When UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres warned this week that the world must ‘avert the great fracture between the world’s two largest economies,’ it was beside the point as the fracture is already a reality and has been growing in intensity. But it would be disingenuous to place the blame equally on both sides.
While it is true that the escalation of tensions between the US and China is resulting in rival currencies, internets, political and military strategies, it is not a rejection of multipolarity or a universal economy by both powers. If anything, China has increasingly become a champion of multilateralism and a rules-based international order, while the US has been moving in the opposite direction – championing unilateralism, hegemony, economic bullying, and is busy abrogating international agreements.
Perhaps the warning would have been more pertinent if it highlighted the repercussions of the US undermining the UN as the ultimate arbiter of international peace and security, and the dangers of the US launching reckless trade wars that could plunge the world into another recession. Not to mention the warning from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that the US is laying the groundwork for abandoning the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty so that it can deploy weapons in outer space. It would seem that the US is responsible for the great fracture in international relations.
US President Donald Trump didn’t even try to hide his disdain for multilateralism this week when he made a pointed remark in his speech that “the future doesn’t belong to globalists but to patriots.” But what is more worrying is that there is an emerging chorus of right wing populist leaders who have become praise singers of the Trump doctrine, and who echo his views on everything from migration to climate change. Their rabid nationalism is divisive and ultimately destructive, and only serves to entrench the existing fracture in international relations between those who seek political consensus through negotiation, and those who believe they can overcome through economic and military might.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is one such praise singer who is more often than not being referred to as the ‘mini Trump.’ In his debut address to the UN General Assembly, Bolsonaro did his best to appeal to the international network of Pentecostal backers of Trump. Bolsonaro condemned the ‘ungodly progressives and their gender ideology,’ saying, ‘ideology has invaded the human soul to expel God from it.”
Bolsonaro also started talking out of the blue about religious persecution, which was conveniently raised on the heels of Trump’s lectures about religious freedom at the UN this week. No doubt the focus on religious persecution was an effort to divert attention away for the urgent discussions taking place at the UN on addressing climate change, something that both Trump and Bolsonaro would rather pretend does not exist.
Instead of acknowledging that one of the biggest challenges facing the world today is climate change, Trump claimed that one of the biggest challenges in the world today is the specter of socialism. He singled out various left wing governments, characterizing them as repressive such as Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. One would be forgiven for wondering if Stephen Miller who drafted Trump’s speech may have also had a hand in drafting Bolsonaro’s too.
Bolsonaro made reference to the great fight against socialism in Latin America, targeting Cubans and saying that the deal for Cuban doctors to work in Brazil will no longer be the case. He also tried to say that part of the problem in Venezuela has been that it allowed Cubans in. Similarly Trump called Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a Cuban puppet.
In an obvious counter to the US narrative on Venezuela and Cuba, Russian President Vladimir Putin snubbed the UN this week and instead met with the isolated Maduro in Moscow. In a stinging rebuke of the hypocrisy of Western liberalism, Lavrov published an oped in selected print media this week. The oped highlights how Western liberalism focuses on individual rights and freedoms, but Western governments are quick to impose sanctions that act as tools of economic strangulation. Lavrov also criticises the interventionist ideology of the ‘Right to Protect’ as a means to justify violent humanitarian interventions without UN Security Council authorisation.
When we talk about the great fracture we need to look at which powers are doing their utmost to break the well-established rules-based international system. As Lavrov has said, the attempts to establish a unipolar model have failed, and new major players with economic clout have every reason to demand a greater role in international decision-making. Once real UN reform is underway to make the organisation more democratic and inclusive, there will be more reason for all world leaders to actually attend the largely ceremonial opening of the UN General Assembly.
Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group.