The nature of liberal international order and the basis of its existence is under threat. The specific conditions of 21st century demand that the existing international order may be reviewed so that it continues to give what it was built to deliver: resolve all the differences between the nations and states without fighting any war. This was to be achieved within the US led and constructed strategic global environment of liberal internationalism. But today’s liberal internationalism no more looks liberal, the unwillingness to respect the rule of law and the naked violation of international rules and laws by some states is gradually biting away any achievable standards of welfare and progress that the world had laid down to achieve. The glaring and the most recent example of this violation is what Israel has recently done in Gaza.
Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinian lands, its control over Jerusalem and pronouncement that the whole Jerusalem is its capital, its continued illegal constructions and its expansion in West Bank and East Jerusalem have so far made little or no difference to the world led by an order of liberal internationalism. Israel’s unproportioned military response and its bombing of the Palestinian civilian areas resultantly killing innocent women and children clearly reflect that the powerful and influential states consider that no matter how many human lives are lost due to their disorderly conduct, the promoters and sustainers of the order of liberal internationalism will not hold them responsible and accountable.
The greatest power in the world vetoed in UNSC the recent greatest human rights violations and human tragedy that involved the loss of innocent lives of women and children. Thus, sitting in its headquarters in New York all members of UNSC and UN General Assembly witnessed the erosion from the principle of internationalism the usefulness and utility of international institutions for cooperation, interconnectedness and interdependence and to resolve the differences between the states without fighting any war. Facilitating aggressor and vetoing the attempts to halt any form of aggression was not the mandate the achievement for which the order was built in the first place. The UN failed and with it has once again failed liberal internationalism as the world order to punish and prevent states that violate its rules.
Orchestrating the order is the responsibility of US as it has been now been leading a unipolar world for over two decades. The aura of its power can be measured from the great assumption that its successive secretaries of states have been repeatedly making. The assumption is that all spheres of influences have collapsed into one great sphere of influence — the American sphere of influence. Condoleezza Rice stated that “great powers are not defined by sphere of influences”, Hillary Clinton said the “US does not recognize sphere of influence” and John Kerry stated that the “era of Monroe Doctrine is over”. These assumptions by the US secretaries of state were made when the US was leading the world under the global environment of unipolarity but that has changed in the recent years with the emergence of resurgent and revisionist powers such as China and Russia. What about their sphere of influence and their challenge to the failing order of liberal internationalism?
Unipolarity no more exists and the great assumption that all spheres of influences have collapsed into one great sphere of influence — American — may no longer be true. Traditionally, all great powers, whether US, Russia or China, demand deference (submission and respect) from the lesser powers that are in their adjacent areas and under the geographical space of their influence. The core concepts of building alliances, creating balance of power, and extending and expanding the spheres of influences are no more one-dimensional prerogative of the US leading a unipolar world. Russia and China are utilising the same concepts to create their political, economic and military dominance and achieving their geopolitical ambitions.
Suffering from moral and ethical drain, liberal internationalism as a world order is setting no high standards. When its principles are violated by the US and its partner Israel in the Middle East then there is no reason why China and Russia can’t do the same in their spheres of influence. How can the US and the western world object to what China and Russia do in their neighborhoods if their own backyards are dirty? Whether it be Crimea, Ukraine, Xinjiang, South China Sea or Taiwan as long as West and America supports Israel’s unjust actions, they cannot point to similar actions being undertaken by the revisionist powers in their areas of influences. That’s why this order of selective and unjust liberal internationalism is fast crumbling.
The shame is not in witnessing the collapse of the order in the selected spheres of influences of powers but the greater shame is now the loss of credibility of the brokers and sponsors of peace and the absence of a credible and just power to reverse and turn the tide of erosion of this order. Due to the loss of America’s international credibility and its gradual decline as a power, the era of Pax Americana seems to be heading to an end but unless the world can decide and agree on implementation of a just order which can end the ongoing conflicts with peace, we may have an era of Pax China or Pax Russia but those may even be worse than the American era that gave us little result.
It is only the great powers that have historically enjoyed absolute sovereignty — the sovereignty claims of lesser powers have always been questionable and false. If hegemony is defined as the political, economic or military dominance and control of one state over the other, all hegemons are at work in creating greater inequalities and illiberalism in their specific spheres of influences. What good is an order in the world that backs hegemons and treats with disdain lesser powers and weak states?
The jewel in the crown of the current liberal international order is democracy. It is assumed that spread of democracy and its twin principles of liberty and equality will liberalise the world. But unless the world recognises that liberty and equality is not something that the majority can grant to the minority or powerful to strong but something that is based on mutual interests, we will continue to have unresolved conflicts like Palestine and Kashmir, an unjust world and a disorderly world order that we call liberal internationalism.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2021.