US midterm elections and great power relations
Before the elections
The US midterm elections, 8th November 2022, seemed to be more important than hardly ever before, both internally and internationally. If Republicans manage to get majority in both chambers, Senate and Congress, it will be fatal to Democratic party and the incumbent president Biden who will be a “lame duck” for the rest of his term.
At the same time, it is expected more difficulties and changes in American foreign policy, especially regarding US posture versus Ukraine aid and Taiwan case. The results of midterm elections will have a direct impact on international scene. On the other hand, it appears that both Russia and China are waiting for the results of the US election before their next steps in the crisis of Ukraine or Taiwan.
US midterm elections and Europe’s deteriorating economic situation are likely to influence public sentiment on the both side of Atlantic Ocean. US economic problems and skyrocketing public debt will make US position significantly weaker than before. Both Biden’s administration and Ukrainian Zelensky fear that these channels of support for Ukraine will diminish significantly.
The US – Russia relations, Case Ukraine
The economic effects of the conflict, such as higher energy prices, have taken their toll on American voters and recent polling (Pew Research Center) shows that US support for the war is waning, especially among Republicans. Now that the preliminary results show a Republican House majority, future aid packages to Ukraine are likely to face greater resistance in Congress.
Any significant drop in American assistance to Ukraine – the US provided more than €52 billion in military, humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine from January to October – will severely impact the latter’s ability to defend itself. The US is now committing nearly twice as much as all EU countries and institutions combined.
The implications of a Republican-controlled Congress would be profound, giving them more ability to stall Biden’s legislative agenda, constrain his spending and launch hearings and probes into his administration’s actions and regulations. One possible route for Ukraine policy should Republicans gain control, the US continues to give Ukraine military equipment but with more conditions.
It seems that EU sleepwalks into US midterms. For now, most EU officials are predicting more of the same after the US elections on Tuesday. Democrat Joe Biden, after all, will still be president until at least early 2025 and on the most pressing issue, supporting Ukraine, European officials stress that Republicans and Democrats broadly agree. Several EU officials have downplayed the impact of a Republican win. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg sounded a similar note in a recent interview with POLITICO.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said the EU will give Ukraine €18 billion in 2023 to help cover expected budget shortfalls but the tricky discussions about how that will be financed are only beginning. With EU countries plowing money into energy compensation measures, higher defense spending and inflation-busting schemes, finding €1.5 billion a month might be tough.
Since the start of the war, the US has shouldered the allies’ financial burden in Ukraine. The US has provided nearly $25 billion in financial and humanitarian aid and $ 28 billion in military supplies to Kyiv, far exceeding the EU’s spending. The US and the Zelensky administration have already expressed frustration at Brussels over its slow pace in doling out a promised €9 billion for Ukraine and how Europe would fill a US-shaped hole in Ukraine’s financing needs, estimates of the country’s reconstruction needs (approx. $350 billion), is a big unknown. A Republican-heavy Congress could also impair the transatlantic trade relationship. European politicians are angry over recent US legislation that gives generous tax breaks to Americans buying electric vehicles assembled in North America. To a European eye, the clause is merely protectionism, a reminder of Trump’s “America First” trade policies. European officials are now leaning on Washington to find a compromise on the issue and there are worries these discussions may be harder with Republicans rising and as Biden gets closer to reelection time.
The US – China relations, Case Taiwan
Chinese judgement about the American elections is clear, as stated in Chinese media: “Such political drama, which seems endless in the run-up to the mid-term elections in the United States, has revealed the ugly truth of American democracy: Elections are political shows that fool the American people. The so-called democracy is, in fact, a game of power and money. The abnormal competition between the two parties has nothing to do with the real interests of the American people, who are increasingly upset with Washington’s elite circles.”
The midterm election, which is regarded by China as a warm-up for the 2024 presidential election, will not only reshape the balance of power of the two parties, but also impact the world due to its spillover effects. Chinese experts warned that the Biden administration is likely to make more of a presence on the international stage and continue to confront and pressure China after a frustration in Congress. Confrontational competition with China may be what Biden is looking for, especially given that competition with China is one of the few areas of bipartisan consensus.
Biden’s China policy in the future may be a bit more Republican, with more obvious ideological bias and Cold War mentality, for example by engaging with allies in areas where there is bipartisan consensus and further antagonizing China on so-called values, Chinese experts predicted.
“Divergences between China and US may be further amplified, while cooperation may weaken,” experts said, noting that the US may also further strengthen military cooperation with the secessionist Taiwan island authorities with more political provocation, making the Taiwan question a more prominent stumbling block in bilateral ties.
