Repercussions of the war in Gaza

Occupation forces in Gaza / Reproduction Telegram
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By STEPHEN M. WALT*

Even if the war is limited to Gaza and ends soon, it will have significant repercussions across the world

Will the latest war in Gaza have far-reaching repercussions? As a general rule, I think that adverse geopolitical developments are generally balanced by countervailing forces of various kinds, and events in one small part of the world tend not to have major cascading effects elsewhere. Crises and wars occur, but cool heads usually prevail and limit their consequences.

But not always, and the current war in Gaza may be one of those exceptions. No, I don't think we are on the brink of World War III; in fact, I would be surprised if the current fighting led to a larger regional conflict. I don't entirely rule out this possibility, but so far none of the states or groups on the sidelines (Hezbollah, Iran, Russia, Turkey, etc.) seem eager to get involved directly, and U.S. officials are trying to keep the conflict localized as well. Since a broader regional conflict would be even more costly and dangerous, we should all hope that these efforts are successful. But even if the war is limited to Gaza and ends soon, it will have significant repercussions across the world.

To see what these broader implications might be, it is important to remember the general state of geopolitics just before Hamas launched its surprise attack on October 7. Before the Hamas attack, the United States and its NATO allies were waging a proxy war against Russia in Ukraine. Its aim was to help Ukraine expel Russia from the territory it had seized after February 2022 and to weaken Russia to the point where it could not take similar actions in the future. The war, however, was not going well: Ukraine's summer counteroffensive stalled, the balance of military power appeared to be moving out gradually towards Moscow and hopes that Kiev could regain its lost territory by force of arms or through negotiations were fading.

The United States was also waging a de facto economic war against China, designed to prevent Beijing from dominating the commanding heights of semiconductor production, artificial intelligence, quantum computing and other high-tech areas. Washington viewed China as its main long-term rival (in Pentagon parlance, the “threat of rhythm“), and Joe Biden’s government intended to focus increasing attention on this challenge. Government officials have described their economic restrictions as tightly focused (i.e., a “small yard and high fence“) and insisted that they were eager for other forms of cooperation with China. O small patio continued to grow, however, despite  of growing skepticism about whether the high fence would be able to prevent China from gaining ground in at least some significant areas of technology.

In the Middle East, Joe Biden's government was trying to take a complicated diplomatic shot: it sought to dissuade Saudi Arabia from getting closer to China, extending some kind of formal security guarantee to Riyadh and perhaps allowing it access to sensitive nuclear technology, in exchange for the Saudis normalizing relations with Israel. It was unclear whether the deal would come through, however, and critics warned that ignoring the Palestinian issue and turning a blind eye to the Israeli government's increasingly harsh actions in the Palestinian territories risked an eventual explosion.

Then came October 7th. More than 1.200 Israelis were brutally killed, and now more than 10.000 people in Gaza – including 4.000 children – lost their lives due to Israeli bombings. Here's what this ongoing tragedy means for U.S. geopolitics and foreign policy.

For starters, the war threw a monkey wrench into the US-led Saudi-Israeli normalization effort (and halting development was almost certainly one of Hamas' goals). It may not stop it forever, of course, because the original incentives behind the deal will still be there when the fighting ends in Gaza. Even so, the obstacles to agreement have clearly increased and will continue to increase the greater the number of victims.

Second, the war will interfere with U.S. efforts to spend less time and attention in the Middle East and shift more attention and effort to East Asia. In an article by Foreign Affairs  (posted shortly before the Hamas attack), U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan asserted that the administration's “disciplined” approach to the Middle East would “[free up] resources for other global priorities” and “reduce the risk of new conflicts in the Middle East”. As the past month has shown, that's not exactly how things turned out.

It's a bandwidth issue: There are only 24 hours in a day and seven days in a week, and President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other top US officials can't fly to Israel and other countries from the Middle East every few days and still devote adequate time and attention elsewhere.

A appointment Asia expert Kurt Campbell as Deputy Secretary of State may alleviate this problem somewhat, but this latest crisis in the Middle East still means that less diplomatic and military capacity will be available for Asia in the short to medium term. One internal turmoil  at the State Department—where mid-level officials are upset with the administration's unilateral response to the conflict—will not make this problem any easier.

In short, the latest war in the Middle East is not good news for Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines or any other country facing increasing pressure from China. Beijing's economic problems have not stopped its assertive actions against Taiwan or in the South China Sea, including a recent incident in which a Chinese interceptor it would have flown within 10 meters of a US B-52 bomber. With two aircraft carriers now implanted in the eastern Mediterranean and Washington's attention focused there, the ability to respond effectively if things deteriorate in Asia is inevitably undermined.

And remember, I'm assuming that the war in Gaza doesn't expand to include Lebanon or Iran, which would push the United States and others into a new, deadlier situation and tie up even more time, attention, and resources.

