Ghassan Salamé: Ukraine war signals 'labour pains' of new world order

In an interview with Al Majalla, global statesman Ghassan Salamé cites climate change, economic crises, and the use of nuclear weapons as his top three global concerns

There are many reasons to believe that prevailing global geopolitical conditions have ended, and we are in the throes of new world order, but it is difficult to predict what this new order will look like, says Salamé.
There are many reasons to believe that prevailing global geopolitical conditions have ended, and we are in the throes of new world order, but it is difficult to predict what this new order will look like, says Salamé.

Ghassan Salamé: Ukraine war signals 'labour pains' of new world order

Paris: There are three main reasons that Ghassan Salamé cites, as he surveys the current international scene, that make him “deeply concerned” about the current state of world affairs.

The professor of international relations — who previously served as Lebanon’s Minister of Culture and as the UN envoy to Libya — puts climate change, economic crises, and the use of force at the top of his list.

Elaborating on his fear over the use of force, Salamé cites the “dangerous matter” of nuclear weapons.

Speaking to Al Majalla, Salamé warned that there is “not a single day in the course of the war in Ukraine that we do not hear about the nuclear threat.”

He added: “This kind of ‘reckless reference’ to nuclear weapons is very dangerous because it can spread to other nuclear states.”

Salamé thinks that there are many reasons to believe that prevailing global geopolitical conditions that we have known for decades have ended.

He suggests that “we are watching the birth pangs of a new world order,” adding: “such pangs refer to a structural, not a superficial, change in the composition of such a world order, but it is difficult for us to understand what this new order will look like.”

Al Majalla Executive Editor Ibrahim Hamidi sat down in Paris for an exclusive interview with Salamé.

Below is a transcript of the conversation:

In the context of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, you previously said, “The world is ill and ailing.”

It later became clear that the world had to adapt to living with the pandemic in the broadest sense of the word. Does the world have to adapt to living with such political and economic ‘diseases’?

The problems that the world faces today are diverse and some of them are serious. The list is long, but we should try to narrow it down to the most dangerous ones. I see three different reasons for deep concern, all of which are political, in a sense.

The first reason for concern is climate change, which makes sea waters rise and cover areas of land. These changes are abnormal in the sense that they are man-made. Last summer, there were unprecedented floods in Pakistan.

Massive lakes in China have ended up with only a quarter or a fifth of the usual volume of water left. Furthermore, deadly heat waves are hitting some countries in the north of the globe like Britain and Germany.

Climate change is not just a scientific hypothesis, I am 100% convinced of it. But the source of concern here is political in nature.

And if climate change is mostly caused by human activity, then countries and governments must address this phenomenon. It started with the Kyoto Protocol 30 years ago, and then it moved to the conferences and accords of the Paris Agreement, but, in all cases, implementation has not happened.

The first reason is that it is costly. Perhaps Europe can transition to an economy that does not accelerate climate change, but many other countries are financially unable to do so.

To make matters worse, public opinion is still not entirely convinced of the issue, and, hence, it does not press in this direction.

Additionally, there are influential companies that do not want these policies to be implemented, so they finance lobbyists to obstruct this.

But most importantly, wars and other emerging global problems have delayed action on this matter.

The Germans, for example, were on the verge of closing three nuclear plants, but with the war in Ukraine and the cessation of the flow of Russian gas, there has been a return to the use of nuclear power, and to coal as well.

Most importantly, wars and other emerging global problems have delayed action on climate change. The Germans, for example, were on the verge of closing three nuclear plants, but with the war in Ukraine and the cessation of the flow of Russian gas, there has been a return to the use of nuclear power, and to coal as well.

Ghassan Salame, International diplomat

My second concern is related to the global economic system.

Uncertainties about a significant contraction in growth may have been exaggerated when the pandemic broke out. However, there certainly is worrisome inflation, although its weight varies from one country to another.

The predominant expectation today is that there is a contraction, albeit small, in growth, even in China, which has emerged from the confinement of the zero Covid policy that exhausted its economy. This means that foreign investments, which have slowed down in recent years, will remain at their current level in the best case scenario.

Additionally, foreign aid to the world's poorest countries will not meet their needs, especially if we add to the standard needs the catastrophic results of the Ukrainian war, the Pakistani floods, and the terrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria. 

International organisations concerned with humanitarian affairs have set estimations for what is required in each case; pledges by wealthy countries, however, no longer match the need.

Moreover, the actual transfers are generally less than the declared pledges. Therefore, we must expect more inequality between countries and within most countries, even developed ones, which cannot be pretty reassuring about their stability.

