US rules-based international order is a sham

By Carlton Joseph

Carlton Joseph

The Biden Administration recently rejected the global development and security initiatives (GSI) promoted by China, stating that the US must defend the rules-based international order (RBO), that China is trying to “portray” as a Western construct.  Why does the US not want to own the rules-based international order they constructed after WWII?  Especially, since the Western democracies claim that the rules-based order has produced unprecedented global levels of peace, prosperity, and freedom; created formal alliances in Europe and Asia; placed limits on the use of military force; the spread of weapons of mass destruction; served to promote an interconnected global economy based on free markets and open trade and finance; kept world citizens out of great-power war, and provided geopolitical stability that allowed their national economies to prosper. 

China’s GSI advocates respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and non-interference in the internal affairs of other nations.  President Xi Jinping argues that countries should resolve their disputes through dialogue, respect one another’s differences, and be considerate of varying national interests to achieve security for all, saying: “We need to work together to maintain peace and stability in the world.”  Why did the US reject an initiative with such laudable goals? Is it that the US believes that: “Democracy and free markets” is the only legitimate form of government?  Believe in interference in the internal affairs of other nations, by overthrowing democratically elected governments when they reject free market and open trade and finance? And, does not respect the sovereignty of nations?    The answer to these questions is that the US does not believe in international law and created the RBO as an alternative.

The RBO, a unipolar model of the world where there are exceptional countries, and everyone else must obey these countries, is aligned with US’s national interests, and allows the US to ignore, evade or rewrite the rules whenever they seem inconvenient.  The US is not a party to a number of important multilateral treaties that constitute an essential feature of international law, and has imposed its own interpretations justifying the use of force, violation of human rights, and the right of preemptive strikes for self-defense.  In his article: The Choice before us: International law or a ‘rules-based international order,’ John Dugard notes that the amorphous rules of the RBO make it easier for a state to provide special treatment to another state, and to condone its violations of international law.  And, that the main problem is that a small group of US led Western countries are trying to impose RBO on the international community.

US diplomats claim that the GSI would move the world from universal values that have sustained the world’s progress over the last 75 years.  What they fail to mention is that the progress is for the one percent, especially in G7 countries and oligarchs in the western controlled nations.  In fact, the World Bank reported that for the past forty years, extreme poverty, defined as the number of people with incomes below $1.90 per day, has fallen by close to 800 million, with China contributing 75% of the reduction.  RBO prevented great power wars, but 80% of all the global conflicts and wars since WWII involved USA acts of aggression including: invasion of Cuba, Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Libya.  In fact, Brown University reports that at least 37 million people have been displaced as a result of wars fought by the US since 2001.  Claims that the RBO is some type of Utopia is extremely exaggerated.

Interestingly, these same diplomats who reject the GSI, now is advancing the idea that the US needs to modernize RBO’s principles so that they reflect the interest, values and hope of all nations; and they want to make sure that the RBO can meet not just today’s challenges, but also the ones that the world will face in the future.  Why didn’t they do this for the past 70 years? Instead, they overthrew democratically elected governments who wanted to try socialism, and forced countries to accept structural adjustment programs that destroyed their economies, and pauperized their citizens.

Recently, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with President Xi and other Chinese officials, but failed to secure the reopening of military-to-military communications.  Blinken raised concerns about China establishing a joint training facility in Cuba, saying: “This is something we’re going to be monitoring very, very closely and we’ve been very clear about that. And we will protect our homeland, we will protect our interests,” Also, President Biden has asked Cuban officials to stop the deal.  This is ridiculous, after imposing an economic embargo on Cuba for over 60 years, the US wants Cuba to reject China’s training facility, even though China is Cuba’s second largest commercial partner, has restructured Cuba’s debt, and donated $100 million to help the country cope with basic goods shortages and an energy crisis.  Also, China has indicated that: “a solution must be found to all the problems with Cuba, regardless of the debt, and that this cannot be what limits development.” 

The US has 750 bases globally, China has one outside China, in Djibouti.  The US needs to understand that the majority of people in the world do not perceive China as a threat.  They understand that NATO surrounded Russia, and this incursion resulted in Russia invading Ukraine.  People see that the US has now encircled China, by establishing training facilities in Taiwan, recently formalized agreements to establishment bases in the Philippines, and the arrangement with the QUAD: US, India, Australia and Japan.  People and nations understand that the world is anarchic, and do not believe in a unipolar world, in which they just follow the leader, because it is antithetical to their personal and national interests.  The US has bases all over the world, and considers anything any country does as a threat to its national security, she needs to recall Abraham Maslow’s words: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, it is tempting to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington D.C., is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)