In this article, we will explore the true nature of the international rules-based order (IRBO) and examine the forces that shape it. We will consider if the narratives we are commonly fed stack up.
By Iain Davis
It is widely accepted that the IRBO is undergoing disruptive change. That transformation is often reported as an eastward shift in the balance of power between nation states.
It is said that this new, emerging international order will be founded upon a global multipolar system of sovereign states and international law. This new system allegedly stands in opposition to the fading, western “rules-based” model.
This time, rather than relying upon western imperialism, the new international law-based system will emphasise multipolar cooperation, trade and respect for national sovereignty. It will instead be led by a Eurasian economic and technological power-block.
The apparent, ongoing antagonism of geopolitics looks likely to maintain the East-West divide we are familiar with. However, what is now being framed as the multipolar order is, in reality, the multistakeholder order.
As we shall discover, nation states are not the driving force behind the current restructuring of global governance. The geopolitical narratives we are given are frequently superficial.
Those leading the transformation have no allegiance to any nation state, only to their own globalist network and collective aspirations. In their hands, international law is no more of an impediment to their ambitions than a vague commitment to “rules.”
National governments are partners within this network formed of both state and non-state actors. Despite professed animosities, they have collaborated for decades to fashion the global governance complex that is now emerging.
No matter who is said to lead it, the IRBO is set to continue in a new form. As the post WWII system recedes, the framework being imposed to take its place is completely alien to the people who live in the former western, liberal democracies.
Thus, we too must be transformed if we are to accept the realignment. We are being conditioned to believe in the promise of the new IRBO and the global technocracy it is built upon.
The International Rules Based Order (IRBO)
In 2016, Stewart Patrick of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) published World Order: What, Exactly, are the Rules? In it, he described the post WWII era as the “international rules-based order” (IRBO).
Rooted firmly in American exceptionalism, Patrick described how the so-called IRBO acted as a mechanism for hegemonic control of global politics, the world’s economy and the international monetary and financial system (IMFS):
“What sets the post-1945 Western order apart is that it was shaped overwhelmingly by a single power, the United States. Operating within the broader context of strategic bipolarity, it constructed, managed, and defended the regimes of the capitalist world economy […] In the trade sphere, the hegemon presses for liberalization and maintains an open market; in the monetary sphere, it supplies a freely convertible international currency, manages exchange rates, provides liquidity, and serves as a lender of last resort; and in the financial sphere, it serves as a source of international investment and development.”
While international law is a component of the IRBO, it is not in and of itself law. Professor Malcolm Chalmers, writing for the UK Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), described the IRBO as a combination of universal security and economic systems combined with international agreement and conflict resolution processes.
The current IRBO is supposedly a western system of international norms and institutions. Based upon both the post WWI and WWII settlements, what is suggested as order is little more than a realisation of “might is right” on the international stage.
Actions Not Words
In the West, we have been educated to have faith in the IRBO. It is sold to us as an arrangement that establishes normative behaviour for nation states. A basis for international relations is supposedly agreed upon and acceptable behaviour ordained.
Far from being a set of rules to facilitate peaceful coexistence between nation states, the IRBO has always been a tool for manipulation. The question is who wields it?
The recent joint statement between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China appeared to explicitly redefine the current IRBO. Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping agreement read, in part:
“Today, the world is going through momentous changes, and humanity is entering a new era of rapid development and profound transformation. It sees the development of such processes and phenomena as multipolarity, economic globalization, the advent of information society, cultural diversity, transformation of the global governance architecture and world order. [. . .] a trend has emerged towards redistribution of power in the world. [. . .] the international law-based world order, seek genuine multipolarity with the United Nations and its Security Council playing a central and coordinating role.”
By contrast, the speech delivered by UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to the Lowy Institute, a Rothschild backed Australian policy think-tank with a focus upon the Asia-Pacific region, illustrated the western position. She said:
“Russia and China are working together more and more, as they strive to set the standards in technologies like artificial intelligence, assert their dominance over the Western Pacific. [. . .] They’re destabilising the international rules-based order and they’re chipping away at the values that underpin it. [. . .] We believe in freedom and democracy. [. . .] As Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, ‘we know from the evidence of human history that democracies are the engine room of change.’ [. . .] Technology has empowered people by enabling incredible freedom, but we know it can be seized upon by others to promote fear. [. . .] By joining forces with the US we are showing our determination to protect security and stability across the region.”
Taken on face value, we would inevitably conclude that, while the axis is in flux, the adversarial stand-off continues. To a great extent, this is a fabrication.
In discussing the IRBO, we immediately run into a nomenclature problem. Sometimes referred to as the “rules-based international order;” at other times the “international order” or “rules-based system;” or occasionally the “rules-based international system,” now we seemingly need to add “international law-based world order.”
While there is no settled definition for this alleged system of global governance, it all amounts to the same thing. The fulcrum may have moved, but the ruse remains intact.
This definition problem illustrates the primary flaw with any notion of a global rules-based order. It is ill-defined and transient. It relies more upon the realpolitik of the day than any genuine moral, legal or political precepts.
While Truss accurately outlined how that so-called order can be seized and exploited, she misled her audience in regards to who the abusers are. Nor is the existing IRBO founded upon democracy and freedom. Her claims were a deceit.