The third factor is more political than the previous two issues, which is the use of force. In the past five or six centuries, there has been an accumulation of laws and customs regarding the right to resort to force and its use in a 'morally acceptable' manner. 

Since the 15th century, a relevant legacy has emerged with formal and written aspects, which turned, about a century ago, into written treaties and agreements.

Moreover, the end of the Cold War raised hope that the use of force would become exceptional. In fact, some books and analyses were published at the time to herald the complete end of wars. 

It is true that there were several civil wars that broke out after the end of the Cold War, e.g. in Yugoslavia, Central Asia, and a few other countries, but they were largely curbed and did not extend to the inter-relations of the major countries. Rather, we saw that these major countries cooperated, at times, to solve these problems. 

I remember, for example, that I had a small role in reaching the Taif Agreement. 

Today, I say that without the Perestroika and the excellent relations that had developed between Russia and the United States after 1988, which allowed for the creation of a favourable atmosphere, it would have been difficult, at that time, to reach that agreement or other agreements which were reached during the same period, to resolve conflicts, like what happened in El Salvador, Nicaragua and other conflict areas in the world.

Not only have the great powers stopped financing proxy wars in the Horn of Africa, for example, between Ethiopia and Somalia, or in Lebanon or elsewhere, but more than that, they had, sometimes, contributed to halting several wars through cooperation and through the Security Council. 

However, in the 21st century, we saw that the decade which came after the end of the Cold War led to something different for the world's superpower, i.e. the US. 

Washington broke all norms, laws and Security Council resolutions by invading Iraq in the spring of 2003. That invasion was probably caused by an exaggerated sense of power and a feeling that there were some appropriate historical circumstances for the US to get rid of opponents. 

US President George W. Bush delivers an address at the Louisville Convention Center 11 January 2006 in Louisville, Kentucky. Bush spoke about the US war in Iraq.

But it set a very dangerous precedent, because the US — the superpower that played the largest role in building international institutions, particularly the United Nations in 1945 — has been the one violating these norms and laws and waging an unjustified and illegal war, as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan articulated at the time.

What was the effect of the invasion of Iraq?

The invasion of Iraq led to the extension of the reckless use of force from a certain major country to other major countries. We saw, therefore, how China moulded itself in a different way while it was dealing with Tibet, and particularly with Hong Kong, and perhaps one day with Taiwan or its neighbours such as Vietnam and the Philippines when it comes to the process of borders demarcation. 

We also saw after the Iraq war that Russia attacked Georgia and carved out a part of it, establishing two independent republics, then attacked Ukraine and carved out part of the Donbas region and annexed Crimea and other regions in eastern Ukraine.

The misbehaviour effect of the US did not extend only to Russia and China, but also to middle-power countries as well, such as Turkey, which intervened in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other places, and is also present in Somalia and a number of African countries, while having a military base in Qatar. 

That US-effect also encouraged Iran, which interferes in more than one place and is publicly declaring its control today over the decision-making in four Arab countries. 

The US invasion of Iraq set a very dangerous precedent. It encouraged countries around the world to do the same as was the case with Iran, which interferes in more than one place and is publicly declaring its control today over the decision-making in four Arab countries.

Ghassan Salame, International diplomat

Then that effect extended to smaller countries or the so-called 'Little Spartans'. Moreover, there are some small Arab countries beginning to interfere here and there. 

In Africa, you have at least two countries that use force frequently. One of these two is Chad, whose soldiers we see elsewhere in the African continent, and the other one is Rwanda, led by President Paul Kagame.

Therefore, 'Great Sparta' violated the law and intervened in Iraq. Other 'Spartans', i.e. other major powers, followed it, then medium-sized countries followed them, then small-sized countries did. In the last 20 years, we have seen that there has been a reckless use of force.

How does the Ukraine War factor into all of this?

I think that what happened with the economy also happened with the use of force. That is, all the neoliberal philosophy that emerged after 1980 with Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan and others permeated to the rest of the world. 

This philosophy is based on the idea of lifting restrictions on trade and investment, easing laws and facilitating foreign investment, the movement of goods, materials, capital, and the like.

This also applies to the use of force. There has become a kind of reckless lifting or weakening of laws that restrict the use of force and, therefore, when the Ukrainian war began, it was a kind of culmination of this misbehaviour that began since the invasion of Iraq and passed through Georgia, Hong Kong and several African and Arab countries. 

The situation was exacerbated by the case of Ukraine because it is a bigger country. Therefore, separating the Ukrainian war from the context of those negative developments since 2003 is wrong in my opinion. This is an even bigger step in a 20-year-old process. Those are the three main concerns for me.

