Currently, China and Russia are looking to the future based on the unique relations formed between them over the past decades. However, this future will not become easy and simple for the whole world in the coming years: many dangerous challenges lie in wait for us. But even now, China and Russia should understand that their cooperation is not only a response to current problems, but also the creation of a more stable international order based on equality and the national interests of each state.
The uniqueness and drama of the current situation in international politics lies in the fact that we cannot count on the ability of one state, or a group of sufficiently powerful countries, to play the role of leaders in the future. This means that it will be quite difficult for us to imagine who will be able to force states to comply with the rules of conduct in their foreign policy and how it will be possible.
Over the past 500 years, the rules of international relations have been created within the close community of Western countries, exactly, in Europe. In the 20th century, the United States joined to that community, which provided the necessary strength to enforce the rules. First of all, this happened thanks to the balance of power between the main European states, which Russia joined in 1762. After the European international order, born in the middle of the seventeenth century, was attacked by revolutionary France, compliance with the rules became the business of a small group of great empires. Led by Russia and Great Britain, they defeated Napoleon and created in 1815 an order based on the general agreement that revolution is unacceptable in international affairs.
At the end of the 19th century, politics became global, but the European powers, including Russia, were still able to control the rest by brute force and their immense military-industrial superiority. The dramatic events of 1914-1945 brought the United States to the forefront of world politics, where the USA became the leader of the community of Western countries at the world level. International institutions were created, starting with the UN, the main goal of which was to preserve the monopolistic position of the West. However, this required the appearance of formal signs of justice in the form of international law, as well as participation in the supreme UN body, the Security Council (UN SC), Russia and China, which are inherently hostile to the interests of the United States and Europe.
The institutional form of Western domination by force has become its final embodiment, and the main question now is whether it is possible to preserve the form after the inevitable disappearance of its content and main function or not. Therefore, the collapse of the positions of power of the United States and Europe in international politics implies not only a change of direction, but also a revision of existing institutions and rules at the global level. In other words, the whole formal international order that emerged after the Second world war, but which has existed in recent centuries, will cease to exist.
It was based on a special system of rights and privileges for a select group of great powers and the illusion of justice, which was created by international institutions headed by the UN. It was this system that served as the main principle of legitimization of the existing world order, although in practice it was often replaced by the ability of the West to exert decisive influence on world affairs. Thus, the collapse of international political institutions is most likely due to the disappearance of their power base, the existence of which has been indisputable for several centuries. As a result, we are currently witnessing the destruction of the formal and real foundations of the international order. It is likely that this process can no longer be stopped.
The coming period will be the time to determine the new power base of the order, and it is difficult to say which forces and to what extent will be part of it.
It is important that the great powers of today, such as the United States, Russia, China and India-are not close and, moreover, are not united in terms of values and understanding of the fundamental principles of the internal structure. So far, the biggest problem is the behavior of the United States and some Western European countries, which, due to their internal values, pursue aggressive policies towards the outside world. These states have entered a very worrying path of qualitative change in the fundamental elements that shape the social, gender and, consequently, political structure of society. For most other civilizations, this path constitutes a challenge and will provoke rejection.
We also do not know how much the internal development of the West is necessary to carry out the expansion, as was the case in previous periods. If, like revolutionary France, the Bolshevik regime or Nazi Germany, the internal orders that are being formed in the West demand not only recognition, but also expansion, the future will become very worrying. We are already seeing that the conflict between the expansion of the values of the West and the foundations of internal legitimacy in several countries is becoming the basis for the aggravation of political relations.
However, it would be a mistake to hope that the other large and medium-sized powers opposed to the West are fully united in understanding the foundations of justice at the internal level. Even if Russia, India, China or Brazil now demonstrate a common understanding of the fundamental principles of the “good” world order, this does not mean that they share a common vision of a better internal arrangement. This is especially true for the states of the Islamic world and other large developing countries. Their conservative values are often in conflict with those of the West, but this does not mean that they can achieve unity among themselves.
In other words, for the first time, a new international order will not be able to have a reliable link with the internal order of the great powers, and it is in fact a qualitative change compared to all the historical epochs that we know. This phenomenon is very important, because we have no experience of how relations between powers develop under such circumstances. Brute force becomes the only relatively tangible foundation of order, but this may not be enough to ensure the sustainability of the conditions imposed in relations, even in the short term.
