The dangers of religious extremism, terrorism, violent nationalism and narcotics are highly visible threats to the peace, stability and sustained development of the world. Yet the phenomenon of espousing liberalism at the point of coercion in pursuit of geopolitical unilateralism remains the gravest of all dangers to the men, women and nations of the planet.
In the middle of the 20th century, the peace movement in the west was noted for its opposition to US led military invasions and occupations of other countries while likewise, the American peace movement of the Cold War era argued for detente and mutual co-existence with the Soviet and Chinese superpowers of Asia. Today however, the once strong anti-war movement of the west has been largely killed off and co-opted and in its place have arisen the rhetorically different but practically identical neo-conservative and liberal movements.
At their core, both of these movements are the manifestation of the ‘might makes right’ justification for geopolitical action that was most eloquently defined by the Hellenic historian Thucydides in his Melian Dialogue. But in an age of human inter-connectivity, global trade, space travel and nuclear weapons, the idea that “the strong will do as they will and the weak submit as they must” is hard to stomach for citizens of a planet who tend to share the desire to avoid the kinds of destruction that modern weapons make possible.
While trade is typically defined in terms of the material benefits that are derived from economic openness, a more inter-connected world also enhances the potential for conflict resolution on the basis of peace through prosperity while positive interactions between individuals and cultures offers the promise of greater human empathy spreading across the planet.
This is why the Belt and Road initiative first introduced by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 is more than just an economic network of peaceful nations acting in concert. Belt and Road offers the world a modern day version of the ancient silk roads which helped to spread scholarship, art and the principles of human enlightenment across continents. By harnessing the spirit of the ancient silk roads and combining it with the power of modern technology, Belt and Road stands not only for a peaceful revolution in global trade and logistics but also represents a revelation in the history of human enlightenment and genuine culture enrichment.
It is therefore deeply disconcerting that some nations are championing a retreat into the geopolitically retarded sphere of unilateralism which pits nation against nation, economy against economy, political system against political system and ultimately human being against fellow human being. While the principles of Belt and Road stress equality between men, women, cultures and nations, the zero-sum mentality implicit in unilateralism seeks to define nations, cultures and people in terms of ‘best and worst’, ‘good and evil’, ‘acceptable and detestable’.
While the western liberalism of Voltaire putatively has its roots in the essence of tolerance, today’s liberalism as practised and preached in many western nations has zero tolerance for diversity in terms of national characteristics and sovereignty. When the US Ambassador to the United Nations takes a microphone and beings cheering on a street provocation against the government of Venezuela while threatening to use the might of the US military to destroy Venezuela’s sovereignty – this is not tolerance but aggression. There is no difference between Haley’s threats towards the sovereign state of Venezuela and the threats that Athens made to the Melos in Thucydides’ History of The Peloponnesian War. Likewise, when US vessels penetrate the sovereign maritime territories of China and call it “freedom of navigation”, the words used continue to be deceptive. Provoking a nation on the other side of the world is not freedom but open hostility. Such zero-sum brinkmanship has no place in the modern world.
But far from merely offering hostile provocations, western nations in the 21st century attempt to hide their aggression behind liberalism. In other words, if one can define a foreign nation as non-liberal, such a nation’s worth can then be derided, its political system ridiculed and its people dehumanised. All of the sudden, aggression against a non-liberal nation is no longer aggression in the eyes of the naive but it is somehow a sacred movement to rid the world of inferior systems of government. Is this ideology any different than fascism? The answer is that it is fascism as cheered on by individuals with personally liberal and even libertine lifestyles.
It is perfectly within the right of western nations to enact liberal laws among themselves and it is further a right of western leaders to personally favour liberal nations over those with other systems of governance. But when this devotion to liberalism leads to an atmosphere of geopolitical unilateralism where nations throughout the world are coerced into modifying their sovereign characteristics under the threat of supreme military violence, this liberalism because a turgid excuse used to justify the kinds of unilateralism that in past centuries and millennia drowned the world in blood.
While the US destroyed Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and attempted to do so in Syria because the legitimate governments of these nations did not seek to integrate themselves into the American led economic order, not a single nation that does not embrace Belt and Road has been threatened by China with any form of coercion or blackmail. Far from it, China actively engages in peaceful and constructive dialogue with Belt and Road holdouts including both India and Vietnam in attempts to reach a common understanding by sharing mutual concerns and discussing mutual aspirations.
If one searches for speeches by Chinese officials where the governments of smaller nations were threatened with war because they exercised different priorities than that of China, one would not find a single such example. While the US has threatened the DPRK in the recent past and continues to threaten Iran, Syria, Russia and Venezuela, China has been busy looking for nations to work with rather than engage in attempts to remake the world in one’s own liberal image through the use of unilateral threats and acts of violence.
Creating world peace is not a matter of convincing every nation to agree with every other nation. Such things are not possible. The key instead is to accept the world for what it is and work within this framework to improve the lives of people on all sides of the globe by invoking the principle of peace through prosperity while promoting sovereignty through upholding international law. Until certain nations cease using liberalism as a means of justifying unilateralism, this dream of world peace will continue to evade future generations.