Secretary of State A. Blinken speech at John Hopkins SAIS: Reassertion of the U.S. hegemonic role in a collapsing world?

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By Elisabeth Hellenbroich

In the days leading up to the annual UN plenary session that is going to assemble heads of states, ministers and delegates from more than 140 countries (September 18 – 22), the US government under President Biden and his Foreign State Secretary Antony Blinken are in an unprecedented mobilization in order to secure the US leadership role around the globe. A typical example was a speech which US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gave in front of the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) under the title: “The Power and Purpose of American Diplomacy in a New Era” (September 13th 2023).

The entire speech, while leaving out most of the problems which the US is facing domestically as well as in the Ukraine war, is an attempt to present a picture of the US hegemonic power in today’s world. Right in the beginning of his speech Blinken gives homage to what is considered as spiritual mentor of today’s US diplomacy- former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzeziński, who was one of the US notorious architects who designed the future conflicts on the “Eurasian chessboards” with the idea to contain and bring Russia down to its knees.

According to Blinken we witness  today the end of the Cold War Order and the reason for this given is that decades of geopolitical stability  have given ways to an intensifying competition with authoritarian powers, revisionist powers(…) Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine is the most immediate , the most acute threat to the international order enshrined  in the UN charter and its core principles of sovereign, territorial integrity, and independence for nations, and universal indivisible human rights  for individuals.(….) The People’s Republic of China poses the most significant long- term challenge because it not only aspires to reshape the international order, it increasingly has the economic , the diplomatic , the military, the technological power to do just that. And Beijing and Moscow are working together to make the world safe for autocracy through their ‘no limits partnership’.”

Blinken emphasizes that we find ourselves at an inflection point. (…) One era is ending the other beginning and decisions we make will shape the future for decades to come. (…)The United States is leading in this pivotal period from a position of strength. And that strength of the US is as Blinken put it, grounded both in our humility and our confidence. (…) No nation on earth has a greater capacity to mobilize others to a common cause (!) (…) And because our vision for the future – a world that is open, free, prosperous and secure – that vision is not America’s alone , but the enduring aspiration  of people in every nation on every continent. (!) A word where individuals are free in their daily lives and can shape their own future, their communities, their countries…A world where every nation can choose its own path and its own partners.

Blinken stresses that the U.S. is guided by a sense of enlightened self- interest that has long animated the U.S. leadership at its best. (…) We understood that even as the most powerful nation on Earth, forging shared global rules (!)– accepting constraints – and supporting the success of others would ultimately make the American people more prosperous, more peaceful, more secure. Hence his conclusion that America’s enlightened self -interest in preserving and strengthening this order has never been greater. (sic)

This stands in dire contrast -in the vision of Blinken- to the U.S. competitors China and Russia which see a world defined by a single imperative: regime preservation and enrichment. A world where authoritarians are free to control, coerce, and crush their people, their neighbors, and anyone else standing in the way of this all-consuming goal.  Our competitors claim that the existing order is a ‘Western imposition’ …They claim that what governments do within their borders is their business alone. 

He asks how can we leverage America’s renewal at home to make us stronger in the world? The power and purpose of American diplomacy is that “at the core of our strategy is re-engaging, revitalizing and reimagining our greatest strategic asset: America’s alliances and partnerships.

Call for a “diplomatic variable geometry”

Blinken urges that the main task ahead is building more coalitions. An essential element being what he calls fellow democracies, which is why President Biden convened two summits for Democracy to bring together leaders from democracies to tackle the shared challenges we face. Yet he also underlines that alliances should be broadened (…) so we are determined to work with any country- including those with whom we disagree on important issues. (This is an allusion to the countries from the Global South such as BRICS, but also African nations and Latin American nations that have demonstrated at the recent G-20 summit that they don’t accept the U.S. position on Russia and China and Ukraine war).  Among the most important initiatives of the U.S. is: We are transforming the G7into the steering committee for the world’s most advanced democracies, combining our political and economic muscle to not only address the issue affecting our people- but also to offer countries outside the G7 better ways to deliver for their people. (…) We raised the level of ambition in our relationship with the European Union. Together, we account for 40% of the global economy. We are using that power to shape our technological and economic future to reflect our shared democratic values. He also referred to the new relationship with South Korea, the U.S.- Indian  partnership as well as the recently newly forged strategic partnership with Hanoi (Vietnam).

