Diplomat Jorge Dezcallar, who has extensive experience in international affairs thanks to his work as ambassador in Washington, to the Holy See and in Morocco, and who was the first civilian director of the Spanish CNI, publishes his new book 'Embracing the world. Geopolitics, where we are going' after his novel and successful foray into fiction with the novel 'Accidental Spy'.
In an in-depth interview with Atalayar, he explains his new work, a detailed analysis of the direction of current geopolitics in the face of the great challenges facing the world today, related to changes in the balance and configuration of power on the international scene and to issues such as rapid advances in various fields such as technology and genetics, against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic that has had such a global impact, and sheds light on relevant current issues such as the war in Ukraine or the struggle for world leadership between the United States and China, with other actors seeking to reshape the current scenario, such as Russia.
A change of direction after his last novel, which was his first foray into the world of fiction, now comes 'Embracing the World', an in-depth analysis of the global geopolitical and economic scenario against the backdrop of the pandemic. The message that could be drawn from the book related to the title is to embrace and care for the world in the face of the latest major changes resulting from developments in geopolitics and in fields such as technology, genetics and even information.
I wrote this book during the pandemic, in 2019, then I stopped it to write the novel, which I enjoyed very much, and then I took it up again. 'Embrace the world' reflects the desire we had to embrace each other when the pandemic imposed distance and separation. It also embraces the world because the world is changing very fast, we don't understand very well what is happening, which translates into anguish and insecurity, in the face of very serious problems that require us to pay a lot of attention to them.
Poverty is increasing in the world, social differences are increasing, the pandemic is exacerbating them, the war in Ukraine is exacerbating them still further. There is also the whole issue of nuclear proliferation, where North Korea represents a danger; the increase in cybercrime, cyberterrorism that knows no borders; above all, climate change. We are not the owners of this world, we are its managers and we have to take care of it and leave it in good condition for those who succeed us. The world demands attention because we are ending one geopolitical cycle, another is not yet beginning and we are moving from a multilateral order to an era of multipolar disorder.
The order inherited since the end of the Second World War, which left a bipolar world represented by the United States and the USSR, by the West and the East, by capitalism and communism, suddenly disappeared with the fall of the Iron Curtain and the US was left in charge, and two actors have appeared, China and Russia, who want to counteract this.
Farouk Kaddoumi, who was a kind of Foreign Minister to Yasser Arafat of the PLO, came to Madrid one night and I took him to dinner, and, talking between the two of us, he missed the old bipolar world because he said that back then it was easy to know who were your friends and who were your enemies, now it has become much more confusing. In the 20th century there were three great ideologies, which were fascism, communism and liberalism. Fascism was defeated militarily, communism collapsed because of its ineffectiveness, and liberalism remained. It was then that Francis Fukuyama thought that it was the end of history, that there were no more rivals for liberalism. It's funny because I read a biography of Cicero and he thought the same thing. The Romans thought the same thing when Carthage was destroyed, that there was no rival, that they were the dominant power in the Mediterranean and in the known world at that time. History repeats itself, but now what happens is that the rules invented in 1945 in Bretton Woods, San Francisco, the conferences of Potsdam, Yalta, Cairo, Teheran, design a world with two superpowers and shared rules. There was the International Monetary Fund, there was the World Bank, there was the United Nations, the Security Council, and that is the world that is coming to an end.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine is part of that end of the geopolitical cycle with rules shared by all. Russia is now saying: the European security architecture as it stands does not suit me, it does not interest me, you have not met my security demands and I am breaking the deck. What Russia has done is what China is thinking of doing later. China offers an alternative mode of governance, China says: why should the individual be more important than the collective, why is the principle of authority or respect for elders not respected, or meritocracy. They have another philosophy, they respond to another culture, another history, and, consequently, they want those rules to be the ones that govern us in the future. They are fed up with these Western standards being used to stick their finger in their eye and that we are always talking to them about human rights. They make it clear that these are other human rights, not their own. Now it would be impossible to adopt the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights by consensus. It was done by consensus because those standards were accepted. Today Muslims would say that they don't believe in gender equality and even find it offensive. The Chinese would say: you have had Renaissance, we have not, why do we have to put the individual above the collective.
