Re-thinking peace in the new world order

February 2, 2018
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Many observers had difficulty believing their own eyes when they read The Economist’s special report in the January 27 issue stating that “conflict on a scale and intensity not seen since the Second World War is once again plausible”. It is surprising that one of the most prestigious magazines in the world, which usually produces accurate analyses with carefully measured words, decides all of a sudden to add its authoritative voice to a croaking chorus engaged in a self-defeating witch hunt having as main targets, although on different grounds, China and Russia.

Cui prodest, would have said the Romans? Certainly not the common interest of keeping the peace or advancing human progress—and, still less, the interests of the West, increasingly beset by a number of intractable problems at the origin of a perilous process of political decay.

Populist parties and the far-right

What now is really at stake is first and foremost the survival of the very model of a liberal democracy. The striking inequality, for instance, is a major threat to the Western form of government. In Western Europe the top 1 percent captured as much as the bottom 51 percent while in North America the gap is even deeper, with the top 1 percent capturing as much as 88 percent.

Problems most often are manifold. Many countries in Europe are in the grip of a new nationalism. In Poland, Hungary, Austria, and the Czech Republic, far-right parties have taken power. The prospect of reversing that tide seems unrealistic, at least in the foreseeable future. In addition, where nationalism is rising it sometimes results in self-declared nations demanding the right to determine their future: Catalonia in Spain, Scotland in Great Britain, and who knows where the list may end up. The Veneto, in Italy, and Corsica, in France, could be next in line.

The possibility of this development is linked to the fact that very often nationalism is a lurch  caused by the growth of populist and reactionary far-right parties. Alternative for Germany (AfD), the Northern League in Italy, and the National Front in France are all examples of a phenomenon on the rise. In Europe, a viable political solution to stem the threat of a populist tide is not yet discernible. But probably the nationalist turn appears even more remarkable in the US, where it may enjoy the practical endorsement of President Donald Trump.

Russia and China on the international cheeboard

Let us not forget that the Soviet Union was not defeated by America’s military technology edge, or hard power, but rather by Western superiority as a model of social and economic development, able to better meet the requirements of a free society. This must remain the real “weapon” of the West. It was the lack of a prospect of progress in welfare that detonated the implosion of the Soviet regime.

On the other hand, neither China nor Russia appear to be aiming to conquer new foreign territory by the Army; there is no indication of a desire on their part to pursue national interests by brute force. Even the North Korean issue may still be contained and restrained by financial and commercial arm-twisting with active Russian and Chinese backing. China, certainly a rising power, may be inclined to carry on a policy of economic suasion hinged on trade and investment opportunities as well as on intercultural exchanges. All that may easily be accompanied by a shrewd media campaign, but this is not dissimilar from the West’s strategies, particularly the American ones, which are the hidden part of soft security.

The new world order: spheres of influence and dialogue

A fact is now becoming more and more evident, and that is a clear effort by the US to edge away from world hegemony, which will result in a world division into spheres of influence. An increasing interconnection and interdependence among nations ruled by different political systems seems an irreversible trend. Under these circumstances a closer cooperation on Islamic extremism, strategic weapons control, and cyber aggression would make the world a much safer place.

Russia, which has proved to be a coherent risk taker, is now at the center of a complex web in the Middle East. Moscow cannot solve alone the region’s quagmire, which profoundly affects global security with spillover in Africa, Asia, and Europe But the opposite is equally true: It will be impossible for the whole region to return to a just peace without the active participation and involvement of Russia. The problem is how to translate this cooperation into action.

The notion that economic shrinking will hinder and weaken the morale of Russia, and that sanctions will force Russia to halt any mingling in the eastern areas of Ukraine—which is mostly ‘Russophone’—and adopt a pliant posture, is proving wrong. Why not face the reality, in good conscience, and apply an equal basis-approach without causes for recrimination. Building trust may come only with a frank exchange of views that test possible common interests while scrutinizing threats to check  what may be shared concerns. Coordinated action and an agreed agenda may follow suit.

A two-tier system of eight countries (NG8) could try to elaborate well tailored roadmaps to tackle specific issues aiming at making the current geo-politics less divisive and, in parallel, to repair the institutional architecture for a better global governance. The first tier, made up by the US, China, and Russia, would be called to handle geopolitical issues, while the second tier, called to deal with global economic issues, would be composed, in addition to the three above-mentioned countries, by Great Britain, France, Germany, Japan, and India. Such an arrangement could stave off the plausibility of a conflict among major powers by creating common ground to build upon a peaceful and cooperative new world order.

The author

Antonio Badini teaches at the Department of Political Science of LUISS University. He is the General Director of the International Development and Law Organization, and was Ambassador of Italy in Algeria, Egypt and Norway