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“The Triad”: US, China & Russia in International Relations

BY SHASHI MALLA
According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘triad’ means a set or group of three, and ‘Triad’ alludes to a Chinese secret society involved in organized crime. It is our contention that in the current international constellation of powers, the rules-based system of international politics and organizations — established under the stewardship of the United States after World War II — has largely broken down, and chaos reigns supreme. The Concert-like system and formal institutional structures to control the balance of power lies in tatters. There are three major global players and some regional powers attempting to influence events, but there is no coordination. The name-calling as a ‘rogue state’ for North Korea for example for not heeding international norms and rules, can now be extended to the US, China and Russia. These three set of countries now agitate as ‘international bullies’ and trample on international rules and regulations. All three countries which consider themselves socially, economically, culturally, politically and militarily ‘great’ in the sterling sense, are in, fact, guilty of treating with contempt the Charter of the United Nations, in spite of being veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council, which is primarily responsible for maintaining international peace and security (Article 24/UN Charter).
They have failed miserably
* to save the current generation of the world’s people “from the scourge of war” . . . “which has brought untold sorrow to mankind.”
* “to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights”.
* to respect “treaties and other sources of international law”
* “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”.
(Preamble to the Charter of the United Nations)
The End of the ‘American Century’
The United States after the implosion and collapse of the Soviet Union is currently the sole super power. Under President Donald J. Trump it is now in the process of dismantling the international structures it itself helped to erect after the Second World War. Its ‘America First’ policy is nothing less than a disoriented process of unilateralism. It is not only harming the US itself, but the world at large. It is a great tragedy that various overt and covert events, both domestic and international, led to the flawed election of a vainglorious, narcissistic, boastful and arrogant man with multifarious repercussions for the international community. Never in the annals of American history has such a compulsive liar and cheat been elected to the highest office of the land. Trump is now the quintessential image of the “Ugly American”. In most of his utterances and acts, it is as if he has struck a Faustian deal with the Devil.
For no rhyme nor reason, Trump has torn up valid and functioning bilateral and multilateral agreements, promising to re-negotiate them for ‘better deals’ which have not materialized at all. Instead his policies have only led to chaos. He suits comparison to the evil Roman emperor Nero, who reputedly fiddled away while setting Rome on fire, hoping to rebuild it in splendor.
The G-7 meeting of the major industrial nations earlier last month in Ottawa, Canada did not go well because of Trump’s confrontational attitude. Since then, trade relations have become further troubled, and the state of the much vaunted ‘Trans-Atlantic Alliance’ has been subjected to unprecedented stresses and strains, unlike any in the seven decades of its existence. The NATO heads of state/governments summit in Brussels on July 11-12 will gauge the health of the organization and its ability to safeguard member states from predatory Russian incursions.
Government servants, academic pundits and hawk-eyed scribes [‘the enemies of the people’ according to Trump] are all on tenterhooks as to how Trump will interact — privately and publicly. This will also depend on the extent to which he is pre-occupied with his summit meeting with his bosom pal Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland four days later. Will it be another escapade with Trump as the typical bull in a china shop, the ‘consummate’ bad diplomat and unaccomplished negotiator, supremely unwilling and unable to play the role of ‘first among equals’?
He may or may not again castigate America’s European allies for not sharing fairly the burden of defense spending. He could (but may not) cast aspersions on the US commitment to the organization’s collective defense clause.
Rise of the Middle Kingdom
China is rapidly catching up to the US and is undoubtedly a rising great power just below the status of a super power. It is also rapidly closing the gap with regard to soft power. However, it is perceived as a threat to the sovereignty of the other littoral states of the South China Sea, above all Taiwan. China considers this island country an inseparable part of the mainland — the ‘One China’ policy. Its attempts to intimidate the people and government, above all through naval and aerial exercises in the surrounding seas, has not been condoned, above all the US.
China is currently embroiled with the US on four competitive issues: the ‘denuclearization’ of North Korea [the Korean Peninsula], trade and investment, the South China Sea and Taiwan.
In the disputed South China Sea, which China claims in its entirety and treats as if were a Chinese lake, there have been military actions and minor incidents in the waters in recent weeks which have disturbed the relative calm of the last one-and-a half years. A new development here is the increased presence of new and unfamiliar maritime powers like France, the UK and India which could escalate the risk of accidental engagement. This is the case especially since the US and these regional-external powers are also expanding ‘freedom of navigation’ patrols both in the air and the sea and in the light of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s contentious statement to US Defense Secretary that China would not concede “even one inch” of territory/waters in the sea that is also claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
Antics of a ‘False Czar’
Russia in spite of being an atomic power (with the capacity to bring nuclear annihilation to the world ) and its large geographical area (it is in fact the largest country in the world), can only be classified as a great power and of being a regional nuisance. In spite of its nuclear arms and huge resources in mineral oil and natural gas, it has a poorly developed economy and its diplomatic reach is largely restricted to Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Its soft power’ is of little or no concern.
Against the rules of International Law, it forcefully annexed Crimea by force of arms and it is supporting insurgents in Eastern Ukraine against the bona fide government in Kiev. These very insurgents used a missile-ejector supplied by Russia to shoot down a Malaysian Airlines plane killing over two hundred innocent passengers. Russia is currently posing a threat to the Baltic states, which were formerly part of the Soviet empire.
At home, Putin [now in office practically for life, just like his Chinese counterpart Xi] has silenced a once active political opposition and suppressed independent media. His government is accused of influencing elections and jailing and killing perceived opponents of the regime. Trump considers Putin as someone akin to a soulmate. Both are cynical about liberal democracy, checks and balances, and the rule of law. Both consider it just a façade and the political system corrupt [Trump on the ‘Washington swamp’] and worthy of manipulation. These will be interesting times for US-Russian relations and world politics.

The columnist can be reached at: shashipbmalla@hotmail.com

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