He further underlined how under US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s leadership (…) more than  50 countries are cooperating to support Ukraine’s defense and build a Ukrainian military strong enough to deter and beat back future attacks.(…) We’ve aligned scores of countries in imposing an unprecedented set of sanctions , export controls and other economic costs on Russia.  He praised the fact that 140 nations at the United Nations- more than two thirds of all the member states – affirm Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and condemn Russia’s aggression and atrocities. (…)  We coordinated the G7, the European Union, and dozens more countries to support Ukraine’s economy, to build back its energy grid – more than half of which Russia has destroyed. That’s what variable geometry looks like: for every problem, we’re assembling a fit- for purpose coalition.

Blinken further noted that under US leadership transatlantic and Indo-Pacific allies are now closer together in defending our shared security, prosperity and freedom. This also includes the US instigated AUKUS alliance including Australia, UK and the US, and emphasized that Japan , Australia and New Zealand are now regular and active participants in NATO meetings. He further pointed to the QUAD alliance including  Japan, India, Australia and the US and proudly announced that at the recent G 20 meeting the US together with other nations presented the proposal of a $600 billion  new investment plan for  2027- the Partnership of Global Infrastructure and Investment or PGI – which is a counter -plan to the Chinese Belt and Road  initiative. All these initiatives are taken, according to Blinken, in order to foster American leadership around the globe. Blinken ends with his proposal for re-modeling the UN: That’s why we’ve put forward an affirmative vision for expanding the UN Security Council to incorporate more geographically diverse perspectives- including new permanent and non- permanent members from Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean. This would be also true for realizing a reform of the multilateral developments banks such as World Bank and IMF.

What did ECB head Christine Lagarde mean: End of World Economy as we know it

It is not clear what Blinken means exactly by this. Yet it is worthwhile at this point to take note of an interesting article published in the magazine Politico Europe, which on September 16th reported about a speech by ECB head Christine Lagarde addressing the “Central bankers” meeting in Jackson Hole (Wyoming, 24.-26.08.). According to Politico Europe Lagarde sounded the death knell for the dollar and predicted the end of the World economy as we know it- does she know something that we don’t know? Before a large audience of elite central bankers Lagarde casually predicted the collapse of the international financial order. There are plausible scenarios where we could see a fundamental change in the nature of global economic interactions she said. The world, she said, could soon enter a new age in which past regularities may no longer be a good guide for how the economy works.  Politico Europe notes that just in April Lagarde had raised explicit concern about the fragility of the greenback, whose international dominance, she said, should no longer be taken for granted.

German US expert Dr. Josef Braml calls for more realism

On the background of Blinken’s speech which in “style” is not any better than words from the US neocons like Dick Cheney, it is worthwhile to shed some light on observations that were made in two articles  by the  German U.S. expert and general secretary of the German Group of the Trilateral Commission, Dr. Josef Braml (author of a book 2022 “The transatlantic illusion”, C.H Beck Verlag):  One was published in the  Swiss  news website “WATSON” (August 19) and the other one was a larger article written for the ZTAS (Magazine of Foreign and Security Policy 2023) which got published in May 23this year. In the first article Braml essentially states that since the war in Ukraine is far away and not really touching the conscience of the average American people, as well as not having a direct influence on the upcoming US elections, and in light of the fact that the US will turn to Asia in order to concentrate on its main competitor China, this will have major consequences for Europe’s security.

That’s why Braml argues that Europe has to take over more responsibility for the security of the continent: Given the decreasing domestic support for the engagement of the World Power on the old continent, the Europeans have no other choice but to take over more responsibility for the security of their continent. He further notes that according to a CNN poll made in August this year,  55% of American voters (especially among republican voters) ) think that US Congress should not give additional financial help for the support of Ukraine. Seven out of 10 Republican want no new financial means (59%). Among younger voters 35% of the age group 35 -49 want more financing and among the age group 50-64 its 39%.

