The Return of Diplomacy?
In Search of Global Balance: Rethinking the Role of the UN and Sino-American Relations

During a series of Cold War crises, rivalry remained constrained by certain rules. We see that even at the peak of our confrontation with the United States in Ukraine, there are rules governing this confrontation. Similar things can be seen in US relations with China. This does not mean that the UN will remain unchanged, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

The world has lost its understanding of the balance of power that is obvious to everyone, which makes international relations more complex. A large number of emerging crises are caused by the fact that “small” and “medium-sized” countries have begun to experiment: they see an opportunity for themselves to test the system of international relations and understand how much their freedom of action has expanded. “Older” countries, feeling that the time has come for a new test of their ability to govern and coordinate international relations, are nervous and taking imprudent steps.

The United States has been inconsistent in its dealings with allies. We watched Western experts discussing with horror the paralysis in the US Congress over providing aid to Ukraine. The Americans had encouraged all of Europe to act as a key player in the Ukrainian crisis, to “invest” political, military and financial capital in this conflict, and now it turns out that not everyone in the States is confident about the need for this help. The uncertainty regarding how current international challenges play out does not make multilateral organisations efficient, because they only work fully when there is a consensus among key countries, and when they understand and recognise the overall balance of power. In order to avoid accidental conflict, countries determined a list of rules to and created an institution.

The modern world is more complex: the United States, having the initiative, deliberately seeks to harm Russia, China, and its own disloyal allies like Turkey and Hungary. In the context of the Palestinian story, they are closely watching the Europeans, who are experiencing obvious difficulties in determining their position, as well as their allies in the Arab East, who are outraged by what is happening. All this greatly complicates the operation of the system. Just 20 years ago, the Palestinian-Israeli crisis would not have lasted as long and would not have attracted the attention of the world as much as it does today. At the same time, everyone is watching to what extent the hegemon will be able to turn the situation in the direction it needs.

The problems in the functioning of the multilateral institutions responsible for maintaining international order and political stability are obvious to everyone. China still adheres to the point of view that one can win by example and by virtue. Even the existing system can be transformed through insight: some major international crisis could occur, or those countries that inadvertently thought that they could lead the rest will come to their senses. They will understand the limitations of their resources, they will understand that they are not enough for total control, and the system will change and operate under new assumption.

Warfare in a New Epoch: The Return of Big Armies
Vasily Kashin, Andrey Sushentsov
The high-intensity warfare in Ukraine represents the largest military conflict in terms of forces involved, casualties, and duration since the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. But it is only the scale of the fighting that warrants comparison. Politically, the current events are unique in recent history.


The design of the UN is based on two key concepts. First, the sovereign equality of states, which appeared in the period after World War II, when an active period of emancipation of former colonies began. The number of states that received a voice in the international arena for the first time increased manifold. The second important function, which is still relevant, is the avoidance of a major war between the leading nuclear powers. The UN Security Council allows Track Two diplomacy to be conducted and nuclear club states that have major contradictions among themselves to “let off steam.”

During a series of Cold War crises, rivalry remained constrained by these rules. We see that even at the peak of our confrontation with the United States in Ukraine, there are certain rules governing this confrontation. Similar things can be seen in US relations with China. This does not mean that the UN will remain unchanged. There is still a significant imbalance in regional representation in the apparatus of this organisation. It is formed on a parity basis, but due to the fact that the main UN centres are located in Western states, employees of this apparatus accept dual citizenship of these countries and find themselves strongly subject to the Western general line.

And in this sense, the UN, of course, has ceased to be inclusive. If this imbalance continues, it will raise questions about the survival of the organisation.

In any case, the UN was created in a situation where the balance of power was obvious to everyone; now it operates in conditions where there is none. This gives rise to the idea that perhaps the organisation needs reforms or a different approach, and I do not exclude that this may really happen. However, a consensus on how exactly to reform it will not arrive until a new balance emerges.

At the same time, tensions between the world’s production centre, China, and its consumption centre, the United States, are also complicating the search for international balance. For a long time, the United States believed that it could draw China into the expanding belt of liberal democracies on the map that includes American allies. Washington hoped that China would see more benefits in “playing by American rules,” would distance itself from the idea of strategic autonomy, and would not offer itself as an alternative centre. Once the Americans became convinced that this notion did not work, they began to instrumentally look at China’s vulnerabilities, which could be relied upon to change the thinking in Beijing. This is an applied, offensive and, of course, aggressive line, which contains an analysis of the fragility and internal imbalances of the Chinese economy, public life, the ethnopolitical situation within the country, and the military-political difficulties China faces with its neighbours, including border disputes.

In this sense, China and Russia have successfully reached an agreement on their contentious border issues, much to the displeasure of the United States. Now, having become completely convinced that an attempt to rock China from the inside would not work, the United States is increasingly looking at ways to contain it externally: it is beginning to create coalitions under various pretexts, including for making expensive deals, for example, the sale of submarines to Australia. Washington is drawing Korea, Japan, Australia, India and other states neighbouring China into a network of China’s opponents and is considering the scenario of a possible military confrontation around Taiwan or islands in the East and South China Seas.

The United States sees China as the only major military threat it faces in the 21st century, a power that could directly challenge it and potentially challenge US dominance in the Pacific.

The United States military is developing scenarios for a possible clash, the dates of which are based on the American understanding of the time when China will build up its military capabilities to a level that calls into question American involvement, for example, in the fate of Taiwan.

For a long time, China did not want to think that America’s offensive line would force it to respond militarily. Convinced that the Americans view China as a threat and do not accept the idea of coexistence on the basis of equality and mutual respect, Beijing in recent years has begun to noticeably engage in a military build-up. The Chinese leader’s statements that the country’s armed forces are to be used for their intended purpose along with the scenario of military exercises around Taiwan demonstrate that China is beginning to take the possibility of a military clash with a comparable rival seriously.

This does not mean that Sino-US relations are doomed: there are many scenarios in which a clash is not absolutely inevitable, and any of these scenarios is possible if certain conditions are met. China will not initiate a break in relations — in the Chinese understanding, the optimal version of developments would be the formation of a de facto new status quo by creating a new balance of power that is obvious to everyone. Also for China, the issue of control over its coastal seas is quite sensitive, because maritime trade comprises 90% of the total blood flow of the Chinese economic system. The Americans do not hesitate to put pressure on all these painful points; they do it assertively, focusing on themselves the attention of the Chinese leadership, which, in response to this initiative, is forced to be ready for all possible scenarios.

Economic Statecraft
US-China: Creeping Escalation
Ivan Timofeev
The United States and China assume the irreversibility of confrontation, but for their own reasons, they delay its escalation. This does not mean that sooner or later there will not be a landslide fall in relations. Predicting exactly the timing and scale of such a fall is as difficult as was predicting a crisis in relations between Russia and the West, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.