by Observer R for the Saker Blog
On February 4, 2022, on the occasion of the opening of the XXIV Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, the presidents of China and Russia issued a document entitled:
Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development
This document sets a new level in the cooperation between the two countries in foreign policy and is their exposition of a common viewpoint for setting out the rules that the world should follow in politics among nations. A key section up front contains the following: “The sides call on all States…to protect the United Nations-driven international architecture and the international law-based world order, seek genuine multipolarity with the United Nations and its Security Council playing a central and coordinating role….”
The reliance on the United Nations (UN) as the major guiding rulemaker is an important point. A major question concerning this reliance is the extent to which the design of the UN matches the current reality of the world distribution of wealth and power. The UN was set up in 1945 according to a design that reflected the post-WWII distribution of economic output and advanced weapon systems. Overall, it was based on the outcome of that war, with the winners getting the spoils and the losers getting the left-overs. After some seventy-seven years, the situation has radically changed. According to the CIA Fact Book, China now has a larger economy than the US, India is independent and has the third largest economy, and India, Pakistan, Israel, and North Korea have become nuclear powers. Japan and Germany each have larger populations and economies than either Britain or France. And yet, the permanent members of the UN Security Council with veto rights are the same nations that were made members in 1945. This is not a recipe for sustainable development of UN-based rules for a peaceable world.
Of course, there have been many calls for reform of the UN ever since it was founded. A quick search for “reform of the united nations” turns up a cornucopia of websites dealing with the topic. Everything from Wikipedia, various think-tanks, to the United Nations University has articles on the subject. They point out in great detail the many reforms proposed and the far fewer reforms completed over the seventy-seven years. All of them, however, tend to point out the immense difficulty in getting any agreement on any changes to the Security Council.
UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL ACTIONS
The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) regularly concerns itself with various controversies around the world and adopts measures intended to ameliorate difficult situations. However, there appears to be a lack of foresight in considering how the measures might be lifted when no longer needed or appropriate. For example, the UNSC placed sanctions on North Korea over the nuclear proliferation issue, but now Russia and China would like to have the sanctions lifted, but this is blocked by the United States (US). The UNSC also placed sanctions on Iran, some of which have now expired, but which seemed mostly to support the US interests. With the benefit of hindsight, it would appear that Russia and China may have done better simply to have informal agreements with the other permanent members of the UNSC to institute sanctions and other measures when useful, thus leaving the two countries free to change tactics when the measures were no longer useful from their viewpoint. This is especially true since both Russia and China are claiming to uphold the UN as the proper international body for making rules and would suffer great loss of face if they broke one of the UN rules. The same is not true for the US since it is quite adept at following the “international rules-based order” that it conveniently makes up as it goes along. The US claims to follow a higher order that is based on democracy and humanitarian issues. Perhaps Russia and China knew what they were doing at the time, but it would be helpful to have an expert analysis of how they plan to avoid being trapped like this in the future.
UNITED NATIONS ORGANIZATION
Permanent membership in the Security Council is a bone of contention that will likely get worse as the years go by since some major countries are excluded, while some less prominent countries are included. If China can be a member, then it will be more and more difficult to explain why India is not a member. If Russia is a member, it still will be a question as to why Japan is not. Having permanent members confined to the countries on the winning side in WWII will not be an adequate answer three-quarters of a century later and in light of all the changes that have transpired since the war. If Britain and France are members, why not Germany and Brazil? Is the criteria the possession of nuclear weapons, or the size of the economy, or the land area, or the population? Now that India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have nuclear weapons, should they become permanent members? Russia and China are again in an awkward position claiming the UN as the organizing force in the world, when the UN is obviously not structured to match the actual makeup of the world. In addition, the UN headquarters was located in the US, reportedly because that was an inducement for the US to join the organization. The fact that New York was undamaged by WWII and transportation was by steamship made it a logical choice at the time. Now, however, travel is by air and there are many locations with good facilities and transport options. In addition, the US places travel restrictions on diplomats trying to attend UN meetings in New York, and the UN employees also are subject to US rules. Consequently, it would appear that a proper world management organization should be located in a small neutral country that possesses modern facilities and means of communication, and excellent air travel options to all other countries. Another example of stress is the continuing issue of the Palestinians and the votes in the UN General Assembly on this topic. The votes overwhelmingly go against the US position and yet next to nothing seems to ever be done. There is no doubt that “safety in numbers” is a factor here—the US cannot sanction nearly 200 countries because they vote the “wrong way” at the same time. In any event, the current UN setup is likely to experience continuing severe stress and instability in the coming years, unless these issues and likely others are addressed. Some solutions could be helpful here also, since it bears directly on the Russian and Chinese positions concerning who makes the rules for the world.
Another factor that China and Russia need to address is the question of independence, neutrality, and impartiality of the various international organizations that promote and enforce international rules. Several news reports and allegations have arisen concerning the activities of three such organizations: Interpol, OPCW, and IAEA. Interpol (International Criminal Police Organization) is the subject of controversy because a general from the UAE was just selected as President despite vigorous opposition due to his qualifications and background. The OPCW (Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) is in the news with complaints over its investigations of chemical weapons in Syria. Whistleblowers have come forth with damaging accusations about the organization’s activities and its alleged bias. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is in a difficult position in checking up on Iran’s nuclear activities while not being able to check up on other West Asian countries’ nuclear activities. The Director just called for a change in the rules so that the IAEA could check up on Israel’s nuclear activities. Many analysts suggest that there exists an undue influence on these organizations by the US, which prevents them from impartial operation. Consequently, if the world is to move forward in a rules-based order using rules made by the UN and the affiliated international organizations, then China and Russia will need to exert more effort to ensure impartiality and more universal coverage of said rules. This issue also applies to “international law” as it appears in court cases such as at the International Criminal Court (ICC), and in the various treaties such as the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This is especially pertinent now that the US has announced that it will move from containment of China to competition with China. The competition appears to be focused on the US and its allies in the West attempting to have more influence over the system of international rules than China. The European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy essentially admitted that basis for competition when he stated in essence: He who sets the standards, rules the world.
The Joint Statement places a lot of emphasis on the various regional organizations that China and/or Russia belong to. There is a favorable reference to the grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China, & South Africa (BRICS), although political changes in the constituent countries have made it less coherent. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) is Asian-based, as are several others, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The document contains many proposals for widening the involvement of these organizations in the many pressing issues confronting Asia. A reading between the lines suggests that China and Russia plan to go ahead with getting a more robust set of rules for Asia, even if there is less prospect currently for agreements on world-wide rules.
China and Russia have issued a very long and very detailed statement of their goals for the future. They specifically mention many international organizations and agreements, and provide concrete details about what they support and what they would like changed. It is much more than a listing of political pious platitudes. Nevertheless, it reads in large part like a political campaign statement for their domestic audiences and marching orders for their officials and bureaucrats. It is, therefore, likely to be disappointing to those analysts who had perhaps expected something more concerning rules for the world. The statements about relying on the UN and international law are fine as aspirations, but lack any specific proposals as to how to turn sentiment into reality. For the past seventy-seven years, the UN has been under the major influence of the US and international law has been under the influence of the rules-based order designed by the US. The Joint Statement does not directly provide clues about how China and Russia propose to deal with this situation during the next seventy-seven years.