What can be done to revive the disintegrating international order?

May 24, 2022

The theme for the final session of the 2022 Tokyo Conference dealt with how to revive the decaying international order.

Unfortunate that world has not responded with one voice against unilateral actions. Multilateralism is being undermined.

Sunjoy Joshi is Chairman of India's Observer Research Foundation, and he began the third session by commenting on the intensifying situation in Ukraine.

"As far as India is concerned, we are alarmed, we are shocked at what has happened to with the state of the international order. We believe that we need to get it back on track."

Joshi had been asked earlier in the conference why India is "not standing with everyone else" and is instead abstaining. He explained, "India has not voted for Russia. India's stand is very clear. It is tempered by interests; that is correct. But that is not the main point. We are part of Asia, and that really underlines why we need to take the stand which we have taken. It has been extremely critical of the violation of borders and international law, and it does not support Russia in this at all. It does not support any country that tries to do that. Abstention itself is a strong statement against a partner with which it has had a relationship."

He also offered an even more critical perspective of how Russia's actions are affecting Ukraine.

"We find Ukraine in the midst of a very uncertain equilibrium of war, which threatens to spiral out of control. And that is dangerous. Some are saying that Russia has its hand on the nuclear button. There are some who would argue that Russia is holding back from using all its might on Ukraine. Others would emphasize that the Russian army has been challenged by the resistance (it has faced.) I think both are true. I can only hope that all sides realize that they are locked in a situation where they are going to be no winners. Even if Russia were to militarily conquer Ukraine, holding Ukraine and controlling the resulting insurgency is going to be impossible. The sheer distrust and hatred engendered by a unilateral invasion like this is something that lasts a few generations," he explained.

Regarding the state of the international community, he also hinted that previous responses to such unilateral military actions may be part of the reason it has not been effective in the case of the war in Ukraine.

"Unilateralism begets unilateralism. The attack on Ukraine is a consequence of the repeated failure of the global community to rise up in one voice against such actions in the past. A rules-based order cannot survive unless that order it truly universal," he said. "The only response we have seen has been economic sanctions, which I believe are an extremely blunt and ineffective policy tool in the face of actions like this. Sanctions work in a globalized world based on trade. The more the world gets fragmented and deglobalizes, the less effective sanctions are."

Joshi explained that the way forward may pass through a temporary period of chaos.

"At the moment, the path to a new world order does seem to lie through a new world disorder marked by increasing fragmentation. We are seeing the fragmentation of politics, the fragmentation of trade, fragmentation of data...and this is an extremely worrying sign. The fallout of Ukraine is probably going to see a greater emphasis on regional security architectures. It is good that Europe has committed itself to spending more and assuming greater agency. That is important. That is a message that goes across to countries, whether it is Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan," he said.

In conclusion, Joshi pointed out that the rest of the Indo-Pacific will also be taking this message to heart.

"India has always been strong in underlining its resolve that the QUAD is not, as far as India is concerned, a security architecture. We do not want a security architecture like NATO. Countries will have to take greater agency in this world in safe-guarding their own security and safe-guarding their own interests, and ultimately, we need to find a way to get back to countries having conversations with each other. Diplomacy has to come back."

India's policy, according to Joshi, is that it is willing to "step in and do everything to get that structure back on its legs."

As security threats rise and global cooperation becomes more difficult, more attention needs to be directed towards realistic, self-sustaining security strategies as well as US/Europe and G7 collaborations

Ettore Greco, Executive Vice President of Italy's Institute of International Affairs, began with a comment on the Russia-China partnership.

"I also doubt that China can offer Russia the economic and financial lifeline that it is looking for. China seems anxious to limit collateral damage to Chinese interests, and lacks the technological capacity to substitute for the West. The most effective way for China to help Russia would be to invest heavily in Russia, and this would imply a heavy cost that China would probably be reluctant to sustain."

