Russia & China — drivers of anti-Western alternative order

The admission of Finland and Sweden’s applications for membership in NATO


Dr Muhammad Ali Ehsan August 07, 2022
The writer is associated with International Relations Department of DHA Suffa University, Karachi. He tweets @Dr M Ali Ehsan

As a neutral observer one may find many indicators pointing toward the predatory geopolitics of the American-led west which has done everything possible to raise the alarm bells of Russian insecurities. One clear example of this is the admission of Finland and Sweden’s applications for membership in NATO. Two countries that had stayed neutral for a very long time and who have now become part of NATO will create an opening at the Baltic Sea on the Russian western front to be patrolled by NATO ships. What this proves is that President Putin’s assessment of the provocative and predatory geopolitics being conducted by Americans and the European Union was not wrong. For the Pakistani readers, this scenario can be understood if we imagine how India had many functional consulates on our western border in Afghanistan and the Pakistani military had to be deployed to ward off the Indian attempts to support terrorist organisations and separatist movements from the western front.

An analogy to what has happened in Ukraine can be drawn from a historical geopolitical disruptive event in the past in which the US played a direct role and from which lessons can be drawn on what shape the Ukrainian crisis may take in the future. It is the North Korean invasion of South Korea and the American and western response to it. It is said that Stalin who was in power in 1950 encouraged Kim II Sung in Pyongyang and green-lighted this invasion of South Korea. As is the case with the Russian invasion of Ukraine today, the US with its western allies formed an international coalition with its western allies with the support of the UN Security Council. However, this was a military alliance and the UN’s support for it was only made possible because the Soviet Union had boycotted the UN Security Council and thus could not exercise its veto. What this collation force managed to do was not only to drive the North Koreans out of South Korea but also to drive them all the way to the Chinese border. This forced Mao Zedong and China’s People’s Liberation Army to launch a counter-offensive to make sure that the US-led coalition forces are driven away from the Chinese border with North Korea and back to the line that divided North and South Korea at the 38th Parallel.

Back to the present and the real concern of the world today is about the Chinese response to the Ukrainian conflict. What if the US again causes a Korean peninsula-type geopolitical disruption which this time again drags China into a Eurasian war? Will the world be prepared to deal with the resulting consequences?

It is easy to refer to President Putin’s action in Ukraine as Russian imperialism but what about the American military action in the Korean war? Was that not American imperialism? Why were the US and its ally’s military objectives extended and why another country was sucked in the war? Is a similar thing now not happening with Russia which is under western sanctions and being internationally isolated and China also being accused of covertly partnering with Russia in its military adventure? Is China once again being provoked by the US and its western allies? Why there was this dire need for US Speaker Nancy Pelosi to visit Taiwan during this ongoing crisis? Why would a superpower want to intimidate a country that has an official policy of retaining the right to forcibly unify its detached part with the mainland? History tells us that the geopolitical disruption that the extended American action caused in the Korean Peninsula didn’t help the US to achieve its strategic objectives other than pushing the North Koreans out of South Korea. The Korean Peninsula could not be united, China continues to remain a communist country and South Korea is still threatened and the US continues to maintain a huge military presence there.

Both Russia and China are showing signs of resisting not only the American power but the existing global order that fails to question states like the US and Israel when they break rules and violate international laws on which the foundations of this order rest. There is rising talk that an anti-western alternative order may replace this dual purpose and hypocritical western world order and the two countries that would lead the creation of such an order will be Russia and China. As the Americans follow their pivot Asia policy and the power competition also shifts to Asia-Pacific the call for the creation of such an order will grow louder and louder as both Russia and China stand together in opposing the US as a hegemon and as a geopolitical predator in this region.

Geopolitically, four events in the last few decades of the 20th Century have played a meaningful role in how the politics of the world will be shaped in the 21st Century. First was the period from 1989 to 1991 in which the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping embraced economic liberalisation and normalised relations with the US. The second important event was the arrival of political Islam through the Iranian revolution in Iran and the third was the US efforts to organise an Islamic resistance force against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The fourth event was the renewed Anglo-American partnership the foundation stone of which was laid by Margret Thatcher and Ronald Regan. This partnership created free markets as the vehicles of growth in the fast-globalising world. The basis of not including 9/11 as another geopolitical event that would also shape the politics of the world in the 21st Century is the theory that had the Americans not tried to create an Islamic resistance force against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan there would have been no 9/11.

The late 80s was the period that the American scholar Francis Fukuyama was telling the world that history has come to an end and seeing history as an evolutionary process in that sense he meant that liberal democracy is the final form of government for all the nations. The understanding and co-relation of this Fukuyama thesis with the four important events of the last few decades of the 20th Century are essential. Fukuyama was clearly telling the world that all other ideologies competed and contested with the ideology of liberal democracy had failed to defeat it. Liberal democracy had finally ended the evolutionary process of history and had become the final form of government. The Reagan-Thatcher partnership jumped on the back of Fukuyama’s theory and convinced that the ideological contest had finally been settled in the world started reshaping world politics by not promoting the idea of a state but the values and institutions within the state, the individual liberty that states practised, the room states provided to the voice of dissent, the rule of law they practised and their willingness to ride the open markets as the vehicles of economic change and prosperity. The Anglo-American, Thatcher-Reagan partnership was actually changing the ground rules on which the geopolitics of the world operated.

But Fukuyama’s prediction of the end of history was wrong as the three great civilisations of Russia, China and Iran reminded the world that the ideological contest was not yet over. Iran remains a thorn in the western world’s middle eastern politics and China despite not subscribing to the final form of the government grew annually by double digits in years following Francis Fukuyama’s theory on the end of history. Russia in its turn challenges the American-led order of western internationalism which harbours different ground rules for different states. So, if the idea of the world order of liberal internationalism was to integrate the world the seeds of disintegration of it were already sown by Americans themselves when they created the circumstances of the Iranian revolution and emboldened Islamism as the new ideology when they favoured its creation to contest Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. What the US and the western world need to realise is that these three great civilisations don’t necessarily share the western values or the international institutions that promote these values.

Which part of the world is Pakistan? If William Shakespeare was an International Relations scholar he may have written, ‘ Some nations are born with a great foreign policy, some achieve it and some have foreign policy thrust upon them.’ The choice is ours which category of the nation do we want to join?

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2022.

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