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By JOSÉ LUÍS FIORI*

War in Ukraine points to a world moving from “almost absolute unilateralism” to “aggressive oligarchic multilateralism”

“Since the 70s, a great “expansive explosion” of the world system has been taking place. Our hypothesis is that the increase in “competitive pressure” within the system was provoked by the imperial expansionism of the United States, by the multiplication of the number of sovereign states within the system, and by the vertiginous growth of power and wealth of the Asian states, and of China. in particular. The size of this “competitive pressure” makes it possible to predict, at the beginning of the XNUMXst century, a new “imperialist race” between the great powers” ​​(José Luís Fiori, The capitalist interstate system at the beginning of the XNUMXst century).

140 days after the start of the war in Ukraine, it is already possible to identify facts, decisions and strategic, economic and geopolitical consequences that are irreversible, and that can be considered as the gateway to the “new world order” that analysts talk about so much. international. At this moment, from a strictly military point of view, no one believes in the possibility of victory for Ukraine anymore, much less in the withdrawal of Russian forces from the territories they have already conquered. It is even more likely that the Russians will continue advancing on Ukrainian territory even after the conquest of Donbass, at least until the start of peace negotiations involving the direct participation of the United States around the proposal presented by Russia on 15 December 2021, and which was then rejected by the Americans.

Even so, it is not unlikely that Ukrainian troops will withdraw to a defensive position and propose to carry on a protracted war of attrition through attacks and occasional reconquests. In this case, the conflict can last for months or years, but it will only be possible if the North Americans and Europeans maintain their financial and military support to the Ukrainian government, which rigorously does not have the capacity to sustain a conflict of this nature alone. And it will have less and less capacity, as its national economy is rapidly deteriorating and is already on the verge of chaos.

This war, however, is being waged, in fact, between the United States and Russia, and that is where the hard core of the problem of peace lies. In other words, there are two overlapping wars, but the key to peace lies – in both cases – in the hands of the United States, the only country that can take the diplomatic path of negotiating peace, since Russia has already done its part. proposal and went to war precisely because it was rejected or simply unknown by the Americans, NATO and Europeans. And this is where the current impasse lies: the Russians can no longer accept defeat; and for the Americans, any negotiation is seen as an unacceptable sign of weakness, especially after their disastrous “withdrawal from Afghanistan”. For this very reason, the official position of the US government is to prolong the war indefinitely, for months or years, until it exhausts Russia's economic capacity to sustain its current position in Ukraine, and later on, to start new wars.

Despite this, there is a breach for peace that is consolidating with the advance of the economic and social crisis of the main countries that support the military resistance of the Ukrainian government. With some immediate political repercussions, in some cases, such as the abrupt drop in the popularity of President Joe Biden in the United States; the electoral defeats of Emmanuel Macron, in France, and Mario Draghi, in Italy; the downfall of Boris Johnson in England; and the notorious fragility of the coalition government of Olaf Scholz, in Germany – some of the main countries that unleashed a veritable economic war against Russia, proposing to asphyxiate its economy in the short term, excluding it from the world financial system, and crippling it it in the long run by banning Russian oil and gas from western markets.

This economic attack failed in its immediate objectives, and worse than that, it has been causing an economic crisis of great proportions in the countries that led the sanctions against the Russian economy, in particular in European countries. More importantly, the United States and its allies have failed to isolate and exclude Russia from the international economic and political system. Only 21% of UN member countries supported the economic sanctions imposed on Russia, and in these four months of war, Russia managed to maintain and expand its business with China, India and most countries in Asia, the Middle East (including Israel), Africa and Latin America (including Brazil).

In the last four months of the war, Russian trade surpluses reached successive records, and its oil and gas exports in the last month of May were higher than in the pre-war period (US$ 70,1 billion in the first quarter, and US$ 138,5, 2022 billion in the first half of 1994, the biggest Russian trade surplus since 7). The same happened, surprisingly, in the case of Russian exports to European countries and to the North American market, which grew in this period, despite the official ban imposed by the G-XNUMX and its closest allies.

The initial expectation of the financial market was that the Russian GDP would fall by 30%, inflation would reach 50% and that the Russian currency, the ruble, would devalue around 100%. After four months of war, the forecast is that Russian GDP will fall by about 10%, inflation has been contained just above the level it was before the war, and the ruble was the currency that appreciated the most in the world in this period. Meanwhile, on the other side of this new “financial curtain”, the European economy has been suffering a sharp decline and may enter a prolonged period of stagflation: in these four months of war and sanctions, the euro has devalued by 12%, and inflation continent average is around 8,5%, reaching around 20% in some Baltic countries; and Germany's own trade balance, the largest exporting economy in Europe, had a negative balance in the last month of May, in the amount of 1 billion dollars.