He continued by pointing out that it was previously thought that economic relations make up a major part of the international environment, but suggested that security issues may take precedence in the coming future.

"And the Western countries should be ready to renounce some economic benefits to safeguard their security," Greco said.

Greco pointed out that among the issues facing Europe are the need for each member country to strengthen its own defensive capabilities while engaging in more effective intra-European defense integration. Another issue arises from how those in power in the US are now looking at the relationship with Europe.

"The second question is the solidity of the US domestic consensus surrounding renewed trans-Atlantic commitments, given the past reservations which manifested themselves, especially during the Trump administration, and the persistent political polarization on the domestic scene," he said.

"Looking beyond NATO," he continued. "It has also become fairly clear that the Community of Democracies project promoted by President Biden has structural limitations when it comes to addressing crises with such huge political and economic implications."

Finally, Greco noted that geopolitical tensions are likely to make it increasingly difficult to cooperation with Russia and China to protect global commons and global issues.

"The negative impact on the prospect of advancing the G20 agenda will be considerable," he concluded. "Russia and China have taken a pronouncedly less cooperative attitude within the G20, and they now fear that the G20 can be used to promote specific Western interests. The risk is that the deepening geopolitical and technological rivalries can prevent agreements to establish common rules, regulatory frameworks in crucial areas such as outer space, cybersecurity, and others."

Reform of the international order is just as important as its regeneration

Hans Kundnani is Director of the Europe Programme at Chatham House in the UK, and he began by offering another perspective on the future of the international order.

"In a sense," Kundnani began. "If we do want to revive the disintegrating international order, we have to think not only about defending it but also about reforming it. I think that's an equally important part of restoring order ? to think about some of the mistakes that we have made, by which I mean the West in the last 30-40 since the Cold War ended. I think what China and Russia are doing is exposing some of the problems with the international order that we actually created."

Kundnani pointed out that there is a tendency to look at the rules-based liberal international order as a monolithic entity that emerged in 1945 and then remained intact until recently.

"The reality is much more complicated," he said. "First, the order evolved over time."

He reminded attendees that NATO's military attacks during the Kosovo War were conducted without a mandate from the UN Security Council, and therefore it, "broke the rules."

Kundnani described how the West defended its actions by calling the events in Kosovo a genocide, which, for NATO, made intervention more important than following international rules.

"One can argue about whether that was the right thing to do or not, but we set a precedent there by violating the sovereignty of Serbia," he said. "After Kosovo, it became difficult to say that NATO is a purely defensive alliance."

"This is connected to the human rights order," he continued. "We did a whole series of things related to human rights that undermined the qualified nature of sovereignty which had been central to the international order up to that point. Particularly things like the International Criminal Court, the concept of (having the) responsibility to protect, humanitarian intervention, this was undermining the principle of sovereignty."

In conclusion, Kundnani returned to his initial point.

"As we think about how we revive the disintegrating order, we have to think about some of those mistakes we've made. We have a choice between what kind of order we want. Is it to go back to the Cold War order where state sovereignty is absolute, or do we want to continue with this more liberal order, which I think actually does create instability, even if there are other reasons for doing it."

West can isolate Russia by bringing China and India into stronger global governance

Rohinton P. Medhora, President of Canada's Centre for International Governance Innovation spoke next.

"Russia's miscalculation, epic as it might be, might be the result of what Russia has done in the past," Medhora began. "The tactics we now decry were test-driven in other parts of the world. Oligarchs: after Russia, Ukraine must be the country that is at least as corrupt. The whole Russian political economy that we now worry about is the result of a flawed liberalization that goes back to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the split of the Soviet Union."

Medhora offered a suggestion that he felt might be better tailored to the current reality of Russia.

"What if I said to that rather than freeze accounts, we had more concrete governance around money laundering. Maybe that's the way forward, so that we wouldn't have this kind of situation in which we welcome dirty money in our real estate markets and in our financial systems in the first place. This is not a Russian oligarch problem. Time and again, leaks like the Panama papers have shown that corruption in many countries is something that breeds on itself."

