P5

Justice, Security and Rule of Law: How the United Nations Security Council Has Failed You

P5

By:  Cynthia M. Lardner

In today’s turbulent world “…three core themes come to the fore: justice, security, and rule of law,” stated Dr. Abi Williams, President of The Hague Institute for Global Justice, who has previously served under United Nations Secretary Generals Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon.

When it comes to global justice, security and Rule of Law, the United Nations (U.N.) is the international organization that the world relies upon.  The U.N. was created in 1945 to restore world order after World War II and to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”.  On July 12, 2016 an issue arose challenging the U.N.’s ability to fulfill its essential purpose.

On July 12, 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague issued an opinion in a territorial dispute between People’s Republic of China and the Philippines, commonly referred to as the South China Sea (SCS) Dispute. The sweeping opinion found in favor of the Philippines ruling that China, which had boycotted the proceedings calling them illegal, violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); an agreement about territorial seas and exclusive economic zones (EEZ), in claiming sovereignty over the 80% of the SCS, known as the “nine-dash line”, encompassing almost 80% of the SCS. China has militarized the region rich in natural gas deposits.

The PCA held that:

Having found that certain areas are within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, the Tribunal found that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone by (a) interfering with Philippine fishing and petroleum exploration, (b) constructing artificial islands and (c) failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the zone. The Tribunal also held that fishermen from the Philippines (like those from China) had traditional fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and that China had interfered with these rights in restricting access. The Tribunal further held that Chinese law enforcement vessels had unlawfully created a serious risk of collision when they physically obstructed Philippine vessels.

In advance of the decision, China stated that it would not honor the PCA decision; a tribunal to which it is a member nation. As the PCA has no enforcement authority, enforcement falls on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

The conundrum is that China is also a permanent member of the UNSC, which can veto UNSC enforcement of PCA decisions.  Rather that upholding its obligation as a permanent member of the UNSC to honor international law, China, in advance of the opinion, stated it will go to war to protect the “nine-dash line” region, leaving enforcement to the smaller nations in the region and their allies.

This calls into question whether China can ethically maintain its position on the UNSC.

This paper analyzes whether not only China but, also the Russian Federation should be permitted the ongoing privilege of sitting as an UNSC permanent member. As Sir Winston Churchill said, “Where there is great power there is great responsibility.”  Russia and China have failed in their responsibility to the other 191 member nations of the U.N.

United Nations Security Council’s Permanent Five

Created by the Rome Statute, to which all 193 U.N. member nations are signatories, the U.N.’s mission, as articulated in its Charter is:

“To maintain international peace and security, and to that end: to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace, and for the suppression of acts of aggression or other breaches of the peace, and to bring about by peaceful means, and in conformity with the principles of justice and international law, adjustment or settlement of international disputes or situations which might lead to a breach of the peace.”

The U.N. General Assembly, via the U.N. Charter, delegated the sole responsibility for maintaining international peace and security to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).

The UNSC is comprised of five permanent member nations, and ten rotating member nations elected by the five permanent members to staggered two-year terms.  At the time of its creation, the world’s five greatest superpowers were afforded the privilege of serving as permanent UNSC members:  the United States, the United Kingdom, France, the Russia and China (P5).  There is no provision in the U.N. Charter requiring that designation as a UNSC permanent member ever be reviewed or revisited.

The UNSC is responsible for authorizing U.N. peacekeeping operations.  Chapter VII of U.N. Charter authorizes the UNSC to deploy U.N. peacekeeping operations, including joint operations with allied forces and NATO, into volatile post-conflict settings where the state is unable to maintain security and public order.  Invocation of Chapter VII denotes a legal basis for taking action, and “…is viewed as a statement of firm political resolve reminding the parties to a conflict and the wider U.N. membership of their obligation to honor UNSC decisions.”  Security Council Resolution 1674, adopted on 28 April 2006, requires the UNSC to proactively protect civilians in an armed conflict, including taking action against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity

The UNSC is also imbued with the singular responsibility for voting on U.N. member state applications, selecting the Secretary-General, and the creation and oversight of hybrid criminal courts.

The P5 have de facto control over the UNSC by virtue of their exclusive veto power over exercised when any permanent member casts a “negative” vote on not only “substantive” draft resolutions but as to what constitutes a substantive issue.

The veto power extends to the discretionary enforcement of decisions rendered by the U.N.’s International Court of Justice, which issues legal advisory opinions and hears cases involving crimes against humanity and war crimes, and the PCA.

China and Russia’s Abuses of P5 Power

The P5 has come under a great deal of criticism for failing to deliver justice, provide security, and adhere to Rule of Law, including its responsibility to protect (R2P) from statespersons, such Kofi Annan, the seventh U.N. Secretary-General and Nobel Laureate, former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former Canadian Foreign Minister Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, calling into question whether the U.N. Charter needs to be amended.