If we link the three sources of concern with the Ukrainian war and with the tension in Taiwan, they are all indications that the world we knew before would come to an end and as if something new is in the pains of 'labour'.

Is this an accurate description? Do you agree that there is an ongoing 'labour' process at both the regional and international level?

And will it lead to something new? And if you agree with the idea of the world 'being in labour', where will it lead and which direction? 

When you talk about labour, you expect the birth of a new baby. We now feel the contractions of this labour, but the baby is yet to be born. 

We are not amidst a superficial change in the composition of the international system; we are in a structural transformation phase that will lead us to profound changes in international relations.

Undeniably, there is a change in the power distribution in the international system. This change is occuring on various levels, making it very complex.

It will first happen on a historical level, affecting the position of the white man in comparison to other races.

No one can argue that we are witnessing a contraction of a process that began about five centuries ago, when the white man left his European homeland and spread across the globe – North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries.

We are witnessing a contraction of a process that began about five centuries ago, when the white man left his European homeland and spread across the globe – North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries.

Ghassan Salame, International diplomat

In addition to this settlement, which was sometimes accomplished via the extermination of the local peoples in horrific massacres, the white man annexed vast areas of the world with his colonial control.

The most potent example of this was Britain's ability to more or less control the Chinese economy, which was the largest economy in the world at the time, as well as the Indian economy (second largest), throughout the 19th century. 

If you looked at the world map about a century ago, you would find that the white man, who represented only 27 per cent of humanity at the time, controlled about 82 per cent of the globe in one way or another. This control is receding today. Currently, the white man represents about 17 per cent or less of humanity and controls 30 per cent or less of the globe.

This transformation, however, has been happening slowly for about a century, but it is accelerating now due to the population explosion in India and, especially, in Africa, with an evident deterioration in demographic indicators in all Western countries, not to mention Russia, Japan, and even China.

In a closer era to us, we see a different distribution of power that began nearly three decades ago, when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Here we see how a superpower with global ambitions has shrunk to an economy equivalent to Spain and lacks most of the elements of power except for military capacity. However, the victory of the West in the Cold War lies mainly in the redistribution of power within the house of the white man in favour of America at the expense of Russia.

This process of the redistribution of power reminds me of the one that took place after the Second World War at Germany's expense and in America's interest.

However, this change should not obscure what is happening outside the house of the white man, such as the rapid rise of Chinese military capabilities, the return of India to the forefront, the rearmament of Japan, and North Korea's acquisition of nuclear weapons.

In other words, there is an apparent movement in favour of the United States within the white group, while at the same time, there is a new distribution of power on the global level that is not in the interest of this group.

Is this changing? 

There has been Western domination for centuries. 

In 1930, as we mentioned before, the white man constituted 27 per cent of humanity and controlled 82 per cent of the globe, including Australia, India and others. Today, the white man represents only 17 per cent of humanity and controls only 30 per cent of the globe, which means that there is a decline. 

This is in addition to other reasons for the decline, such as the rise of Chinese economic power, the rise of Indian power and the likes, together with the weakening of Western capabilities for military intervention. 

All of Europe — and compare it with Iran here — does not have 30,000 soldiers, out of 500 million Europeans, that it can deploy abroad. France might be able to deploy 7,000 or 8,000 soldiers. The British army today is less in number than it was in Cromwell's days, comprising less than 100,000, or perhaps about 75,000 or 80,000. 

The so-called 'power projection' has been weakening in the Western countries. The Americans still have it, but public opinion is against soldiers staying abroad for a long time. There are several reasons for that. 

US soldiers play American football before leaving Camp Adder on the outskirts of the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah on December 17, 2011.

America's position in the world GDP was 48 per cent in 1945, today it is around 21 per cent. Whatever the criteria used, be it military, economic, or security control over land, there is a retreat of the West.

We saw what the West did: it fought firstly against itself, then it conquered and colonised, and then it agreed to decolonise and establish international organisations after 1945. 

But those who are talking today about the decline of the West, what do they offer?

Indeed. What do Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (Brics) have in common? Nothing unifies them. We know roughly the pattern that the West created and developed in the world. But what is the alternative pattern? 

It is easy to talk about the 'decline' of the West and you have many criteria for that 'decline', but what is the alternative? Is the call for national independence sufficient as a basis for an alternative international order, as the Russians or the Chinese in particular try to do? 

If so, then independence of what? And international relations, built on what? Will existing organisations be pushed to the margins or be taken over by the new powerful (one or many)? 

