Following the end of the Cold War and the phasing out of the US “unipolar moment” in the broad sweep of history, the world is in search of a new equilibrium among the various centers of power, which would establish a rule-based order to promote peace, stability, justice, and human progress. Unfortunately, what we see instead is growing world disorder. Instead of equilibrium, we see a growing challenge to the existing US-led and West-dominated international system from the emerging powers, particularly China, and a re-assertive Russia, which are demanding the accommodation of their interests. Apologists of the present system claim that it is rule-based and that it provides fair opportunities to its participants to advance their legitimate national interests. The reality is that its rules are skewed in favor of the US and other Western powers. Further, the US and its allies in the West have, on occasions, blatantly violated even these rules when their narrow national interests so demanded. In other words, it is realpolitik rather than idealism or international morality which increasingly dictates the policies of the major powers, especially in the consideration of strategic issues of peace and security. Therefore, there is growing unpredictability or disorder on the international scene. The civilizational fault-lines and the activities of non-state terrorist groups have further aggravated the situation and accelerated the slide of the international community towards uncertainty and disorder.
The main institutions and the rules underpinning the present international system were designed primarily by the US and its allies, which had emerged as victors of World War II, so as to give them the commanding position in the consideration of strategically important international political, security, and economic issues. This explains why the US, UK, and France occupy three of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council. Consequently no important decision of the UNSC, which carries the primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, can be taken without their approval or concurrence. The same is true about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund where the US and other Western countries dominate the decision making process. Little wonder that the US has been resisting efforts by China, the second biggest economy in the world, to increase its power and influence in these bodies which virtually control the international finance. This has forced China to establish such financial institutions as the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to increase its clout in international financial dealings. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of which CPEC is a component, is also aimed at enhancing China’s economic cooperation with and influence in Eurasian countries.
As China’s economic power grows dramatically, its military expenditure and strength will increase correspondingly. These developments will enable China to challenge the unquestioned dominance of the US and other Western countries in various regions of the world, especially those in its periphery in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. The US is strengthening its alliances and increasing the presence of its forces in the Asia-Pacific region to face the anticipated challenge from China. Meanwhile, China is strengthening its strategic cooperation with Russia, which is being subjected to NATO’s expansionist ambitions in Ukraine and other countries in its near abroad. In response to the US policy of enhancing strategic partnership with India to block the expansion of China’s influence in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, China will continue the process of building up its strategic cooperation with Pakistan. The US-China rivalry and the resultant tensions will undoubtedly have destabilizing influences and even cause local conflicts, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, thus, further intensifying the trend towards growing global disorder.
The US invasion of Iraq of 2003 without any authorization by the UN Security Council served to highlight the tendency of major powers to sacrifice international law and morality at the altar of realpolitik. Several other powers have been equally guilty of disregard of the principles of international law in handling world affairs since the end of the Cold War. A relevant example is the way the European powers handled the Bosnian crisis in 1990’s. The involvement of external powers, both regional and non-regional, in Syria’s internal affairs again exhibits the same tendency. The advent of the Trump administration in the US has accentuated these dangerous tendencies. President Trump’s renunciation of the Iran nuclear deal, even though Iran had scrupulously adhered to its obligations, has exposed America’s unreliability and untrustworthiness in international affairs. If the US can so lightly walk away from an international agreement concluded after a great deal of effort, no country would be able to rely on its commitments and promises, thus, aggravating arbitrariness and disorder in international affairs. Besides other negative consequences, it will create new difficulties for the US in its planned negotiations with North Korea to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
It is difficult to ignore the role of civilizational fault-lines in aggravating the world disorder. Huntington’s thesis that clashes between civilizations would be the greatest threat to world peace in the post-Cold War era does call for a careful consideration. There is no doubt that cultural self-identity that leads to designating “others” as aliens or enemies is a powerful force in explaining many important developments (e.g. Palestine and Kashmir) in international politics as they are rather than as they ought to be. But it is critically important not to allow this thesis to become the basis of policies that ignite or aggravate inter-civilizational conflicts with catastrophic consequences for mankind. Therefore, on the one hand, we need to take into account the possibility that inter-civilizational factors may be responsible for some of the international conflicts and tensions. On the other, due emphasis must be placed on dialogue among civilizations for defusing international tensions, resolving inter-civilizational conflicts, and reversing the trend towards growing world disorder.
Finally, it cannot be denied that international terrorism poses a grave threat to global peace and stability as evidenced by 9/11, the subsequent US invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and other terrorism-related developments that have deeply destabilized the West Asia region as well as several African countries besides having negative repercussions on the global security. There cannot be two opinions, therefore, about the necessity of fighting and eliminating the menace of international terrorism defined as the indiscriminate use of violence against innocent civilians. The decision of FATF to place Pakistan on the grey list highlights the dangers of daylight between our declaratory and operational anti-terrorism policies.
The foregoing considerations and the resultant growing world disorder have serious policy implications for Pakistan. Firstly, in the present anarchic international system, power is the ultimate arbiter of strategic issues of peace and security rather than principles of international law or morality. It is only through national power that we can hope to safeguard our vital national interests. We must, therefore, build up our economic and military power besides strengthening internal political stability and practicing pro-active diplomacy. Secondly, our voice and views will carry weight in world capitals corresponding to our national power. Thus, the impact of our political, diplomatic, and moral support to the Kashmir cause will vary in accordance with our national power. Thirdly, we need to remove the ambiguities in our anti-terrorism policies. Our failure to do so will invite serious problems for the country. Finally, in the modern world, economic strength, especially scientific and technological advancement, constitutes the backbone of a nation’s power. Unfortunately, to our detriment this is precisely the area in which we are lagging far behind our mortal enemy, India.
The writer is a retired ambassador and the president of the Lahore Council for World Affairs.