The South China Sea Dispute

Along with the matter decided by the PCA, China has also been engaged in similar territorial SCS disputes with Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, and Indonesia.

It is incomprehensible that China, a P5 member, can flagrantly ignore not only the PCA’s decision, which is final and binding upon the parties, but also UNCLOS, the treaty governing territorial rights.  Rather, than adhere to international law, China is prepared to go to war with the U.S. and other countries over the SCS. Complicating the matter is the joint military build-up by China and Russia in the South China Sea.

An Article VII draft resolution as to the enforcement of the PCA opinion or peacekeeping operations in the SCS would be vetoed by China and Russia.  Given that NATO has already stated it will not become involved in the SCS Dispute, if armed conflict erupts, defense against China and, likely Russia, military superpowers, will be the responsibility of the smaller nations in the region, the United States, France and their allies.

“Only when everyone plays by the same rules can we avoid the mistakes of the past, like when countries challenged one another in contests of strength and will, with disastrous consequences for the region,” stated U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Russia, Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula

Russia’s relationship with NATO, its member nations, allies and partners deteriorated following Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and military aggressions in Ukraine.  On July 15, 2015, rather than abstain, Russia vetoed a resolution as to its illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine, shielding itself from accountability under international law.  Russia President Vladimir Putin recently stated that there will never be any diplomatic discussion of the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

Russia’s aggressions in Ukraine were to have been resolved by the September 5, 2014 Minsk Protocol, confirming Ukraine’s sovereignty, which was signed by Ukraine, Russia, the Donetsk People’s Republic, and the Lugansk People’s Republic.  Despite being called upon by the international community to implement the Minsk Protocol, including the G20 in April 2016, and at the February 2016 Munich Security Conference, Russia has refused.  As a P5 member, there will never be Article VII action to protect the Ukraine people from ongoing aggressions, including genocide, a war crime.

It is noteworthy that Russia, a P5 member, is not a member nation of the International Criminal Court under the Rome Statute, which prosecutes state actors for crimes against humanity, including genocide.

The Birth of Responsibility to Protect

Dr. Lloyd Axworthy, former Foreign Minister of Canada, cited the UNSC’s 1999 failure to act under Section VII in Kosovo based on Russia’s veto of U.N. peacekeeping troops to force the withdrawal of Yugoslav forces from Kosovo.  Dr. Axworthy stated that he and then U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were emotionally and morally sickened by the mass genocide in Kosovo.  Dr. Axworthy stated that he and then Secretary Albright asked themselves, “Could we stand by and let people be murdered?”

NATO intervened in what came to be known as “Madeleine’s War”.

As then President Bill Clinton stated, “”It’s to our advantage to have a Europe that is peaceful and prosperous. And there is the compelling humanitarian case: if the U.S. walks away from an atrocity like this where we can have an impact, then these types of situations will spread. The world is full of ethnic struggles, from Ireland to the Middle East to the Balkans. If we can convince people to bridge these tensions, we’ve served our interests as well as our values.”

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Dr. Lloyd Axworthy speaking at The Hague Institute for Global Justice on July 12, 2016

This Kosovo incident gave rise to the concept of Responsibility to Protect (R2P) under which “We [humanity] must be prepared to stop mass atrocities” and where sovereignty is “…not a divine right but an obligation to protect your people,” stated Dr. Axworthy during a July 12, 2016 talk on “Pursuing Justice in a Globalized World:  Reflections on the Commitment of Madeleine K. Albright”.

Since the war, Kosovo has been unable to secure U.N. member state status based on Russia’s veto.

Responsibility to Protect

R2P was later adopted by the U.N. obligating the international community, including the UNSC to prevent and protect individuals from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Yet, both China and Russia have and are engaged in genocide and ethnic cleansing; with Russia focused on Jewish populations and China on Tibet.

Russia and China’s Recent P5 Vetoes

At a time when Dr. Axworthy noted that “…human rights in a position of limbo,” Rule of Law has been increasing ignored by the UNSC.

There have been many instances of Russia and China misusing their UNSC veto power in contravention of international law:

  • On June 15, 2009, Russia vetoed action concerning its 2008 Georgian invasion, which culminated in a March 18, 200 treaty on alliance and integration signed between the South Ossetia region of Georgia and Russia on 18 March. This so-called treaty is yet another move by the Russian Federation that hampers ongoing efforts by the international community to strengthen security and stability in the region.  It violates Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and blatantly contradicts the principles of international law;
  • Between 2012 and 2014, Russia and China have double vetoed four draft U.N. resolution concerning the crisis in Syria, including a referral to the International Criminal Court and the imposition of U.N. sanctions;
  • On July 8, 2015, Russia vetoed taking action with respect to the genocide that occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina in clear contravention of Security Council Resolution 1674; and
  • Russia vetoed a referral to the International Criminal Court to hold those state actors accountable for having shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight No. MH17 on July 17, 2014.

