Belief is Everything

China, it is worth noting, is very much similar to the other “battleground” or “uncommitted” countries of the ‘Third World’ despite its outsized political and economic clout and significance, in the sense that China is also largely uncommitted when it comes to choosing a definite and resolute side to the conflict between Brussels and Russia, whereas the United States has cast its lot with Brussels. As in the case of the 20th century Cold War, China could be able to tilt the balance one way or another even today. But as mentioned before, when all is said and done, beliefs and ideological factors are more important and significant than economic and material factors when it comes to determining the final result and outcome of a balance-of-power conflict and dispute, and when it comes to beliefs and ideology, China is much more aligned with Russia than with Washington and Brussels.

Moreover, and as Europe knows full well as a result of its history, the balance of power is “a perennial concern of statesmen” as Hedley Bull highlighted. Because the balance of power is in constant flux until its final result and its ultimate outcome, there needs to be a constant influx of information and intelligence coming into both individuals and groups in order to address the balance of power dynamic of international affairs. And as mentioned on numerous occasions, one of the fundamental precepts or principles of the balance of power structure in which we find ourselves today is the ‘triangular relationship’ between the United States, Russia, and China. As Hedley Bull wrote:

“The balance of power remains a condition of the continued existence of the system of states, and limited wars that affect the distribution of power among the great powers contribute to it. But a central part of the general balance of power is now the relationship of mutual nuclear deterrence between the United States and the Soviet Union, now in process of becoming a triangular relationship including China. In this relationship of mutual deterrence, unlimited war can have no positive role but can only represent the collapse of the system.” 

However, the balance of power system conceived by Europe during the age of empires did provide wiggle room for “limited wars” even if wars of conquest and hegemony were deemed unacceptable. “Limited wars” such as the one we are experiencing now between Russia and Ukraine have long been justified by the “national interest” and by strategic national objectives of European empires. But in order for an international system to survive, the pursuit of strategic national objectives and interests must be balanced with a set of commonly held principles and values between the major powers, as Henry Kissinger argued. 

And as mentioned before, commonly held principles and values between the world’s major powers of this day and age will be difficult to cultivate and foment, given both the divergence of beliefs and ideologies between the world’s major powers of this day and age as well as the balance of power dynamic. As Kissinger wrote:

“A reassessment of the balance of power is in order. In theory, the balance of power should be quite calculable; in practice, it has proved extremely difficult to harmonize a country’s calculations with those of other states and achieve a common recognition of limits. The conjectural element of foreign policy – the need to gear actions to an assessment that cannot be proved when it is made – is never more true than in a period of upheaval.”

Kissinger added:

“Then, the old order is in flux while the shape of the replacement is highly uncertain. Everything depends, therefore, on some conception of the future. But varying internal structures can produce different assessments of the significance of existing trends and, more important, clashing criteria for resolving these differences. This is the dilemma of our time.” 

But as mentioned before, not only are the varying conceptions of the future amongst the major powers driven by basic and fundamental factors such belief, culture, and ideology, but the future itself is driven by these aforementioned factors, regardless of the varying conceptions about the future on the part of the major powers and their triangular relationship. 

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