The next 5-10 years will be decisive for Romania and its allies, at a time when, in addition to the two wars, in Ukraine and in Gaza, new outbreaks of conflict are emerging. Professor at Oxford University, political scientist Corneliu Bjola explains, in an analysis made for “Adevărul”, what we should expect and what the scenarios would be from Romania's perspective.
The actions of the Houthi rebels risk escalating the situation in the Middle East and in the world PHOTO EPA EFE
The situation is getting more and more complicated in the Middle East, where in addition to the war in the Gaza Strip, several outbreaks of conflict have appeared, which could lead to the escalation and spread of the war in the entire area. There are voices warning that the expansion of the war in the region could even cause a new world war.
Most recently, the death of three US servicemen in an attack attributed to a pro-Iranian militia in Iraq is putting pressure on Washington, with more analysts expecting a tough US response that could inflame the situation.
Political scientist Corneliu Bjola, professor of diplomatic studies at Oxford University and director of the Oxford Digital Diplomacy Research Group, explains to “Adevărul” that it is no coincidence that there are more and more outbreaks of war around the world and there are three scenarios. In the case of each one, he also explains how Romania could be influenced.
Cold war between two alliances
At this moment, the situation is inflamed, and two alliances are facing each other in a real cold war, which, however, could degenerate. Corneliu Bjola also explains who are the combatants of this cold war, and who is the bone of contention.
Corneliu Bjola. PHOTO Personal archive
“In international relations, we usually distinguish between two types of actors based on how they relate to the principles that govern the global order: those who support the status quo and those who are revisionist. States supporting the status quo are those that established the “rules of the game”, often following a war, either hot or cold, that allowed them to impose themselves”says Bjola.
Most European countries fall into this category, as do Australia, Canada, South Korea and many other democracies. This status quo is defined internally by adherence to the principles of liberal democracy and externally by a multilateral system of international collaboration, which recognizes and protects the sovereignty of states.
“Revisionist states” are motivated by a frustration with their position in the system and a desire to change the rules governing global relations. Russia and Iran are two examples in this category, the former because it wants to dominate Europe, and the latter because it aims to dominate the Middle East. Their revisionism is directed directly against the system of liberal democracy and aims to undermine the sovereignty of states, from the perspective of a neo-imperialist practice of spheres of influence, the professor also says.
Where do the US and China fit in?
“An intermediate form between these two categories are the reformist states. Reformist actors in international relations are nations that seek to alter certain aspects of the world order, not the underlying principles, to better suit their interests or values.”he continued.
In his view, the US and China can fall into this category for different reasons. The US has been, since 1945, a nation that supports the status quo, but now perceives that its system of international relations is entering a trajectory that disadvantages it and actually supports the rise of China.
“Therefore, it wants to recalibrate its configuration of alliances and partnerships to reassert its position. Biden prefers to do this multilaterally, while Trump is interested in acting more aggressively, unilaterally, and is even willing to compromise with other rivals, such as Russia, to achieve this. China has gained much from the American-led order and globalization, but aims to become stronger in the Pacific, where it feels constrained by the US. From a reformist actor, China is sending strong signals that it is slowly but surely evolving into a revisionist actor, establishing an alternative system of institutions and alliances that compete with the Western one.”
The explosion of conflicts and tensions in recent years is therefore not accidental, he warns. Worse, Romania will be fully affected by what is about to happen.
“We are in a period of profound change, where current and future conflicts will define a new kind of international order for decades to come. The next 5-10 years are therefore of crucial importance and will have major implications for European security and Romania's position. Although the final outcome remains uncertain, we can outline several possible scenarios and, based on them, evaluate their impact on Romania“, adds Corneliu Bjola.
The best scenario for Romania
He outlines three scenarios: the ideal one for Romania and the other democratic nations, one catastrophic for us and another not necessarily good, but at least not disastrous.
“The best possible scenario: the countries that support the status quo, especially the Western democracies, will emerge victorious in the end, and those who challenge them (Russia, China, Iran) will suffer a strategic defeat. Normally, the West (US, EU, Japan, Australia, Korea, etc.), responsible for about 40% of global GDP, should have no difficulty in achieving this. Both Russia (less than 2%) and China (about 15%) are much weaker economically than Western countries“, Bjola indicates.
The main problem, Bjola points out, is that the US is no longer as firmly in the status quo camp as in the past, and its reformist aspirations are creating tensions in the system. These tensions are now being nimbly exploited by Russia, China and Iran in different ways. For Romania, this scenario would be perfect.
