The existing rules-based international order is indeed under threat as global power relations shift, which will require adaptation and potentially entirely new forms of cooperation, heard the panel entitled Rules-Based International Order or the Return of Geopolitics? Several possibilities going forward were offered, with the debate showing that countries and regions have their own distinct concerns.
The panel opened with H.E. Dr Seyyed Abbas Araghchi, Deputy Foreign Minister for Political Affairs of Iran, criticizing the United States for walking away from the nuclear deal with Iran, an agreement which Mr Araghchi described as the only achievement of diplomacy in the region and a win-win for all sides.
He said this showed that at the cusp of 2020, the “law of the strongest prevails over the strength of the law,” which is disappointing and will not help peace and security in the region. As he pointed out, the US was in fact violating one of the pillars of international law, the principle of pacta sunt servanda, all because “the new president does not like the achievement of his predecessor.”
Mr Araghchi also criticized European countries for not doing enough in the aftermath, noting that they had promised to find practical solutions to work around the US sanctions against Iran but have not even managed to create a simple banking channel to make it possible for European companies to do business with Iran. He argued this was because “the European economy is dollarised and the dollar is weaponized.”
Mr Jean-Christophe Belliard, Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs and Political Director at the European External Action Service, noted that multilateralism was at the EU’s very core, a concept that defines it.
But he also said that there were multiple multilateralisms: China is building its own and the United States is going its own way. Europe is thus pushing for an “alliance of multilateralism” with countries that share its values on all continents, building strong relations with regional and sub-regional organisations.
Dr Babafemi Badejo, CEO of Yintab Strategy Consults in Nigeria, provided the African perspective, noting that the existing rules-based order had been created after the war by powers that hugely benefitted from it and argued in favour of Africa having a stronger role.
H.E. Mr Jae-bok Chang, Ambassador for Public Diplomacy at the Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile laid out the North-East Asian perspective, in particular in view of his country’s relations with North Korea.
While acknowledging that Korea had benefitted from the international order put in place after the Second World War, in particular in terms of economic development and trade, he said there was plenty of room to improve multilateralism in the region.
Korea is establishing a platform for regional cooperation that would include stakeholders beyond the region, including the US, China, Russia and Japan, in order to promote dialogue and cooperation, he said.
Turning to China, Ms Theresa Fallon, Director of the Centre for Russia, Europe, Asia Studies in Belgium, noted that the current order was in a period of “transition and uncertainty,” like “a Jenga tower with little bits and pieces falling from it.”
Part of the reason is the rise of China, she said, adding that it was necessary to acknowledge the amazing growth of its economy, with its Belt and Road initiative “very impressive” even as it has caused divisions, including in Europe.
China’s rise thus raises questions about, for example, artificial intelligence and authoritarian surveillance, she said, wondering how the emerging “social credit system” in China will affect companies outside China. She also pointed to the current protests in Hong Kong as “a microcosm of battles to come.”
More broadly, she said there was a “new Cold War narrative” emerging, something which she does not agree with. Instead, she sees it as a systemic challenge against the backdrop of “laziness and complacency about democracy.”
Dr Walter Kemp, Head of Strategic Policy and Planning Unit at the OSCE, meanwhile argued that realpolitik had never gone away. He said the rules-based international order is realpolitik, but with a degree of predictability that makes it easier to manage international relations.
Accordingly, what the world needs is more geopolitics and more sensitivity to why countries pursue their own self-interest, according to him.
Mr Richard Moore, Political Director at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, agreed that geopolitics had never gone away and will not as long as humans compete with humans.
The system established post-1945 has served the world well, it constrained geopolitics without ending them, but now other countries, for example Nigeria, “have the right to demand more” from an order that remains creaky, he said.
He said the UK was committed to reforming the international order and that new powers need to be accommodated into the system, but he acknowledged this would be difficult. Nevertheless, it is necessary to stand up for free trade, human rights and the rule of law. “If we are complacent others who do not share our diplomatic values will displace us.”
Ambassador Iztok Mirošič, Ambassador-at-Large and Special Envoy of the Minister at the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile argued that it was necessary to preserve the European way of life.
Highlighting technological advancements as a major new element in international relations, he said authoritarian systems were pitted against democratic systems and unless this is reconciled there will be a split.
Multilateral system is in clear interest of the EU, and the bloc also shares the same values as the US, he said, but admitted that democratic countries needed to work to make their decision-making systems more efficient since at present decision-making is better in authoritarian countries.