We are witnessing the end of a multilateral world based on common rules and we are moving to a multipolar world that I believe will be imperfectly bipolar, with China and the United States as the great hegemonic powers and with other countries playing in a league a little lower down: the European Union, Russia, India. But that bipolarity will be imperfect because if China and the United States want to talk about disarmament they will have to talk to Russia, and if China and the United States want to talk about economics they will necessarily have to talk to Europe.
That is the world we are going to. While this world is ending and another is being born, there is an intermediate period of insecurity, of uncertainty, which creates anxiety, and that is where we are right now.
One of the clear messages of the book is that in order to help the world we need cooperation among all; in order to deal with the different political, economic, environmental and pandemic problems we need strong supranational institutions that work, which exist now, but do not seem to work. This paints a rather gloomy picture because of the differences between the powers.
So we will have to reach an agreement because if we don't reach an agreement there will be a "decoupling" as the Americans say now, a division of the world, between incompatible internet systems, for example, or with incompatible money transaction systems.
I think that one thing the pandemic has shown is that it is impossible to tackle global problems with national, partial or local approaches. We need global approaches and we need international cooperation to face international challenges. The challenges we have now are great, climate change is the most important one, but there are others.
At the moment, the countries that did not actively participate in the Bretton Woods conferences, San Francisco, etc., are considering changing the institutions that were created at that time. If you say there must be strong international institutions, yes, there must be. But why are France and China on the Security Council and not India? France is a nuclear power, but India is a nuclear power too, and India has 1.4 billion inhabitants. Or why the United States does not relinquish control of the International Monetary Fund or why China has practically the same voting rights as Italy in the World Bank. These institutions have to adapt, which is complicated because the power pie in the world has to be shared out differently. You have to give a bigger piece to China and India, and Brazil and South Africa and other countries.
And those who have the cake don't want to share it differently. That is the problem. But reality is setting in. A few years ago, the G6 had more than 60% of world GDP, now it is just over 40%. This is why the G20 had to be created, which brings together 85% of the world's GDP. Today, the G6 no longer decides how the world goes because it no longer has the capacity to do so; just as in the 19th century it was England that had 60% of the world's GDP and that has changed.
The world is changing and, as it changes, it requires institutions to evolve as well and to take into account the interests of those countries that have grown. That is the problem we are facing, that for these international institutions and organisations to be strong and capable of resolving conflicts, they must have the backing of the countries. And various countries are saying that they need to be changed, and if not, then they are of no use to them.
If we have a different ideological framework in geopolitics, in spheres of influence, even if everyone sits down to negotiate, it is difficult to reach an agreement.
I raise uncertainties, I don't have the solutions. I try to raise concerns in the reader. I am not optimistic in the short term because I see that this transition is not going to be easy. The great danger of China and Russia at the moment is that they are offering an alternative model of global governance that is very different from the one that has existed in the world since the end of the Second World War, which was based on democratic liberalism with the bloc system and the Cold War. That world, which was ours, imposed its values on the rest. And now the rest of the world says that they are not its values. The course of history will bring us closer to Europeans and Americans, with Latin Americans as well. These values are decreasing, 80% of the world's population lives in countries that are not free or moderately free; only 20% live in democracy and democracy is losing ground in the world. I cannot be optimistic. Freedom House analyses the evolution of authoritarianism and finds that it has been growing for the last ten years.
I am not optimistic, but I see that we need to reach agreements on issues on which we can agree. On the climate, for example, on the use of technology, on not ending up with incompatible internet systems because that endangers globalisation. If we end up with watertight worlds, that would be very bad for everyone. I think there is enough intelligence to realise that and measures will be taken. Angela Merkel, before she left, proposed a big conference on computer issues to try to reach agreements that would allow there to be an internet for everyone, even though we know that there are countries that censor their content.
For example, if several vaccines for the coronavirus pandemic have been found in record time, it has been because there has been a collaboration that has never existed in history between scientists from all over the world to, in record time, thanks to international communication networks and the internet and all the social networks, put their knowledge and research together and come to conclusions quickly. We have not found a solution for malaria for 40 years and this has been achieved in two years or a year and a bit with the internet.
This has become clear with the pandemic. There has been a response that has not been joint, which is analysed in depth in the book, and there has been a response from the states, each one on its own. A return to earlier times when each state had to fend for itself. Something that should not be the case in the face of a global problem such as the pandemic.