“The future of this scenario will largely depend on how the West finds a solution to strengthen its unity, especially after the US presidential elections in November. If they succeed, it becomes possible to defeat Russia in Ukraine, which will likely lead to regime change in Moscow, and China's attempts to attack Taiwan will be delayed indefinitely. This would be the best outcome for Romania, as a defeated Russia would reduce the influence of extremist parties in politics and ensure stability in Europe and the Black Sea region in the long term”points out the teacher.
The catastrophic scenario for Romania
The most gloomy scenario considered by Professor Corneiu Bjola is truly catastrophic for Eastern Europe, implicitly for Romania.
“Revisionist states could strategically defeat the West, with Russia asserting itself in Ukraine, Iran forcing the US out of the Middle East, and China becoming increasingly aggressive in the Pacific. Control over Ukraine would give Russia access to vast resources: Ukraine contributes 7% of world titanium production, is the world's sixth largest producer of iron ore and seventh largest producer of manganese. By adding Ukraine's wheat production – 7% of the global total – to Russia's 18%, Moscow would gain critical strategic control over the world's grain supply. Russian supremacy over Ukraine would also create benefits for China, with Chinese companies able to move in quickly to exploit these resources on a large scale, which would further strengthen Beijing's military capability in the Pacific.”
In Russia, meanwhile, the ideology of Putin's regime would be consolidated, turning Russia into a key actor in terms of European security, the professor also points out.
“Under these conditions, it would only be a matter of time before Russia began to manifest its previously announced territorial claims on other countries, including Moldova and the Baltic states. For Romania, a strategic defeat of the West/Europe would be catastrophic. A weakened Europe and a militarily strengthened Russia could lead to an undemocratic internal evolution of the country, indirectly controlled by Moscow, with an economy in sharp decline and kept under pressure by threats of forced territorial concessions“, warns Bjola.
The middle scenario
Another possible scenario is that neither status quo-supporting nor revisionist states will gain a short-term advantage.
“A possible diplomatic solution to the conflict in Gaza, through the creation of two states (an idea supported by many Arab states, Europe and the US), could reduce tensions in the short term. Iran will undoubtedly try to regroup and find new ways to destabilize the region. A military stalemate in Ukraine could offer Europe the opportunity to better prepare to deter possible future aggression from Russia, but this could come at a significant economic cost that would perpetuate political instability.” says Bjola.
He believes that by failing to provide decisive aid to Ukraine and allowing the conflict to drag on, the West has allowed Russia to consolidate its position in the occupied territories. A prolonged conflict in Ukraine has also allowed Russia to fuel instability in other parts of the world, such as Africa and the Middle East, creating more problems and costs for the West.
China will likely benefit the most from this scenario, as the conflict will drain the resources and political will of all involved, including Russia, allowing the Beijing regime to emerge in the end in a position to influence forcefully the new rules, both in the Pacific and globally.
According to Bjola, for Romania, this scenario could be similar to that of the 1990s, marked by an increase in political instability, economic decline and renewed national security concerns.
“This year's elections, both national and European, will determine which of the mentioned scenarios will materialize and with what implications for Romania, Europe and the USA. Although Romania has limited control over events in other countries, it can still decide its own course of action. Any vote for extremist parties is a vote that undermines the independence and security of the country”, considers Professor Bjola.
It calls for the abolition of some political formations
In his opinion, there are extremist parties in Romania that should be controlled or even abolished. He argues his proposition as follows:
“The “Big Lie” promoted by extremist parties is the ideology of “sovereignism”. Romania is sovereign only within the EU and NATO. There is no sovereignty or independence for Romania outside the European project”he says.
Romania's opponents are authoritarianism, neo-imperialism and fascism – traits that faithfully characterize the current regime in Moscow, points out the professor.
“Anyone who aligns himself with Putin's regime, as these parties do, is inevitably betraying his country. These parties already have blood on their hands from the pandemic period, when they sent Romanians to their deaths by aggressively promoting conspiracies, lies and misinformation. Their poisonous ideology is already creating serious image deficits for Romania, and their irredentist desires, coordinated with the extreme right in Hungary, are just a prelude to the kind of threat to Romania's security that these parties will generate. The time to outlaw these parties, along the lines of Germany's neo-Nazi parties, is long overdue.“, concludes Corneliu Bjola.