Everything indicates, therefore, that the “western powers” ​​may have miscalculated the resistance capacity of a country that, in addition to being the most extensive, is also an energy, mineral and food power, as well as the world's greatest atomic power. A failure (of forecasts) economics, from the “Western” point of view, which has also had repercussions at the diplomatic level, where the deterioration of American leadership is becoming increasingly visible, as can be seen in Joe Biden’s improvised trip to Asia, in the failure of the “Summit of Democracy” and in the “Summit of the Americas”, in the low receptivity of the American and Ukrainian positions among the Arab and African countries, in the American failure in its attempt to exclude the Russians from the G-20 meeting, in Bali , and in the most recent and uncomfortable visit of the American president to Saudi Arabia and to his main foe of the House of Saud, Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who is accused by the Americans themselves of having killed and dismembered a journalist who opposed him.

When looking at these facts and figures, it is also possible to visualize some of the characteristics of the new world order that is being born in the shadow of this new European war, as happened in the case of the First and Second World Wars.

(i) On the “eastern side”, if Russia is not defeated, and most likely it will not be, its simple act of insubordination against the order imposed in Europe by the USA and NATO, after 1991, by itself it already inaugurates a new international order, with the emergence of a power capable and willing to rival the “west” and sustain, with its own weapons, its strategic interests with its “red lines” and its own system of values. A new capitalist power that breaks the monopoly of the “international order guided by the rules” defined at least three centuries ago by the Euro-American gunboats and gunboats, and above all by its English-speaking peoples. Russia thus definitely breaks any kind of rapprochement with the European Union, and in particular with the G-7 countries, opting for a geopolitical alliance and a far-reaching integration with China and India. And, in this way, it contributes to China taking the lead and radically redefining the objectives of the BRICS+ group, which was an economic bloc and is now being transformed into a true alternative bloc to the G-7, after the likely inclusion of Argentina, Iran , Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia itself. With about 40% of the world's population and a GDP almost equal to that of the G7, it is now a world reference in a frank process of expansion and global projection of its power.

(ii) On the “Western side”, in turn, the most important fact – if confirmed – will be the economic defeat of the “Western economic powers” ​​that will not have been able to asphyxiate or destroy the Russian economy. The military use of “economic sanctions” will be demoralized, and weapons will once again prevail in Europe. First, with the rise of NATO, which will replace, in the short term, the divided and weakened government of the European Union, transforming Europe into a “military camp” – with 300 soldiers under the NATO flag – under the real command of the United States . In the medium term, however, this new geopolitical configuration should deepen the internal divisions of the European Union, encouraging a new arms race between its Member States, probably led by Germany, which after 70 years of American military tutelage, resumes its traditional militarist path. And so, Europe returns to its old “Westphalian model” of warlike competition (something is missing) – and with that liquidates its unification utopia, definitively disposes of its successful economic model driven by exports and sustained by the cheap energy supplied by Russia .

(iii) Finally, on the side of the “American empire”, the great novelty and change was the passage of the North Americans and their closest allies to a defensive and reactive position. And this was at the same time its main defeat in this war: the loss of strategic initiative, which passed, in the military field, to the hands of Russia, in the case of Ukraine and in the economic field, to the hands of China in the case of Belt and Road. The “Western powers” ​​seem to be busy “plugging holes” and “rebuilding connections” lost around the world, while the conflict itself makes explicit the loss of Western leadership in the international system, with the rapid shrinkage of the secular hegemony of European values ​​and global military supremacy of the Anglo-Saxon peoples.

This crisis has made clear, more than ever, the true size of the G-7, which usually speaks on behalf of an “international community” that no longer exists or that has always been a fiction or “narrative” of the seven countries that once were the richest and most powerful in the world. More than that, the power of deregulated and globalized “financial capital” itself is being put in check, with the explicitness of the partial and warlike face of the “international currency” and the unveiling of the structure of state power that hides behind two international systems for exchanging financial information and payments, SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication), which has its headquarters in Brussels, but which is controlled, in fact, by the Central Banks of only 10 States, the same as the G7 plus Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands.

In other words, the same group of States and national banks that controlled the international political and economic system in the last 300 years and that are now being questioned by this “Eurasian rebellion”. After all, an “open secret” that was guarded for a long time and with great caution: “globalized financial capital” has an owner, obeys orders and belongs to the category of “dual technologies”: it can be used to accumulate wealth, but also can be used as a weapon of war.

In short: the new world order is increasingly similar to its original model created by the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The big difference is that now this system has definitively incorporated China, Russia, India and another 180 countries, and will not have one more power or region of the world that is hegemonic and unilaterally defines its rules. In a few years, the interstate system has become universal, the hegemony of European values ​​is ending, the American empire has shrunk, and the world is moving from an “almost absolute unilateralism” to an “aggressive oligarchic multilateralism”, in transit towards a world that will live for a while without a hegemonic power.

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations (Boitempo).

 

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