Can the West move beyond the business of war and work with China, other nations for global peace?

Apr 14, 2023
President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping meets with President of Russia Vladimir Putin at the official welcoming ceremony in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow. March 20-22 / 2023 Moscow

Instead of focusing on building bridges and finding common ground for peace, the West has increasingly sought to shore up support among its allies and castigate or demonise its enemies.

  • The West has an unenviable track record of repeatedly failing to use diplomacy to resolve geopolitical issues
  • The charge for peace should be led by a more diverse global community of diplomats, including from key nations such as China and India

It makes for troubling times when war is on the agenda of powerful nations. With the global mainstream media cultivating narratives to convince the world that war is inevitable, it is time to ask a simple question: where are the peacemakers?

There is one recent example: Saudi Arabia and Iran have reopened diplomatic channels, facilitated by China.

China has accomplished an impressive diplomatic feat – brokering an agreement between two regional powerhouses that have a long history of antagonism and mistrust.

This accomplishment follows Beijing’s 12-point plan to end the war in Ukraine, demonstrating China’s willingness to engage as a responsible member of the international community. And in March, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Moscow to meet Russian leader Vladimir Putin, with peace on the agenda.

Yet China’s efforts have been met with hostility and suspicion from many of those in the diplomatic corridors of Europe and the United States.

Equally, conjecture about Beijing’s imagined plans to invade Taiwan continues to occupy mainstream media, instead of the very real diplomatic efforts it is making. One article in The Economist referred to China’s efforts as “transactional diplomacy … [that] contains real perils”.

While peace brokering has benefits for the broker, blanket criticism and mischaracterisation are unhelpful to global diplomacy – especially given the West’s own track record of failure and the current need for new diplomatic actors and channels.

So, as the drums of war beat louder and the fearmongers are emboldened, the question remains: what has happened to the business of peacemaking?

The honest answer is that it has been overwhelmed by the very real business of war-making.

Most global industries that can inflict large-scale harm are subject to great scrutiny and regulatory oversight. Think of the fossil-fuel industry and “big pharma”, as well as junk-food and tobacco makers.

Yet the business of war, which manifests itself as the “defence industry”, has been manoeuvred outside of public scrutiny. It lurks in a twilight zone because it has merged with the state, especially in countries like the US, with its extensive military-industrial complex. Thus, instead of being seen as a threat to our societies, it is even lauded by many.

It is a business with special privileges that hides behind the shield of “classified information” such that citizens are unaware of its dealings. It has also cleverly associated with ideas such as “national security” and the need for more “deterrents” to further its business interests.

Simply put, the stakeholders of the business of war are a very powerful global force, and the world has increasingly allowed itself to be held hostage by its interests.

It is a global crisis, and now is the time to build a more powerful global business of peacemaking.

China’s Ukraine plan ‘an effort to show it backs peace, not Russia’

This crisis underscores a pressing reality: that the US and the West are increasingly unable to achieve peace through diplomacy. This is not to say that the business of war-making is confined to the US and Europe, but they have the largest defence industry and thus the largest war-making businesses. A cynical view is that the West is captive to these interests and therefore has no appetite for peace.

In such an economic construct, where selling weapons and the prospect of continuous war are a major contributor to the workings of the economy (from 2001 to 2022, the US spent US$8 trillion on wars in the wake of September 11), the art of diplomacy instead becomes a servant to the economic interests of the business of war.

After all, diplomacy is ultimately about doing everything possible to avoid conflict and prevent large-scale death and destruction. That means relentlessly forging good relations with other nations, especially with those you deem to be enemies, to maintain peace and prosperity. Such efforts should not be constrained by ideological obsessions rooted in maintaining primacy, dominance and supremacy.

Yet the West has a long history of repeatedly failing to use diplomacy to resolve issues. Instead, it often uses its self-appointed role as a global policeman to further its own economic interests by dominating others. We are seeing this “my way or the highway” approach play out in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war – including in the rejection of the Chinese peace plan – reinforcing the widely held view that peace is not on the docket.

The fault lines of the West’s diplomatic approach became apparent at the close of the Cold War with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The West celebrated this as a historic turning point and then became captivated by the notion that it had achieved the “end of history” and was destined to lead the world into a democratic utopia, all the while maintaining economic dominance that was sustained by its military might.

This quasi-religious mission was in turn supported by the Western-dominated global media and the ability of the US to abuse the exorbitant privilege of the dollar to harm any nation that challenged its hegemony. Even the promise of the internet was viewed as a tool to apparently democratise the world and spread freedom.

At the helm of this project was the US playing global police officer, with its foreign policy heavily influenced by the economic interests of its military-industrial complex, having been at war more than 90 per cent of the time since the country’s founding.

Putin’s war crimes warrant could complicate Ukraine peace

The US’ fixation with the need to change Russia began soon after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This desire for primacy coupled with the growing influence of the business of war spawned a multi-industry effort that brought together media companies, commentators, a slew of supposed experts writing books to form the basis of this ideological project – The End Of History – and even the establishment of think tanks and the co-opting of academic institutions. The business of war formed a symbiotic relationship with the state, capturing the state as its major client to channel public money to defence companies.

The West’s victory over the Soviet Union left it intoxicated with the promise of a Western-led future. The premise of Cold War-era “diplomacy at all costs” was supplanted by the post-Cold War dogma of “democracy at any cost”, leading to the justification of actions under the guise of “humanitarian interventions” and “responsibility to protect”, but ultimately resulting in destruction and chaos in numerous parts of the world.

This notion was championed by the neoconservatives within the Bush administration and, to some extent, the Obama and Trump governments. The current Biden administration is following suit.

Bush-era neocons inaugurated a period of militaristic interventions in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and current neocons are recklessly engaging in discussion about a potential war with China with a range of provocations.

Such actions disregard the catastrophic effects of American overreach over the last 50 years, perpetuating a cycle of violence and instability across the world. The oversimplification of the virtues of democracy and the belief in its universality have led the West to forget the complexity and plurality of our world, resulting in a widespread dismantling of diplomatic norms and principles and the imposition of neo-imperialist ideas. The inherent belief in a deep-rooted sense of superiority over others has deeply undermined the West’s credibility on the global stage.

Yet the West seems deaf to the voices of the global majority who are calling for peace. This aggressive and unilateral approach to addressing geopolitical issues – aided and abetted by a mainstream media captive to the objective of promoting the ideologies of Western powers – has led to an unfortunate trend to which Western political elites, and even the general public, appear to be tone deaf. This is the trend of the global majority turning against the West, among them many elites who were educated in the West and even those who had believed in the benefits of greater Westernisation.

Instead of focusing on building bridges and finding common ground for peace, the West has increasingly sought to shore up support among its allies and castigate or demonise its enemies. This is the antithesis of diplomacy and should have no place in the complex and fragile world we live in.


First published in THIS WEEK IN ASIA April 8, 2022

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