Rise of authoritarian regimes carries global geopolitical implications By Claude Salhani If you worry about global warming there is a much greater threat looming out there threatening the stability of the planet with destructive powers far greater and more immediate than climate change. This new threat can be called “global geopolitical warming.” Of the five countries possessing nuclear-strike capabilities, two — Russia and China — are ruled by authoritarian leaders who have consolidated the decision-making processes in nearly all aspects of daily life. Not since Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong has a single person held so much power in Russia and China as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping do today. The world’s leading nuclear power, the United States, is “slouching towards an autocracy,” said E.J. Dionne, a columnist with the Washington Post, professor of government at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Can the United States become authoritarian like Russia and China? With Donald Trump in the White House, it is not beyond the realm of probabilities. Trump has shown disdain towards a free press, using a label favoured by Stalin to depict those he disagreed with: “Enemy of the people.” Dionne quoted Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, who addressed that topic in a new book, “How Democracies Die.” They ask: “How do elected authoritarians shatter the democratic institutions that are supposed to constrain them? Some do it in one fell swoop but more often the assault on democracy begins slowly… The erosion of democracy takes place piecemeal, often in baby steps. “One of the most important chasms involves the question of whether President Trump poses a threat to the United States’ constitutional foundations.” Many say Trump is merely a “loud-mouthed demagogue”; others see an “autocrat in the making, willing to strike at the underpinnings of republican government,” Dionne wrote in the Washington Post. Why do we need to worry about the thermonuclear war now more than before? During the Cold War, we came very close to deploying nuclear weapons but common sense prevailed and the worst was averted. In the post-Cold War era, we are facing a new threat that could endanger the entire planet. We are entering a new phase in geopolitics that is bringing about much change in established systems. Change can be either positive or negative. In this case, the changes are upsetting the established world order. It’s not always easy to recognise that we are living an important moment in history. This is a crucial time with shifting alliances and a race for the top position in the political world. The stakes are high. “We have entered an era of power-hungry, reckless and delusional leaders. Yes, President Trump is one of them — but he is part of a global cast and probably not its most dangerous member,” wrote Jackson Diehl, deputy editorial page editor of the Washington Post. Diehl is no novice in international politics. He is a seasoned political analyst, and he is not alone in thinking Trump represents a danger to democracy. And Trump is not the only one endangering democracy. Beyond first-tier autocrats such as Putin and Xi, there is a second-tier lineup of far less powerful men but with no smaller egos. Here you can mention Turkey’s sultan-like president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who no doubt would love to add the title “for life” to that of president. Erdogan’s flirtation with Russia sets dangerous precedents for NATO. Throughout the Cold War, NATO kept Turkey safe from Soviet expansionist designs but with Moscow replacing Washington as the principal influencer in Syria after the United States for all intents and purposes bowed out of the Syria debate, leaving it up to Moscow and Tehran to jump in. China has practically taken over the entire South China Sea, where it has built a series of small islands, in effect garrisons, military outposts where it has deployed men and equipment, giving a new meaning to gunboat diplomacy. China is reported to be developing long-range bombers that can reach targets in North America. Russia continues its cyber-attacks against the West targeting electoral systems and Iran attempts to export its Islamic revolution along with terrorism. And, finally, Washington, which despite its, at times, unorthodox foreign policies, offered a certain sense of safety and security. In times of darkness people in oppressed countries looked up to the United States for guidance. With an autocrat in the White House who chose to rip families apart at the country’s borders, who is impressed by ruthless dictators, the standing the United States once commanded is lost.