Several US officials and analysts also have a concern that America’s anti-China bent could intensify with a Republican-controlled Congress. A Republican election win could mean added political pressure on the Biden team to lean harder on the EU over China — just as many EU countries want to preserve the right to formulate their own approach to Beijing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping met with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on his official visit to China in Beijing on Friday November 4, making him the first European leader to visit China after the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. The two leaders agreed on enhancing cooperation and maintaining dialogue, rejecting decoupling and bloc confrontation, vowing to further expand cooperation beyond traditional areas into new sectors such as new energy and digitalization and increasing mutual political trust for a stable China-Germany relationship.
A clear message of the meeting was that globalization is an irreversible trend as the US ramps up efforts for forming anti-China small cliques and tries to force states within Europe of defining China as a bad rival. Scholz’s visit will encourage and inspire more Western countries’ leaders to increase communication with China, experts noted. China regards Europe as a comprehensive strategic partner and supports the strategic autonomy of the EU, wishing Europe stability and prosperity. China maintains that its relations with Europe are not targeted at a third party.
The consensus reached on globalization, trade liberalization and a multipolar world also indicated the future direction for China-Germany relations, China-EU ties and global affairs. As the US advances its so-called decoupling from China and drives bloc confrontation, the two leaders expressed clear opposition to it, which sends an important signal for world stability and sustainable development. However, Chinese experts believe that the US will continue exerting influence on Europe and they see that “Europe’s China policy will be a touchstone for its strategic autonomy as how to define its China policy in order to reflect the continent’s real interests still remains a challenge.”
With Chinese President Xi Jinping further consolidating his authoritarian rule, and with the US tightening its trade restrictions against China, the new Sino-American cold war is becoming colder by the day. It could all too easily turn hot over the status of Taiwan, which Xi is committed to reuniting with the mainland and which President Biden is apparently committed to defending. Meanwhile, nuclear-armed North Korea has once again been seeking attention by firing rockets over Japan and South Korea.
On a collision course with Russia and China
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s keynote address at the Valdai Club two weeks ago appears to have put Russia on a collision course with the US-led “Rules Based International Order” (RBIO). The Biden administration released, couple weeks ago, its National Security Strategy 2022 (NSS), a full-throated defense of the RBIO, which declares war on “autocrats” (China, Russia), who are working overtime to undermine democracy.
These two visions of the future of the world order define a global competition that has become existential in nature. In short, there can be only one winner. Given the fact that the main players in this competition comprise the US, China and Russia (key nuclear powers), how the world manages the defeat of the losing side, will determine whether humanity will survive.
The key to winning this competition, Biden declared, is American leadership: “The need for a strong and purposeful American role in the world has never been greater.” Biden claimed that American goals in this competition are clear: “a free, open, prosperous and secure international order.” Opposing forces to these goals are the autocrats, China and Russia.
When comparing these Biden’s views with those statements of February 4 meeting by Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Beijing, the whole picture is quite ominous. The joint statement released by Putin and Xi, can be seen as a veritable declaration of war against the US-led RBIO. Russia and China believe the problems confronting the world come from pressures brought on by the collective West, led by the US. Now, Putin’s Valdai Club speech further confirms this dichotomy.
West has taken a number of steps toward escalation. These are the instigation of the war in Ukraine, the provocations around Taiwan and the destabilization of global food and energy markets. According to Putin, there is little that can be done to avoid this escalation, since the root of the problem is the very nature of the West.
There can be no longer any concept of cooperation between Russia and the West, Putin said, because the American-dominated West steadfastly adheres to the supremacy of its own values and systems, at the exclusion of all others. The arrogant pursuit of world domination, of dictating or maintaining leadership by dictation, is leading to the decline of the international authority of the leaders of the Western world, including the United States.
“He, who sows the wind, will reap the storm”
The battle lines have been drawn — American-led unipolarity with Western allies on one side and a Russian-Chinese led multipolarity on the other. A direct military clash between these two competing camps might go nuclear, destroying the very world they are competing to control. The coming conflict cannot be avoided but the level of risk may be manageable. As Putin noted, quoting the Biblical passage from Hosea 8:7, “He who sows the wind will reap the storm. The crisis has indeed become global, it affects everyone.”
The age of American supremacy has passed and it’s time to move on to what the future holds, a new age of multipolarity where America is but one among many. The end of American unipolarity does not have to mean the end of America. The American dream, “dominate the world” can be turned into a new form “sustain the world”.
The decision of Generals Surovikin and Shoigu to withdraw and redeploy Russian troops from the west bank of the Dnieper–abandoning Kherson City–to the east bank of the Dnieper, was somewhat surprising, even dramatic, but obviously quite justified from the military tactical point of view. The winter is coming and the proper maintenance as well as a stable supply of ammunition and other material constitute a high risk to the top performance of the troops.
From optics (media & PR), it seems bad and a big loss to Russia and a great victory to Ukraine but sometimes the reality may be quite different from day dreams. It is premature to make any final judgement about the matter, so many things depend on many other things both on the progress in the other parts of the whole frontline and other things outside the frontline. Time will tell, during the coming winter period, whether this decision was right or wrong.
I will analyze this situation in next articles. Please, stay with.