Exactly, we have responded to a global problem with partial solutions and it has not worked. It is true that, faced with the threat, the population has turned to its own health system, not to the United Nations, nor to the WHO, nor to the European Union. I believe that the state is coming out of this crisis stronger, but I do not think that this is a good thing. If anything has been demonstrated, it is precisely that if we had all agreed to fight the pandemic together we would have done better. Today, we are vaccinated with the third dose and in Africa 12% of people are vaccinated. And I think it's short-sighted, it's selfish and it's stupid. Vaccinating 70% of the world's population, according to the WHO, would cost less than 1% of global GDP, the pandemic in 2020 wiped out 3.5% of global GDP and, as long as there are unvaccinated viruses and populations, there will be mutations that can affect us again.
A global approach is needed, the virus does not stop at the Pyrenees or the Strait of Gibraltar.
There was even a confrontation between the United States, then led by Donald Trump, and China to see who was to blame.
They were busy sticking their finger in each other's eye with such stupid arguments as that it was American soldiers who had brought the virus to Wuhan, it was pathetic. And the way it has been used by countries for propaganda has been pathetic. In exchange for vaccines you give me a vote in the United Nations, in exchange for vaccines you recognise Taiwan. There has been a political use of the fight against the pandemic.
I think China has taken advantage of it to engage in very aggressive, intelligent diplomacy. It has said: see how an authoritarian country has managed to channel resources in a time of trouble more effectively than a democratic regime. The United States, with 6% of the world's population, has had 19% of the world's dead, a barbarity, it has managed it badly. You see, I do better with faster processes. And that message has permeated other countries, in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
But other models from countries with established democracies, such as South Korea or Taiwan, which have performed quite well, should also have been promoted.
But that is not what the Chinese propaganda says. Nor does it say that in an authoritarian country the situation has become more serious because it was detected later. Because people were afraid to say what was going on and because, once it was said what was going on, when decisions were taken in a pyramid-like manner they did not dare to act until they received authorisations from above. An authoritarian regime is slower and initially works worse, but that is not what the Chinese propaganda says.
Continuing with the US-China confrontation, the book talks about different fronts in different parts of the world and now the focus has shifted to the Indo-Pacific because the US has more respect or fear of China, which is now the main rival, and has abandoned other areas such as the Middle East and Africa.
The US is trying to shift towards Asia because Asia is the Indo-Pacific, it is now home to 62% of the world's GDP and 65% of the world's population. The economic centre of the world is moving to the Straits of Malacca. This is an existential challenge for Europe. But the US is unable to make the pivot to Asia that it is keen to make because it has been prevented from doing so by the war in Afghanistan and now the war in Ukraine, which keeps it busy in Europe.
When Biden came to power he made two very quick decisions, he revived AUKUS and did the Quad deal. He is trying to make that shift to Asia, but is thwarted by the Afghanistan and Ukraine issue. The US has left gaps elsewhere.
What did the US want in the Middle East? Four things basically. It wanted to contain the expansion of the Soviet Union, Russia is not the same enemy now. It wanted to protect Israel, Israel protects itself with all the money and weapons that Obama gave it before he left, and with the Abraham Accords it has broken the monopoly that the Palestinians had on relations with the Arab world. It also wanted to secure oil in quantity and at an affordable price and it already has it because it is self-sufficient in energy and the last thing it wanted was to avoid terrorism and the United States has not suffered an Islamist terrorist attack since 2014. So the US is disinterested in the Middle East, though not entirely because it has to secure the straits of Bab el Mandeb and Hormuz.
It is disengaging and others are trying to take advantage of this. Countries like Turkey are jostling to become a hegemonic power; Russia, to play a role; Iran, which is the old Persian Empire, also wants to be there; but it is true that Biden did have an initial design, unlike Trump. When Trump renounces the Trans-Pacific Partnership, he leaves a brutal gap in Asia that is quickly filled by China. As in the Middle East, geopolitics has a horror of the vacuum; now it has made the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which brings together 20 countries, 30% of the world's GDP and 40% of the world's population, and the United States is not there, this will allow China to dictate its trade rules to countries, such as those in Asia, which ideologically are close to the West, but economically are increasingly dependent on China.
The existential enemy of the United States is China, which is not going to be democracy with economic development as was thought. Xi Jinping has said it, they are already a democracy, he says: you are not going to tell me what a democracy is, I already know and my democracy is different from yours.
