Global geopolitical tensions: SA’s fate hangs in the balance – Dave Steward

Dave Steward’s stark analysis highlights mounting global risks, from Ukraine’s uncertain war to divisions weakening major powers. Amidst US-Europe struggles and looming conflicts, the world’s stability hangs in the balance, impacting South Africa and beyond.

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By Dave Steward

Our national attention is, naturally enough, focused on the 29 May election and the various outcomes and coalitions that might ensue. It is generally accepted that this may be the most important election since 1994 – and that it might have a decisive impact on the fate of South Africa for the next two decades.

This is all very true – but we must remember that the future of the country will be determined not only by political developments in South Africa but also by events unfolding on the global stage. This is as it has always been: most of the major turning points in our history have had their origins in great world developments.

We were deeply affected by European voyages of discovery in the 17th and 18th centuries; by the Napoleonic Wars and British imperialism in the 19th century; by the First and Second World Wars; by the Great Depression; by the decolonization of Africa, the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in the 20th century.

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This will continue to be the case – now and into the future. The trouble is that the international scene has not been so volatile or dangerous since the 1930s. Not since then (with the exception of the Cuban missile crisis) has the possibility of war between great powers looked so ominous.

Wars occur according to the assessment – or miss-assessment – by contesting powers of the will, resources, unity, competence and intentions of their opponents. The US and Europe have not, since the 1930s, looked so lacking in will; so divided and so incompetent as they do now.

Earlier this month JPMorgan CEO, Jamie Dimon warned that the wars in the Ukraine and Gaza could further disrupt energy and food markets, migration and military and economic relationships. He was also deeply concerned about the profound political divisions within the United States.

One has the sense of the leading powers, once again, sleepwalking toward conflict. There appears to be no end-game plan for the Ukraine war. At a news conference in Washington last week Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UK Foreign Minister David Cameron were, once again, rattling sabers and urging Congress to pour another $60 billion into the Ukraine war chest. Secretary Blinken was quick to add that “the overwhelming majority of resources” destined for Ukraine “will actually be invested right here in the United States, in our own defence industrial base to provide what Ukraine needs, but providing in the meantime good American jobs.”

David Cameron was confident that “if we give the Ukrainians the support they deserve, they can win this war; they can achieve the just peace that they deserve”. Really? And had he given any thought to the proposition that the only outcome more dangerous than a Russian victory might be a Russian defeat?

All this followed Secretary Blinken’s statement at a NATO Conference on 4 April that Ukraine would join NATO – and that “the purpose of the summit in Brussels was to work toward that membership.” This followed President Macron’s warning in an interview with Le Parisien on 17 March that ground operations in Ukraine might be necessary “at some point.” “Maybe at a given point in time – I don’t want it, I would not take this initiative – it will be necessary to have operations on the ground, of whatever character, to counter Russian forces.”

What would Russia’s reaction be? In his state of the nation address on 29 February President Putin made it clear that Russia would use nuclear weapons against NATO countries if they send forces to help defend Ukraine from a Russian victory. “They must understand that we also have weapons that can hit targets in their territory”. “All this threatens a conflict with the use of nuclear weapons and the destruction of civilisation. Don’t they get that?”

Apparently not. The West has been sending signals of their hostile – or even worse, dismissive – intentions to Russia since 1991 – forgetting the core lesson of Versailles that one should not humiliate a great people. This has nothing to do with whether Putin is a “good guy” or a “bad guy.” He is a ruthless dictator – but that has nothing to do with the necessity to deal with him – and whatever reasonable, or unreasonable, concerns he might have – in a rational manner. International politics has never been a “nice guy” competition. At core, it may be about survival.

Is the West prepared for a war with Russia? Their societies (and particularly the US) are viscerally divided and appear to have lost their belief in the values that were the basis of their erstwhile greatness. They are woefully unprepared materially or morally to fight an extended conventional war. For the first time this year, the United States is spending more on servicing its out-of-control national debt than on defence. Far from defending the borders of Ukraine, the US, the UK and the EU appear to have lost control of their own borders as unprecedented millions of illegal migrants stream into their territories.

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Nevertheless, in an epic year of critical national elections, posturing politicians are quite capable of stumbling into a conflict with global, unpredictable and potentially catastrophic consequences. They do not have a good track record: consider the second Iraq war; the 2007/8 financial crisis; the catastrophic mismanagement of the COVID pandemic; the irrational reaction to global warming and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

At the same time, there appears to be no solution to the Israel/Palestine imbroglio. The recent Iranian missile and drone attacks on Israel point to the increasing threat that the conflict may escalate out of control. Israel may win battles in Gaza but it is losing the much more critical war in the international media. It faces the prospect of growing isolation and of being driven into a corner where it will have diminishing options, +/- 100 nuclear weapons and a Sampson/Masada complex.

The only beneficiary of all this will be China – which will view it as an opportunity to achieve its objectives in Taiwan and in the South China Sea. It is probably delighted to watch its principal adversaries in the West and its potential adversary, Russia, depleting their military resources in the Ukraine and the Middle East.

The conclusion? It all makes Cape Town look quite good….

Compared with these mounting threats, the jockeying for position and machinations of our own mostly corrupt and incompetent political parties in the run-up to the 29 May election are almost endearing.

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This article was first published by PoliticsWeb and is republished with permission