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The 2022 Dilemma So Far

2022 was expected by many people to be a year of recovery from the calamity of 2021 (me included). Less than a month in, however, it has already spawned its share of (man made) crises, with Eurasia bearing the brunt of them. The Kazakhstan domestic conflict, the diplomatically nuclear situation in Ukraine, and increasing Chinese aggression towards Taiwan are some among others that have already occurred.


One could argue that such events occur every year; that it would be unreasonable to predetermine 2022 as a turbulent year just by its first month. To an extent, this is correct. Numerous incidents have caught the public's attention at the beginning of many years. 2019, for example, started off with then-president Donald Trump's assassination of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, provoking widespread hype about a war online. 2021, furthermore, kicked off with the January storming of the Capitol, leading to a massive media outcry about the prospect of a bipolar divide between America's two most prominent parties. Neither of these, however, inflicted as much real harm as their inflated media value did. 2019 did not oversee any new war for the United States with Iran or its allies, and January 6, while tumultuous enough by itself, did little more than add some kindling to the already-blazing fire of contemporary American politics. While it isn't to say that these are of no significance, they die out in prominence, both in influential and in media value, over time.


However, there are two unique aspects to the circumstances surrounding this year that make its roiling conflicts so much more omnipresent.


The first is their leverage by international actors to retain or increase their influence or power. In the case of the Kazakh crisis, Russia deployed their troops to Nur-Sultan to quell any remaining unrest. It is likely that they would favor the current regime running Kazakhstan to remain in power, as the country's current president, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, is the successor of and personally selected to be by Nursultan Nazarbayev, Kazakhstan's former president and a former Soviet Communist Party chairman. Even if the Soviet Union has been extant for over three decades, Vladmir Putin, Russia's sitting president and former head of the Soviet secret police agency KGB, would most likely prefer a Russia-friendly government in its former republic over a hostile administration in Kazakhstan, and therefore would have gone out of his way to restore order in the country.


Ukraine, too, faces such an incursion of both economic and military power by Russia. Their case, however, differs from that of Kazakhstan's. For one, the country's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, strives for Ukraine's independence from direct foreign influence. In addition, Ukraine poses a grave threat to Russia in a way that Kazakhstan does not: by having an alliance with the West in which the country could serve as a launching pad for NATO towards dismantling Russian power. The prospect of Ukraine's vast natural resources and arable land to bolster Russia's diminishing stockpiles doesn't keep them back, either. Finally, without even considering any alliance made between Ukraine and the West, the sheer geography of Ukraine makes it so that Russia is wide open to invasion from any state willing to do so in that direction. In short, the Russian intervention in Kazakhstan was merely to reinforce their influence there, whereas their military buildup near the Ukrainian border serves to both reinforce and expand their regional hegemony.


Russia is not the only power player in Eurasia seeking aggressive growth, either. China's pressing internal issues such as a declining national birthrate and power struggles within the Chinese Communist Party have prompted its leadership to pursue a policy of aggressive expansion in Asia, first starting with the absorption of Taiwan as part of China. Although Taiwan has recently committed to arming its military to face this threat, the vast discrepancy in the two countries' economic and military capabilities all but guarantees Chinese victory in the case of a war. In the case that Taiwan falls to China, this would come as a massive diplomatic blow to Indo-Pacific alliances looking to prevent Chinese dominance in Asia, severely weakening their integrity and leaving other countries susceptible to the wrath of Chinese expansion.


The second aspect of 2022, and the more defining of the two, is the lackluster response to this overarching expansion by the rest of the world, especially from America and its allies. In the past, as in the Cold War and even up to the early 2010's, the First World effectively countered every potential threat from its rivals. Even in the time of Operation Desert Storm and the War on Terror, America and its allies were able to halt the spread, however awkwardly, of terrorism.


Something has changed now. In the past decade, America has been unable to keep their grip on the world's affairs. The Crimea's transfer from Ukrainian to Russian ownership in 2014 was the start of this shift, followed by the limited American trade war with China in 2018 and the American retreat from Afghanistan in August of 2021. Russia and China are now a far cry from the towering Eastern Bloc of the Cold War era, yet America has fallen from its 20th century position as well.


The answer to what happened to America now lies within. During the Cold War, the American political spectrum was generally united to combat the looming Soviet threat. In taking a look at the electoral maps of the 20th century, one can notice that, apart from the segregationist South, the rest of the country was largely unified to combat the Soviet threat. Compare that with today's alarming rate of political polarization, where members of both parties increasingly disagree with each other on every policy in existence, and it becomes much harder to see America's resurgence akin to their Cold War past(1).


Although the public's sentiment is the most transparent source of political measurement, the real decisions lie with the bureaucrats and officials who are elected by the American people, and to speak of those figureheads, their indecision and large scale dreaming is what permitted these ambitious moves by Russia and China to exist in the first place. The filibuster pushing against the Build Back Better program in the Senate is one example of this democratic process faltering in high office, while Joe Biden's latest speech in Georgia on voter rights and the backlash it generated from all but the most hardcore of his voter base highlights the ineptitude of those elected officials themselves.


There can be an effective resolution, however. Even though the country may seem like it is politically fracturing, the most politically active people with the loudest voices are heard the most(1). Most Americans are still moderate in thought, and by leveraging this silent majority as it has done in the past, America can compel its politicians to action with the power of the vote and the wallet.


What has been done till now, empty threats and casual negotiations, has not worked. Russia still collects its military strength on the Russian-Ukrainian border and China still prepares for a full-scale invasion of Taiwan.


Perhaps America could take a lesson or two from its past in dealing with such tense situations, per say the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. There, then-Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev had sent thousands of missiles to the country of Cuba, not too far from the coast of Florida, along with assisting in the construction of several facilities for launching them. In response, then-president John F Kennedy ordered a naval blockade of Cuba, which resulted in the potential of all-out nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. While far from the devastation of humanity, the current situation in Ukraine somewhat resembles that event from the past. The Cuban standoff, though, concluded peacefully in the end after negotiations with the backup of military power, which seems to be the point where the two events part in similarity. Here, diplomacy is being conducted without any deterrence against military action, which would give Russia any reason to conduct an invasion or establish a puppet state without repercussions from NATO. The same goes for China, where American military deterrence has been even weaker than in Europe; hence the Chinese regional aggression.


To the eyes of any capable policy maker or reasonable citizen, the solution to such diplomatic issues is most likely fairly simple, yet it is impeded by the polarization of Washington DC. At this point, the resolution of the Eurasian dilemma lies in the hands of the American people: whether to be reasonable and compel their politicians to decisiveness, or fall prey to the domestic divide themselves.


I still stand by my previous point about how 2022 will go. Indeed, America's fate in the next eleven months is dependent upon the decisions of its people; to face reality in full, or to continue the illusion that values political squabble above national survival?


Citations:

(1): Pew Research


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