Medhora said that he would apply the same logic to energy, cybersecurity, and digital platform governance.

"Data governance...is a global governance challenge and we're only going to get information and misinformation through that mechanism rather than doing tit-for-tat."

In reconsidering how the global governance system will work, he noted that eyes should be on the example of China, before noting that that the Russian and Chinese economic systems cannot be compared.

"The Chinese development model...is actually for real. China has pulled out more people from poverty in less time than any other country in history," he said. "Many developing countries see that. They did not see that in the model of the former Soviet Union and they certainly don't see it in current Russia. It is a mistake to compare Russia and China, and therefore Ukraine and Taiwan. I see some similarities, but I think the underlying issues are much different, and you are dealing with a completely different set of historic and economic issues. China is more constructively plugged into the global system than Russia, and so if you want to create a new international order, I do think that China is a lynchpin in the sense that if we could tweak some of the processes of globalization...I don't think we'll see the kind of fractionalization we are seeing at present."

Medhora explained that without this sort of effort, countries like China and India may fall into the Russian camp, when few desire such a result.

"Russia would be a lot more isolated if global governance processes moved in the right direction, and I think G20 and other fora should get us there. Perhaps not fast enough, but I do not see any other way around," Medhora concluded.

The world will become more instable regardless of whether Putin wins or loses. The current China-Russia alliance is short-term; restraint needed to achieve stability

Carlos Ivan Simonsen Leal, President of the Getulio Vergas Foundation in Brazil, described how the war in Ukraine could affect the global order and asked what can be done post-war.

"Suppose that Putin wins, then the world will be unstable. Suppose that Putin loses, then possibly he will fall and we will have an unstable world then," he said. "Suppose the war lasts for a long time, then we will have instability, too. I think we are very much afraid of a nuclear outcome...but if there is no nuclear outcome, what can we do to ensure a path to recover stability?"

Leal explained that China may not be interested in restoring stability.

"China has the Taiwan problem (and it is) related to One Belt, One Road. Without Taiwan, China doesn't control the South China Sea; without the South China Sea, the One Belt, One Road (initiative) isn't complete. As long as the US has a foothold there, they don't have a complete One Belt, One Road."

While China can be patient in achieving its objectives, Leal feels that Russia does not have the same leeway, as, "Russian GDP and demographics are dropping." The alliance between Russia and China may also end up being only a short-term alliance, as Russia would have to accept its role as a minor player in such a partnership.

"Containment has to be restored," Leal continued. "But not only does the West have to contain Russia and China, it also has to contain itself. It cannot be pushed into decisions that it cannot make. This is the time for restraint. No one wants a nuclear war in Europe. That would escalate very easily into a global nuclear war."

Leal mentioned China's issues in bringing Hong Kong within the mainland political framework, before implying how those difficulties would be magnified for Russia in Ukraine.

"Imagine what would happen to Russia if they were successful. They would be absorbing 40 million Ukrainians that had been living under democratic rule for 30 years. The Ukrainians are showing that they love their democracy. They are dying for it. Imagine a population of 140 million people absorbing 40 million that think different. It's not only the instability of war. It is not a one-step game. It is several steps."

The current problem lies not in the expansion of NATO, but in territorial integrity and how to ensure the survival of a democratic government

Greco was asked to take the mic again and began by responding to some of the points raised by Hans Kundnani. He began by expressing his agreement that NATO and the Western countries have made many mistakes.

"After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, we appeared to be aware that Russia should not be humiliated. There was a need to give Russia a say in security affairs in Europe, leading to the establishment of the (NATO-Russia Council) and also Russia's inclusion in the G7/G8. At the same time, the way other countries were integrated was ill-conceived, especially after one decision taken at the Bucharest Summit under the Bush administration, and the way in which the open-door policy was pursued. Second, the eastern expansion...was also pursued without considering some implications. A more balanced approach would have been more effective."

