Author: Alex Petriashvili, Senior Fellow at Rondeli Foundation
Without exaggeration, it can be said that after the terrorist attack committed by Hamas against Israel on October 7, 2023, carried out with unprecedented brutality never before seen during the existence of the State of Israel, the world has changed, and not for the better. Following the reactions of the states, international organizations and associations; the decisions made, the steps taken and, in general, the positioning, it has become even clearer that the struggle of the Ukrainians against the full-scale aggression of Russia that began on February 24, 2022, the unity of the free world, and the quick and coordinated action held vital importance not only for Ukraine, for Georgia, for the Black Sea region, for Eastern Europe, or Europe, but for global world order, security, and stability as a whole.
Perhaps today there are still people, experts, analysts, diplomats, and politicians in Europe, in the United States of America, and in general in the democratic world, who believe that the connection between these two wars is artificial; that the struggle to liberate the settlement of Verbové in the Zaporizhia region or to destroy the terrorist organization Hamas in the Gaza Strip has nothing to do with security in the Swiss Alps or Lake Balaton in Hungary, the Pacific coast of California, or Copacabana in Brazil. These people are either naive and ignorant, live like ostriches, or are unmasked proponents of autocracy.
Yes, it was a coincidence, but it was still very symbolic when Putin and Xi Jinping entered the meeting hall together at the summit celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative, while in parallel, the leader of the free world, the President of the United States of America, George Biden, arrived in Israel. Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong-un, and Ayatollah Khamenei have one line regarding the Israeli fight against terrorism, and President Biden, Rishi Sunak, Olaf Scholz, Ursula von der Leyen, and Jens Stoltenberg – completely the opposite.
This is exactly how the line is drawn in Ukraine’s fight against Russia. President Biden also went to Kiev, as did virtually all the leaders of the democratic world. In fact, the first time the contours of the great battle Joe Biden has been talking about since the first hours of his presidency – democracies vs autocracies – appeared was on the front lines of Ukraine. In Israel, these contours have become even more vivid (hopefully, among others, to the Israeli government itself). Some may find it hard to admit, but this is the reality: the problem transcends the war in Ukraine, as well as Israel’s war on terror, and the threat to democratic Taiwan. These are all parts of a single, global big picture. Now the answer to the question as to whether this picture can be titled “Democracies VS Autocracies: The Pivotal Battle” is becoming clear.
You will no doubt agree with me when I say that the President of the United States of America gave one of the most impressive speeches to date when he said the decisions made now will determine the fate of future generations. He also meticulously drew a parallel between Vladimir Putin and the terrorist organization Hamas, setting out a common goal: if we don’t stop Putin and the terrorists now, they will continue to do evil and strike other democracies tomorrow. Obviously, the message about smart investment was thoroughly deliberated. The aid budget, totaling $100 billion, that President Biden is requesting for Ukraine, Israel, and for strengthening US border security, is not lumped together by accident. It is no secret to anyone that there are serious fluctuations in the domestic politics of the USA, and even stronger “storms” are expected in the context of next year’s presidential elections. In my humble opinion, it is these fluctuations that are making big waves in the rest of the world, and dealing with them will determine the future of the world.
However, there are other important factors as well. Although President Biden addressed the American people and American politicians in his historic speech, the addressees were not only US citizens: His messages were carefully listened to in Beijing, Moscow, Pyongyang, and Tehran, as well as in Brussels, London, Berlin, and Paris.
With regards the USA, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Norway, and the European Union ((so far) minus one) – everything is certain. Everything is also clear regarding the quartet of autocrats and dictators and their “lieutenants” (Lukashenko, Assad), but, alas, in this battle, the role of countries such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries, at one time unconditional US allies, is significant, and there are questions as to the quality of their democracy. For various reasons, it is no longer the case that with one friendly call to the king, sheikh, or president, any issue can be resolved, and open, deep and comprehensive support assured. Firstly, everything has become more expensive, and secondly, there are some things that may even be insurmountable (for example, due to religious, cultural, and historical specifics, some Muslim countries find it difficult to support Israel against terrorist organizations and the states behind them). Everyone wants peace, prosperity, stability, but at what cost and how?
Even more relevant, and perhaps crucial, is what the Global South will say and do in the face of such turbulence. Who will stand by the Global North? Who will stand aside? And who will join the so-called axis of evil? For example, India may have its serious problems with China, and it is not happy about Russia’s war in Ukraine, but that does not necessarily mean that it will unconditionally support the US and other democracies in their fight against autocracies.
That is precisely why, taking into account the circumstances surrounding other countries, I think that the main battle line right now is in the Global South. It is clear that the USA is still the main beacon of the world; it is also clear that China, facing economic and financial challenges, is still far behind the economic and military strength of the USA, just as it is clear that the Russian economy is slowly but steadily weakening, seeing it becoming increasingly dependent on Chinese goodwill, cheap oil and gas purchases (in yuan), Chinese microchips, semiconductors, and missiles and shells (provided through/with Kim Jong-un). However, given the challenges facing the US and Europe, the role and importance for the above-mentioned decisive battle of India and Indonesia, Brazil and Pakistan, and of the African continent in general, has clearly increased.
This was confirmed once again at the anniversary summit of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Where China once attached great importance to Europe’s involvement in BRI projects and, therefore, participation in summits, now the “white crow” of democratic Europe Viktor Orbán and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic were represented at the level of first persons from Europe. The former is a member of NATO and the European Union, and has been creating problems for the Euro-Atlantic area of late, while the second is trying to become a member of the European Union but cannot/does not want to overcome the influence of Vladimir Putin. European Commission Vice-President, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell allegedly deliberately visited Beijing a few days before the summit. One way or another, judging by the attendees at the summit, China met the anniversary summit not in the best economic shape, and responded to the extremely tense situation in the Middle East in unison with Putin by criticizing Israel and supporting Palestine.
In his speech, Joe Biden showed everyone that his administration is not going to back down in this global, possibly decisive, battle. Unanimity was evident from the statements made by the leaders at the US-European Union summit held in Washington. According to the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the European Union has provided 90 billion euros of aid to Ukraine and plans to provide 50 billion euros in the future so that Ukraine has a sense of stable and solid support. Further, the two sides were unanimous in supporting Israel and condemning the brutal terrorist attack by Hamas, as well as in their joint efforts to prevent the current military confrontation from escalating into a wider regional conflict.
In view of all this, the joint statement of the US-European Union, which encompasses all important topics (it also briefly touches on Georgia’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and European support), is interesting and noteworthy. Obviously, the relationship with China is highlighted separately. The wording used in the text clearly indicates that the positions of all parties have been taken into account. In particular, alongside mention of the existing problems and challenges, there is a lot of emphasis put on the importance of cooperation and close communication with China. In relation to China, the text does not even use such an established term as “systemic adversary”. It seems that preparations for the decisive struggle of democracies against autocracies in the free world is still ongoing, and much remains to be settled and agreed upon.