Therefore, I say that there is indeed a 'labour' process happening in the world, and we definitely see it in clear graphs — an ascent of some nations and a decline of others — but what is the alternative to the Western order that they imposed on us? 

The idea of the 'modern state' is a Western idea, the idea of democracy is a Western idea, the idea of the United Nations is an American idea. 

Are China and Russia trying to present a totalitarian model, where the primary role is designed for the state which dominates the economic, cultural, and social aspects of life? Is this the model, as they see it, that should dominate the world?

This is nothing new, and they prefer it, but what do you do with people who are clinging for centuries to their freedoms? What do they say to people who want more freedom and are accustomed to such levels of freedom?

Do you say to them: it is finished, we are going back to the era of dictatorship and the rule of the individual or the party or the like? 

The autocratic developmental state can be justified, but only for a while and to a limit.

We live in a time where ideas, information and lifestyles are transmitted through modern means of communication, and it seems to me that it is difficult for countries to be able to close their societies in the face of incoming ideas and forms of life across the world, or to deprive people of their right to express a different opinion or demand such a right to express such an opinion. 

Do you think that the Russian war in Ukraine or the Chinese escalation in Taiwan should be viewed not only as a military matter, but as something broader? 

Definitely. It is, in the Chinese case, as in the Russian case, a redrawing of the maps to a point before the control of the West. Taiwan seceded in favour of Japan.

For a very long time, Taiwan was part of the Japanese Empire in the 19th century when Japan was strong. Then it came under American protection ever since. 

Undoubtedly, there are those in China who believe that the process of ending Western hegemony over the international system must also include restoring Taiwan to its Chinese mother. 

What is happening in Ukraine is that there is a large part of Russian public opinion that believes that there are regions and countries that have no real existence, which arose only because of Western domination over the international system.

Anti government protesters prepare to close the entrances to the Independence square in central Kiev on February 28, 2014. Ukraine accused Russia of staging an "armed invasion" of Crimea.

What these two cases share is a common drive to return to a time before Western hegemony. That is to say, it is to complete and accelerate the process of the declining Western influence over them. This is the logic that drives them. 

But returning to a world before Western hegemony is not realistic. If you are opposed to this hegemony, you must confront it with the ideas and means of today, just as the anti-colonial forces did by using the ideas produced by Europe itself to eliminate its colonialism.

At the same time, we have seen that the US is using the Ukrainian war and escalation with Taiwan as a reason to reinforce transatlantic and Nato relations.

Does the US believe the West is indeed declining and to what lengths will it go to maintain Western hegemony?

Of course. 

The prevailing theory during the Cold War was that, if the influence of a major power starts to decline, it must use its military capabilities to stop it. This is what I learned at university and what I also taught. 

It was the prevailing idea and was called "neo-realist thought", which had its proponents in the 1970s and 80s. The world was later shocked to see a great superpower like the Soviet Union shrinking in size and influence, without a world war erupting. 

But didn't Russia try to stop that deterioration in Afghanistan? 

When invading Afghanistan in 1980, the Soviet Union was at the height of its growth. They also went into Mozambique, Angola and most of Africa.

The Soviet Union was in a stage of wider expansion and, therefore, Reaganism came in to try to curb the Soviet movement. He wrote the last chapter in Afghanistan and withdrew. 

But when the Soviet Union deteriorated in 1989-1991, the overwhelming feeling was that if the coup had succeeded at that time against Mikhail Gorbachev, that is, if Boris Yeltsin had not saved Gorbachev from that coup and seized power, and if the others had succeeded under the leadership of Gennady Yanayev and seized power, they were supposed to react with external aggression, perhaps with a major war, to prevent this slide into the abyss that the Soviet Union was feeling about itself. 

The great surprise was that the Russians seemed either unwilling or unable to have a world war that would halt the decline of their international standing.

Now, we are witnessing both scenarios at the same time. 

We feel that Russia is doing what it did not do in 1990 with its invasion of Ukraine, or late military action, just when Vladimir Putin started to feel that he could rebuild the Russian army, while also enjoying a much greater ability to put pressure on European countries through gas agreements. 

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi examines buildings destroyed by shelling during his visit in the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv on January 24, 2023.

On the other hand, we see that the US, after hearing a lot about the decline of Western influence, has a broad desire to prove that it is still the world's major power. 

For this particular reason, some other major countries have become undeterred from using military force to prove that they are still in an advanced position in the world.

The Russian wants to prove to the American that he is still on a par with him, as it was in the days of the Cold War, even though his capabilities do not allow him to do so.

Are you worried about the possibility of a direct US-Chinese-Russian confrontation?

