Is Ukraine the First Round in the War to Determine Who Will Lead A New World Order?

Source: Google Images

In a meeting with the Business Roundtable on March 21, President Biden said something very important to understanding the current conflict in Ukraine:

There’s only one problem with Biden’s formulation: the Russians and Chinese have their own ideas about what constitutes “world order” and who should be leading it. And as historian Alfred McCloy pointed out on a recent segment of Democracy Now! and in an article for The Nation, China is also clearly on track to overtake the United States as the world’s most powerful nation and to establish a new form of global hegemony as well. So, perhaps the two most important questions for the future of humanity and the planet, are: 1) can the U.S. and its allies come to terms with the rise of China as world hegemon? and; 2) If they cannot, what lengths are they prepared to go to in order to try to prevent this from happening?

As McCloy notes, the positions of China and Russia today are the reverse of what they were when they were last allies in the twentieth-century. Back then, China was the junior partner, “essentially a supplicant” in the words of McCoy. Then, it was China that shed its blood and treasure to hold the line against the U.S. and its allies in Korea. But the Sino-Soviet alliance proved to be extremely short lived. The first ruptures occurred as early as 1956 and by 1969 relations had deteriorated to the point where there was a border conflict between the two that might easily have escalated into all-out war.

Today, the relationship between China and Russia is if anything more symbiotic than in the early 1950s. As Democracy Now! host, Amy Goodman noted while interviewing McCloy, Russia is a major energy exporter while China is one of world’s leading importers. And ominously for the United States, she noted in addition that the Wall Street Journal reported on March 15 that Saudi Arabia (ostensibly a U.S. ally) was in talks with Beijing to price some of its oil sales to China in yuan, a move that would dent the dollar’s dominance of the global petroleum market. China buys more than a quarter of Saudi Arabian oil exports. McCoy observed in turn that as China’s dominance over the global economy grows and it becomes the world’s largest economy, its currency’s role in the international economy is only going to increase, which will inevitably lead to a corresponding decrease in the role of the dollar. This could have potentially catastrophic consequences for Americans if this new reality is not taken into account by their government.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative Participation by Country As of 2020 — Source: Brookings Institution
China’s Belt and Road Initiative Participation by Country As of 2020 — Source: Brookings Institution

Furthermore, Russia plays a key role in China’s plans to become the dominant power on the Eurasian landmass and beyond. China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” is a trillion-dollar development program that incorporated 138 nations, including all of Eastern Europe — and even Ukraine — as of 2020 at least. According to McCoy, it’s ten times the size of the Marshall Plan — the biggest development scheme in human history and if it comes to full fruition, as he notes, “almost as if by natural law, power and prestige and global leadership will flow towards Beijing.” It might be added that the U.S. and its allies appear incapable of offering the world a similar, competing development program. Just by way of comparison, the much touted “benefits” of Ukraine’s economic relationship with the West and institutions like the International Monetary Fund, have seen it remain the second poorest country in Europe, after Moldova, as measured by GDP per capita.

The importance to China of its relationship with Russia, means that it will not rupture relations, apply pressure or blame the latter for what is going on in Ukraine. As McCoy notes, instead China will affirm that Russia has legitimate security concerns in Ukraine that must be met, and apply its considerable international power and prestige to support Russia in establishing its security in Eastern Europe. And other countries, especially those on the receiving end of years of American sanctions, like Iran, Cuba and Venezuela but others like India, will likely follow China’s lead. Whatever one may think of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (and I personally deplore it), we need to recognize the reality that, from a geopolitical standpoint, the world is by no means united in opposition.

This is what makes Biden’s recent attempts to deal with China in relation to the war in Ukraine seem ham-fisted and out of touch with reality. The default setting for the U.S. in international relations now seems to be issue threats of “implications and consequences” (i.e. economic warfare) rather then seeing China as a potential partner in bringing the carnage and destruction in Ukraine to an end through a negotiated settlement. In fact, Democracy Now! showed a brief excerpt from an interview on CBS’ Face the Nation where journalist Margaret Brennan, in true American, holier than thou, inquisitorial fashion demanded to know from Chinese ambassador Qin Gang if President Xi Jinping had “told Putin to stop the invasion” and whether Qin himself would condemn it. Qin responded calmly, trying to send a message to the American people and their government that China’s relationship with Russia should not necessarily be seen as “a liability” but rather “an asset in the international efforts to solve the crisis in a peaceful way.” But, of course, that would involve compromise and there is little evidence that the U.S. and its allies are interested in any form of compromise at this point. One might add, compromise in the form of a written guarantee that Ukraine would never be allowed to join NATO or to station NATO missiles pointed at Russia on its territory, might have avoided this catastrophe in the first place — assuming the U.S. and its allies really desired to avoid it. Instead, they now appear determined to ratchet up the rhetoric, continue to escalate militarily and to portray this as an existential fight against “evil” that demands nothing less than “total victory,” even if we end up having to destroy the planet in order to save it.

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Al Ronzoni

Al Ronzoni

Al Ronzoni is a writer, historian and political activist based in New York City