What they have to do is to contain China on issues where China can be a danger, for example in Taiwan, or for example in the field of economic, commercial and technological competition. But the US must also be able to cooperate with China on issues such as nuclear proliferation or climate change, and that is what has not been achieved. That is the design that Biden has in his head in the face of Trump's simplistic discourse of trade war and shutting everything down, but which he is failing to implement because the Russians won't let him.
This is the great open front now, the war in Ukraine. Russia wanted no trace of NATO on its borders, with a belligerent president like Vladimir Putin, who wants to regain a leading Russia even by invading a sovereign country like Ukraine.
That is the world we can go to if we do not establish common rules of operation accepted by all. Putin does not accept the rules that governed European security and therefore blows them up. That is exactly the problem I refer to in the book, we are facing an end of the current world and that world and those rules are falling into disuse. Look at the WTO Dispute Settlement Forum, it hasn't worked for years because they don't want it to work. Those international rules and bodies are declining, they have less power and importance, and they are slowly being diluted. Russia has blown it up at a stroke, they are of no use to it, and China may be tempted to do the same.
That requires a world where we sit down and that also requires us to give up quotas of power that corresponded to a reality in 1945, but which have been outdated by the passage of time, and that is not easy to do.
What can the invasion of Ukraine lead to?
The conflict in Ukraine will be very bad for the Ukrainians in the first place; bad for Russia in the second place because it will be facing the wall for a long time, isolated and with brutal sanctions. Bad also for Europe as it is costing a lot, with millions of refugees, petrol prices and other issues. And bad for the world, Ukraine is exporting 30% of the world's wheat, 15% of the world's corn and 76% of the world's sunflower oil. It is already being announced that this is going to have repercussions in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa through famine.
Imagine a Russia emerging victorious, grown up and overbearing, it would be bad because it would be tempted to repeat the same thing elsewhere. But a defeated, humiliated and revanchist Russia would also be bad. No solution is good.
What will happen? I think the most likely outcome is either a never-ending war, which is not in the interests of anyone, the Russians in the first place because the sanctions will end up making an impression on the people and the population will start to ask who brought them into this and why this is being done, because they don't know now and Putin has gained in popularity since the war in Ukraine began, he now has 82% popularity compared to 42% for Biden.
Another alternative is, hopefully, a negotiation that would allow Ukraine to renounce NATO membership, give special status to the Russian language, give up sovereignty over Crimea and the Donbas and remain a neutralised country. But the Ukrainians must want that too.
I don't see a Russian victory. I think Russia has failed militarily in Ukraine, it is doing very badly. But Putin has to sell that he has won in order to get out of there, and that will be bad for Ukraine. The West is doing what it can without crossing the red line of entering World War III, and that is a very fine and delicate line.
It is worth analysing the EU's role in this conflict and how it is lagging behind geopolitically in the face of giants such as the United States and China, which are setting the pace, according to their interests. The EU is an economic power but perhaps not a political one. We come back to the need for strong supranational institutions that have the power to decide and to manoeuvre. Is the EU trying to be this or are we in a scenario of 27 countries where everyone goes their own way?
Enrico Letta said that Europe is made up of countries that are small and others that don't know they are small yet. No European country will be among the big economies of the world in 20 years' time. We have to unite, I don't mean a common government, but a common foreign policy, a common defence policy, a common energy policy and a common industrial policy. For example, Siemens and Alstom should have been able to join forces to build a great European train giant, as the Chinese and Americans have, but this has not happened because competition policy prevents it. Therefore, reforms have to be made.
Having said that, Europe spends 260 billion euros a year on defence, Russia 65 billion, and we are not capable of confronting the Russian nation. Division weakens us, there is no doubt about it, and we are aware of that at last. Germany's and Spain's decision to invest more in defence goes in that direction.
I believe that the invasion of Ukraine delays the debate on the necessary European strategic autonomy, but it greatly strengthens NATO. Europe must now play within NATO. But if it does not join, we will be like Venice - I speak of the Venetian syndrome. Venice was an emporium that made a lot of money with the spices that came from the Moluccas, arrived via India, arrived via Egypt, arrived in Alexandria, were shipped and arrived in Venice, from where they were distributed throughout Europe, and the Venetians made a fortune. Until Bartholomew Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope and Vasco de Gama reached India shortly afterwards. From then on, spices began to arrive directly from India by ship to Lisbon, from where they were distributed, and Lisbon made a fortune. And this coincided with Columbus arriving in America and the silver from America arriving in Seville, so this combination meant that the Mediterranean was left out of the game and the centre of gravity of the world shifted to the Atlantic and that was the time of splendour of England, Castile or the United States.