I am worried when I hear the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev saying day after day that they can use nuclear weapons and that the Europeans may "see something from them that they have not seen before". 

What does he mean by "never seen"? It is the nuclear option in practice? 

Of course, he is afraid of the "reckless use" of nuclear weapons. Nuclear weapons cannot be considered an advanced stage of conventional weapons. 

When the US struck Hiroshima and Nagasaki, many said at the time that the nuclear weapon was just a weapon more powerful than heavy artillery, and by striking Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US reduced the number of Japanese casualties because the alternative was a daily bombing of Tokyo and the killing of millions of people. 

In that case, they claimed, the US was better to use the nuclear weapon to show Japan as unable to confront it because it acquired an advanced weapon. 

But all the strategic thinking of the 1950s and the kind of thinking devised by Henry Kissinger was acknowledging, on the contrary, that the nuclear weapon was not just a more effective conventional weapon, but rather it was (and still is) a radical weapon that is different from conventional weapons, and, therefore, it was (and should be) used primarily for only defensive purposes. 

It is like you are telling the world that you have a nuclear weapon so that no one will attack you.

During the entire Cold War, there were 13 nuclear ultimatums issued by the US and Russia, 12 in more than 40 years, including one given to Lebanon, two over the Suez Canal, three given to China, three given to Cuba, and three given to Berlin. 

On a scale of one to five, the highest score the ultimatum ever reached was three, particularly at the time of the Deversoir incident on the Egyptian front during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.

There has been a lot of talk about nuclear weapons when the war in Ukraine first erupted. What do you make of this?

Not a single day passes in the war in Ukraine where we do not hear about nuclear weapons. This kind of "reckless reference" to nuclear weapons is extremely dangerous because it can extend to other nuclear states. 

We will hear the Israelis, the Pakistanis and the Indians speaking about this. We all put our hands on our hearts when Pakistan and India clashed in the high Himalayas. Thank God neither side talked about nuclear weapons. 

Today, Russia, which was the second country to acquire nuclear weapons, talks about it so easily.

This is very dangerous. 

Do you really not rule out the possibility of using nuclear weapons?

I would not rule out using it at all. I do not think that the use of nuclear weapons is possible, but it is no longer completely excluded as it was in the past. There was a real nuclear taboo, but that taboo was broken.

In a previous conversation between us, you mentioned that you do not like the term 'Cold War' because what is happening is not a Cold War. What is it?

The Cold War was characterised by at least two things.

The first was deterrence and the second was mutual deterrence based on nuclear weapons. It is like there is an equation: if you bomb me, I have the capabilities to respond in a way that I hit your main cities. You have nuclear capabilities and so do I, and, therefore, we will not collide directly at all. 

At the same time, rules of engagement were imposed, to some extent, between the two powerful haughty nations.

But the Cold War included a second norm as well: I do not need you economically, and you do not need me economically. 

The level of trade exchange between Russia and America did not exceed 50 million dollars a year. Today, there is hundreds of times more trade between China and the US. 

There was a third norm in the Cold War, as well, which was: since we have prevented war between us, we can, however, fight proxy wars to prove our strength, greatness and influence.

We saw this in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, Mozambique, Angola, Cuba, Nicaragua, and so on. While avoiding direct collision, wars were actually being fought all over the world.

And there is also a fourth norm about the Cold War: we do not want to redraw borders. The borders remain the same, but we are concerned with the ideological orientation of the regimes within the borders. 

We, therefore, have no stance on Bangladeshi independence, the establishment of the state of Palestine or an autonomous Kurdish state.

Such matters do not concern us. We accept the status quo of the region, but what concerns us is the ideological direction of those countries. 

For example, is Egypt aligned with America or Russia? This is where we work against each other, but we do not play with borders. East Germany is here, and West Germany is there.

Do you mean the orientations of the regimes and not the maps?

I don't see these norms being practiced today. First, there is serious talk about nuclear weapons among the major powers, and the nuclear option is no longer a taboo among them.

Second, there is a very large economic and financial connection, especially between China and America, and to some extent between Russia and America, which means that there is economic and financial interdependence.

Third, there is a play with the borders everywhere. There are no longer borders that we do not play with.

We also play with the political directions of the countries, but the ideological perspective, itself, is very weak.

For example, Russia does not consider itself the sanctuary of communism, nor does the US really seek to spread democracy. 

Fourth, proxy wars are not only something that we engineer, but we practice them ourselves.

America invaded Iraq itself, not as happened previously in the Iran-Iraq War when it moved Iraq against Iran. Similarly, Russia did not incite Belarus against Ukraine, but it rather invaded Ukraine itself. 

