Muluka: Is the recent rise of China, Russia a sign of a new world order?

By Barrack Muluka

Is a new order in global relations in the offing? What does the emergence of China mean for the global community? What should we make of such courtships and partnerships as she is forging with the Third World?

What does the resuscitation of Russia mean to the United States and her allies? In all this, what are the implications for the democratic holidays that the Third World has enjoyed since the end of the Cold War in 1989? Should we begin bracing ourselves for the Second Coming of the Cold War?

Will the Western World throw overboard 25 years of moralist pretext for a realist approach to international relations?

Hans J Morgenthau has taught us that relations among nations thrive on the fuel of self-interest. Nations may often proclaim moralist notions in the formation of friendships on the international circuit. However, it is never a matter of platonic international friendships and morality. In the end, politics among nations is a struggle for power, influence and self-interest.

This is the message we get from Morgenthau’s evergreen tome, Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace. Has the American bubble of unipolar superpower eventually burst, as Russia and China begin to stand tall?

While Morgenthau’s book was first published in 1958, the messaging is as relevant today as it was in that post-World War II period.

The war and its aftermath was itself witness to dramatic formations of relations and shifts in friendships among the great powers. On the eve of the war, there was the building of alliances among these powers, in the mould of gathering storms.

Revisionist powers wanted a new world order, in their favour. Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan coalesced under one formation – the Axis, in pursuit of selfish expansionism.

Britain, France and Russia came together under an opposing alliance – the Allies – to resist the activities of the Axis. This is to say nothing of the fact that Germany and Russia had been allies for a while, subduing and dividing Poland between the two of them.

It is noteworthy that before the outbreak of the war, tensions existed between the rest of the Allied powers on the one hand and Russia on the other. This was because of Russia’s own dream of exporting communism to all the peoples of the world.

Yet the emerging interests in the late 1930s were such that Russia and her ideological nemeses were willing to put their rivalry on hold to sort out the expansionist Axis first. Japan was busy sorting out China in Asia, while enjoying German support in return for support of Germany in Europe.

Italy was initially comfortable in the Axis, but later abdicated to join the Allies, when it seemed that they were the better horse to back.

The United States, initially satisfied to be enjoined in the conflict by proxy, later became actively enjoined with the Allies when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. Russia bore the brunt of the war on behalf of the Allies. Yet the only glue holding all these nations together was the self-interest of the moment.

Fast forward, the war ends in 1945 and relations among the great powers are redefined. Where Germany was the prime enemy to the Allies, Russia became the new enemy.

Germany, Spain and Italy easily became members of the new Western alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato). Russia, which had fought so gallantly for the Allies, became the leader of the new enemy camp, the Warsaw Pact Nations.

Even before the war was formally over, Churchill suggested to Truman, after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that they should drop the next bomb on Moscow! Fortunately, there were no more atomic bombs left.

Put very simply, it has always been about dominating and controlling the world for selfish reasons. You make friends when you need them and drop them as soon as you have no more use for them.

And Nato and Warsaw were truly selfish. Warsaw pledged to export communism and workers’ revolutions everywhere. Nato pledged to contain and roll back communism everywhere, under the so-called Truman Doctrine of Containment.

The outcome was that the entire world came into the firm grip of dictatorial regimes, under the guardianship of the superpowers that were the United States and the USSR, the new nation that coagulated around Russia.

So long as the need to protect their selfish interests existed, there was no need to moralise about lofty things like democracy, good governance, accountability and all the jumble. Only one thing mattered – self-interest.

While the Cold War reigned, neither Warsaw nor Nato bothered about this kind of loftiness. They were associated with rotten regimes all over the world – in Zaire, Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, the Philippines, Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, Cambodia, Vietnam – everywhere. 

As soon as their own competition ended, the West changed its tune. You either toed the line of “democratic governance” or you were cast into the gutters of diplomacy.

One reason China seems to be sweeping all the boards is the West’s insistence on a hollow democratic tune it does not even believe in. Where it suits them, they threaten you with sanctions and abandonment. Where it does not, they turn a blind eye. In the processes, they have fallen out with numerous countries in the world and now especially in Africa.

So China is fishing in the troubled waters of Western diplomacy. And Russia, too.

Will the West retune and strum its diplomatic guitar for a different global sound and dance? In Kenya, we have recently heard the head of the European Union caution his colleagues against “wagging a finger at President Kenyatta”.

He said that Kenya was a sovereign State that should be respected and treated as an equal partner. When did he see this light? Is he seeing it alone, or was his voice presaging things to come? A few days later, President Kenyatta gave a no-nonsense dressing down to the media on responsible journalism, at the International Press Freedom Day celebrations.

His message rang with the weight of someone who knew something that other people did not know. Then China came knocking and bagged just under 20 agreements with Kenya as the West watched. Something sinister is cooking in international relations. Is a return to 1945-1989 inevitable?

The writer is a publishing editor, special consultant and advisor on public relations and media relations