by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The biggest danger, theoretically, would be a full-scale nuclear war among the great powers, and there seems to be no sign of that.
The two most powerful states, the U.S. and China, are firmly set on a peaceful course of national accumulation and put increasing their prosperity ahead of any other objective. President Obama is eager to disengage the U.S. from any global commitment that might involve him, however remotely, in a confrontation with either China or Russia. He’s even come within measuring distance of stating that if Russia attempts to recreate the Soviet empire, Europe will have to deal with it.
The war in Ukraine is bogged down, and Russia has been badly hit by the double punch of Western sanctions and the huge drop in oil prices. Russia is the only major power whose standard of living is actually falling, but Russian opinion is curiously impervious to a drop in spendable incomes, especially if it can be blamed on the West. However, that doesn’t mean Putin can afford to take more risks. Any further encroachments in Ukraine would bring much bigger risks and disproportionately small gains. …
… In comparison, China’s elite is almost entirely preoccupied with internal matters, particularly the economy. China’s ascent has been almost without precedent in modern world history, and slowing the economy down will continue to be tricky. China’s enormous middle class has only just begun to enjoy spending its savings on foreign travel, imports of nonessentials and buying bigger houses. The kind of contraction in middle-class spending power that any increase in armaments or expansion of the Red Army would entail is presently out of the question.
China already has an alarming worry on its doorstep: Japan has started to think seriously about its future as a military power. …
… What about Europe? If the U.S. continues to pursue Obama-style politics, leaving Europe saddled with its own defense, the EU is unlikely to continue in its present form. In any case, changes are inevitable. In the U.K. the Tories look set to remain in power after the May elections and will push ahead with the proposed referendum on Europe. If the Euro-skeptics win, Britain’s relationship with the EU will become much looser, especially financially. In France it looks as though Marine Le Pen will win the next election; she will demand a loosening of ties. Her example will be widely followed, at which point the EU will revert to Charles de Gaulle’s formula of “l’Europe des patries.” This, in turn, will mean a lowering of tension in the part of the world where Europe still carries weight. For there is nothing more dangerous than an unstable and internally riven supranational entity, and anything that will defuse the European pseudo-supernation is welcome.