By Farid Mirbagheri
The Helsinki summit last month between the US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin has posed a few questions on Washington’s new political and strategic outlook that appears to defy some of the conventions of the post-World War II era.
The rise of China on the international political and economic scene has probably got much to do with that. Containing an emerging economic superpower has prompted the White House to seek better understanding with the Kremlin on a wide range of issues that would include checking Beijing’s international outreach. That has required direct communication between Washington and Moscow, circumventing Europe that has traditionally benefitted from US-provided security against potential enemies chiefly the former Soviet Union and its successor the Russian Federation.
The last Nato meeting held in Brussels just before the Helsinki summit saw President Trump openly asking European allies to pay their fair share of the security network. During the days of the Cold War, liberalism and capitalism were at stake and the US as the leader of the free world felt morally and politically obliged to foot the bill almost single-handedly. However, those days are long gone and the ideological war with Communism, thankfully won, is a thing of the past. Washington may therefore feel justified in expecting to share the cost of the Western collective security on a less unequal footing.
There is then the question of West Asia. By reaching an accord with Russia, the US may be able to divest and absolve itself of some of the responsibility and parts of the blame that has dogged American foreign policy since the fateful invasion of Iraq in 2003. If, for instance, the Russian army has a stronghold in Syria then it can and will be expected by Washington and Tel Aviv to control Iranian movements in the country. The idea of the US as the world’s policeman, generated after the demise of the USSR, is no longer thought to be a viable condition of international life, least of all by the US policy makers themselves.
Tackling another important issue for Washington, Donald Trump seems to have concluded that instigating any meaningful change of behaviour in Tehran is that much more difficult without Putin’s support.
Europeans have demonstrated their disagreement to the US pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran last May and appear to be diametrically opposed to it, though having to comply out of financial imperatives with Washington’s renewed sanctions on the country. Even though Russia may appear to be in agreement with the European position, the prospects of the US going easy on Moscow’s military incursions in the recent past with possible pertinent benefits to be accrued from the Jewish Lobby’s efforts in Washington can be powerfully persuasive.
Should President Trump stay the current course it would not be unrealistic to claim that there is going to be a very different strategic outlook in international relations in the near future, the beginnings of which we have already witnessed. The US and Europe will continue to be allies but the terms of their alliance will probably have to be reconsidered. Washington will arrive at unwritten agreements with Moscow on the political developments in the West Asian region and the conditions promoting China’s increasing economic prowess will be partially curtailed. Islamic radicalism will be fought head-on somewhat diminishing the diplomatic role played by the Europeans in this regard.
The unusual fuss made about the confidential nature of Helsinki talks, which is the norm in political and diplomatic negotiations, may reflect the underlying anxieties in policy circles on the momentous international strategic changes currently taking place.
Professor SM Farid Mirbagheri is professor of international relations and holds the Dialogue Chair in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Nicosia