However, he insisted that the issue now at hand is not the enlargement of NATO.

"The problem at the moment is the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the survival of its democratic government."

Greco stated that the post-Cold War order had a number of issues, the largest of which was the fall of the Soviet Union.

"We had to manage this fall and its implications, and we were not doing that skillfully," he said. "Now we have a revisionist power (in Russia), and we have the problem of containing (it). Then we have the rise of China. We should have taken into account the need to adjust for that situation."

Greco agreed with the need for some containment, but pointed out that concessions are also necessary if the desire is to find balance in the global order.

New rules are not needed; current rules simply need to be enforced equally

Lawrence Anderson is Senior Fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, and he noted that there are several clear differences in position that aggravate the issues currently being faced.

"The rules and regulation were made at the end of the Second World War, and therefore it was very much a Western-oriented thing. But after decolonization and especially in the post-Cold War period, we had a proliferation of states. There are now about 193 countries in the UN, and there wasn't even half that amount in 1945. I think one critical issue is that the West is mistaken in how they think that the entire world shares the same values that we do. They think that there are universal values, and they are defined by the Western liberal countries. Clearly now, when you have so many countries coming to the fore with different experiences, different cultures, different ways of seeing things, there are other voices that wish to be heard."

Anderson believes that assumptions inherent to the very concept of "universal values" result in confrontation with any country that does not subscribe to them, but a different approach may make it easier to find a new path.

"Discussion, dialogue, is the way to move forward. This is very important because you have many voices to take into account. In this sense, we should realize that it is not a question of totally re-writing the rule book. We have a rule-book that is tried and trusted and very good to follow. The problem is that (the West doesn't) follow it," Anderson stressed.

"Rules and regulations are there," he emphasized. "If you need to change certain things, it should be inclusive. They should be changed if necessary through peaceful means. The assumption is that we are all different creatures. We subscribe to certain values, yes, but do not assume that everybody thinks the same way."

As moderator, Genron NPO President Yasushi Kudo turned to James M. Lindsay, Senior Vice President of the Council on Foreign Relations of the US, for his opinion on what lies in store for the future of the global order.

Turning point on the road to the birth of a new order; the West's response to Russia's decisions, and the decisions of the US, China, and other major powers, will determine what form that order takes

"The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a potential hinge point in history," Lindsay stated. "We're on the cusp of potentially a new order. What that order is going to look like has yet to be determined. It is going to be determined by the choices that major powers make."

Lindsay agreed with the point made by Medhora about China's stake in the existing order and said, "While it is not entirely happy with the existing economic order, it seems to have always had a preference for stability. But the Chinese have made the decision to side with the Russians, and that has created an instability. Will China continue down that road, in which it continues its strategic partnership without limits with Russia? If that happens, it is going to be very difficult to find a way to patch the existing order back up."

He mentioned that the choices made by the US will have a similarly powerful influence on the future of the order, and stated that the (March 12) meeting between US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan with the high-ranking Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in Rome shows that the Biden administration is trying to persuade China to avoid following Russia's example. He then returning to his initial comments from earlier in the day.

"There's a lot of talk about how remarkable it is that (the Western) countries have come together, and are working shoulder-to-shoulder in a consensus-based fashion. But the fact that you are unified at the start of a crisis does not mean that you will be unified...years down the road. Again, I think this is a pivot point in world history, and where we go is going to be decided by the choices that the leaders of key countries make."

 Kudo asked Lindsay to expand on whether or not the US and China are moving towards strategic stability.

US choices are not limited to either "realistic" or "idealistic" approaches, but to what Biden administration wants to achieve

"The Biden administration understands that China is a great power, that it has considerable influence over the evolution of the world order," Lindsay answered. "However, the United States also believes that it needs to contest certain choices that the Chinese government wishes to make. It has many like-minded countries in Asia, but not only in Asia, who share that point of view. And the Biden administration is hoping to present a united front, while also looking for ways to offer China some of what it wants."