Fourth, proxy wars are not only something that we engineer, but we practice them ourselves. America invaded Iraq itself, not as happened previously in the Iran-Iraq War when it moved Iraq against Iran. Similarly, Russia did not incite Belarus against Ukraine, but it rather invaded Ukraine itself.

Ghassan Salame, International diplomat

Thus, wars are no longer passed onto others, and we help them from outside as enablers. We are direct parties to this war. 

When Putin wakes up every morning, he asks himself about what the Americans have prepared for him during the night to annoy him in Ukraine — not about what the Ukrainians have invented, but what the Americans have done to sabotage his invasion. 

These are no longer proxy wars. Putin, himself, is in the war and he is leading it. 

In America, George Bush was leading the war with General Ricardo Sanchez, the then- commander of US ground forces in Baghdad, when I was myself there. It was not like the Vietnam War. 

Today, we see direct wars instead of proxy wars.

The French army itself went into Mali. It did not support the Malian army, but it entered Mali to fight before it was forced to withdraw. 

I do not find the four elements that characterised the Cold War present today. I find other ones.

Therefore, I can tell you that there is ongoing 'labour', but I do not yet know what the newborn baby will look like.

One of the things that changed in the aftermath of the Russian war in Ukraine is that the norms that emerged after World War II are changing.

For example, Japan, and Germany to a much greater extent, revolutionised its relationship with its military and defence forces. What is your reading of this?

I had a friend, a German professor, who coined the term 'light power' and mentioned, in particular,

Germany and Japan as 'light powers' whose positions were very strong in the world economy, among the top five, but their situation was miserable when it came to military prowess. 

I remember that our friend — the former president of the Kurdistan region of Iraq Masoud Barzani — when the attack on ISIS began, the French and the Germans had given him MILAN missiles.

He subsequently discovered that the MILANs that the Germans had given him had expired three years ago and he could not use it. He told me that it was the French who actually saved the day.

The name of my friend who came up with the concept of 'light power' was Hans Möll, and I used the term after him because it fascinated me.

After that, about six years later, Harvard professor Joseph Nye built on it the idea of 'soft power', underlying the premise that poses this question: who needs the military anymore? 

Indeed, if we review the numbers, a decline in military spending is seen in various countries around the world. Soft power has become an industry. If you are militarily weak, you make it up in soft power.

However, 'soft power' died in Baghdad in 2003 when the neo-conservatives came up with a new idea that was then developed into a famous book, as part of the Pentagon plan, which Paul Wolfowitz (former US Deputy Secretary of Defence) was convinced of. 

The idea was that it is not enough for the US to be a model that the world likes. As Joseph Nye said, the US is a model that everyone looks up to — everyone wants to eat McDonald's meals and everyone admires the American Constitution and watches Hollywood movies. 

This, however, became not enough. 

There are people for whom you need to use military power to uproot. This is the idea of the neo-conservatives, and from the day when the idea of 'smart power' emerged, the idea of 'soft power' died, and the logic then became as such: even with McDonald's you still need a tank.

There are people for whom soft power does not work, such as Nicolás Maduro and Saddam Hussein, but you need to eradicate them.

This is when the 'soft power' theory broke down. 

There are people for whom you need to use military power to uproot. This is the idea of the neo-conservatives, and from the day when the idea of 'smart power' emerged, the idea of 'soft power' died.

Ghassan Salame, International Diplomat

On the intellectual level, Joseph Nye himself reviewed the 'soft power' theory and abandoned it.

He then said that what is required is 'smart power', and this is a balance between 'hard power' and 'soft power', meaning that you need McDonald's and a tank. 

Has the situation changed in Japan and America?

The two model countries were faced with things that changed their situation. In Japan, it began about 20 years ago, even before Shinzo Abe's first term. 

The turmoil in Japan was initially caused by concern over North Korea and then with Japan's observation of China's military growth.

That growth took shape after 10-12 years since it began the process. The issue of military strength began with the experience of Deng Xiaoping, and China has now built its third aircraft carrier. 

The Japanese think that Korea is provoking them, and the Russians are not ready to negotiate over the Japanese (Kuril) Islands. Day after day, North Korea launches its ballistic missiles over the Japanese islands, and China's influence is growing. 

Gradually, Japan first began participating in several peacekeeping operations in Cambodia, Syria and elsewhere.

Then it moved to a gradual increase in the defence budget and then to a serious discussion about the possibility of amending the constitution. 

Before all, Japan, as you know, is a country capable of producing a nuclear weapon within six months, and it is among 15 other countries in the world that have this capability, including Germany, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.

