The overturning of the liberal international order

Challenges to the UN conflict prevention approach

Since the end of World War II, the most dominant state, the USA, has held a hegemonic position over the International liberal order. It is appropriate to assert that the USA has been responsible for establishing this order by promoting interdependence, economic liberation through trade and commerce, democratic principles and values, recognition of human rights, and prioritizing international cooperation through inter-state organizations.

The emergence of China as a global economic powerhouse has elevated its status to that of a significant stakeholder on the world stage. This has led to a shift in the Liberal Order’s power balance in favour of China. Moreover, under the leadership of Donald Trump, the USA promoted nationalist policies, deviating from its role as a leader of the world order. This created a void/space in the global leadership that was eventually filled by China, a rising power that not only challenged the US-led world order but also gradually secured its position and influence in various international organizations, including the United Nations, WTO, IMF, and others.

The United Nations was established in 1945 to replace the League of Nations, with the objective of preventing future conflicts and uniting all nations under a single platform to facilitate cooperation and conflict resolution. However, China views the United Nations as a tool to shape the current world order to serve its interests. Consequently, the growing influence of China poses a challenge to the UN’s conflict prevention approach.

The existence of permanent members in the Security Council has impeded the prevention of conflicts, as the permanent members, namely the USA, China, Russia, Britain, and France, possess veto powers that they may exercise to prevent the passing of any resolution that contradicts their interests or the interests of their allies.

China, unlike the other powers of the liberal order, is a communist state and has shaped the current world order according to its own communist tendencies. China has benefited from the current order and aims to establish a new world order with communist traits. In the current global order, China plays an active role under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, holding a significant position in world affairs. China desires to reform the governance of the world to align with its current interests and future aspirations. 

China’s past experiences of the Century of Humiliation suggest that it is more focused on economic and military buildup, and national interests take precedence over conflict prevention and human rights concerns.

China, through its Belt and Road Initiative, has endeavored to establish global connectivity and is actively participating in investment projects across various regions such as Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. By investing in development projects, China aims to establish relationships with all states and counter the influence of the USA in various regions, thereby gaining influence and sway in world politics.

The Chinese government perceives the United Nations as a universal organization of all governments established to address various threats and challenges. In this multipolar world order, both the USA and China are competing with each other for global hegemony. This competition is evident in the UN dispute settlement mechanisms, where both countries attempt to influence the organization and pursue their interests.

From a realist perspective, the UN has become a tool for powerful states such as China and the USA to pursue their interests. The fundamental problem lies in the veto power of the Security Council, which allows any state to block any resolution that runs contrary to its will and interest. Consequently, the UN appears to operate as a puppet in the hands of these major powers.

The UN has established a mechanism to prevent conflicts and maintain a peaceful and stable global environment. The UN’s efforts include mediation and resolution of disputes between conflicting parties, as well as deployment of peacekeeping forces in areas where conflict may arise. The primary responsibility for ensuring global peace and stability rests with the UN Security Council (UNSC), which is composed of five permanent members and 10 non-permanent members.

The UN has a primary goal of preventing conflicts, and the decline of the liberal world order has presented numerous challenges to this approach. China’s rise and its pursuit of global hegemony also occur within the context of the UN, with the current Chinese leadership viewing China as a responsible player in global politics with a responsibility to establish a world order that supports China’s long-term goals. China has actively participated in the UN, contributing more troops and peacekeeping forces than any other permanent member. Moreover, China has become the second-largest contributor to the UN budget and holds significant positions within the organization. China’s economic and military power is being used to assert its dominance in various regions, and the UN is not exempt from China’s assertive policies.

China has articulated its aim to reform the existing world order by constructing parallel institutions to wield greater influence in the global arena. With the intention to counter the existing liberal institutions, China has taken assertive steps to establish its own institutions. For instance, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has enabled China to penetrate key regions of the world. Furthermore, China has set up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) as an alternative to the World Bank, and has been actively engaging in the Middle East to further its economic interests and address the void caused by the USA’s retreat from the region.

China’s past experiences of the Century of Humiliation suggest that it is more focused on economic and military buildup, and national interests take precedence over conflict prevention and human rights concerns.

Tayyaba Khurshid
Tayyaba Khurshid
The writer is a Researcher at the Center For International Strategic Studies, AJK, and can be reached at [email protected]

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