Another unique feature of the current revolutionary situation is that the revision of the international order is not carried out by one or more powers – it is now the business of the world majority. Countries that have about 85% of the Earth’s population are no longer ready to live in conditions created without their direct participation. Their revolutionary actions are often expressed without direct intention and depending on the power capabilities of a particular power.
What, from the point of view of Russia or Iran, in relations with the United States is a manifestation of a lack of determination, for Kazakhstan or another young sovereign country can be a great feat-because their entire socio-economic system was created considering the possibilities offered by the liberal world order. The young sovereign states of Africa or the former Soviet space are much less capable of behaving consistently than the prosperous monarchies of the Persian Gulf. China, although it is now the second most powerful economic power, also understands its weaknesses. But all this does not change the most important thing – even if the destruction of the existing order takes the form of soft sabotage rather than decisive military action, this not only reflects the general discontent with Western authoritarianism, but already creates a new order, the main signs of which are still vague.
In the coming years, most countries of the world will strive to take full advantage of the weakening strength of international politics for their own selfish interests. So far, these actions constitute a constructive conflict, because they objectively undermine a system based on fantastic injustice. However, over time, the United States, let alone Europe, will be weakened and focused on themselves, and Russia or China will never become strong enough to take their place. And in the next 10 to 15 years, the international community will have to face the challenge of replacing the monopoly of power of the West with new universal instruments of coercion, the nature and content of which are not yet known to us.
The position adopted by most countries of the world on the conflict between Russia and the West shows that humanity is now much more united and adaptive, even in the face of such serious challenges than we thought just recently. This refutes the current idea that the United States plays a central role in world affairs and that it continues to ensure that any problem it faces is equally important to the rest of the world and capable of dividing it. At the same time, Russia itself should not think that being on the right side of history, it automatically provides support from most states-for this we still must fight. It would be unwise to think that the refusal of most countries of the world, which represent 85% of the world’s population, to join the West’s economic war against Russia indicates that they support everything that Russia is doing.
After almost a year since the beginning of the Special Military Operation, we can say that the dynamics of international attitudes towards the military-political conflict around Ukraine and its participants indicate that most countries of the international community choose a strategy of distancing themselves from the conflict and avoiding expressing a position, taking advantage of the conflict between Russia and the West. The exception is China, whose policy increasingly reflects its pro-Russian orientation and, as China’s contradictions with the United States escalate, China demonstrates the real depth of mutual trust between Moscow and Beijing. These relations have been built over many years and they are derived from the development of the two countries over the past 20 years and a common vision of approaches to the main systemic problems — mutual support is not directly related to the crisis in Europe.
It is too early to judge the future world order, when the West will be forced to admit its historic defeat in the struggle to preserve world hegemony. World domination will be determined as the great powers, by their often-conflicting actions, will indicate the limits of their power capabilities and the limits of what is permissible. Realizing the irrationality of a major total war and the scale of long-standing problems, the process of defining roles in the world order is likely to take much longer than previous episodes of radical changes in the international order based on sovereign states. Today we are witnessing only one of the first stages of a long global political restructuring. After all, we can talk about the end of a period that lasted several hundred years.
But even at this very initial stage, we can see certain signs of the behavior of powers that have objective reasons and therefore become systemic factors in the development of the entire international policy.
Therefore, it is vitally important that the division of the world into rival camps should not be one of the signs of a new world order, but the adaptation of States to the changing conditions arising from the conflict between the great Powers.
This will probably be a sign that in the future we will not risk encountering the phenomenon of restoring the bipolar system that characterized the international order during the Cold War of 1945-1990. And this becomes an additional argument in favor of the fact that the rules and norms of behavior of that time can serve as a source of knowledge only for our foreign policy in the modern era, and with a significant share of assumptions.
The flagship of such adaptation to rapidly changing conditions in our time is, of course, India, one of the largest powers in terms of population, which has very serious ambitions regarding its own role in the world. Until now, this country has not reached the level of economic, military and human development that allows us to talk about it as a great power.
However, at the same time, India is the real leader of this majority, which absolutely does not intend to split into rival camps or become a dependent resource base for one of the great rival powers, such as America, Russia or China. India regularly maintains business relations with Moscow and in recent months has become one of Russia’s largest trading partners. The fact that New Delhi’s position is not anti-Russian is constantly emphasized by Indian officials. Restraint in the areas of cooperation with Russia is connected only with a well-founded fear that Indian companies will suffer from retaliatory measures from the United States.