Thirdly, the conflict in Gaza is a disaster for Ukraine. The war in Gaza is dominating press coverage and making it difficult to drum up support for a new U.S. aid package. Republicans in the House of Representatives are already refusing, and a Gallup poll made October 4-16 found that 41% of Americans now believe the US is too supportive of Ukraine, up from just 29% in June.

The problem, however, is even bigger than that. The conflict in Ukraine has become a war of attrition, and that means artillery is playing a central role on the battlefield. However, the United States and its allies were unable to produce enough war material to meet Ukraine's needs, which forced Washington to invade stocks in  South Korea and Israel to keep Kiev in the fight. Now that Israel is at war, it will receive some of the artillery shells or other weaponry that would otherwise have gone to Ukraine. And what should Joe Biden do if Ukraine starts to lose more ground, or if, God forbid, his army starts to collapse? In short, what is happening in Gaza is not good news for Kiev.

It's bad news for the European Union too. Russia's invasion of Ukraine increased European unity despite some minor frictions, and the defeat of the autocratic and disruptive Law and Justice party in the recent Polish elections was also an encouraging sign. But the war in Gaza has reignited European divisions, with some countries unreservedly supporting Israel and others showing more sympathy for the Palestinians (though not Hamas).

A serious split too emerged between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the European Union's top diplomat Josep Borrell and around 800 European Union officials would have signed a letter criticizing Von der Leyen for being too biased towards Israel. The longer the war lasts, the wider these fissures will become. These divisions also stand out the diplomatic weakness, if not irrelevance, of Europe, undermining the broader goal of uniting the world's democracies into a powerful and effective coalition.

Bad news for the West, but this is all very good for Russia and China. From their perspective, anything that distracts the United States from Ukraine or East Asia is desirable, especially when they can simply sit on the sidelines and watch the damage accumulate. As I observed in a previous column, the war also gives Moscow and Beijing another argument in favor of a multipolar world order that they strongly advocate against the US-led system. All they have to do is show that the United States has been the leading great power to manage the Middle East for the past 30 years, and the results are a disastrous war in Iraq, a latent Iranian nuclear capability, the rise of the Islamic State, a humanitarian disaster in Yemen, anarchy in Libya, and the failure of the Oslo peace process.

They might add that Hamas' brutal attack on October 7 shows that Washington cannot even protect its closest friends from terrible events. One may disagree with any of these accusations, but they will find a sympathetic audience in many places. No accident, media campaigns Russia and China are already using the conflict to score points against the self-styled “indispensable nation”.

Looking further ahead, the war and the United States' response to it will be stones around the necks of American diplomats for some time. There was already a considerable gulf between U.S. and Western views on the Ukraine crisis and the attitudes of many in the global South, where leaders did not exactly support Russia's invasion but were angered by what they saw as double standards. measures and selective attention by Western elites. Israel's overwhelming response to Hamas attacks is widening that gap, in part because there is much more sympathy for the general plight of Palestinians in the rest of the world than in the United States or Europe.

This sympathy will only increase the longer the war lasts and the more Palestinian civilians are killed, especially when the US government and some prominent European politicians are leaning so heavily towards one side. As a senior G-7 diplomat said ao Financial Times last month: “We have definitely lost the battle in the global South. All the work we did with the global South [on Ukraine] was lost. …Forget the rules, forget the world order. They will never listen to us again.” This view may be exaggerated, but it is not wrong.

Furthermore, people outside the comfortable confines of the transatlantic community are concerned about what they see as selective Western attention. A new war breaks out in the Middle East, and the Western media is completely consumed by it, with high-profile newspapers devoting countless pages to stories and commentary and cable news channels spending hours of airtime on these events. But in the same week that this latest war broke out, the United Nations informed that around seven million people are currently displaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo, mainly as a result of violence there. This story barely resonated, even though the number of human beings involved exceeded the number of victims in Israel or Gaza.

This effect should also not be exaggerated: states in the global South will still follow their own interests and will still do business with the United States and others, despite their anger and irritation at Western hypocrisy. But that won't make them any easier to deal with, and we should expect them to pay little attention to all our preaching about norms and rules and human rights. Don't be surprised if more states begin to see China as a useful counterweight to Washington.

Finally, this unfortunate episode will not burn the United States' reputation for foreign policy competence. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's failure to protect Israel may tarnish his reputation forever, but the establishment The U.S. foreign policy community didn't see this bloodletting coming either, and its response so far hasn't helped. If this latest failure is accompanied by an unhappy outcome in Ukraine, other states will question not American credibility but American judgment.

It's the last quality that matters most, as other states are more likely to listen to Washington's advice and follow its lead if they think U.S. leaders have a clear sense of what's going on, know how to respond, and are paying at least some attention. to their professed values. If that's not the case, why follow American advice on anything?

*Stephen M. Walt is professor of international relations at Harvard University.

Translation: Eleutério FS Prado.

Originally published in the magazine Foreign Policy.


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