Svet bo sledil državi, ki bo promovirala mir in stabilnost. In danes to niso ZDA, pač pa Kitajska

Izjemno dobra kolumna Stephena M. Walta, profesorja na Harvard University, glede prelomnosti obdobja, ko se odloča o novi svetovni ureditvi. V bistvu je zadeva zelo enostavna. Imamo dve vodilni sili in dve opciji. Ena zahteva, da morajo vse države sprejeti sklop liberalnih načel (med drugim volitve, pravna država, človekove pravice, tržna ekonomija) in se pridružiti različnim institucijam pod vodstvom ZDA. In slednje se ne pomišljajo z uporabo orožja tak ameriško definiran “svetovni red” tudi prisilno uvesti v neposlušni državi. Druga, Kitajska, se ne vmešava v notranje zadeve drugih držav, zanima jo trgovina, sugerira moto “živi in pusti živeti”, ne inicira vojn, pač pa promovira mir in stabilnost. Ker je to dobro za posel. No, in ker je na svetu več avtokracij kot demokracij in ker večina vlad na svetu želi mir in noče, da se tujci vmešavajo v njihov posel in jim govorijo, kaj naj naredijo, kaj mislite, za katero opcijo se bo v prihodnje odločilo več držav?

Očitno se politična elita v Washingtonu ne zaveda prelomnosti tega obdobja in vztraja na politiki vojaške sile pri prepričevanju, naj države sledijo njej. In to bo spodkopalo ameriško hegemonijo. Pešajoči hegemon ne razume, da v boju z mlajšimi tekmeci ne more več staviti na agresijo, pač pa na modrost in obojestransko koristno sodelovanje.

The détente between Saudi Arabia and Iran—with China playing a facilitating role—is not as momentous as Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, Anwar Sadat’s trip to Jerusalem in 1977, or the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Even so, if the agreement sticks, it’s a pretty big deal. Most importantly, it is a wake-up call for the Biden administration and the rest of the United States’ foreign-policy establishment, because it exposes the self-imposed handicaps that have long crippled U.S. Middle East policy. It also highlights how China is attempting to present itself as a force for peace in the world, a mantle that the United States has largely abandoned in recent years.

How did China pull this off? Efforts to lower the temperature between Riyadh and Tehran had been underway for some time, but China could step in and help the two parties reach agreement because its dramatic economic rise has given it a growing role in the Middle East. More importantly, China could mediate between Iran and Saudi Arabia because it has cordial, business-like ties with a majority of countries in the region. China has diplomatic relations and does business with all sides: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Gulf States, even Bashar al-Assad in Syria. That’s how a great power maximizes its leverage: You make it clear that you’re willing to work with others if they are willing to work with you, and your ties with others remind them that you have other options, too.

The United States, by contrast, has “special relationships” with some countries in the Middle East and no relationship at all with others, most notably Iran. The result is that client states such as Egypt, Israel, or Saudi Arabia take U.S. support for granted and treat its concerns with ill-disguised contempt, whether the issue is human rights in Egypt, the Saudi war in Yemen, or Israel’s long and brutal campaign to colonize the West Bank. At the same time, our mostly futile efforts to isolate and topple the Islamic Republic have left Washington with essentially zero capacity to shape Iran’s perceptions, actions, or diplomatic trajectory. This policy—a product of the assiduous efforts of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, etc., and well-funded Arab government lobbying efforts—may be the clearest example of an own goal in contemporary U.S. diplomacy. By demonstrating that Washington can’t do much to advance peace or justice in the region, it has left the field wide open for Beijing.

The Saudi-Iranian deal also highlights an important dimension of the emerging Sino-American rivalry: Will Washington or Beijing be seen by others as the best guide to a future world order?

Given the United States’ outsized global role since 1945, Americans have become accustomed to assuming that most states will follow our lead, even when they have reservations about what we are doing. China would like to alter that equation, and portraying itself as a more likely source of peace and stability is a key part of that effort.

As a rule, most governments in the world want peace, and they don’t want outsiders getting in their business and telling them what to do. For the past 30 years or more, the United States has repeatedly declared that other governments ought to embrace a set of liberal principles (elections, the rule of law, human rights, market economics, among others) and join various U.S.-led institutions. The U.S. definition of “world order,” in short, was inherently revisionist: Washington would gradually guide the entire world toward a prosperous and peaceful liberal future. Democratic and Republican presidents used various tools to advance that goal, and occasionally used military force to topple dictators and accelerate the process.

The results have not been pretty: costly occupations, failed states, new terrorist movements, increased cooperation among autocrats, and humanitarian disasters. One might add Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine to the list, insofar as Russia’s decision to attack was at least partly a response to well-intentioned but ill-considered U.S. efforts to bring Ukraine into NATO. However desirable these goals may have been in the abstract, the results are what matter, and they were mostly disastrous.

China has taken a different approach. It hasn’t fought a real war since 1979, and it has repeatedly proclaimed its commitment to national sovereignty and non-interference. This position is obviously self-serving, insofar as it deflects criticism of China’s abysmal human rights practices, and China’s rhetorical commitment to sovereignty hasn’t stopped it from advancing unjustified territorial claims or engaging in border clashes in several places. Beijing has also reacted with unwarranted severity when criticized and employed a belligerent approach to diplomacy that has sparked growing resentment and resistance. Nor should anyone assume that China would never use force to alter the status quo if its leaders felt the odds of success were high enough.

Even so, it is easy to imagine autocrats around the world being more comfortable with China’s approach than with the United States’ penchant for heavily armed moralizing. Autocracies still outnumber democracies, a gap that has been increasing for more than a decade. If you were a corrupt dictator whose primary goal was remaining in power, whose approach to world order would you find more congenial?

Furthermore, most countries around the world understand that war is mostly bad for business and frequently affects their own interests adversely. They do not want to see great-power competition get out of hand, because they believe a Sino-American clash would have negative consequences for them. As an old African saying has it, “When the elephants fight, the grass suffers.” In the decades to come, therefore, many states will prefer to rally behind whichever major power seems more likely to promote peace, stability, and order. By the same logic, they will tend to distance themselves from whichever major powers they believe are disturbing the peace.

We’ve seen this tendency before. As the United States prepared to invade Iraq more than 20 years ago, its allies in Germany and France opposed the U.N. Security Council authorizing the use of force because they believed a big war in the Middle East would eventually blow back and hurt them (as, in fact, it did). When China builds artificial islands in the South China Sea and tries to intimidate Taiwan with shows of force, its neighbors take notice, move away from China, and start cooperating more closely with each other and with Washington. If others see you as part of the problem rather than as part of the solution, your diplomatic position is likely to erode.

The obvious lesson for the Biden administration is to devote more attention to defusing tensions, preventing wars, and ending conflicts, instead of defining foreign-policy success by how many wars we win, how many terrorists we kill, or how many countries we convert. If the United States allows China to establish a reputation for being a reliable peacemaker, as a great power that is willing to live and let live in its relations with others, convincing others to line up with us will become increasingly difficult.

Reduced tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran is a positive development that reduces the risk of a serious clash in a strategic region. This new détente is to be welcomed, therefore, even if Beijing gets some of the credit. The proper U.S. response is not to bemoan the outcome; it is to show that it can do as much or more to create a more peaceful world.

Vir: Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy

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