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Wednesday, April 28, 2021, 07:55 (GMT+7)
Risk of widened Eurasian arc of instability

The global order is witnessing deep changes with rising instability. Major powers’ ambitions of maintaining and expanding influence have resulted in fierce competition and growing unrest in many regions, including the Eurasian arc of instability.

Eurasian arc of instability

Many analysts have pointed out that a necessary condition to become a global leader is to seize control of the Eurasia. Consequently, over the past few years, major powers have escalated competition for expanding influence in part of the Eurasia. Nevertheless, due to the rise of globalisation, strategic competition within a broad space spreading from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean becomes increasingly fierce, which leads to the formation of an arc of instability. In fact, this arc covers a wide geographical area and is divided into subregions, including the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, East Europe, West Europe, Caucasus, and Arctic.

Currently, the Middle East is considered the key flashpoint within this arc of instability. Geostrategic discord among vital actors in the international arena together with their proxy forces and regular militaries has brought many nations into seemingly endless conflicts, especially the conflict in Syria. 2021 marks a decade of civil war in this country. Recent dialogues between Syrian government and opposition groups to enhance Constitutional amendment on the basis of the political process as outlined in the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 on 18 December 2015 have been held but failed to achieve any breakthroughs. Although the Damascus government has controlled approximately 70 per cent of the territory, security, political situation still witnesses complex, unforeseeable developments. It is believed that if there is not a way out for the Syrian crisis soon, this country may face the rise of the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS) once again, posing direct threats to security and stability of Syria and the region in general.

The Iran nuclear issue is not brighter. After a year of tension as a result of President Donald Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” in both political, economic and military terms, Iran does not hesitate to reduce its commitments, which include compliance with uranium stockpile limit set by the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Although the newly elected President Joe Biden takes a more open approach towards this issue, the existing obstacle is that neither Tehran nor Washington wishes to send a message of de-escalation first. Tehran requests that Washington lift its sanctions and return to international pledges before any further discussions. Meanwhile, the White House asks Iran to strictly abide by commitments set by the JCPOA.

As far as the Israel-Palestine peace process is concerned, the 80-page “Middle East Peace Plan” formulated by President Donald Trump will be a large legacy for his successor Joe Biden. This plan was once regarded as a “heavy” blow to the Israel-Palestine peace process, which destroys the option of the two-state solution and spoils any chances of establishing an independent Palestinian state. Hence, the Palestinian administration has stated that it will not adhere to the Oslo Accords signed between the Government of Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in 1993, which include agreements on security cooperation and civil relations with Israel.

Although situation in South Asia cannot be compared to that in the Middle East, the long-lasting territorial dispute between India and Pakistan in Kashmir is like a time bomb and can turn this region into a conflict zone at any time. This can be one of the reasons that triggers arms race or even plunges the two countries into nuclear arms race. If this scenario occurs, it will be a nightmare for world peace.

The arc of instability in East Asia spreads from Russia, the Kuril Islands, the East China Sea to the East Sea. Apart from territorial disputes between China and Japan as well as between Japan and South Korea, and tension in the East Sea, what has greatly affected security, political situation in East Asia is strategic rivalry between the US and China. While Washington puts forward the “free and open Indo-Pacific strategy,” Beijing is committed to realising the “Belt and Road Initiative.” This region will be influenced by the US-China trade war with unforeseeable consequences in the coming time.

Emerging security, political issues in other regions in recent years will present considerable challenges to the Eurasia in the 21st century. For example, the financial crisis occurring in the European Union (EU) since 2008 has been creating economic, political instability and provoking deep divisions in both East and West Europe. Smoldering tensions in the Caucasus led to an armed conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia in the mountainous region of Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020. If this conflict had not been timely kept under control, it would have resulted in a total war between the two countries and involvement of other countries in the region. The Arctic, which is rich in seafood and mineral resources, will witness increasingly fierce strategic competition, especially territorial disputes among major powers. If this flashpoint continues to be expanded, it will form a chain of instability, shaking not only the Eurasia but the whole world.

In addition, most of countries with nuclear weapons are situated in the Eurasia such as France, Russia, Israel, Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea. This factor reminds us of a potential threat when the arc of instability is not thoroughly controlled.

Endless race and formation of the geostrategic “storm” in the 21st century

The concept of “Grand chessboard” has been introduced to describe the strategic rivalry for control and influence among major powers in Eurasia since the 18th century. The competition does not decrease by the 21st century but becomes more intense when many nations regard “seizure of superiority” on the chessboard as a basis for seizure of status in the international arena. The common point in major powers’ strategies is that they identify nations with economic, political dynamics and ability to bring about a profound transformation in power allocation in the globe. Then they extend their influence to keep those nations under control and promote their vital interests.

The reason for the belief that competition in Eurasia will be tougher in the coming time is that, in recent years, China has gradually changed the balance of power in Asia-Pacific against US’s desire. This forces “Uncle Sam” to shift its strategy through “pivot,” or “rebalancing” to Asia before everything is too late. Additionally, other major powers such as Russia and India have developed their own strategies towards Asia. While Russia proposes the Greater Eurasian Partnership to connect the Eurasian Economic Union with Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and upgrades its ties with ASEAN to strategic partnership, India transforms the “Look East Policy” to “Act East Policy” with a view to promoting economic, political, and security cooperation with nations in East Asia. In the Western end of Eurasia, France and Germany are both driven by the vision of a unified Europe. These are the most powerful nations, which have influence over a broad region. France not only pursues its role as a political hub in a unified Europe, but also considers itself a nucleus of the group of the Atlantic-North African countries. Meanwhile, Germany is increasingly aware of its special position as the leading economy in EU and the region. Besides, in recent years, EU has also taken initiative in adjusting its relations with Asian nations on the basis of the Global strategy for the 21st century and reaped many initial important outcomes.

According to Professor, Doctor Vladimir Kolotov from Saint Petersburg State University, fierce competition for controlling Eurasia is the cause of formidable discord among major powers. In recent years, major powers have been inclined to withdraw from international agreements and treaties. Apart from EU’s intention of establishing its own military, there are fluxes of migrants in the Eurasian are of instability. Aboriginal inhabitants are being replaced by people coming from other regions, which is ruining national culture and infrastructure as well as religious identity in these nations. Instability is also spreading from one region to another, which is clearly illustrated through the flow of violent extremists from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. Additionally, the right to direct control of strategic natural resources is being shaped. Main players in the international chessboard make every effort to alter balance of power in some strategic regions with the aim to expand influence to vast areas and prevent other opponents from increasing their presence in the areas. Moreover, internal political discord in some Eurasian nations has been deepened. These factors lead to new arms race. Competition for setting up military bases becomes tougher today than in the Cold War. This explains the reason for alarming situation in Eurasia.

Given its huge population of over five billion, if this region is plunged into instability, it will greatly impact the world. Currently, instability in the arc of Eurasia is dubbed as “tropical low pressures,” which are turning into storms. The large hurricane has not formed, but it is evolving in an alarming fashion, requiring the international community to exercise high vigilance to keep the situation under control.

Lam Phuong

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