On it’s face, Russia annexing Crimea seems like an issue the world would be completely united on, with the United States leading the way. But in fact the voices opposing Russia and insisting something be done have been few. For starters, although Europe was outraged and horrified by Vladimir Putin’s actions, western European leaders such as Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany offered very little other than strong condemnation and concern. The European Union also approached the situation tentatively.
The answer to this was not difficult to figure out. Germany, as well as much of central-eastern Europe receives at least 40% of it’s gas from Russia. All three Baltic states and most of Scandinavia are completely dependent on Russia for their gas. The EU itself receives a third of its gas from Russia. Under Conservative David Cameron’s premiership, the UK and Russia have expanded their business and commercial ties. So at the outset the America was the lone voice against Russia frankly because Europe had too much to lose, either by disrupting their gas supply or jeopardizing their already fragile economic recovery. When Crimea was formally annexed to Russia, that became the jolt that made European leaders realize 1) Putin is not playing and 2) this sets a dangerous precedent for international relations in the 21st century. Europe is now working with the US to impose sanctions on Russia, if nothing else to send a message that the West at least strongly opposes their actions.
But what about nations outside America and Europe, particularly the BRICs? China keeping silent is not much of a surprise as their foreign policy is largely based on nonintervention. One could argue there are parallels between Russia-Crimea and China situation with Taiwan, or even Tibet. China’s foreign policy is principled on nonintervention because it does not want another country intervening in it’s own affairs. Also, both China and Russia see themselves as a counter-balance to the US. This situation is the perfect opportunity for them to draw closer together while exerting their influence. But India, the world’s largest democracy has kept silent to the surprise of some. Russia and India are historical geopolitical allies. Understandably India is hesitant to disrupt them.
On his CNN program the Global Public Square Fareed Zakaria mentioned that there’s a growing tension in the international system between established norms and national interests, and how this tension resolves itself may determine whether the 21st century is one of peace or war. I do not disagree with him but I think this tension is part of a greater reality that the world is no longer going to go with what the US wants simply because the US wants it, either because American objectives contradict their own national interests, or they simply do not want to be bound to us. Perhaps both. As other nations such as the BRICs rise and seek global influence, the political dominance the US had after 1945 through the collapse of the Soviet Union will inevitably lessen. It is happening now.
Which brings me to my larger argument that we are in a global system similar to that just before the outbreak of World War I. Globalization is already at levels on par with Europe in 1914, but the hesitancy of the world powers to rally behind the US evidences that we are living in a more multi-polar world, also like early 20th century Europe.