International Relations And The Faulty Assumptions Of ‘Rules-Based-International-Order’

What we once thought were post-WWII iron-clad realities are beginning to change

Zelenskyy made an address to the world that invoked a popular political shibboleth. See if you can spot it:

After attending the Virtual World Summit for Democracy, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky stressed the urgent need for democracy to win.

“All of us together – Ukrainians, all Europeans, our American allies, our friends on all continents – Africa, Asia, Latin America, Australia – will do everything to bring this victory closer,” Zelensky said in a video address on Wednesday evening. . “Victory for Ukraine, victory for freedom, victory for the rules-based international order.” –Columbus Post

That catchphrase is, obviously, ‘rules-based international order’. It’s close kin to another such phrase politicians of the globalist stripe loved to invoke, especially in the Obama years, ‘International Community’.

To accept either of those phrases at face value is to accept certain assumptions about how nearly 200 wildly disparate countries will be expected to interact on the world stage. Those countries literally cover the entire gamut of human experience and values, from liberal democracies to theocracies, to monarchies, to socialist dictatorships… and everything in between.

Since WWII and the defeat of would-be empires in the Axis powers, with the rise of the United Nations, backed up by the might of military and economic superpowers with a Nuclear Trump card, it became easy to believe that borders on maps could be reasonably counted upon.

But such an illusion only holds up so long as the foundation it was built on holds up. Between the long march through the institutions hollowing out any belief in Western values, the rise and cooperation of foreign rivals, and weakness in our own leadership, the enforcement arm that maintained such peace is rapidly atrophying.

In places where laws against theft are not enforced by prosecutors, thieves are emboldened to brazenly clean out stores in broad daylight. People haven’t changed, they are responding to changes in incentives and consequences.

Nations work on similar principles. Trump dropped a MOAB on terrorists and wiped out an airbase when (now-disputed) reports surfaced of Assad using chemical weapons. The Caliphate was wiped off the map, while Russia and North Korea dialed back their hostilities. He has made it clear that he made naked threats to the leaders of the Taliban by showing satellite photos of their leaders’ homes, which was made all the more convincing by the fact that scraps of Solemani were sent home in a bucket, so to speak.

This echoes Reagan’s ‘peace through strength’ doctrine. The ‘leading from behind’ alternative has been demonstrated by Carter, Obama, and now Biden.

When we talk about nations organizing around a set of rules, we forget human nature. Those rules are every bit as fragile as the rules against shoplifting in San Francisco or New York.

Communities have rules written by governments and enforced by police and the legal system. The so-called international community does something similar — but only by mutual consent.

So long as there is an enforcement mechanism — or an ‘international policeman’ if you will — and rules that are considered tolerably even-handed in their enforcement, with meaningful penalties for people (like Sadam Hussein or Milosovich) who violate the rules of the game, borders remain reasonably secure.

But if the world starts to believe the cop is playing favorites, has turned corrupt, or is working in a system with no real penalties for misbehavior, we will see nation-states revert to the kind of misbehavior at the macro level that we see in New York bodegas at the micro level.

Nations like Russia will get signals from people like Biden that ‘minor incursions’ into Ukraine will be tolerated. And before you know it, we’re a year-deep into a massive war of attrition.

Hong Kong was swallowed up while we were all distracted by Covid, and Xi is making open moves toward doing the same with Taiwan. India, the Phillipines, and Vietnam have already had territorial disputes, and the CCP has made explicit nuclear threats to Japan.

When we talk about some kind of a shared ‘rules-based international order’ we are assuming the other players are willing to play by those rules.

When there’s nobody around with the will and the capacity to enforce such rules… can we still really expect rogue players like Putin, Kim, or Xi to pay by them?

Sources Cited:

Columbus Post

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