December 12, 2022
“Annus horribilis” is a phrase made famous by Queen Elizabeth II in a speech delivered near the end of 1992. At the time she was referring to the difficulties in the British royal family. The queen’s remarks made international news, and the phrase (meaning “terrible year” or “disastrous year”), subsequently entered the lexicon to describe a year of great personal or political misfortune.[i] 2022 Was such a year for Europe and to a lesser degree for the world.
On February 4, 2022, presidents Xi Jinping and Putin met in Beijing and issued a joint statement that said, “Friendship between the two States has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation, strengthening of bilateral strategic cooperation is neither aimed against third countries nor affected by the changing international environment and circumstantial changes in third countries.” [ii]
By the end of January, Russia had deployed 100,000 troops and military hardware on the Ukrainian border and President Biden warned his Ukrainian counterpart that a Russian attack could be imminent as the ground freezes later in February. This was bad news for the world already fighting a multitude of problems triggered by the pandemic.
As predicted, on February 24, 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine, bringing the post-Cold War European security order to an end.
The invasion, coming only three weeks after the Putin-Xi meeting led to speculation as to whether the former had informed the latter of his plans. Beijing refrained from condemning the assault and advocated negotiations. Six months later the two leaders met on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand. After the talks, President Putin said that Russia highly values the balanced position of China regarding the Ukraine conflict, adding that he understood China’s questions and concerns about the situation there.
Chinese readout of the talks said President Xi emphasized that China will work with Russia to extend strong mutual support on issues concerning each other’s core interests but avoided any mention of the war in Ukraine. In brief, the invasion of Ukraine while forcing Moscow to move closer to Beijing also became a problem for China, coming at a time when Beijing is increasingly challenged by the West as a “strategic competitor”. Moreover, China has a strong interest in continuing its economic and commercial cooperation with the West, and Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian civilian infrastructure in violation of international humanitarian law have not helped President Putin’s cause. Thus, despite the declaration regarding a friendship with “no limits”, China’s support to Moscow in Ukraine is under a constraint.
Notwithstanding undercurrents, the West has so far shown unprecedented solidarity in standing up to the Kremlin in condemning the invasion, providing Ukraine with military assistance, and imposing extensive sanctions against Russia. Among the members of NATO and the EU, Poland and the Baltic states have been more outspoken. Others were more cautious and encouraged negotiations. The debate on the price cap on Russia’s seaborne oil and the tense relations with a long past between Berlin and Warsaw only reflected such divisions. For the former group, President Putin and Russia are one. For the latter, among them France and Germany, both criticized for “vacillating”, President Putin will be gone someday but Russia will always be there. So, why burn all the bridges? And Mr. Putin keeps banking on fissures he hopes would emerge in Western solidarity as economic challenges grow.
At the end of his state visit to Washington President Macron told French TV station TF1 that Europe needs to prepare its future security architecture and referred to the guarantees to be given to Russia the day it returns to the negotiating table. Was that an indirect reference to President Putin’s written proposals to the US and NATO for a new security architecture in Europe? Probably.
In a Foreign Affairs article titled, “The Global Zeitenwende, How to Avoid a New Cold War in a Multipolar Era”, Chancellor Scholz, sought to allay such concerns regarding Berlin’s position on the war in Ukraine. [iii]
The article was Mr. Scholz’s strongest condemnation of Russia. While underlining a commitment to sustaining Germany’s effort to support Ukraine for as long as necessary, he also said that NATO’s actions must not lead to a confrontation with Russia, but the alliance must credibly deter further Russian aggression. Referring to Russia’s rhetoric concerning nuclear weapons which he called “reckless and irresponsible” the Chancellor said, “When I visited Beijing in November, Chinese President Xi Jinping and I concurred that threatening the use of nuclear weapons was unacceptable and that the use of such horrific weapons would cross a redline that humankind has rightly drawn. Putin should mark these words.”
And perhaps seeking common ground between conflicting views, he referred to the “rules-based international order” advocated by the West, but also said, “For its part, Germany is doing everything it can to defend and foster an international order based on the principles of the UN Charter.” In defining the global order, China and Russia emphasize international law and the UN Charter.