That has changed, the money has gone; as it went from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, now it has gone from the Atlantic to the Pacific and we can remain isolated in a corner of the world. We have 6% of the world's population, we have 20% of the world's GDP and we have 26% of the world's social spending, this cannot be maintained unless you are able to defend your economic, political and commercial interests with a political voice and with a military force capable of defending it and Europe, which has had the intelligence to dominate the world for 500 years, will surely have the intelligence to know that it must make changes to be able to adapt to this coming world. Because if not, it will disappear, and if it disappears as a major player, then our standard of living will disappear.
Spain has finally taken the step of winning back an important partner and ally in Morocco. The relationship was broken for what it was broken for. The Kingdom was asking for greater support on the Western Sahara issue and the government of Pedro Sánchez has been letting time pass, even with thorny issues such as the reception of Brahim Ghali at the time, and has now taken the step of recognising the Moroccan proposal for the Sahara as the most serious, credible and realistic.
I do not disagree on the substance because I believe that the referendum solution is an intermediate formula between the maximalist formula of annexation and the maximalist formula of independence, but this intermediate formula, in order to be under the umbrella of the United Nations, must be accepted by the other party and, at the moment, it is not.
So it seems that of the three adjectives: serious, realistic and credible, I would choose realistic. I know that there is not going to be a referendum in the Sahara because Morocco will never hold one and no one is going to impose it, and I also know that the parties have not reached an agreement for 47 years. It seems to me that this is a realistic solution that I hope the Saharawis will accept, but which, for now, they have not accepted.
The referendum and the agreement between the parties also seem to me to be a serious proposal. To be credible, it needs the agreement of the other party.
But it can be realistic and it would be desirable for the other side to accept it because it would be a way out of a conflict that could go on forever.
What I am very critical of is the way it has been done. Firstly, because the president has no competence to do what he has done. Article 69 of the Constitution says that foreign policy is made by the government and the executive was not aware of this, nor were the parliamentary forces aware of it. I think it weakens our foreign policy, which should be a state policy. It weakens it greatly to have gone to Morocco without the backing of the parliamentary forces. The loneliness of the President of the Government manifested itself in a vote with everyone voting against. I think that the fact that we learned of the existence of Pedro Sánchez's letter through a communiqué from the Royal Court of Morocco has provoked indignation in the political class.
The Spaniards left the Sahara in very difficult circumstances in 1975, but there the right was hurt because they thought that the army had not come out of that adventure well and the left was hurt because they thought that the Sahrawis had been left in the lurch. Then we had the intelligence to place ourselves under the umbrella of the United Nations for more than 40 years and there was a national consensus that there should be a referendum or that the parties should reach an agreement.
What Pedro Sánchez has done now is to side with Morocco. Meanwhile, our position is not the same as that of Germany or the United States, we have other responsibilities and proximity to the issue; but, by saying that this is the most serious, credible and realistic proposal, he has sided with the Moroccan kingdom and this has provoked indignation in Algeria because it places us in the middle of the struggle for regional hegemony.
I am a very strong supporter of friendship with Morocco, which is very important for Spain. Just as friendship with Spain is very important for Morocco. Both countries will do better if the other does well. I have many friends in Morocco, a country I admire and love very much, but I also believe that things have to be done through the right channels. And, in this case, these proper channels, in my opinion, have not been respected and I believe that this weakens us because at the moment what Pedro Sánchez has taken to Morocco and what he has obtained with regard to Ceuta and Melilla and immigration is surely weak because if tomorrow Mrs Yolanda Díaz becomes President of the Government or Mr Núñez Feijóo arrives, they may not feel linked to this because it has been a personal decision by the President of the Government without parliamentary backing and I believe that this weakens what he has done.
I agree that the turnaround may be realistic and feasible and that it would be desirable for it to be accepted, but I believe that it could have been done much better and that what would have been built would have been more solid if it had been done in a better way with the political forces.