Right is might is right — a mirror image

Right is might is right — a mirror image Featured

AT the end of the Second World War, along with the advent of a bipolar world, the behavior of the hegemons America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) defined the global power dynamics. Both countries were perceived to be the major winners of the war against the Axis powers — Germany, Italy and Japan — America ascendant in Western Europe and USSR, Eastern Europe, with America extending its influence in the countries Japan had dominated in Southeast Asia. With major countries taking sides, a semblance of a balance of power reigned, though still confrontational, with the creation of the Iron Curtain dividing the USSR and its allies against America and Western Europe, embodied by the rivalry of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

Nonetheless, this precarious global arrangement favored America and the West, with these countries ramping up their military forces, with NATO greater than that of the Warsaw Pact. But these forces were all roughly equalized by the introduction of nuclear capabilities in both protagonists' arsenals, drastically changing the game in global brinkmanship and ushering in a new doctrine in military strategy and security policy, the mutually assured destruction (MAD). The use of nuclear weapons by any of those that possess them against a country with second-strike capabilities would trigger an immediate retaliation — and annihilation of both. The prospect of Armageddon underpinned this balance of power.

Unipolar world order

The collapse of the USSR in 1991 dismantled the bipolar construct. The end of the Cold War left America as the lone world hegemon, maintaining stability and, for a time, providing leadership, enforcing order, deterring aggressors, and restricting and containing regional conflicts from spreading. Globally, America has always bannered the ideals of republicanism, democracy and the rule of law — which were touted as the elements that demolished the totalitarian ideals espoused by the USSR. America's idea of "right as might" was its cutting-edge dogma in advancing its influence in the global power dynamics. These principles include its version of international law, human rights, justice and moral values, which are adjuncts to upholding freedom for all peoples of all races, religions, or even political inclinations. America's concept of "right being might" was crucial in compelling cooperation and, more importantly, advocating capitalism and free trade agreements overseen by multilateral institutions, which in any case are heavily Western influenced — the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank Group and the World Trade Organization (WTO), among others.

But America's rhetoric did not align with its actions. With its military, economy and geopolitical ascendancy, its ability to shape international events far superseded its role as arbiter of its ideals and molded international events to its own image. The unilateral use of untrammeled power tends to be abused. Afghanistan, Iraq and the various conflicts initiated by America and the West were just examples of these transgressions. There was no check to its promoting its own brand of fairness, justice and cooperation among nations. Subsequently, the "right is might" concept was abused, discarded and went down the drain, imperiling the rules-based international order. Consequently, all these may have sanctioned the authoritarian predisposition of other global power players, particularly China, which had been biding its time. And with Russia, we enter a multipolar world order.

Multipolar world

Conceptually, in this multipolar world, America can no longer impose its republicanism and democracy solely based on "right is might" or its traditional role in utilizing its soft power and diplomacy, promoting its values, and shaping global norms without repercussions. But it continued to maintain its dominance by leveraging its economic and military capabilities as well as its technological innovation and adaptability.

The US may now have to contend and engage more seriously with China and Russia and their major partners in the Brics countries, an incipient powerful bloc that has the potential to reshape the existing world order, to enforce a balance of power — a state of affairs still favorable to America.

While the US armed forces are still dominant, China is fast approaching parity, backstopped by its authoritarian allies with itchy fingers on nuclear triggers (North Korea) and those in the Levant with near-nuclear capacities (Iran) and renegades with oil money to procure nukes in the market. Russia, meanwhile, is bogged down in Ukraine, proving its military might to be ephemeral.

Might is right — the rise of China

While the US and its allies still have a huge influence in the geopolitical dynamics, nevertheless, "right is might" may no longer serve as an appropriate underpinning for a rules-based international order. China, in its recent actuations against the Philippines, revives the equivalent of the medieval age concept of the God-given divine rights of kings. In this case, as China is a secular unbeliever in the supernatural, then its communist party's God-given right to rule, "might is right," is easily the modern metaphor for acts of a bully. This is certainly true for its actions in the West Philippine Sea.

Witness the recent acts of intimidation by China this year alone. A Chinese coast guard ship rammed a Philippine Coast Guard vessel and a civilian boat on a resupplying mission to the BRP Sierra Madre in the Philippine-owned Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal). In February, a Chinese coast guard ship directed a "military-grade laser" at one Philippine vessel, temporarily blinding a crew member.

In August, China's coast guard fired water cannons at Philippine ships carrying food, water, fuel and other supplies for the Filipino military personnel stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre.

To refresh our memory, the BRP Sierra Madre is a decrepit World War 2 vintage warship deliberately grounded by the Philippine government in the shallow waters of Ayungin Shoal in 1999 as a response to China's seizing Panganiban Reef (Mischief Reef) earlier in 1995. Both are within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

The Sierra Madre is a pathetic poor man's version of a military base manned by a few of our marines. China has demanded the ship's removal and has oftentimes attempted to prevent resupply through repeated harassment and blockades.

Giving up this "Philippine base" will be tantamount to surrendering sovereignty over a territory we own. China's bullying will just allow the rusted ship to eventually crumble and be abandoned.

These encounters have heightened fears of an armed conflict in the West Philippines Sea. The United States issued a statement condemning China's disruption of resupply missions to Ayungin Shoal, stressing its position to stand by the Philippines and protect its sovereignty. It also reaffirmed the 1951 US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), America's ironclad commitment to defend the Philippines against attack. And these extend to attacks on Philippine forces and vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

But China also understands the nuances of these provisions, reading its fine print only too well. China's insolence is the embodiment of the concept of "might is right." Its coercive acts are those of a bully, but China is acutely aware that they fall below the threshold for warfare, which the MDT implies, without which the MDT can't be triggered.

So, we continue to be bullied!

Read 143 times Last modified on Wednesday, 15 November 2023 23:09
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