“If you want to understand when something complex is happening in nature, then it’s always useful to go back to the fundamental forces in nature. In physics, it’s things like gravity and electromagnetic force. If you want to understand geopolitical complex development, its useful to go back to the fundamental forces, history and geography, together with an important corollary of the two, which is culture.”
Mr. Vuk Jeremić, Former Serbian Foreign Minister and President of the U.N. General Assembly, and current leader of the Serbian opposition party was recently at The Fletcher School as a guest lecturer for the Charles Francis Adams Lecture Series. Jeremić spoke to students, faculty, and staff about the current state of geopolitics in the world today. Using his wide experience in politics and background in the sciences, he explained the various components of history, geography, culture, and politics that have brought us to the successes and challenges we face today. “If this all sounds complicated,” Jeremić says, “it’s because it is.”
In this era after the Cold War, Jeremić thinks that the world had made some assumptions on the importance of geopolitics. “One of those was that Russia is down forever and that also the global economic order, based on the idea of globalization and interdependency, can only bring good things to the world,” he explains. However, after the collapse of the U.S. economy in 2008 and subsequent downturn of the world economy, he says “geopolitics were back in the same shape and form as they had been for centuries.” Competitions, alliances, international rules and norms, and the pushing of national interests create the geopolitics of the world.
When speaking of the Balkans, Jeremić described how placement and religion played a big part in creating its history. The Balkans have always been “either a highway or a buffer, usually both,” he expands, and that the placement of the plains to the North of the region and the mountains to the South have impacted trading routes, as well as been essential for control over the Mediterranean. As far as religion goes, “theology did not drive the big powers,” Jeremic said, “but theology ended up defining the small ones” in conflict, culture, and relationships with their neighboring countries. This diversity and the ambiguous lines between states makes the Balkans always seem as if they are on the brink of war, “though most times avoiding it,” he adds.
The countries in the region are also affected by those who have made it into the European Union, and those who have not. “With multiple crises in the European Union, there is no more appetite for enlargement in the EU,” explains Jeremić. Pressures from the Southeast and the refugee crisis have caused major predicaments in Europe which he claims nearly brought down European governments. Though at a low in migration currently, Jeremić believes this is only temporary. “There is only one place where they can be stopped, and that’s the Balkans,” he said.
But it isn’t only European crises that catch the attention of Jeremić. At the recent U.N. General Assembly, Jeremić observed the stark difference in atmosphere from the General Assembly in 2015. The 2018 assembly was focused much more on trade and economics, with the distinct purpose of putting state interests above global interests. “It is logical, to an extent, to pay attention to interests of your own country,” he told the audience, “but no country is ready to face - alone - all the challenges we are facing in the 21st century.” Jeremić stressed the importance of multilateral approaches to governance, especially as new challenges become more globalized. With more advanced technologies and growing complexities in the world, he called on the need for global regulation, though he has little hope of this happening as “we are now in a space of defending old institutions.”
This U.N. General Assembly focused more than ever on an emerging trade conflict between what Jeremić called “the two most powerful world economies” – the U.S. and China. “It is the perfect start of another Cold War,” he asserted, remarking on a comment from a well-respected U.N. economist that, “if there is a trade war between the United States and China, only the United States and China will survive.”
However, Jeremić ended his talk on a note of optimism. “This is not the first time that we are in such situations.” Explaining that geopolitics reflect a long stream of ups and downs, he closed by saying “we are in a turndown of global enthusiasm and trust…[but] it does not always end in war.”