The new superpowers

Is Israel prepared to face the geo-political changes taking place in the world?

July 12, 2011 23:21
4 minute read.
European Union ministers in Luxembourg

European Union ministers in Luxembourg 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir )


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It often happens that the greatest changes are least felt. In recent years the world has been experiencing such a change – a shift of influence from the traditional powers that be – the United States, Western Europe and Russia – to new centers of influence.

Similar to the flow of capital after World War I, which eventually established the US as the world’s leading economic force, the world is today going through a transition of seismic proportions.

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Power is moving away from the US, (formerly Great) Britain, France and Russia – all countries that owe their greatness to the post-World War II division of the globe, to new countries: China, India, Iran and Turkey – all of which were born as the era of colonialism reached its end.

As these countries grow in strength (economic, technological and nuclear), they are also fueled by a will to power and an urge for national expression that the older countries lost along the way.

This is a very interesting development. When does a country cease being great? Is it when it becomes militarily weaker, or rather when something inside it, something deep and fundamental, is irreparably broken? Is it fatigue, loss of confidence, or perhaps a sort of withdrawal into national egoism?

In the US, the Obama administration is showing the first signs of pulling back from the superpower status that America held since the end of World War II, but any Republican administration that follows can only accelerate such a process. A Republican administration will create a “new and improved” version of isolationism, and will gradually pull away from global commitments with the justification of needing to mend the economy; such an administration may even pull out of NATO and shut down many US Army bases abroad. America will fold into itself, and when this happens, it will stop being a superpower, regardless of its territorial vastness.

LITTLE NEEDS to be said about historical European powerhouses. Some, like Britain, have come to accept the situation. Others, like Russia and France, are waging a losing battle, while Germany, traumatized by its past, has deliberately given up such ambitions. After the long period of European peace and prosperity, the continent is today searching for paths to the rest of the world. Its grand history cannot substitute for feeble national will. Economic and demographic issues, coping with immigration by non-Europeans, and a foolish quest for a high quality of life at the lowest possible sacrifice all combine to create a sure recipe for slow but constant decline.


Into this vacuum new superpowers entered, one could even say crept. Hand in hand with young vibrant economies, readily copying ideas and behaviors of the Old World, appeared national ambition, dreams of greatness and a thirst for might that give the young superpowers a momentum the old have all but lost.

Iran, for example, as a rising Middle Eastern power, sneers at sanctions and condemnation, and seeks to establish a third Persian empire, in Islamic garb this time around.

The new Turkey (of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, not Ataturk) also aspires to be a neo-Ottoman empire of sorts.

The characterizing model for these new superpowers is that they are liberated from the shackles of Cold War ideology, and combine dreams stemming from historical heritage with expressions of modern power: advanced technology and nuclear prowess. This is essentially a new type of nationalism and division of the world which is very reminiscent of the division of Europe before 1914.

The treaties signed for the purpose of fighting the Cold War have lost their meanings. Any new alliances will be forged out of interest, free from ideological affinities. China can do business with Iran despite the ideological gaps between the two.

THE GLOBAL game will become a balance of power between camps comprised of countries with dissimilar regimes and differing goals.

As the world changes, a new reality is born, and Israel needs to recognize this. The US may no longer be the main actor, and perhaps not even have an important role. It may pledge commitment to the diplomatic process and vouch for Israel’s security, but Israel must acknowledge that beyond mere words there will be less and less action.

The great question is whether Israelis are prepared for this, at least conceptually. Change should not be feared; it’s the natural course of things. Herzl taught the Jews that a Jewish state is a necessity for the entire world, and therefore will always find allies interested in its survival. But for this, one must shake off old concepts, think dynamically, and not set in stone that enemies will always be enemies and friends will always be friends; and mainly, not to fear the new.

The writer is a poet and historian. His seventeenth book, Fleece of Dew, is due to be published this month.

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