Lindsay pointed out that the choices made by China will play a role in how the US responds, however.

"If the Chinese government sticks on the path it is currently on, in which it is going to back Vladimir Putin's war in Ukraine, then I think it is going to be very hard to find common ground between Washington and Beijing. I think it is going to be very hard to find ways to reform the existing order because lines will be drawn in the sand. There are certain principles that, for the United States, are non-negotiable. At some point, you have to stop, choose, and make a stand. I think we are in one such moment. My hope is that we will have smart diplomacy, and we will be able to keep this all contained, but again, this is also a very risky moment. It's a very dangerous time."

Kundnani addressed Lindsay's comments when he stated that he sees the US as being pulled in two different directions.

"There is a choice, but I wonder if it's becoming starker than it was before. (It is) between a realist US policy approach in support of a realist order, which would prioritize stability, and an idealist or liberal approach that would deprioritize stability in a way and prioritize values or ideology. My question is whether the US will try to balance these two tendencies? Will the US be forced to choose here, or am I mis-reading that?" Kundnani asked.

"I don't like the terms realism and idealism. I don't think they're very helpful for any of this. The reality is that in life you often have tradeoffs. You're going to have make choices," Lindsay responded. "There are obviously a number of problems in the economic realm where a Biden administration might have been able to work with like-minded allies to do some very smart things. Instead they have tangled themselves up in a slogan called, 'Foreign policy for the middle class.' I have no idea what it means, but in essence, there has just been more drift rather than bold action that would diminish differences and irritations with other countries and would also serve America's interests."

He concluded by noting that the democratic nature of the US has an enormous influence on how policy changes there.

"You have elections, leaders change. Different leaders will make very different choices. If you were to see Donald Trump return to the Oval Office in January of 2025, you're going to go down a very different path of history."

Zhou Bo is a Senior Fellow at Tsinghua University's Center for International Security and Strategy in China, and offered a Chinese perspective on the discussion of strategic stability between China and the US.

"Strategic stability, narrowly speaking, means the balance of nuclear weapons. Broadly speaking, it means how to avoid an arms race. So if we talk about the balance of nuclear weapons, China nuclear weapons cannot balance that of the United States. So the only way out is to drastically increase its (nuclear arsenal) or for the United States to reduce its nuclear weapon (numbers) to the level of China."

Zhou described both of these options as unfeasible, but offered a third.

"I think a very realistic way out is to talk about 'no first use of nuclear weapons.' Especially since Mr. Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons. Now we can talk about no first use of nuclear weapons."

Zhou noted that this potential policy resembles the Biden administration's standpoint that nuclear weapons should be primarily used as deterrence.

"The only worry is (about what the US' allies will think.) Its allies are afraid that the United States will give up its nuclear weapons, but why should (its) allies worry? An attack on one ally is an attack on all countries," he stated, before noting that even in the case of North Korea, the policy still can be applied.

"The North Korean nuclear arsenal is not very big. So if the DPRK used nuclear weapons, that's committing suicide."

Diversity needed for the future order, but the issue now is the crumbling foundation of the current one. Solutions will serve as a bridge to the discussions at next year's Tokyo Conference

Kudo brought the session to a close by expressing his concerns for what he described as the "collapsing foundations of the international order."

"The discussion about achieving coexistence within the international order will likely be based upon inclusive diversity rather than the imposition of Western values, but the issue at hand is the fact that the very foundation needed to achieve co-existence is collapsing," Kudo said. "My hope is that the international community can reaffirm the fundamental basis upon which coexistence is built ? that unilateral assault on sovereignty and territoriality will not be permitted, and that conflicts will be resolved through peaceful means. An understanding of this can be used as a bridge to our discussions for next year's Tokyo Conference, and I hope that we can depend on all of your support as we work to achieve this."

With that, Kudo brought Tokyo Conference 2022 to a close.


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