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The End of the “Era of Populism”
Doctor of Military Sciences
In early 2020, a series of world-class events, including the World Economic Forum in Davos and the Munich Security Conference, confirmed the fact of the growing chaos in international relations, which posed a critical threat to all mankind. Manifestations of the trend were the spread of irresponsibility, protectionism and isolationism of leading and other countries. In turn, this had led to new lines of confrontation in the world, disruption of the stability of world trade and world economy, deepening social inequality between countries, emergence of new and exacerbation of existing conflicts, increased extremism and terrorism.
According to experts, the reasons for this were the long-term negative consequences of the global financial crisis of 2008–2009, which led to a complication of the socio-economic situation in most countries. At this, their governments’ being not able to ensure rapid overcoming of the crisis had led to the spread of isolationist, nationalist, left and extremist sentiments among the population. Such sentiments were used by various political forces and individual populist politicians to strengthen their positions and, in some cases, to come to power. Similar processes in Western countries were deliberately supported by Russia to weaken its opponents.
…The “era of populism” began in early 2010 and became most pronounced after D. Trump came to power in the United States…
All this led to the so-called era of populism, which began in early 2010, and became most pronounced after D. Trump came to power in the United States. For example, his political course, which was largely based on the populist slogans of the concept of “America First”, led to the de facto self-isolation of the United States and aggravation of American relations with other countries. This applied to both, the USA’s rivals and adversaries (in particular, China and Iran) and its allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific. On the one hand, such actions by the United States provoked a negative reaction from those countries, and on the other hand, they acted as a catalyst for further spread of populist sentiments in the world, including in the member states of the European Union. This is evidenced by the populists’ victories in a number of European countries, including Hungary, Greece and Italy, as well as the growing influence of various Euro-sceptic parties. The consequences of these processes have been the deepening of disagreements within the EU, complication of relations between Europe and the United States and the general escalation of chaos in the world. At the same time, it had a negative impact on the situation around Ukraine in terms of reducing the world’s attention to Russia’s armed aggression against our country, as well as the increasing number of supporters of Russia in Europe.
However, in most cases, the populists’ policy had destructive consequences for their countries, as shown by the situation in the United States. Thus, against the background of D. Trump’s certain achievements, in general, his course has worsened the position of America in the international arena and led to a complication of the domestic situation in the country. First of all, this concerns Washington’s moving from a strategic partnership to a confrontation with China, as well as undermining the unity of the United States and NATO/EU. Besides, powerful factors undermining the US positions in the international arena were: America’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Agreement; revision of trade agreements with the EU, Canada, Mexico and South Korea; ignoring the rules of the World Trade Organization and stopping funding the World Health Organization; the failure of Washington’s attempts to stop Iran’s and North Korea’s nuclear missile programs, and the de facto defeat in Syria and Afghanistan.
As a result, the United States has essentially been in opposition to other leading countries of the world, including members of the G7 and G20, NATO and the European Union. Moreover, this did not bring any political or economic dividends to the United States. For example, as a result of Washington’s “trade wars” with China and, in fact, Europe, the number of unemployed in the United States instead of decreasing (as it was meant to), increased by 300 thousand people. And due to the inability of the D. Trump’s administration to effectively counter COVID-19, unemployment in the United States has reached a record high since the Great Depression of 1929–1933 — up to 14 % of the total working population.
American society was dissatisfied with: the health insurance coverage reform; changes in the tax code favoring the wealthy; decrease in spending on education; extending restrictions on foreign entry and immigration policy. At this, D. Trump, like most other populists, used his official position to promote his own business, including by tax avoidance.
D. Trump’s “flirtation” with Russia, as well as his pressure on his country’s law enforcement agencies to prevent the prosecution of those around him who were accused of links with Russian intelligence services, had a significant negative impact.
All this has led to a decline in D. Trump’s authority and discrediting of his populist ideology in the eyes of Americans. Instead, the number of supporters of the US pragmatic course in both foreign and domestic policy has grown. This approach was supported by J. Biden, who, in fact, advocated a return to the United States’ traditional policy.
The main directions of this policy are as follows: increasing the role of the United States in the world; improving relations with European and NATO allies; revision of trade policy towards China; deterrence of Russia; the United States’ returning to the international organizations from which it withdrew under D. Trump; salary increase; introduction of fair tax legislation; restoring jobs; intensification of measures to fight COVID-19. At this, J. Biden declared himself the president of all Americans, regardless of party preferences, faith or origin.
In general, these plans were positively perceived in the American society, which allowed J. Biden to gain the upper hand in the presidential election in the United States in November 2020 with the best results for the last 120 years — about 80 million votes. D. Trump also received the largest number of votes for the US presidential candidate who lost the election — more than 70 million. It is this situation that D. Trump used in his attempts to challenge the election results both in court and by organizing protests of his supporters. In turn, this created a threat of internal conflict in the United States, and also showed a split in the American society between supporters of D. Trump and J. Biden, and, in fact, populist and pragmatic ideologies.
