Russia and Iran were the world’s top two petroleum producers before the Ukraine conflict got escalated. The two are now ironically faced with the world’s most sanctions imposed by USA and allies. The sanctions may have isolated them from the rest of the world, but it has effectively brought them together to help build even greater partnership. China, too, has joined this partnership in several ways. Russia has termed this ‘Axis of Good’ against the American term ‘Axis of Evil’ used by then US President George W. Bush in reference to the trio of Iran, Iraq and North Korea. International Relations experts and analysts are of the view that the growing partnership of the trio may lead to a new world order and cause damage to American interests worldwide and its long-standing hegemony. Several other countries are also looking for a new world order with more anti-US powers willing to see a paradigm shift in global power play. -MOHAMMAD RAFIUL HASSAN and NASHIR UDDIN digs deeper into the details.
The ongoing war in Ukraine and rising tension over the Taiwan Strait are some of the world’s prime concerns at present. The conflicts have some serious implications; global energy crises, food crises, supplychain disruptions, trade tensions – all accompanied by a looming recession and stagflation. Experts of international relations think that the confrontations may initiate a global repositioning with a new world order. The idea of ‘new world order’ grew in the 20th century when the world was in constant change with the two world wars, establishment of the United Nations (UN), emergence of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the creation of Bretton Woods System. The term has been used to describe turbulent moments when significant changes in the geopolitics and resultant conflict could inexorably give birth to a new, reorganized international system.
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Looking at the current affairs, America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, longstanding political and economic divisions within the European Union, as well as the tragic war in Ukraine, have presented Russia, China and Iran with the opportunity to create a new version of ‘new world order’. This could rely and rest on foundations of multipolarity and a fundamental opposition to liberal democracy and the western financial system, which has become more weaponized via the US dollar reserve system, trade wars, and sanctions. Some believe that the growing partnership of Russia, China, and Iran may challenge the US-led world order by way of establishing a new world order in the coming future decrementing US interests and its long-standing hegemony while others believe that the US hegemony is already declining and the rise of new world order is inevitable.
IS US HEGEMONY DECLINING?
American thinkers such as Joseph Nye see a decline of the liberal order as countries such as China exploit their membership in the World Trade Organization. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, this order was challenged by the rise of China and populism in Western democracies. Once champions of globalization, the US and Europe are now seeking to counter this trend.
“Although the US has long commanded the technological cutting edge, China is mounting a credible challenge in key areas,” according to Nye, “But, ultimately, the balance of power will be decided not by technological development but by diplomacy and strategic choices, both at home and abroad.”
Foad Izadi, a well-known Iranian theorist and professor at Tehran University, shares the view that the US is declining “due to structural weaknesses in its economic foundations.
As America’s pillars and foundations become weaker, so does the strength of these pillars.” Despite Russia’s poor military performance in Ukraine and the least temporary reinvigoration of NATO, Iranian officials still assert that the Russian invasion of Ukraine was a sign of the US losing strength. This was echoed by Khamenei recently when he said, “The issues of the recent war in Ukraine should be seen more deeply and in the context of the formation of a new world order.”
In promoting the partnership of Iran, Russia, and China, Khamenei stresses that cooperation isn’t limited to trade and economic relations and includes military ties. The recent visit of China’s defence minister, which was depicted as an extension of the Tehran-Beijing twenty-five-year document, is significant in this regard.
IRAN AS EMERGING POWER
it is arguable that Iran could be considered an ‘emerging power’, specifically in regards to its recent actions in the Syrian civil war and its influence across the Middle East. The Iranian state still remains powerful compared with its neighbours and is determined to proclaim itself abroad, despite its continuous economic and social challenges. The events of the Arab spring were a major game changer for Iran. The overthrow of Arab rulers opened the door for a firmer Iranian foreign policy in the Middle East. With its actions, Iran is seen as a more confident country compared to a few years ago and has been able to mobilise Shia minorities (Iran’s main religious group) throughout the Middle East. In addition, ranging from Yemen and Iraq to Syria, Iran along with other nations such as Turkey and Saudi Arabia have engaged in more autonomous patterns of action regionally. In this regard, there has been a decline of American influence in the Middle East over the years and Iran has been seen as the challenger of US hegemonic power and a threat to US interests within the gulf region.