Chancellor Scholz has said that NATO’s actions must not lead to a confrontation with Russia. But regardless of the legal intricacies of the definition of war, today Russia and the West are at war. The absence of NATO troops fighting on Ukrainian territory does not change that. Moreover, with diametrically opposite views on territory and the guarantees to be offered to a neutral Ukraine, the war that Russian President Vladimir Putin calls a “special military operation,” would “be a long process,” as he recently said.
Last week, Kyiv carried out drone attacks on three Russian airfields, two of them hundreds of miles from Ukraine. One of them hit an airfield outside the city of Ryazan, around 200 kilometers southeast of Moscow. With Russian forces on Ukrainian territory, and Ukrainian cities under constant air attacks, does Kyiv have the right to extend the war into Russia? It certainly has, but there could be consequences for Ukraine’s allies. This is why Washington has “neither encouraged nor enabled” Ukraine to strike targets inside Russia, Secretary Blinken said soon after the attacks. Washington’s European allies are worried now that President Putin has once again mentioned the threat of a nuclear war.
Brittney Griner’s release in a swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout was announced personally by President Biden and celebrated in Washington last week. Considering the failure of diplomacy to prevent the war in Ukraine, and the resulting loss of life and devastation, this was not a huge achievement but it at least showed that, despite Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov’s remark that the talks were exclusively about the topic of the exchange, the lines of communication between Moscow and Washington are not completely off.
Fortunately for the world, tensions in Asia are still under control.
In October 2022, Mr. Xi Jinping secured a third five-year term as president. He is now regarded as China’s strongest leader since Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. And today, China’s international status as a global power is an accomplished fact as long foreseen by President Roosevelt. Thus, the word “multipolar” is back.
During the Second World War, though he hymned with the Nationalist struggle in China, Mr. Roosevelt was set against any commitment of US troops to fight the Japanese in China. His “Europe First” policy meant that there were not enough troops to spare. Looking further ahead, the President saw the Nationalists and Communists coming together as China emerged from the war as one of the Four Policemen of the post-war order, alongside the US, the USSR, and Britain. Japan’s defeat would produce a vacuum in the Far East that only China could fill, Roosevelt believed. The past decades have confirmed his China prediction.[iv]
The coming decades could witness the emergence of India as another global power.
NATO’s Brussels Summit Communiqué of June 14, 2021, said that China’s stated ambitions and assertive behavior present systemic challenges to the rules-based international order and areas relevant to Alliance security. Madrid Summit Declaration of June 29, 2022, used similar language.
On August 2, 2022, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan. Following the visit, China launched its biggest military exercises in the Taiwan Strait. Taiwan called it “a blockade”, and “a rehearsal for a real invasion”.
A month later presidents Biden and Xi spoke again. Following the call, a White House official said the conversation took three parts. First was a detailed discussion of areas where the two countries can work together. Second, the two leaders exchanged views on Russia’s war in Ukraine and the global impacts it is having. And third, they had an in-depth discussion on Taiwan. President Biden reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the One China Policy.
According to the Chinese readout, President Xi pointed out that taking the lead in upholding world peace and security and in promoting global development and prosperity is the responsibility of China and the US as two major countries. He objected to defining China-US relations in terms of strategic competition and presenting China as the primary rival and the most serious long-term challenge and underscored the need to maintain communication at all levels.
President Xi, the readout said, elaborated on China’s principled position on the Taiwan question adding, “Those who play with fire will perish by it. It is hoped that the US will be clear-eyed about this.”
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has united the West because Ukraine borders NATO. In the absence of a direct threat in the Far East, regardless of what is said in NATO statements, ensuring such unity against China would remain a challenge for Washington.
In his Foreign Affairs article, Chancellor Scholz said that China’s rise does not warrant isolating Beijing or curbing cooperation but neither does China’s growing power justify claims for hegemony in Asia and beyond. “No country is the backyard of any other—and that applies to Europe as much as it does to Asia and every other region,” he added. French position on relations with China is no different.
In 2022, the DPRK launched nearly a hundred ballistic and other missiles, some capable of reaching the US. Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear capability is a huge challenge for nuclear non-proliferation. The nature of DPRK’s regime and the personality of its leader Kim Jong-un further complicate the problem. This is a problem on which the West and China have no other option than to cooperate.
Efforts aimed at reviving the Iran nuclear deal have not made progress. The impression that the problem has moved down on the international agenda is misleading because it has not. Failure to revive the deal could lead to further turmoil in the Middle East.
