Game of Drones and Lord of the Things – International Politics in the 21st Century

The world is becoming increasingly globalized. For countries, it is not only important to have good relations with their direct neighbors, it is essential to have powerful allies even on the other side of the world, and every country strives for the largest possible sphere of influence. Although of course it is beneficial for a country to have neighbors that are well-intentioned, sometimes it is quite essential to have friends far away as well.

Take North Korea, or as it is officially called, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) as an example. The relation to their neighbor in the south, the Republic of Korea (more commonly known simply as South Korea), isn’t especially friendly, and the relations with Russia and also China, the two neighbors to the North, is at the lowest point ever. UN Sanctions limit trade to a bare minimum, and while China regularly breaks these resolutions, their willingness to support the DPRK has significantly dropped. For North Korea it was essential to look abroad. Cuba is North Korea’s closest ally next to China currently, and also engaged in illegal trade of entire rocket systems and aircraft to North Korea (which we know because a shipment was seized by Panamanian authorities). Another unlikely ally is the country of Equatorial Guinea in western Africa. The Syrian government also had close contact to the DPRK, and provided a base for its companies and trade agencies that were set up for the sole purpose of importing parts used in the North’s nuclear program. In return, the Kim helped Assad develop Chemical weapons and even built a nuclear reactor almost identical to those found in North Korea.

Major global powers are very good at influencing “lesser” countries as well; many global powers have only come so far because they were good at influencing other countries and adapting to the diplomatic atmosphere in different times; including going with the new challenges and opportunities of globalization.

The country that probably did this best in recent times were the United States. After the USA emerging as the superpower after World War One, the country has established permanent military bases on all continent of the earth, assisted changes of power in various countries around the world, have intervened militarily in various conflicts globally, self-proclaimed themselves as the “leader of the free world”, all while not having to fear any serious repercussions because, after all, they are the largest power in the world. That makes it pretty much essential for other countries to suck up to the US, and not criticize mistakes or even human rights violations like what is happening Guantanamo Bay too much. The US, being the heart of the capitalist world and the largest economy, is the heart of global trade, and damaging relations with them may also significantly harm a country. Even Russia, struck by harsh sanctions of the US and (not so harsh) sanctions from the EU (with a lot of support from the US) following the annexation of Crimea and the “stealth war” in the eastern Ukraine faced serious impacts on its economy and the Rouble crashed. The United States of the early 21st century has the most powerful military ever, and is certainly also one of the most influential countries ever to exist.

However, China is working hard to catch up with the US and is currently their most serious rival on a global stage. In the South China Sea, this confrontation is direct, military and highly dangerous – China claims the entire region, and its claim not only includes Taiwan, but also crosses over the internationally recognized exclusive economic zones of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines and also includes disputed islands; on which China has built military bases. The US has moved warships to the region, and there have been clashes between the Chinese navy and the US’ allies. China has put significant efforts and a lot of money into its navy, and the number of ships now exceed the US navy by far. China also built an aircraft carrier and is currently working on its second one. Even in the 21st century, a strong, global naval presence is essential for a country to be a global player. Which is exactly what China is working on currently. But China also invests billions into the infrastructure of countries all around the world. One prime example is Nicaragua – there, China is constructing a major canal connecting the Pacific to the Caribbean Sea. This channel will be wider and deeper than the Panama Canal, which would probably make it the main route for big ships. But China has a different intention here as well. The Panama Canal is controlled by the United States – in case of a conflict between the US and the PRC, they could simply block it off for Chinese ships. And the Nicaragua Canal will enable the Chinese Navy to have a direct path from the Pacific to the Atlantic, giving it pretty much global reach without having to take the detour and going around the dangerous southern tip of South America. Most of China’s investments go to the African continent, however. Currently, the People’s Republic is funding a cross-African railway all the way from the west to the far east of the continent. China has also built ports in various developing nations, ensuring them a lot of influence over the countries and their governments. China has built entire towns specialized around mining mainly in very poor African countries, and “exported” workers there. Although it often significantly assists the countries’ economies, it makes them very dependent on China. In some countries and regions of Africa, Chinese has replaced English as the second language of choice being taught in schools.

Influence on other countries through investments into their infrasturcture is a major part of international politics of the 21st century so far, and has determined which countries have reached major international recognition and which haven’t. But there is another factor that has always played a major role and even in the 21st century still does – ethnicity. Russia has used the large population of ethnic Russians on Crimea and also in the eastern Ukraine as justification for their military intervention, raising concerns that the ethnic Russians in Baltic countries and Belarus may be used as reasoning for possible invasions there as well. This prompted Belarus to, for the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, turn slightly towards the West to get te support of the EU in case Russia would actually decide to move forces to their shared border. NATO moved a number of forces to the Baltic countries and Poland, which directly borders the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.

Peru is an example of ethnicity serving as a factor for one country to influence another. In the 19th and early 20th century, a large number of Japanese immigrants came to Peru. To this day, Japan has quite a bit of influence on Peruvian politics. And Japan seems fairly keep to keep their influence on Peru; only recently, in 2013, Japan used China’s preferred technique of investing into infrastructure and invested 100,000,000 USD into the electricity grid of Peru.

Global politics constantly change, and in the 21st century it is more important than ever before for countries to have a global reach and have loyal allies or, even better, satellites even on the other side of the world. How well different governments will keep up with the challenges of the 21st century and globalization will determine how important and influential their nations will become, and whether superpowers will stay superpowers and whether new ones will emerge.

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