During a speech to Iranian university students recently, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei spoke about a number of global developments. He said, “the world is on the threshold of a new world order” and that Tehran would have a strong role in creating it. He put emphasis on what he considered to be the fact that Iran will be one of the leading countries in this “new world order.” He was predicting that this rearrangement of international politics would replace American
influence. This is due to the fact that both capitalism and Western influence are eroding and, consequently, the decline of the US is inevitable.
Ultimately, Iran’s role in the international domain is changing rapidly. There is no doubt that the nation is regionally strong. In fact, Iran’s emerging power position is the reason why there is a significant amount of tension and conflict concerning the Islamic Republic, especially with regards to the Saudis. However, due to the international sanctions placed on Iran and the nuclear deal being in jeopardy under the Trump administration, along with the country’s domestic challenges and forthcoming presidential elections, the question now is, whether Iran can sustain its regional and emerging power position, and still be able to exert its influence abroad?
THE GEOPOLITICAL VISION OF CHINA
The simmering tensions in the Taiwan Strait may initially seem little more than an over-aggressive response to Ms. Nancy Pelosi’s recent visit to Taipei.
However, the underlying factors are much more about a power statement made by Washington and now reciprocated by the Chinese Communist Party. Vying for another term to consolidate his legacy, President Xi Jinping is surely not looking to project a docile image, especially when Russia is braving an allied Western front on its periphery.
However, China, contrary to Iran, has been particularly distant from the chaos in Europe, tip-toeing the fine line between condoning and censuring the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Yet, by no means can we deem China neutral. The blend of economic and diplomatic adjustment has been a marvel of the Chinese regime. While the Western alliance has noticeably shifted gears to cultivate allegiances in the Asian-Pacific peninsula, China has manoeuvred to push the US to a second-tier position across the region of eastern Africa. From Ethiopia to Zambia, Beijing has cultivated loyalty through debt-relief and conflict mediation strategies gauged towards famine-stricken nations dominated by authoritarian regimes.
THE AXIS OF RUSSIA, IRAN AND CHINA
THE RUSSIA-IRAN POLARITY
Russian President Vladimir Putin has concluded a historic trip to Iran meeting with Iranian leaders and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This meeting came just after the U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent trip to the Middle East. Both trips fundamentally reveal the growing fragmentation of the unipolar world order, led by the United States. Putin’s renewed affection for Iran could also be construed as a response to Biden’s dismal visit to the Middle East and his failed attempt to persuade the Saudi Kingdom for oil output increase. While in Tehran, Putin and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi held high-level bilateral talks where they were able to agree on deepening their economic and diplomatic cooperation. Not only did they strengthen multiple existing agreements, Russia’s state-controlled energy giant Gazprom and the National Iranian Oil Company agreed on a $40 billion investment deal.
Facing oppressive and unilateral sanctions from the United States, Iran and Russia have agreed to consolidate bilateral cooperation in various fields, including energy, oil, gas, and transit, as well as diplomatic and political relations.
The Tehran Stock Exchange now allows for trades in the Russian rubble. This means that the reliance on the U.S. dollar for trade is slowly being abandoned. This has the financial elites in the West very nervous since the U.S. dollar hegemony is one of the principal weapons of U.S. imperialism.
The pundits remarked on how sanctions were forcing Putin abroad to find friends and allies. While the sanctions have pushed Russia and Iran closer, they have already been pursuing this path for years. Russia and Iran came out of this meeting stronger and closer than ever before.