Taking more responsibility in Europe would mean according to Braml, that the Europeans have to pay the most for the military equipment and ammunition of Ukraine.  He calls for a more effective investment policy in the military sector, for example to have in Europe a common purchase of weapon systems such as the French/ German Arms project  “Future Combat Air System (FCAS)”  which would make Europe more sovereign. This would also concern transport machines and space based data systems like the “Air Combat cloud”, as well as the development of a European Drone technology. By ensuring a stronger European Defense cooperation, Europe would give a boost to its own diplomacy.

In a second essay that was written in June 2023 for ZTSA, Braml outlines a broad strategic outlook for Europe’s future:  Stating that history has proven the inconsistency of the  “Washington Consensus,”  (neoliberal development policy dating back to the 90ies which was  pushed by IMF etc. ) Braml states, that the neo- liberal policy of integrated and open markets is challenged internationally by Beijing, since China will not become part of a US dominated world order. US geo-strategists see China rather as a counter pole which by use of a Grand strategy should be contained. Chinas technological capability has caused a major shock in Washington.  And in order to contain Chinas economic modernization, the US pushes ahead a strategy of decoupling without taking Europe into account.

Braml underlines that the US wants that its allies in Asia and Europe do more for the support of US economic and military containment of China, which is a dilemma for Germany and Europe. The problem however is that many ASEAN countries are skeptical to decouple from China and also in Europe some people are skeptical about becoming part at of a US anti- China strategy and coalition. Braml shows that two/ third of 190 countries in the world trade more with China than with the US. For German businessmen China is very important since the automobile industry exports a lot: VW, BMW, Mercedes. Many in Germany don’t share the same concerns in security as the US does. In addition Europe needs raw materials, such as rare earth and industrial metals from China.

He emphasizes that trade relation have become weaponizable, i.e. have become object of geostrategic ambitions. Geo-economic power resources are used a weapon in the geoeconomic rivalry.  And he predicts that this US- Chinese rivalry will have an effect on multilateral organizations and on third countries like Germany. While Germany depends on multilateral cycles, the US bases itself on the right of the stronger (being the biggest military power in the world). In the fight for technology and political spheres of influence the US will increase pressure on third countries  and put them in front the choice, to either do business  with the US or China.  If necessary economic weapons like the US dollar or secondary sanctions will be deployed, in order to ‘force’ (!) the European states to give up their economic interest vis a vis China.

Braml further states that Biden’s protectionist course towards the Chinese rival, with his Buy American agenda threatens (!) the interests of European industry; i.e. the US discriminates foreign producers by subsidizing domestic E- Mobility – that could potentially lead to a transatlantic trade war. Also many European automobile producers and spare part deliverers are interested in the US market and with Biden’s “Inflation Reduction Act” they are forced to relocate their production into the US. Since the Russia -Ukraine war was followed by high energy prices American subsidies could lead to a moving away of the industrial base of Europe.

According to Braml responsible leaders in Europe should be prepared for much harsher American market conditions that were already dictated by President Trump: The US under Biden’s leadership will use the economic and military power as competitive advantage – this in particular counts for the more vulnerable countries in Europe. In the future the US will demand ‘economic concessions’ in response to military and security policy.   Yet the Europeans could also point out that since decades they finance consumption, the economy, the military and security as well as rearming of the US by currency reserves which they earn in trade and by their savings. (…) The US only could afford its exorbitant armament, because foreign credit lenders were ready to renounce to their own consumption and investments and hence finance the increasing indebtment of the US private- and state budget(!). Braml’s advice is that Europe should rather increase the European Defense Fund in order to improve Europe’s defense capability and preserve its industrial basis.  In the next two decades a lot of resources are needed for the planned FCAS that will strengthen Europe’s sovereignty in the military and IT sector. In order to avoid getting into the Sino- US rivalry and that Europe should strengthen their own capabilities.

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