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Syria and the multipolar era

22 5 0
16.10.2019

The way that history has a tendency to repeat itself is intriguing. In Alfred Lilienthal’s The Other Side of the Coin, published in 1965, he said that the “Soviet Union has taken advantage of the resultant decline in American prestige in a suspicious Arab world to establish itself on the eastern Mediterranean shore.” Other than an end of the bipolar international order and the Soviet demise with it, not much else is different today, if we replace “Soviet Union” with “Russia” in that sentence. The implications of a resurgent Russia have been both welcomed and feared, depending on one’s political leanings; at the very least, this has garnered interest at the academic level. The status quo since the 1990s has been one of unchallenged Western dominance in international affairs, known as the “unipolar moment”.

The meeting between German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in mid-July 1990 paved the way for the reunification of Germany and was seen as a Soviet “surrender” in the Cold War, ushering in America’s unipolar moment of unchallenged hegemony. The key word was “moment”, as predicted by Charles Krauthammer, who wrote at the time: “This surrender marks a unique historical phenomenon, which might be called the moment of unipolarity. The bipolar world in which the real power emanated only from Moscow and Washington is dead. The multipolar world to which we are headed, in which power will emanate from Berlin and Tokyo, Beijing and Brussels, as well as Washington and Moscow, is struggling to be born. The transition between these two worlds is now, and it won’t last long. But the instant in which we are living is a moment of unipolarity, where world power resides in one reasonably coherent, serenely dominant entity: the Western alliance, unchallenged and not yet (though soon to be) fractured by victory.”

READ: Erdogan says Turkey will never declare ceasefire in northern Syria

The unipolar moment probably lasted longer than expected, although another pivotal moment occurred recently, which has ushered in the multipolar era about which Krauthammer theorised. This, of course, was the abandonment and withdrawal of US troops from “northern Syria” (the US has the vestiges of its presence at Al-Tanf near the Jordan border) thanks to President Donald Trump’s Twitter diplomacy which shocked and dismayed senior members of his own party with his inevitable betrayal of America’s Kurdish allies in Syria. It boils down to a realisation of skewed election promises and the reality of it being untenable to bolster US military presence in the country. “Bringing home the troops” to Saudi Arabia will have no strategic impact in the Gulf either.

Several mainstream commentators have spoken of Trump’s decision as handing Syria over to Russia and Iran and potentially enabling a revival of........

© Middle East Monitor