By abrogating the Iran Nuclear Deal at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s dog-and-pony show pretext, US President Donald Trump has further isolated the US into a weakened geo-strategic position globally and especially in reference to the emerging Eurasian-Indian Ocean continental-maritime geopolitical-economic complex. For now, Washington hooks its Middle Eastern wagon to Israeli-Saudi Arabian détente in an anti-Iran alliance aimed at checking Tehran’s regional ambitions. In so doing, Trump is more than willing to give short shrift to Europe and to threaten it with sanctions if it doesn’t toe the line on Iran. Trump has nothing but contempt for the European Union. Yet there is another dimension rounding out Trump’s exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This has to do with factoring in the possibly sustained rapprochement between North and South Korea, with China’s oversight, irrespective of what comes out of the Kim-Trump tete-a-tete.
If one combines these two developments, as they continue to unfold, with Trump’s exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, what emerges is a potentially new northern hemispheric landscape from Atlantic to Pacific uniting Europe and Asia. By ignoring advice from Britain, France and Germany not to abandon the JCPOA which is crucial to Europe’s geoeconomic autonomy from Russian energy dependence via Iran, Europe is being driven ever closer into a Greater Eurasian scenario driven by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) amid a fragmenting transatlantic Euro-American alignment, already weakened by Brexit. In the process, the only option facing Brussels is greater strategic autonomy from Washington while avoiding co-optation into Beijing’s trans-Eurasian integration project via the Sino-Russian co-chaired Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to which Iran will eventually join along with new members India and Pakistan. Beijing is first among equals in co-leadership with a Kremlin trying to wedge its Eurasian Economic Union into the east-west Eurasian equation as a means of enhancing its restoration as post-cold war great power.
By the US opting out of the Iran Nuclear Deal, it geo-strategically plays into the Great Game agendas of both Russia and China. Moscow, after all, is angling to reconfigure Middle East power equations in such a way as to reinsert Russia into pole position in shaping regional realignment through its Syria-driven Turkey-Iranian triple entente. With or without the JCPOA, there is no way Russia will be forced into sanctions renewal against Tehran. The same goes for China as Iran occupies the geo-strategic hub in conjunction with the Afghanistan-Pakistan nexus linking the Levant and Southwest Asia to Central Asia and the offshore interconnectivity of the Indian Ocean. India’s reactive military aligning in its Quad with the US, Japan and Australia will not disrupt Beijing’s continental-maritime momentum although India could more or less make peace with China’s agenda were it to envision a Zone of Peace and Cooperation in the Indian and Pacific Oceans encompassing the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium. There is no reason why such an inclusive initiative complementing China’s BRI would not accommodate Delhi’s Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR).
With or without India, China’s BRI Eurasian continental-maritime momentum, with Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) financing will power ahead in forging transcontinental integration between East Asia and Europe while drawing in the African intersection at the Northwest Indian Ocean entre into the eastern Mediterranean. For Europe, as transatlantic ties weaken and Europe assumes greater autonomy viz-a-viz the US, the EU will evolve a new ‘West Eurasia’ identity within the trans-Eurasian landscape. What about the other end of this political geography? This is where the dramatic developments on the Korean Peninsula take on major significance. Irrespective of arriving at a Korean Peace Treaty out of the prospective US-North Korean summit, a non-aggression pact or understanding between the two Koreas placing peace before ‘denuclearization’ (instead of the other way around) could create a de facto geopolitical-economic and security arrangement backed by China and supported by Russia marginalizing the US into a more sharply defined offshore strategic posture.
Japan would have every incentive to focus on a triangular relationship with China and the two Koreas as already exists in ASEAN + 3 on the Asian side of the Indian Ocean. This would round out ‘East Eurasia’ in an evolving regionalized multipolarity where, the US, post-Trump, depending on the trajectory of America’s domestic politics will have to renegotiate its way back into a much diminished global leadership role. Thus, amid the flimflam of a masculine toughening and firmness now being attributed by some in the mainstream American media to Trump as they try indulging him away from his hostility, US global primacy is in retreat. Retreat is driven by a domestic partisan political agenda coming from the alt-right instead of from the left which was always accused of wanting America to abdicate global leadership. Quite an irony and all the more so when trying to decifer what President Barack Obama had in mind. Stay tuned.
Francis A. Kornegay, Jr. is the senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue associated with UNISA and Global Fellow of The Wilson Centre in Washington.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not represent IGD/Unisa policy.