These differences are not of a fundamental nature, unlike, for example, contradictions between pro-Western and pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. In fact, both D. Trump and J. Biden have the same goals, namely to maintain the USA’s dominant position in the world and to ensure the security and well-being of the American people. The only difference is the methods that are proposed to ensure the interests of the United States and its citizens. But then, given the peculiarities of the US political system, none of the American leaders will go to real provocation of a conflict in the country, or will not be able to do so. Evidence of this is D. Trump’s conceding the transfer of power, if J. Biden wins the Electoral College. Based on the above, after J. Biden’s coming to power, which is highly likely due to the significant number of votes he received, we should expect appropriate changes in the US policy. The possible nature of such changes has been widely commented on by experts since the beginning of the election campaign in the United States. However, for the most part, only general assessments are provided without being specified. In view of this, we should analyze this issue in more detail, including from a geopolitical point of view.
Thus, given J. Biden’s experience as Vice President of the United States during B. Obama’s presidency, he will most likely return to the policy of building a strategic partnership with China in the political, economic and security spheres. Moreover, such a policy will actually mean the division of the world between the United States and China. In particular, the United States’ sphere of influence will include its allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific. In turn, the sphere of influence of China will include participants in the Chinese “Belt and Road” project and neighboring countries.
At the same time, the United States and China will maintain disagreements over the division of spheres of influence in other regions of the world (especially in the Asia-Pacific, Africa and South America) and over a number of other issues, including access to markets and resources, science and technology competition, etc. As a result, the United States will continue to contain China, albeit on a more prudent basis.
J. Biden’s efforts should be expected to focus on minimizing Russia’s threats to the USA. The main directions of such efforts will include: building up sanctions against Russia; continuation of “oil wars” against it in cooperation with Saudi Arabia; strengthening support for the Russian opposition. Due to this, the United States will try to undermine the Russian economy, destabilize the political situation in the country and weaken V. Putin’s position. These measures will be aimed at: at minimum — forcing the Kremlin to abandon its aggressive policy; at maximum — creation of conditions for a change in Russian power or disintegration of Russia, following the example of the USSR.
Besides, there will be increased pressure on Russia in the military sphere. Thus, J. Biden will return to the USA’s close cooperation with NATO on strengthening Europe’s security against threats from Moscow and will end conflicts with leading members of the Alliance, in particular, Germany. The basis of such a policy will be further strengthening of the US military presence in Europe. It is also possible that the United States will deploy medium-range missiles and tactical nuclear munitions in the Baltic and Black Sea regions.
However, J. Biden will avoid the USA’s direct military clashes with Russia and will continue to reach an agreement on extending the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and involving China in it.
Quite possible is a change in the USA’s policy to Iran and North Korea. The United States may return to the “nuclear deal” with Tehran that called for lifting of international sanctions against Iran in exchange for its giving up critical elements of its national nuclear program. Also, the United States will abandon attempts to persuade North Korea to suspend nuclear missile development and return to harsh pressure on it.
With pursuing a more pragmatic policy the United States can also influence the situation in Europe, namely, forcing European leaders to move to the same pragmatic policies. In turn, this will contribute to changes in Europeans’ social moods. The consequence of such processes will be strengthening of European and Euro-Atlantic solidarity in resolving common threats.
In general, such a course of the United States as the most powerful country in the world will cause changes in the situation in the entire system of international relations, which will become clearer and more predictable. Of course, this will not mean increasing security and stability in the world, but at least it will help reduce the chaos in relations between different countries and the development of global geopolitical processes.
The result will be the end of the “era of populism” and the beginning of a new “era of pragmatism”.
The change of power in the United States will largely be in the interests of Ukraine, which plays the role of an outpost of the West in curbing Russian expansion. With this in mind, J. Biden will expand support for Ukraine and increase pressure on Russia over the Ukrainian issue. The reality of such prospects is confirmed both by the actions of J. Biden in 2014–2016, when he actually acted as the architect of US policy towards Ukraine and Russia, and his statements today.
Thus, J. Biden has already expressed intentions to intensify military cooperation with Ukraine, as well as the USA’s participation in the settlement of the conflict in the Donbas in coordination with the European Union and leading European countries, including Great Britain, Germany and France. In turn, this will help strengthen Ukraine’s military potential, as well as the world community’s wider involvement in settling the conflict in the Donbas. Including in the format of the participants of the Budapest Memorandum on guaranteeing Ukraine’s security in exchange for its renunciation of nuclear weapons. J. Biden also supports Ukraine’s initiative to create an international platform for Crimea.
Ukraine will also benefit from putting an end to the conflicts between the United States and the European Union, as then our country will not need to balance between them. At the same time, the USA’s moving to pragmatic relations with China will improve Ukraine’s ability to develop mutually beneficial cooperation with both countries as the world’s leading centers of power. And strengthening NATO’s unity will create more favorable conditions for deepening its cooperation with Ukraine, in fact, to the level of our full membership in the Alliance, even without formally acquiring such a status.
J. Biden’s coming to power in the United States also will set a number of newtasks for Ukraine, primarily in fighting corruption and conducting internal reforms. In this regard, we can expect increased US pressure on Ukrainian oligarchs and their protégés in power in our country, who use their positions in their own corrupt interests.
According to experts, despite all the geopolitical advantages that J. Biden’s coming to power in the United States will give Ukraine, these circumstances will demand from Kyiv to quickly and radically change the format of relations with Washington.