In the second term of Shinzo Abe, which lasted about 10 years, there was apparently a profound reconsideration, which has not yet extended to the Constitution, of the sufficiency of the American protection despite the importance of this protection located on the Japanese territory in Okinawa.

On the other hand, Germany did not move during this period. Rather, we found that there was a camp in Germany that had fully adopted the idea of 'soft power' to the extent that it has become the first exporter in the world to rely mainly on the Chinese market to a large extent.

Angela Merkel used to take 200 businessmen and industrialists with her on every visit to China.

Additionally, the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines demonstrate Germany's absolute dependence on Russian gas (55 per cent of gas imports come from Russia). 

Whoever behaves in this way believes that the war between the great powers is over and that economic and sports competition has replaced military competition. 

The wars in Georgia, Ukraine, and Moldova came as the first surprises to Germany but were somewhat forgotten.

However, the last attack on Ukraine came as a shock to the Germans. What gradually took hold in the head of the Japanese over a period of two or three decades, happened in only three days between February 24 and 27, 2022 in Germany. 

Within three days, the Germans woke up to another world and discovered that they had no army and no weapons, and they were in a state of dependence on the Chinese market and Russian gas. Therefore, they had to change their behaviour in a radical way.

Within three days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Germans woke up to another world and discovered that they had no army and no weapons, and they were in a state of dependence on the Chinese market and Russian gas. Therefore, they had to change their behaviour in a radical way.

Ghassan Salame, International Diplomat

In fact, the German Green Party played — along with the German Socialist Party — a major role in facilitating this transition, with the decision to spend $100 billion dollars immediately, namely on 27 February 2022 i.e. three days after the invasion of Ukraine. 

There was also additional spending on the military budget, including spending a considerable amount of that sum mainly to buy American aircraft, and, of course, there was the decision to increase the military budget to two per cent of the GDP — something that the Germans had not done for 40 years under American pressure.

Presently in Europe there are several ongoing issues following the war in Ukraine: a return to 'hard power' or 'smart power', and, at the same time, there is a desire to reduce dependence on Russian gas and oil. 

The third issue is that there is a clear rise of the political right in Europe.

Everything that is happening in Europe in terms of the economic crisis, the gas problem during the winter, the rise of the political right, and excessive military spending, makes us feel that Europe, too, may be heading in the direction of something new.

Can the features of this matter be pointed out? Can a link be found between these different elements?

It is not easy because contradictory trends are brewing in Europe.

I will give you a specific example. There was an alliance in Europe called the Visegrád Group (after the name of a city in the Czech Republic) that included the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary.

The four countries shared a kind of unified ideology — a desire to join the European Union. However, they have a staunch hostility to immigrants and to some very modern ideas such as homosexuality. 

The most similar political directions among people were the Catholic PiS party in Poland and the Catholic party of Viktor Orban 'Fidesz' in Hungary.

As for everyday life, it can be said that these two parties are reactionary, i.e. against same-sex marriage and [for] the family [as an] institution, and they are also constantly insulting the West. 

When the war in Ukraine erupted, what was the reaction? Hungary became closer with Russia, while Poland became closer with America. When I say that the political directions are contradictory, this means that the stated exemplary model indicates this. 

Of course, the Visegrad Group kind of disintegrated because the two major countries in it, Poland and Hungary, went in different directions over the issue of Russian gas. However, the ideology of the two parties is nearly identical: two reactionary Catholic parties.

What is happening in Europe is somewhat bizarre.

Opinion polls conducted in a country like Italy before the war in Ukraine showed that the country most loved by the Italians was Russia, and the country they hated the most was Germany, followed by France. 

There was also a willingness in Italy to give the Port of Bari to China to administer, as Greece had done with the Port of Piraeus. Where did the passions revived by Matteo Salvini, Georgia Meloni and to some extent Silvio Berlusconi go in their personal relationship with Putin?

I think it has not died; it has just disappeared because the European citizen has become on the horns of a dilemma. 

On the one hand, the European citizen does not trust the Americans and believes that they played a role in the Ukrainian war. Hence, this European citizen does not want to be in the hands of the Americans.

He/she knows that he/she is in competition with the Americans in several financial and economic fields on the one hand, and, on the other hand, he/she does not want to be portrayed as a traitor by accepting the takeover of a small country by a big country. 

So, anti-American sentiment has not died, but has been swept under the rug, and one day it could come out and explode.

There are currently contradictory political trends in Europe. There is a European elite represented by people such as Emmanuel Macron, Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel and Mario Draghi, the former prime minister of Italy. 

