Can the Geopolitical Order be Saved?

Unless the world’s leaders can focus on the need for a stabilized international order, the churn toward more and more destructive behavior is destined to continue

By Anil Madan

The Geopolitical Order is creaking and showing signs of fracture. That may be the understatement of the year, indeed of the last ten years. Certainly, even as the US has withdrawn forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia’s engagement in Syria, and its violations of the sovereignty of Georgia and Crimea, China’s ever-burgeoning hostilities and threats towards Taiwan and India, and its hostile economic and military threats in the Pacific against Australia, the Philippines and Vietnam, Iran’s unstoppable move to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, and North Korea’s belligerence about its nuclear program and ongoing missile development suggest that using the word “order” when referring to today’s world is simply out of order.

Is there any hope that cooperation among the world’s nations, particularly the nuclear superpowers and those engaged in military skirmishes and wars can be wrought? Is it possible that sanity and reason might rescue us from the mess that has been created?

Whereas pointing fingers and assigning blame is generally not productive, one must understand where the fault lies, not necessarily to castigate one nation or another, but to sharpen our focus on where behavior needs to be changed. Even if we can intelligently discern and assess who is responsible, we still have the problem that there is really no enforcement mechanism to bring nations around other than enlightened self-interest and the understanding that barring change, the world is hopelessly careening into unredeemable chaos.

America’s China policy: An abject failure

Let me start with President Richard Nixon’s overture to establish relations with the People’s Republic as the sole legitimate representative of the nation we all accept as China. Until then, Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang had claimed China’s seat at the UN and in the Security Council. It has often been written that the imperative to recognize the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) included at least the practical reality that one could not ignore a nation of 800 million people for long. And, of course, the lure of exploiting the potential that a market of 800 million people left capitalists salivating. As President Nixon then said: “Taking the long view, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside of the family of nations…The world cannot be safe until China changes. Thus, our aim – to the extent we can, we must influence events. Our goal should be to induce change.”

American policy began with an abject failure. Instead of insisting that Taiwan should be admitted immediately to UN membership as an independent nation, America fumbled and crumbled into the fiction that there was only one China and somehow, Taiwan was not independent. To be fair, the Taiwanese themselves preached the mantra that they were the legitimate representatives of China, never mind that the rest of the world had laid that claim to rest.

The next US gaffe was when China was admitted to membership in the WTO. The US and its allies seem to have taken it for granted that China would somehow agree to comport its business practices with the norms and rules accepted by the “civilized world.” China had other ideas. And we have seen how American manufacturing found its way to China. To be fair, China invested hundreds of millions of dollars in building facilities and training of its work force to make this happen, but America’s corporate executives were blind to their own eventual loss of control over their supply chains.

Let us look at China. There has been little question of late that China’s GDP will exceed that of the US soon enough. The sheer size of its population and the inroads it has made in global manufacturing and trade have given China enormous leverage as its balance of payments turned positive and has remained so for decades. There is no end in sight.

Yet, China seems hell bent on maintaining an aggressive take-no-prisoners attitude with its unyielding domestic policies in Tibet, Hong Kong, against the Uyghurs, indeed against its own people writ large, and its unyielding push to control the South China Sea. One wonders what the hurry is since China will get there in due course without much effort.

But China is not content. Its conflict with India continues apace as its recent release of a map claiming Indian territory as its own is an unnecessary provocation. China doesn’t seem to care much about provocation because its map also claims a part of Russia’s territory notwithstanding the seeming rapprochement between President Xi and President Putin that has been well publicized. 

After an early stumble when US Secretary of State Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan started an early Biden administration meeting with China with an aggressive and belligerent posture quickly rebuffed by China, the US now seems to be working towards a better working relationship with its major adversary. Visits to China by Treasury Secretary Yellen, Secretary of State Blinken, Secretary of Defense Austin, and Commerce Secretary Raimondo, reflect an attempt on the part of the US to defuse tensions.

Is China reciprocating? Only in the sense that it has agreed to resume talks on addressing climate change with the US. China remains noncommittal about maintaining open communications with the US on avoiding military misunderstandings. Its encroachment on India’s and Russia’s territory is an object lesson.

China’s President Xi was notably absent from the G20 meeting in India and notably absent from the UN General Assembly meeting. These absences may just as easily reflect a disdain for the world order as the pressures of a faltering economy making President Xi vulnerable to a coup in his homeland.

Is there any hope?

Turkiye’s President Erdogan seems more intent on gaining brownie points for getting a grain export deal going than on ending the Ukraine war. The world stands by as that carnage continues. To be sure, the US and European nations continue to support Ukraine, but as I wrote many moons ago, in the long run, a war of attrition will decimate Ukraine’s valiant people.

Meanwhile Iran redoubles its repressive policies and appears headed to developing nuclear weapons despite the denials of its Ayatollahs. Just today, its President Ebrahim Raisi, on the heels of a prisoner swap plus $6 billion, promised vengeance for the killing of General Qasem Suleimani. Iran’s repression at home continues apace.

North Korea’s President Kim Jong Nuke engages with Russia’s Vladimir Putin in the hopes of exchanging arms for missile technology. The Korean peninsula and Japan remain under constant threat from an unpredictable and seemingly irrational dictator armed with nuclear weapons and missiles capable of delivering them.

India’s presidency of the G20 gave way to Brazil’s. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva may well have a point when he says that the world’s workings are outdated but he is delusional in thinking that Brazil is the new leader of the Global South. Indian PM Modi’s claim to that mantle seems to have dissipated with the end of the G20 summit in India.

Is there any hope? The UN has proved to be unworkable. The Security Council with veto power in the hands of each Permanent Member is a farce. The General Assembly is powerless even if it could pass a resolution without a veto. More resolutions have been ignored when nations have found it convenient to ignore them.

The G20 may promise the beginning of a replacement for the UN. It’s 18 or 19 members — yes, really, the Group of 20 was not quite that—went from somewhat more than 20 when all the EU countries were counted to somewhat more than the G75 with the admission of the African Union comprising 55 African states.

The world is in a mess. The US, China, and Russia cannot agree on a common agenda. Other nations pay no heed to any semblance of civilized rules of conduct, each doing whatever it perceives to be in its own best interests.

Wars and coups in Africa, Asia, Latin America, seem to be the norm.

As one looks around the world, there is no one leader that can speak to the people of all nations with inspiration.

The closest we come is the routine lamentations of the Pope about the need for peace which are generally ignored by Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Then there are the plaintive warnings of UN Secretary General António Guterres, a well-meaning soul who sits atop an ineffective and mostly useless organization.

There does not seem to be much hope. Unless the world’s leaders can focus on the need for a stabilized international order, the churn toward more and more destructive behavior is destined to continue.

On a positive note, there is the prospect of a Saudi-Israel handshake. If those two countries can transcend ancient hatreds and hostilities, perhaps the rest of the world can too. Let us hope.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 22 September 2023

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