I don’t know about you, but I have long been a fan of the ‘liberal rules-based international order’, although to be quite honest, I have had only a rather vague idea what it meant. It sounded pretty good, though. I mean, how could any reasonable person be against ‘liberal’, ‘order’, and ‘rules-based’?
By Rajeev Srinivasan
It is only lately that I have learned this is strictly a marketing moniker.
It’s a bit like the Moral Majority, which has a nice ring to it, and made waves as a bunch of fiery literalist Bible-thumpers some years ago. It turned out, alas, that they were neither particularly ‘moral’ and certainly not a ‘majority’. If I recall correctly some of its brightest stars were found in flagranto delicto, including one fire-and-brimstone preacher who was caught twice in cars with street prostitutes.
Similarly, the ‘liberal rules-based international order’ is neither liberal, nor rules-based, nor an order. It is essentially a post-World-War-II mechanism to perpetuate the rule of the victors in that conflict, giving them a free pass in world affairs for as long as possible. In particular, it was an arrangement that assumed that the US would remain the paramount global power for the foreseeable future.
That ‘order’ almost immediately fell apart because the Soviets and the Americans started a rivalry for spheres of influence, including the Soviet evangelisation of communism. The Americans embraced the Domino Theory and began counter-evangelisation of ‘democracy’ as the antidote to all the evils of society.
This ended up in the Cold War, although to be fair, the US did help a number of its allies to prosper. They were mostly white European countries, but also East Asians.
Through the power of suggestion (hurrah, New York Times and Hollywood) we have been led to believe that the world is moving steadily towards the triumph of ‘democracy’, which turns out to be a euphemism for a world where Western European/American dominance is written into law.
Note how this means the United Nations Security Council has France and Britain, who really don’t deserve to be there; but not Germany and Japan, who do, along with Brazil, South Africa and India. Similarly there is a (written?) rule that the World Bank’s President has to be an American. This was followed scrupulously until a South Korean (presumably a friend of America) was given the job in 2012. It is now back to an American.
Similarly, the IMF’s Managing Director has always been a Western European, with the current incumbent being a Bulgarian former World Bank acting President, with a bit of a chequered past: she was accused of having inflated Chinese data to make it look better during her term at the World Bank.
Similar stories, I suspect, can be told about all the other major multinational organisations, for instance the World Health Organization which the Chinese have turned into their fiefdom. The Russians, who probably did more to defeat the Germans in WW2 than anybody else, have been denied much of a role.
That old caste system has a ‘First World’ consisting of the US and Western Europe, a ‘Second World’ consisting of the Soviet Union/Russia and Eastern Europe, and a ‘Third World’ consisting of everybody else. There have been some minor changes, such as Japan, South Korea, Singapore and the UAE becoming honorary (but not full-fledged) members of the First World.
The other side of the picture is a certain feudalism that this caste system perpetrated, and that has persisted throughout the last 75 years. Feudal First Worlders dominate the serfs of the Third World. Today, First Worlders decry the neo-feudalism of the techno-billionaires, without irony and without recognising that they continue to apply it to the Third World, most notably India, which has been kept out of the NPT, MTCR, and so forth.
And have you noticed that the very term ‘Third World’ has fallen out of favour, to be replaced by the anodyne but meaningless ‘Global South’? This is because the creators of narratives didn’t want to attract unwarranted attention to their straightforward caste system.
In this context, let us recall that ‘caste’ itself is a European construct, derived from the Spanish ‘casta’, and applied most intensely to mixed-race people in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, classifying them based on skin color and thus race. They obfuscate this by conflating it with the Hindu jati system. That is blood libel along the lines of them deeming the Christian Hakencreuz to be the dharmic Svastika.
Of course, the other side of the picture is that the Chinese have crashed this party, and have pretty much jumped into the First World from the Third World. And they are mounting an intense challenge to the so-called ‘rules-based order’, partly by buying up opinion makers, and quite possibly by interfering in US elections in discreet ways: see recent revelations about the theft of US consumer data by Tiktok.
This ‘order’ is clearly being challenged by China; but the Ukraine war is also showing how tattered it is, especially as the ‘First World’ struggles to contain nasty inflation and to delink its supply chains from China’s vice-like grip.
Ominously, there is increasing political turmoil all over the ‘First World’.
In the US, Biden and company are flailing about trying to find a theme that would cover up consumer anger over food and fuel price inflation, shortages (example baby food and tampons), and rising law and order problems.
Paul Krugman even tried to explain that inflation is an (optical) illusion. They have tried, successively, abortion rights, gun control, and now they are falling back on the tried and tested 6 January outrage. None of this is raising Biden’s abysmal ratings going into November’s midterm elections.
In Britain, Boris Johnson just barely survived a no-confidence motion; the polls forecasting by-election results are not encouraging to the ruling Tories; inflation is a burning issue, and should reach a crescendo in the winter months with sharp rises in fuel costs. And they have a bruising rail strike as well.
In Australia, Scott Morrison was suddenly replaced by Anthony Albanese. To add insult to injury, they have decided to dump the British Queen as Head of State.
In Canada, Justin Trudeau’s image took a beating when he showed a dictatorial streak and walked all over the Freedom of Expression of truckers who were mostly protesting over extra-strict covid regulations.
In New Zealand, Jessica Ardern came down from the delirious heights of being the ‘Woke Queen’ when she was forced to abandon her imperious zero-covid policy; and now she’s boycotting the British Commonwealth, preferring instead to attend a NATO meeting as a guest.
The Pacific states are also concerned about China’s security pact with the Solomon Islands.
So much for the Five Eyes, the US’s closest allies. Things are not so hot with the second tier of allies, either.
In France, Immanuel Macron was re-elected as President, but voters have punished his party in elections, sharply curtailing his room for maneuver.
In Israel, Naftali Bennet’s government has just fallen, and they will go for yet another general election, the fifth in three years. Binyamin Netanyahu may yet come back.
In the EU in general, and Germany in particular, there is great uneasiness about the US fiat about cutting off Russian energy imports. The EU has bought the vast majority of Russian exports, while the US bullies mostly innocent bystander India which is a minor sinner. And of course Biden is reluctant to chide China over its purchases.
All this leads me to believe that the already-moribund so-called ‘liberal rules-based international order’, a thinly-veiled vehicle for US-Western European neo-feudalism, is on its last legs. Francis Fukuyama spoke memorably of the ‘end of history’; in fact it is the ‘end of Atlanticism’ that we are seeing.
The future, and indeed the present, is the Indo-Pacific century. India is right to not throw in its lot with the declining West, or the rampaging but shaky China. There is good reason to aspire to be a third pole in a multi-polar world. The end of European and American exceptionalism. The beginning of Indian exceptionalism. No more neo-feudalism, tech or otherwise.
This article first appeared in www.swarajyamag.com and it belongs to them.