In this regard, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia’s media, “Cooperation with Iran is not sporadic in its nature, it has been our long-term foreign policy course. We have long been seeking economic ties with Iran, and those have a very long history and a solid basis”
The date of Putin’s visit attracted the attention of many political pundits around the world. Putin came to Tehran three days after Biden concluded his tour of West Asia which took him to Israel and Saudi Arabia. During his tour of the region, Biden intended to form a coalition against Iran. While Biden hoped that he would bring a new order to the West Asian region and he said the U.S. is here “to stay,” Putin’s visit suggests a counter-proposal. Putin’s visit to Tehran reminded everyone that there is a new sheriff in town. The new order indicates that the U.S. is not the big bully anymore, and therefore, cannot decide for the region’s future. This has created anticipations that laying of the first foundation of a new Anti-US world order has started.
China has consistently called for a peaceful resolution in Ukraine, but never condemned Russia for the invasion. In a phone call between Putin and Xi in December, the Chinese leader supported Russia’s demand that Ukraine must never join NATO. When Vladimir Putin travelled to Beijing for the beginning of the Winter Olympics on February 4, he met the leader who has become his most important ally — Xi Jinping of China. In a joint statement on February 4, China and Russia said, there is no limit to the relationship between the two countries. “Russia’s relations with China are at its best level ever. China and Russia are moving toward creating a new just, democratic world order” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister.
The ambitions of Russia and China, however, are far from being wholly defensive. Both Putin and Xi believe that their vulnerability to ‘colour revolutions’ stems from fundamental flaws in the current world order — the combination of institutions, ideas, and power structures that determines how global politics plays out. As a result, they share a determination to create a new world order that will better accommodate the interests of Russia and China — as defined by their current leaders.
China and Russia are working on alternatives to the US dollar, the Swift worldwide payment system, and the New York and London stock exchanges. China’s state-owned enterprises are delisting from US exchanges, while Beijing is reducing the US Treasury bonds it owns. These moves are still embryonic, but in due course, they could become attractive for many Global Southerners – especially if the West perseveres in stupidly weaponizing the dollar and its financial primacy.
Both Russia and China seek to promote international cooperation, mutual respect, and promote economic prosperity for all. Cooperation across Eurasia has only strengthened as the bankruptcy of the Western model is increasingly more evident. BRICS+, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Eurasian Economic Union will provide strong alternatives to Western-led organizations. For these reasons, the United States continues to fearmonger about China’s BRI and Russia’s growing economic, political, and social cooperation with China.
Over the past few decades, China and Iran have developed a broad and deep partnership centred on China’s energy needs and Iran’s abundant resources as well as significant non-energy economic ties, arms sales and defence cooperation, and geo-strategic balancing against the United States. This partnership presents a unique challenge to US interests and objectives. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi has tried to foster closer ties with China seeing that it is willing to challenge the U.S.-led world order. Last year China and Iran signed a 25-year comprehensive strategic partnership.
After the signing of the 25-year Iran-China agreement, there are predictions of massive influx of Chinese investment and substantial military and political cooperation. Over the past several years, China has become Iran’s number one oil customer and trading partner. Recently China has increased oil imports from Iran despite sanctions and has offered rhetorical support for the Iranian position against the United States.
More recently, China opened a consulate in the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. The significant development has been Iran’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a Chinese-led international organization dedicated to advancing the economic, political, and cultural interest of all member states. Iran’s SCO membership is expected to strengthen security and military cooperation with China as well as Russia.
Moreover, Iran has submitted an application to become a member in the group of emerging economies known as the BRICS. Iran’s membership in the BRICS group, which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, “would result in added values for both sides,” as Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson expects.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE PARTNERSHIP
The world may experience a whole new look because of the trio partnership. Some possible implications could be as follows:
Breaking cartel of US backed oil producers:
Though one of the biggest producers of oil and gas, Iran, due to US sanctions, faced lack of technology and infrastructure for exploration and transportation. On the other hand, Russia is facing supply chain issues. If these countries come together, the routes of Persian Gulf can be opened for Russia and Iran can have Russian technology to transfer fuel products. Together they can weaken the cartel of US backed petroleum producers in the middle east and other regions. The recent $40 billion deal between Russian GAZPROM and National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) may be the first step in this regard.
