The trajectory of global alliances hinges significantly on US politics.

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The trajectory of global alliances hinges significantly on US politics. Whether taking the lead or acting as the primary force driving these alliances, the United States plays a pivotal role in shaping international relations. The influence exerted by the US extends to alliances strategically formed by antagonist nations, such as China and Russia, aimed at countering American dominance. Regional alliances emerge as pragmatic alternatives in response, presenting a nuanced perspective beyond the dichotomy of US-led or antagonist-driven alliances.





The recent history of the United States has been characterised by active engagement in resolving international conflicts, addressing the aftermath of crises, supporting allies, and fostering partnership formats of cooperation. The USA has extensively utilised foreign diplomacy as a tool to tackle global challenges. As a result, alliances involving the US often derive substantial benefits from their membership, with many seeking US leadership. This holds true for both institutionalised alliances, such as NATO, AUKUS, or the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and more flexible, semi-structured alliances, as well as ad-hoc coalitions. The multifaceted nature of these alliances reflects a strategic approach to leveraging collective strength in addressing global issues and reinforcing diplomatic ties.

Nonetheless, recent discussions surrounding US foreign policy, particularly heightened during the presidency of Donald Trump, have generated anxiety among US allies. Within the European Union (EU), the emergence of a neo-isolationist trend has sparked debates on the concept of strategic autonomy. While the notion lacks clear substance and faces both proponents and opponents, the mere existence of such discussions underscores the potential for transformations in Transatlantic unity. The ongoing discourse reflects a re-evaluation of partnerships, signalling a need for adaptability in the face of evolving geopolitical dynamics. For some European countries, the ongoing expansion of regional and transregional cooperation formats within the Indo-Pacific region, exemplified by initiatives like AUKUS, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and bilateral alliances with regional states, has taken on significance. These efforts are seen as instrumental in extending American influence and acting as a deterrent against the growing strength of China. The perception is that these developments indicate a continued Trans-Pacific pivot by the United States, raising concerns about the potential diversion of attention from the European theatre. Consequently, there is a growing recognition of the need for tailored solutions to address the evolving dynamics and ensure continued focus on European interests amid shifting geopolitical priorities.

Divergent perspectives on European strategic autonomy have motivated certain EU and NATO countries to contemplate the formation of informal groupings within existing alliances. A notable example is the Bucharest Nine, comprising Eastern Flank NATO countries. By fostering collaboration within NATO, these informal clusters provide member states a platform to address shared concerns and priorities. The evolution of such ad-hoc arrangements underscores the adaptability of alliances in response to the changing dynamics of global politics.

Simultaneously, antagonist countries have seized the opportunity to enhance their initiatives and alliances, exemplified by the recent expansion of BRICS. Originally established as a club of developing democracies without a defence alliance mandate, BRICS has undergone a narrative shift. The emphasis has evolved, positioning the member countries as an alternative to the West and Western-led alliances and blocs. This strategic repositioning highlights a deliberate effort to establish a distinct identity apart from traditional Western alliances, marking a noteworthy development in the global geopolitical landscape.

Amid these dynamics, non-aligned countries and those adopting balancing strategies between the US and China actively pursue a delicate equilibrium. These nations are increasingly invested in robust economic ties with China while simultaneously cultivating closer defence and security relationships with the United States. This nuanced approach reflects a pragmatic effort to navigate the evolving global landscape, leveraging economic opportunities from China while maintaining security and strategic interests through partnerships with the US.




In a positive scenario for Ukraine, the United States would remain a dominant power and linchpin of security alliances. Alliances such as NATO could potentially extend security guarantees beyond their borders and entertain the prospect of admitting new member states. European allies, while intensifying efforts to bolster their security capabilities, would see these endeavours as a supplement rather than an alternative to US contributions.

Coordinated policies regarding third parties would be a hallmark of Alliance members, allowing smaller groups within NATO to advocate for their specific needs on the agenda. Russia-driven initiatives may face further decline, while Beijing-led efforts to position China as a responsible global player would likely be constrained to the Global South or Southeast Asia, avoiding direct confrontation with the West.

Non-aligned countries like those in ASEAN might persist in their strategy of balancing and maintaining economic ties with China within global projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Global Development Initiative (GDI). However, they may refrain from unequivocal support for China’s Global Security Initiative (GSI). This multifaceted geopolitical landscape points towards a delicate balance, with various actors strategically positioning themselves in response to evolving global dynamics.



In a neutral scenario characterised by a potential weakening of the US commitments and a continued Trans-Pacific pivot, the focus on ad hoc coalitions could erode Transatlantic unity. Informal cooperation formats like the Rammstein format might persist but with reduced formalisation, leading to decreased efficiency. European NATO allies may grapple with the challenge of rapidly enhancing their security capabilities, potentially impacting the New Strategy for Defence Industries and giving rise to intra-EU divisions.

The issue of funding for the defence industry could have adverse social consequences, potentially leading to social unrest and providing opportunities for populist parties to gain traction. In this context, Central and Eastern European (CEE) and Baltic States may be particularly vulnerable, seeking to preserve ties with the US while forging their own cooperation efforts, albeit with potentially limited effectiveness.

In such circumstances, Russia might seize the opportunity to bolster its security ambitions, developing alternative security frameworks and alliances, especially among Western antagonists like North Korea and Iran. While not aligning directly with these countries, China could use the chance to position itself as an alternative responsible peacekeeper, particularly in the Middle East, and aim to maintain dominance in Southern and Eastern Asia. This geopolitical landscape may witness non-aligned countries in ASEAN maintaining a strategy of balancing economic ties with China through initiatives like the BR) and the GDI. However, they might refrain from unequivocal support for China’s Global Security Initiative.

Beijing’s growing assertiveness may prompt a latent arms race in the region, especially as it strengthens its frontiers to distance itself from traditional US allies. The escalating strategic tensions between China and key regional powers, including Japan, South Korea, and India, contribute to heightened instability in the Indo-Pacific region. As these nations navigate complex geopolitical dynamics, territorial disputes, and economic competition, the potential for regional instability increases. These tensions can manifest in various forms, such as military posturing, diplomatic friction, and economic competition, creating a challenging environment with broader implications for the geopolitical balance in the Indo-Pacific. This complex scenario underscores the importance of strategic decisions and potential ripple effects in a world where geopolitical shifts can have cascading consequences.



In a negative scenario marked by US neo-isolationism, the emphasis on ad hoc coalitions may erode Transatlantic unity, potentially challenging the validity of the North Atlantic Treaty. Countries that traditionally relied on the US security guarantees in both Europe and globally may find themselves searching for alternative formats of security cooperation. However, this quest for new alliances could be impeded by challenges and threats from US antagonists seeking to exploit the weakened state of NATO and American indifference to regain their influence.

European NATO allies, facing a security vacuum in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, might be tempted to fill the void. Central and Eastern European and Baltic States, particularly, could be vulnerable to Russian assertiveness, while South and East Asia might contend with increased security pressures from Beijing. The American withdrawal from global affairs may also create opportunities for Chinese actions, potentially manifesting in hybrid attacks on Taiwan.

In such circumstances, Russia and China might find a common cause, forming a club of anti-Western powers. China’s Global Development Initiative and Global Security Initiative may be imposed on non-aligned countries, such as those in ASEAN, as part of a broader strategy to reshape global influence dynamics in favour of China and its allies.



The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung or of the organization for which the author works.