global war on terror. It shows that ruthless non-state actors, even if transformed into state actors, are quite dangerous for regional and global stability. For instance, the Islamic State, which emerged from nowhere in 2014 to dominate large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria, which it named Islamic Caliphate, in other words a state, profoundly disturbed international peace and stability. By the way, American revolutionaries in the late 18th century, led by George Washington, were acting as an armed militia. However, the difference between today’s non-state actors and that of the past is that the latter more often than not were motivated by an articulate intellectual movement. In the case of the American Revolution, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington provided the intellectual strength and in the case of the French Revolution, John Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu led the way.
Coming to the threat from non-state militant organisations to the US power and dominance in the post-Cold War era, it has been both ideological (albeit inarticulate) and financial. However, non-state actors could not pose as huge financial threat due to limited resources vis-a-vis state actors as once the Soviet Union had posed to Washington and its dominated international order. Therefore, America has largely been successful in overcoming the threat from non-state actors.
On the other hand, the international political scenario has been slowly and gradually changing towards a kind of another Cold War. It is fundamentally because of the rise of China as a new global power centre. Moreover, China has also been adapting soft economic expansionist policies as is evident from the programme of President Xi Jinping, the BRI. Through the initiative, China under Xi wants to economically integrate the Afro Eurasian landmass with Beijing as the centre to get maximum advantage out of it. Resultantly, yet again the American global dominance is under threat now from state actors and in this regard the biggest threat comes from China. The growing trade standoff between China and America and the occasional crossing of swords between them in the South China Sea and polemics over Taiwan and Hong Kong are symptomatic of the new Cold War.
In this global scenario, India, which wants to be another power centre, is siding with America, because China, its neighbour, is not only the strategic rival of Washington but also a potential economic antagonist. Russia, the successor state of the Soviet Union, is looking at the situation carefully and doesn’t want to jump to any side and play its cards close to its chest. Like others, Moscow would like to get maximum advantage out of the rivalry between America and China. Small countries, like Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Turkey, are allying with one side or the other, keeping in view their economic and security needs.
The global power scene has transformed with China emerging as an established power centre and it is an interesting situation but has its opportunities and pitfalls. On the other hand, America, after an unsuccessful 20 years of occupation of Afghanistan, is withdrawing from the country. Our policymakers must act carefully to take advantage as well as to secure the country from ill-effects of the situation.