Who determines the rules of the “rules-based world order”?
by Peter Novak
Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States – as well as the European Union with G7 observer status – that is the global West, for too long imagined that it was the world. In fact, colonialist exploitation and forced labor – in the case of Germany, also the Nazi policy of robbery – were the foundation of its power. But the world has changed.
Who determines the rules of the “rules-based world order”?
by Peter Nowak
[This article posted on 4/20/2023 is translated from the German on the Internet, https://www.telepolis.de/features/Wer-bestimmt-die-Regeln-der-regelbasierten-Weltordnung-8974519.html.]
Fundamentals of Western power that German politicians don’t like to remember are not forgotten in the global South. Archival image (Cameroon, ca. 1894): Illustrated Newspaper / Wikimedia Commons
The global West talks about it a lot. This shows that it is determining the rules less and less. But the majority of the world’s population has no reason to take sides.
There it was again, the phrase about the rules-based world order being violated or disregarded by China and Russia. It is no coincidence that this phrase was used particularly frequently at the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Japan a few days ago. The reason for this is that the countries that met there were those that had indeed determined the rules of the world for decades – and which are now registering that the world is no longer playing by their rules.
Germany, France, Italy, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States – as well as the European Union with G7 observer status – that is the global West, for too long imagined that it was the world. In fact, colonialist exploitation and forced labor – in the case of Germany, also the Nazi policy of robbery – were the foundation of its power. But the world has changed. Other states such as China and India have long since become more economically potent.
When economic power dwindles, people turn to “values”.
When today’s G7 countries determined the rules of the world order, they hardly talked about it. The phrase “rule-based world order” has only become popular since it has become increasingly clear that they will lose their power and will at least no longer be able to determine the rules on their own. But that is not surprising. The lament about the rules being violated, even on a small scale, usually begins when they are questioned or disregarded.
If the rules are hegemonic and are hardly ever questioned, then they are hardly ever talked about. That is precisely the essence of hegemony, that power is not questioned at all – then it is not talked about, but the powerful simply rule. It is a sign of defensiveness that so much was said at the G7 meetings about the violation of the rules-based world order.
This shows that the rules no longer work to their tune. This also shows that the economy is the basis on which the power and influence of states function. And the G7 countries have long since ceased to lead the way. That is why there is so much talk about values that are supposedly universal – even if Western states like Germany are recognizably applying double standards in practice, for example in energy partnerships with reactionary Gulf monarchies as an alternative to dependence on Russian oil and gas supplies.
By emphasizing idealistic values, states seek to compensate for their economic weakness: They imagine they are the whole world because they supposedly represent universal values. But the politicians and functionaries of the value West also know that this cannot compensate for economic weakness. Therefore, the value West tries to stop its shrinking influence as good materialists not by invoking values, but by embargoes and economic wars against the rising counterparts.
The invocation of values is then only the accompanying music, intended primarily for liberal circles in the states of the value West. There, it is above all parts of the petty bourgeoisie and intellectual circles that carry Western values before them like a monstrance and are quickly offended when someone reminds them of the material foundations of their previous power.
The key words are original accumulation, colonialism and exploitation of labor all over the world. Only, the people of the rising powers of China and India do not need to be told about colonialism and Western exploitation from the books. These countries were, after all, victims of colonialism at a time when today’s G7 countries were, of course, also in competition with each other in determining the rules of the world.
The former colonial powers and the rule-based world order
That is why the value West does not need to be surprised when states of the global South keep reminding it of the history of colonialism, i.e., keep reminding it of the bloody foundations of its rule. Then German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) sometimes hears in Africa that China did not colonize Africa.
Russia, on the other hand, still enjoys trust in various African states because memories are still alive there of a time when the Soviet Union and Cuba made an important contribution to the dismantling of the South African apartheid system. That system was closely allied with today’s values West – and it was not the invocation of Western values that defeated apartheid, but Cuba’s military aid to the frontline states against South Africa that had freed themselves from the colonialism of Portugal and Britain in the 1970s.
Nor is it forgotten in many countries of the global South that the South African apartheid system was strong when the rules of the value West dominated.
Cuba is not forgiven for violating the rules-based world order
It was Cuba that violated the rules-based world order of the time by providing not only weapons but also soldiers to fight apartheid on the African continent. Also at that time, the West cried out and accused Cuba of violating the rules. The small island already did that by the Cuban revolution so close to the coast of the USA, a revolution that then survived with the help of the Soviet Union. The values West has not forgiven the people of Cuba for that. That is why there has been a campaign against the island and the USA embargo for more than 60 years.
But still the value west drives a campaign against Cuba because of lack of democracy. It is clear that there is a lot of authoritarianism in Cuba and that a left-wing movement is needed to overcome these structures without being taken over again by the value West. But if today Cuba is particularly attacked even in liberal media – and not the U.S., which constantly violates rules with the embargo – then this is part of the revenge for Revolution 1959, which violated the value-based world order of that time.
The result is comments like that of taz foreign policy chief Bernd Pickert, who accuses Brazilian President Lula da Silva of “moral-political bankruptcy” in a commentary. What exactly does Pickert bring up against Lula? The Brazilian does not take sides in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, also criticizes the Values West for its war rhetoric, has his own agenda in foreign policy and received the Russian foreign minister for talks.
First he was in Brazil, now Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is traveling on to Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. In this way, Lavrov is putting Brazil’s President Lula da Silva exactly where his right-wing domestic political opponents always wanted to put him during the election campaign: in a row with Latin American dictators.
Bernd Pickert, taz
When the Subalterns Set Their Own Rules
Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are states that have at various times violated the rules of the value West – and that was definitely a gain for their populations. That does not mean, however, that we should unconditionally support the governments of these countries today.
Criticism of the authoritarian domestic developments in Nicaragua and Venezuela is necessary. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that the states that are currently preparing to determine the rules of the world order, such as India and China, are also class societies that exploit and oppress a large part of their inhabitants.
Resistance to this is necessary and worthy of support. However, this does not mean siding with Western governments, which currently no longer determine the rules of this world order. A new world is only possible if the subalterns do not allow themselves to be drawn into the dispute over the rule-based world order. Only then can it be achieved that the majority of the population of all countries determines the rules of the new world order. (Peter Nowak)