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Opinion: Great Power Competition in the 2020’s – Objectives for the smaller nations



World has moved from the unipolar US Dominated order, that emerged from the Cold War after the collapse of the Soviet Union, into a new great power competition with two major players and multiple smaller powers that aspire to rise to the top tier. China has already successfully challenged USA in the economic sphere. Russia and Turkey among others try to establish a localized area of dominance, while avoiding directly challenging the big dogs.

There seems to be a lack of coherent objectives for the US political leadership in this competition. But the minimum viable objectives were well presented by Martin Skold:

“The adversary means to either collapse us or coopt us, discrediting our governance model and turning our elites toward it.

Any day that doesn’t happen is a good day. Any day we do that in reverse is better.”

He also quoted Tanner Greer to explain the issue further:

As Beijing sees it, China’s success depends on discrediting the tenets of liberal capitalism so that notions like individual freedom and constitutional democracy come to be seen as the relics of an obsolete system.”

But how does this competition affect the smaller nations? The economically struggling countries in Africa, Asia and South America are mostly forced to pick a camp to be able to obtain the economic and/or military support they need. But European countries have real options.

If we look at what a hegemony of either of the major powers would look like, we can deduct the answer. An American hegemony, with its constitutional democracy and emphasis on civil liberties, has been a decently good for the smaller countries that have been able to conduct independent domestic and economical policies, while enjoying the stabilizing effect of the US military hegemony between 1991 and 2008.

A Chinese hegemony promotes authoritarian leaderships and exploits dominated regions natural resources. The goal is to solidify the Chinese dominion via. supporting the local autocrats with both economic incentives and tools of repression to control the population. This would be a drastic change to the smaller European democracies.

Thus, the prime objective of the European democracies should be to prevent Chinese influence in all spheres of the society: Economic, military, political, research and education. In addition to the local situation, the democracies should also co-operate to slow and if possible, reverse the Chinese control on the countries with strategic locations or resources.

Pursuing these objectives will cause some short term economic hardships, but in the long term the ability to avoid becoming a peripheral exploited client of the Communist China will outweigh the short-term costs. The biggest problem in this equation is the short-sighted political apparatus that is very focused on an election term, instead of the long-term benefits.


-Petri Mäkelä

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