Donald Trump likes attacking soft targets, and the United Nations is about as soft as they come. Over the past two months, U.N. officials have been bracing for an entirely inevitable clash with the next U.S. administration. Their only question has been exactly what would set off the showdown. Would it be climate change? Torture?
Before examining the issue of nuclear armed cruise missiles (NACMs) a quick global geopolitical overview is warranted. The short post-Cold War period of cooperation between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the P5 in common parlance) has given way to greater direct interstate contestation between them today. Consider the US-Russia confrontation over Ukraine and Syria, the US-China tensions in the South China Seas, not to mention the latent conflict between China and US allies like Japan.
The 71st UN general assembly (UNGA) session, unlike the somnolent affairs of the past, literally began with a bang. A couple of explosions and the discovery of crude bombs in New York and New Jersey, barely a week after the 15th anniversary of 9/11, revived the spectre of terrorism. The swift arrest of Ahmad Khan Rahami just two days later and his reported trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan focused attention on the region as a base of transnational terrorism.
The ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague against China’s claim on the South China Sea in a case brought before the court by the Philippines should prima facie have remained a bilateral matter between the litigants. In reality, however, it has become an exemplar of China’s role in the ongoing contest to determine the world order. China’s shrill and bellicose response during and after the ruling has only served to heighten alarm over Beijing’s intentions and behaviour among all the major powers, including India.
During German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent visit to China, the two countries agreed to jointly fund a disaster response centre in Afghanistan. It was just the latest sign of China’s increasingly prominent role in that country, which also includes trying to jump-start peace talks with the Taliban.
The United States’ presence in the Indo-Asia-Pacific is transforming from a traditional alliance network (of Australia, Japan, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand) into a web of strengthened alliances, new partnerships and creative linkages.
Washington must manage this transformation carefully, so its alliance network maintains a deterrent function and reassures allies, but does not exacerbate USChina tensions.
President Xi Jinping first presented China’s vision for a “Silk Road Economic Belt” during a 2013 speech in Kazakhstan. The idea was to “forge closer economic ties, deepen cooperation, and expand development in the Euro-Asia region”. In early 2015, the contours of Beijing’s strategy began to emerge as China’s leadership laid out plans for this “Silk Road Economic Belt” through Central Asia, and a “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” through Southeast and South Asia. China referred to both collectively as “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR).