18.03.2024 Author: Leonid Gladchenko

In quest of support for a unipolar world order

Military transport aircraft

The current stage of the ongoing transition to a multipolar world is marked by efforts by US expert bodies to develop recommendations aimed at enabling the United States to hang on to its status as global leader.

One example of such recommendations is a new statement issued by the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). This think tank has earned a name for itself in recent years, in particular, for its achievements in the field of monitoring, analyzing and forecasting conflicts and crises in international relations.

It is important to note that the in its approach to the study of contemporary conflicts and crises the CFR does not limit itself to purely academic research, but focuses on clear “applied” analysis, in that it seeks to identify the potential impact of such conflicts and crises on US interests.

The striking changes of direction in Washington’s “crisis policy” after the end of the Cold War, as reflected in its dispatch of US troops to Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world, have lead the CFR’s experts to conclude that such initiatives lead to adverse consequences, including a dangerous “overstretching” of US resources due to its extensive foreign policy obligations. An analysis of the reasons for US miscalculations leads the CFR to the conclusion, given the endless series of crises in various regions, that important decisions were often taken “in pressured circumstances and with considerable uncertainty about the risks involved.”

In order to remedy this situation, the CFR analysts see their main task as “to provide expert assistance to the developers of US foreign policy line in identifying signs of threats posed by developing crises at the earliest possible stage, in order to promptly and proactively provide information to the executive authorities so that they can take the necessary preventive measures in a timely manner and make rational use of the available resources.”

To achieve this goal, the CFR has developed a methodology for the examination of contemporary crisis phenomena and conflicts. On an annual basis the CFR surveys the views of a wide spectrum of experts in the field of foreign policy in order to identify the range of conflicts currently playing out in the world. Based on the results of its survey, the CFR draws up a list of 30 current, possible, and projected situations that “have a significant potential for conflict development and may have an unfavorable impact on US interests” in the coming twelve months. Such a “narrow” time frame, according to the CFR’s experts, allows it to identify signs of specific conflict situation becoming more serious at an early stage while still leaving enough time for US executive authorities to prepare the necessary preventive or retaliatory measures.

Based on the results of its analysis, the CFR draws up a Risk Assessment Matrix. In essence, this is a scale of priorities, in which selected crises and conflicts are ranked from those which may have “a high impact on US interests combined with a high likelihood of occurrence” (Tier I situations), “a low impact on US interests with a high likelihood of occurrence” (Tier II situations), or “of a low impact on US interests and a low likelihood of occurrence” (Tier III situations).

In order to take into account the high mobility and volatility of crisis phenomena, the CFR places great emphasis on analyzing the rate of change in such processes. One tool designed to help achieve this goal is the Global Conflict Tracker, an interactive online database of conflicts and crises which is maintained and regularly updated by the CFR.

How do American experts currently see the overall impact of crises situations on the interests of the United States? The new issue of the CFR’s annual Preventive Priorities Survey attempts to answer that question.

In this document, for the first time, two problems directly related to the internal situation in the United States itself were included in the group of “the highest risk to US interests”, which is generally defined as situations that “directly threatens the US homeland, a defense treaty ally, or a vital strategic interest, and thus is likely to trigger a US military response.” These are “domestic terrorism and political violence in the United States”, which are expected to reach a peak in the run-up to and during the upcoming presidential elections in November this year, and the possibility of further aggravation of the situation in the southern US states as a result of an increase in the number of migrants from other countries.

The authors of the report consider the threat of an escalation of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and its possible spread to the entire Middle East region to be one of the external crises that both has a high likelihood and poses a high threat to US interests. They also consider the consequences of a possible confrontation between Israel and Iran over the Iranian nuclear program as a factor in this crisis.

Traditionally, the US sees rivalry between major world powers as a serious threat to its interests. In the immediate future, this threat is primarily associated with the ongoing tensions in US relations with China over Taiwan, and the situation in the South China and East China Seas.

The passages in the report about the supposed threat to US interests from Russia, in the vein of the anti-Russian conspiracy theories prevalent among Western political observers, concern the situations in Ukraine and in the Arctic. Without any direct reference to China or Russia, the document also mentions the threat of massive cyberattacks on US critical infrastructure, including electoral systems, by “a state or non-state entity”.

Significantly, the current report’s assessment of the probability of an aggravation of relations between the United States and Beijing and Moscow is an order of magnitude lower than in last year’s report, and is defined as “moderate”.

The report expresses concern about the unfavorable impact on US interests posed by a possible increase in tension on the Korean Peninsula, caused, according to the authors, by the DPRK leadership’s nuclear weapons and missile technology programs.

The report categorizes a number of conflict situations as affecting important US interests, albeit mostly indirectly. These include the risks of increasing hostilities in “regions of strategic importance to the United States” – between Turkey and various Kurdish groups in Iraq and Syria, between China and India and China and the Philippines, and also the possibility of an aggravation of the internal political situation in Yemen, Egypt and Iran.

A large part of the report focuses on forecasts on internal political crises and international conflicts in Africa (Libya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Congo, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Mozambique), Asia (Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, Pakistan), and also Europe (Kosovo and Serbia). While the report recognizes that some of these “may have serious humanitarian consequences”, the overall prospects for their exacerbation are assessed as “low”. However, because they are unfolding in areas that are remote from the US, the report recommends that they be treated for the most part as having “limited relevance to US interests.”

The report also focuses on conflicts in the post-Soviet space. In addition to the potential for further escalation of the military and political situation in south-eastern Ukraine, the CFR notes the possibility of a violation of the ceasefire agreement and a resumption of the armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh. However, based on its assessment of the likelihood of such developments and the degree of impact that these situations would have on US interests, in both cases the report recommends that these be treated as “situations that do not demand direct US intervention.”

In view of the above, we could conclude that, in general, the CFR’s recommendations regarding Washington’s approach to the conflicts and crises of our time are focused less on finding ways to resolve such conflicts as ensuring that its actions are justifiable, properly thought through, and calculated to enable the US to retain its current level of influence in the modern world. As critics of the CFR within the US expert community point out, this center’s approach essentially demonstrates “the USA’s insistence on viewing the world as a sphere of influence, promoting its interests on a global scale, and, in the event of resistance to such plans, its justification of the use of military force.”

The “matrix of priorities” promoted by the CFR reflects the growing awareness within the US expert community of the need to take into account the new realities of global development, to rein in Washington’s ambitions, and to make more selective use of the influence and resources that it has at its disposal. The report thus recommends focusing attention primarily on crises occurring within the area of US vital interests, while reducing international commitments in peripheral areas. If the Washington administration takes note of and acts upon the CFR’s call for a US withdrawal from conflicts in the Global South that fall outside the sphere of US interests, then it is possible that in the near future we may see a repeat of the “Afghan scenario” – a withdrawal of the remaining U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. In all likelihood, the process would be just as inglorious.


Leonid Gladchenko, expert political analyst and member of the “Analitika” Association, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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