While the new era of a second great cold war was initiated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world is still forming itself in light of this new constellation. While Russia, the northern part of the Eurasian landmass, is fighting in its neighboring country, Europe on the West and the US-allies in the east of the continent taking a clear stand against this aggression. What´s interesting, and may give us a hinge about future events, is the chain of countries south of Russia, connecting Eurasia with the different seas, that clearly tried to avoid any policy that would force them on one side against the other. The Eurasian south is looking for its independence from the northern states.
If we take a look at the globe to localize this chain, we can draw a clear line from Turkey in the west over Iran, Pakistan, India up to China. If we take a wider look, even more countries are falling in this category, starting from Egypt, Israel, Saudi-Arabia, UAE, Bangladesh and the ASEAN states in the east (except for Singapore), who showed their intention for an independent foreign policy in the last two weeks. But, as the main power struggle in the next decades is going to be about the question who will be able to control the Eurasian landmass, let’s put our focus on the countries of the afore mentioned chain.
Turkey finds itself in a tricky situation during the war. As a member of NATO, it is formally in the alliance of the western countries. But it refused to take on the sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, and the personal relationship between Erdogan and Putin is almost legendary by now, even thought it’s certainly not an easy one. But if we look at all the crises, the wars and conflicts, and even shot down planes and ambassadors, it remains astonishing how these two states managed to remain a cool and rational relationship. While Turkey was on an expansionist move during the last decade, it now has to face a strong Russia close to its doorsteps, and the old fears of loosing the Bosporus will sooner or later click in at Ankara. The Balkan will probably be the next stress-tests for both countries, but the fact that Turkey remains neutral during all these crises shows its willingness to be recognized as a great power with an independent foreign policy itself, even though that is still not quite the case as member of the NATO-alliance.
The modern state of Iran was born as an anti-imperial power mainly against the USA, so it’s not surprising that Tehran is unwilling to stand on the side of the West in this conflict. But the relations towards Russia aren`t all rosy as well. Many Iranians haven`t forgot the politics of Tsarist Russia who tread northern Persia more as a vasal-state than an independent country. Of the three big powers, Iran is closest to China and tries to build a deeper economic relationship with Beijing. After 40 years of suffering, it gets a first glance at the new multipolar order they’re so desperately trying to build.
Pakistan is usually not mentioned if talks are about the great powers of the world. But it does have a large population of over 220 millions people, half that of the European Union. As the United States left Afghanistan, Islamabad will expand its influence in that country and maybe even try to become a major player in the great chess board of Central Asia. The big weaknesses against an independent foreign policy is the economy and constant confrontation with India, a confrontation that weakens both countries ability to gain international influence in a devastating manner. Just as Iran, it may prioritize relations with China.
India was for many one of the biggest surprises and, especially in the United States, a great disappointment. Washington used to see India as an ally, as part of the Quad-Alliance to counter Chinas rising power in the Pacific region. But, if we look at the statements from that country during the last few weeks, it becomes clear that New-Delhi has no intention whatsoever to play a role as a junior-party in Washington’s struggle for supremacy. With almost 1.4 billion habitants, while getting ever closer to Chinas 1.41 billion, an ancient culture and an increasingly better functioning economy including achievements in the high-technology sector, the country is increasingly aware of its self-weight and will likely become one of the great poles in this new era.
Then, of course, there is China, the new rival for global supremacy for the United States. It should be clear to everyone by now that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine wouldn’t be possible without support from Beijing, which leads to the question why they decided to take that path. While the answer is surely complicated and involves many aspects, it’s certainly seen as a step to dethrone the USA from its seat as the global hegemonic power. The other countries of the chain may look for more independence, China is looking for way more than that. China and Russia by now have some kind of alliance, even though they don’t want to call it that way and the West don’t want to call it that way. And this alliance has the goal and increasingly the means to push back the United States on different fronts. Whether they will be successful depends a lot on the other states of the chain and their relation to the West. But, as its system of allies around the world is one of the biggest strengths of the USA, the less they are bound to the West, the better they are for China.