India is followed by most developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. We see that six months after the crisis between Russia and the West escalated into a state of military-political conflict, the number of countries ready to even verbally support the United States in its fight against Moscow has more than doubled. A few days ago, observers noted an attempt to enlist the support of UN countries for a new statement condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine. If during the voting at the UN General Assembly in March this year, more than 140 countries supported a resolution similar in content, now only 58 have signed their signatures, 30 of which are official members of the NATO Military Alliance led by the United States, and several others are associated with Washington on
Thus, more than two-thirds of the entire international community will increasingly refuse to declare their position on European affairs. Of course, this is partly the result of the work of Russian and Chinese diplomacy, which constantly emphasizes that American policy is the real cause of the conflict in Europe.
But, above all, this dynamic shows that developing countries understand that they have the opportunity not to make this choice.
For them, in the current conditions, the strategy of getting out of the conflict becomes more rational and justified. As events in Europe continue and acquire the features of a permanent conflict between Russia and the West, the degree of tension of which will vary, most countries of the world will be able to adapt better to life in such conditions.
As for the United States itself, the decline in its ability to attract them has led to the adoption of a strategy of intimidation and pressure on independent members of the international community. However, this strategy can no longer be crowned with success — even if Washington has a colossal repressive machine, turning all its international activities into control over the application of “sanctions” would make such a policy completely ineffective. Of course, we cannot rule out such a scenario. As a result, more and more countries will cooperate on an equal footing with Russia and the West, and the pace of this cooperation will depend on the ability to achieve something from these two adversaries.
The conflict in Europe will become more localized and of direct interest to its main players. The rest of the world will somehow not participate. For Russia, the foregoing signifies the importance of remaining open and offering developing countries what they need – energy or other goods, education, science. Russia does not seek and has no reason to be drawn into armed struggle for its interests and values – this is what most countries in the world want to avoid. If the trend we are witnessing continues and becomes increasingly decisive for international politics, we will be able to remain calm, as the division of the world into warring camps will be a condition for preventing the outbreak of world war.
One of the key issues will be the future of the international institutions that have arisen in Eurasia in recent decades – the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, as well as closer alliances around Russia – The Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. In all three organizations, participating countries will have to rethink the role of these institutions in their own struggle for survival and adapt to the new realities of world politics. So far, they all look like local systems that maintain minimal stability in the face of the rapid collapse of the international order.
Therefore participating countries need to think about how their work will continue after the events in eastern Europe have reached a certain fixed point. First of all, it’s related to what. The use and usefulness of these tools depend on their adaptation to the new conditions that are emerging. Nevertheless, the future importance of these cooperation institutions in Eurasia cannot be determined in accordance with a single plan, because without the creation of a total isolation from the outside world, the international situation in the coming years will not facilitate serious planning.
If we can talk about the potential of institutional cooperation in the new context, the SCO may be able to continue to occupy an important position among regional organizations. In addition, in addition to the objectives of diplomatic cooperation, it must meet new three-tiered conditions. The first is to adapt existing projects and practices to new circumstances. This applies to interaction with measures of large-scale economic pressure exerted by the West on one of the SCO founding members, Russia. At the practical level, the consequences of those measures would harm the economy, social systems and stability of all SCO countries, including China, the most powerful of the member countries. However, the SCO States can intensify their practical cooperation for the common good.
Secondly, whether we wish it or not, the SCO countries, under any circumstances, will have to resolve issues at a joint level, the existence of which is objective. These are “common problems” that must be addressed in a broad regional context. These issues relate to food and biosafety and a secure information environment. Existing problems exist regardless of the current military-political situation between Russia and the West or were caused by the actions of the United States and its allies in areas where they have managed to create major advantages in recent decades.
Finally, circumstances may develop in such a way that the SCO countries will build a joint future and contribute to the development of the Eurasian macroregion. In the conditions of global turbulence, it is hardly possible to determine the priority directions of the international order in the XXI century. One can say for sure that the well-established ideas about the criteria that international organizations must meet are inevitably being revised. It is difficult to say by what means and on what scale the SCO will act in order to become an important tool for solving long-term development problems for the participating countries of the organization. It is possible that this group of issues will be settled on the basis of the practice of cooperation already established in the first and second areas of interest to us.