In his cover note for the 2022 National Security Strategy, President Biden said, “From the earliest days of my Presidency, I have argued that our world is at an inflection point.” The Chinese readout of the Biden-Xi meeting in Bali on November 14, 2022, said “President Xi pointed out that the world is at a major inflection point in history.” AndChancellor Scholz’s aforementioned Foreign Affairs article starts with the following: “The world is facing a Zeitenwende: an epochal tectonic shift.”
Thus, the question becomes, “what kind of an international order?” There are no easy answers, but conflicting views. As an area of cooperation both Washington and Beijing repeatedly refer to climate change. That is fine but not enough. As the war in Ukraine has shown major powers and others need to focus on conflict prevention through diplomatic engagement. Because only that would allow the global community to address problems such as food insecurity, pandemics, terrorism, energy shortages, and inflation.
What appears more predictable is how countries would behave in the post-Cold War era. Many countries in the global South have not condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine even though this was a blatant violation of the UN Charter which Moscow puts at the center of its version of the global order.
In a Foreign Affairs article titled, “The Middle East in a Multipolar Era, Why America’s Allies Are Flirting With Russia and China”, Michael Singh says that President Biden has frequently taken a binary view of the international order—a “competition of democracies and autocracies,” according to its 2022 National Security Strategy, a vision that many U.S. partners do not share. Most countries, he says, view the rivalry between great powers, rather than the threat posed by any single power, as the greatest challenge to their interests and he refers to President Xi Jinping’s visit to Saudi Arabia as a case in point. [v]
In his cover note of the US 2022 National Security Strategy, President Biden said that in shaping the future global order the US will lead with American values, and work in lockstep with America’s allies and partners and with all those who share America’s interests. But the Chinese President’s landmark visit to the Kingdom and the meetings he had there with other Arab leaders is yet another reflection of Beijing’s global reach and lessening trust in Washington as a result of the invasion of Iraq, the failed war in Afghanistan, and the Arab spring interventions. This in no way diminishes regional peoples’ yearning for democracy, progress, transparency, and accountability as the brave protests in Iran show. But such yearning does not necessarily translate into support for Western policies. And they probably think FIFA President Gianni Infantino was right when he said, “What we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons.”
The Chinese readout of the talks between President Xi Jinping and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman says that “Saudi Arabia firmly supports the one-China principle, firmly supports China in safeguarding its own sovereignty, security and territorial integrity, firmly supports China’s measures and efforts for deradicalization, and firmly rejects interference in China’s internal affairs by any external forces under the excuse of human rights or any other.”[vi]
Western countries, particularly the US, denounce China’s repression of its Moslem Uyghur minority more for their political ends than genuine concern for their plight. But since Saudi Arabia claims a unique position within the Islamic world by being home to Islam’s holiest shrines, such open support for Beijing’s policy toward the Uyghurs is revealing.
In my summing up of the year 2021, this was what I said regarding Türkiye:
“Today, the separation of powers is a myth. The parliament is marginalized. The country is ruled by decree. No minister can make an authoritative statement without the blessing of the President. Trust in the judiciary is low. Allegations of corruption, nepotism, and cronyism never end. The State institutions are weak. The independence of the Central Bank is over. The Directorate of Religious Affairs is politicized. We are polarized. And worst of all, assaults on Ataturk’s legacy and the very foundations of the Republic continue unabated.”
I have little to add to the foregoing for the year 2022 except our economic freefall with an incredibly high rate of inflation.
In his Foreign Affairs article, Chancellor Scholz said, “At the European Council in June 2022, the EU granted Ukraine and Moldova the status of “candidate countries” and reaffirmed that Georgia’s future lies with Europe. We also agreed that the EU accession of all six countries of the western Balkans must finally become a reality, a goal to which I am personally committed.” And he also said, “The world’s democracies will need to work with countries that do not embrace democratic institutions to defend and uphold a global order that binds power to rules and that confronts revisionist acts such as Russia’s war of aggression.”
Our leadership must ask itself, where that puts their “New Türkiye”.
The year 2022 was “annus horribilis” for Europe. The same goes for Türkiye’s past decade.
[iv] Jonathan Fenby, The Penguin History of Modern China, (Penguin Books, 2008), page 304.