They all believe that this Russian pressure on Europe is the best opportunity to rebuild the continent, and, therefore, they are not at all afraid of what is happening.

On the contrary, they believe that it is now possible to boost Europe's independence. 

There is a European elite represented by people such as Emmanuel Macron, Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel and Mario Draghi who believe that this Russian pressure on Europe is the best opportunity to boost Europe's independence.

Ghassan Salame, International Diplomat

There is a second trend that you see, especially in Northern Europe, that believes that this is also an opportunity — not to strengthen Europe's independence from both Moscow and Washington, but rather to further engage Washington in the defence of Europe, and, thus, strengthening the role of Nato.

You will hear this opinion in Sweden, Finland, Norway, and especially in Denmark. 

There is a third trend saying that America must bear responsibility for what is happening, and that Russia must be returned to the European fold — even if this requires the sacrifice of Ukraine. 

You have three opinions here, but there are opinions that are freely expressed now because they are within the framework of political correctness, and there are other opinions that are swept under the rug, but they can appear and explode at any time.

What about the rise of the political right or white supremacy in the West (Europe/America)?

In the West, there is a rise of the extreme right, which we see in opinion polls and in elections in all European countries.

Currently, it has surpassed the five per cent threshold, and we are sometimes talking about 10 or 20 per cent. After Mrs. Meloni's victory in the Italian elections, Mrs. Marine Le Pen could be the president of France after four years. This is possible. 

There are two issues here. The first issue is, to what extent do these populist parties maintain their primitive ideas or abandon them in the event of their participation in power, i.e. if they are using them to reach power but abandoning them after reaching power? 

There are indications in several places, within local authorities and sometimes within governments, that when the extreme right joins power, we see it capable of compromising and abandoning its most extreme ideas.

We have seen this in Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and within the local authorities in France and elsewhere.

The second question that arises here is the issue of illegal immigration.

My answer here is worrying, in the sense that I believe the demographic pressure from North Africa and mainland Africa on Europe will double. I do not see a halt in illegal immigration towards Europe. 

Migrants sit on the deck of the rescue ship "Ocean Viking" of European maritime-humanitarian organization "SOS Mediterranee" on November 6, 2022, in the Gulf of Catania in the Mediterranean Sea in international waters.

The control of the political right may lead to violent acts of a different kind against this migration in the Mediterranean or even in the countries of origin, but for reasons that have nothing to do with Europe but rather have to do with the massive population explosion in Africa. 

I do not see the possibility of stopping this stream of illegal immigration. Therefore, the first reason for the rise of this extreme right will not disappear.

Therefore, we have to live with it. I do not expect the pressure of illegal immigration to end but rather to increase.

Is it possible to say that there is an American-Chinese conflict over certain ports and sea passages?

This is an open conflict. For America, the issue is not the position of ports or crossings. At the core of the American position, there is a feeling of unfairness — a feeling that America erred in encouraging globalisation because it lost and did not win.

Years ago, The New Yorker magazine sent one of its correspondents to buy 10 products from New York markets. He discovered that nine of them were Chinese and one was American. This Chinese growth also hit several allies in Eastern Europe and Latin America. 

Consequently, China's transformation into the world's factory did not benefit America, so lately there is a feeling that American influence must be curbed after it allowed China to transform thanks to globalisation. There are restrictions here, and the real work now is more on technology transfer.

Why is China interested in Africa?

Africa used to be a sphere for competition, but this is no longer the case. The Chinese goal was raw materials and markets, but Africa did not develop as quickly as the Chinese bet on.

Most countries that China helped to launch are unable today to pay back their debts to China. Thus, China stopped. 

This is when Turkish construction companies began to outperform Chinese construction companies in Africa because they have a religious and regional motive that China does not have.

Therefore, we saw that the Chinese push towards Africa began to recede somewhat. 

Meanwhile, the Russians have no capabilities. There are 40 Turkish Airlines stations in Africa. Can Russian Airlines have 40 stations in Africa? 

Russia's main problem today is that it does not have a global ideology. It has no justification for interfering elsewhere. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan may use Islam, but what does Russia have?

What about Russia's anti-Western sentiment?

Russia's anti-Western sentiment is not enough, and this brings us back to what we mentioned at the beginning of the conversation: there is no alternative to the system invented by the Westerners. 

Hostility to this system is not enough to invent something new. 'Non-alignment' was motivated by the idea that there were two powerful haughty nations colliding, and others did not want to take a position.

What is the idea today? If it is not following the steps of the West, then what? Where will that lead to?

Please visit Al Majalla tomorrow to read the final installment of Ghassan Saleme's interview where he zooms in on the crises facing the Arab world.

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