Weakening US dollar:
US dollar has become the most prominent foreign currency in the world as US started the concept of Petro dollar. Since then, the countries have been trading in US dollars and maintaining huge deposits of USD as their foreign exchange reserve. However, if countries begin trading in other currencies, US dollar will be weakened resulting in collapse of US economy. In the recent conflict, when Russia faced sanctions, it started trading in its own currency, the Russian Ruble. The Russian-Iran coalition has also signed a memorandum and are ready to accept their payments in any prominent currency of the world which could be detrimental to US dollar.
Establishing a new supply chain system:
A new trans-shipment route, International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) was proposed by Russia recently. The route is planned through Astrakhan in Russia, passing through Caspian Sea, Iran and finally reaching a southern port in Iran. While the IINSTC is primarily aimed to target Asian markets, it can also perform vice versa to open up the avenues for India and other Asian countries to ship its goods to Europe via Iran, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Russia. Thus, it can provide relief to both Asia and Europe by challenging the western hegemony.
Formation of new military alliance:
We all know that Russia and China both have strong military power. On the other hand, Iran is emerging as a big military power to counter the continued threat of the US. The country is advancing with a large stockpile of missiles, drones, and other conventional weapons. Turkey is also seen playing an active role in the Middle East and maintaining a good relationship with Russia and Iran. Though Turkey is a NATO member, its relations with the US are critical. Experts say, if this alliance turns into a military alliance, they could be the biggest military power of the world with control over Asia and Europe.
TOWARDS A MULTIPOLAR WORLD?
The current warring situation between Russian and Ukraine may yet trigger a global realignment; ideally a multipolar system, but most probably a tripolar one. The first pole is US-led western democratic bloc. The second is the Eurasian bloc led by China and Russia, along with Iran and some Central Asian republics. The third bloc may consist of those who want to keep their distance from both – the rest of the world, now called the Global South.
So far, non-western political formats such as Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) seem more appealing. Western democracies are only winning over like-minded states among their own flock, as evidenced by Sweden and Finland joining NATO. Other regional players – including India, Turkey, Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Mexico – are looking elsewhere.
If the spheres of the Ukraine war fallout keep spreading, with the war itself taking a graver turn, current affairs specialists do not rule out the possibility of a new bipolar world. However, it might take time as the new entrants are expected to join the fray. The world may watch a strengthened role of India and Turkey in the new bipolar or multi-polar world. Amid this development, the world economy may also have to accommodate dozens of new-generation regional alliances. More and more states could also start looking for safer places for their gold and hard currency reserves, especially after the respective seizure by the US and UK of Afghan and Venezuelan national reserves, not to mention the unprecedented seizure of $300bn from Russia by western states.
Despite the West’s attempts to structure the international system, the emerging reality is far more complex. The countries of the Middle East, including traditional US allies, are relishing the prospect of a brand-new world order, where plenty of new options could be at their disposal.
To sign off, the alliance of RussiaChina-Iran seems to be heading towards displacing the USA as the world’s pre-eminent power while they aspire to be the world’s great powers.
The reason may lie with USA’s continued economic and military policy of pressure and surrender that has been played out in Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and elsewhere. The world, however, has evolved beyond the unipolar political pattern established in the post-cold war era. Now, the world is more globalised and interdependent than ever before. The USA cannot weaken the Chinese rise without inflicting severe damage to its productivity. European countries cannot lessen their dependence on Russian energy without facing a painful recession. And the Middle East cannot be stabilized isolating Iran and Palestine. Ultimately, many believe, the constituents of this new world order are indispensable, even if the western coalition continues to act as the guarantor of a rules-based order. Hence the success or failure of the newly synergized axis would largely depend on the conciliatory or retaliatory role played by USA and its alliance.