The U.S. has also used its UNSC veto power in the past, primarily to block resolutions concerning Israel.  However, this is unlikely to reoccur as during 2015 the Obama Administration’s foreign policy position as Israel and Palestine underwent a drastic shift away from favoring Israel.  The U.K. and France have never used their veto power.

“A security council that is fractured into special national interests, abusing the right of the veto; warlords and dictators who kill with impunity to advance their greed for riches or power; and the weakening of resolve in North America and Europe to act in a collective manner, and thus far a confused set of objectives by the emerging states. As Kofi Annan clearly concludes, our level of governance is not up to the task posed by world realities,” stated Dr. Axworthy.

No nation should be allowed to sit on the United Nations Security Council, let alone be afforded permanent status, if it fails to adhere to Rule of Law, minimally, international law.

Selection of the Next Secretary-General

With Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s second term set to expire, the selection process by the UNSC has also been sharply criticized. “The selection of the Secretary-General has previously been a process shrouded in secrecy, and, ultimately, decision-making lies under the almost complete control of the five permanent members” stated Tom Brookes, Programme Office at The Elders Foundation.  While the current selection process has involved an open debate between ten of the 12 individuals under consideration, it has no impact on the selection process.

Hybrid Courts

The UNSC has failed to convene, offer oversight and provide funding of hybrid criminal courts, i.e. courts created to address war crimes or crimes against humanity in any given country. By way of example, according to Ambassador David John Scheffer, the UNSC has not funded The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, commonly known as the Cambodia Tribunal or Khmer Rouge Tribunal, which is relegated to raising funds to cover its annual $3 million operating budget, with funding coming primarily from the U.S.

By the Numbers

In addition to flagrant misuse of their P5 veto power, there are three indices three global indices measuring positive and negative peace, corruption and adherence to Rule of Law which statistically support the restructuring UNSC.

First is the 2016 Global Peace Index, issued by Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), which empirically ranked 175 independent states and territories based on their levels of peacefulness.  Peacefulness is measured based on two primary components: positive peace or resilience, and negative peace, defined as the presence of violence or fear of violence.  Overall scores are normed on the basis of one to five.

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Camilla Schippa speaking on June 24, 2016 at The Hague Institute for Global Justice on the GPI

“We see peace as a measure of conflicts.  And the Global Peace Index found an overall increase in conflict with a widening gap between the most and least peaceful countries,” stated Camilla Schippa, IEP Director of Operations.

The cost to humanity is mindboggling.  Violence costs 13.3% of the world’s GDP or $13.6 trillion dollars.  This breaks down to $1,876 annually or $5.00 per person every single day.

Second, Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) measures perceived levels of public sector corruption in 167 countries.  The four areas measured are bribery, corruption, whistleblowing, and Rule of Law.  The CPI defines Rule of Law as the, “Legal and political systems, structures and practices that condition a government’s actions to protect citizens’ rights and liberties, maintain law and order, and encourage the effective functioning of the country.”

CPI.2015

“The 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index clearly shows that corruption remains a blight around the world.” stated José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.

Third is the World Justice Project’s (WJP) 2015 Rule of Law Index® (RLI). According to the WJP, “The rule of law is the foundation for communities of peace, opportunity, and equity—underpinning development, accountable government, and respect for fundamental rights.”  The RLI provides original, impartial data on how the Rule of Law is experienced by the general public in 102 countries. The RLI measures nine variables — constraints on government powers, absence of corruption, open government, fundamental rights, order and security, regulatory enforcement, civil and criminal justice, informal justice – generating an overall score ranging from .35 to .87.

Russian Federation

Russia’s overall GPI Score was the lowest of the P5: 3.079/5, ranking it 151 out of 163, or in the bottom 10 percent of the countries evaluated. Russia also performed the worst out of the P5 on the CPI, ranking a meager 29 or 119/168.  Thus, it is no surprise that Russia also had the worst P5 score on the RLI:  .47 overall, placing it near the bottom quartile, or 75th out of the 102 nations.

People’s Republic of China

On the GPI, China ranked 120 out of 163, with an overall GPI of 2.288/5.  China also performed poorly on the CPI, ranking 37 or 83/168.  China also fared poorly on the RLI, having a composite score of .48, ranking it 71.

The United States

On the GPI, the U.S. ranked 103 out of 163 nations, with a composite score of 2.154/5.  According to Ms. Schippa, the U.S.’s score was negatively impacted by the number of incarcerated individuals and access to firearms, required, to date, by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The U.S. ranked 76 or 16/168 on the CPI, with its score having steadily improved over the last four years. On the RLI, the U.S.’s composite score was .73 ranking it 13th out of the 102 countries measured.

United Kingdom

On the GPI, the U.K. ranked 47 out of 163, having generated a composite score of 1.830/5.  The U.K.’s CPI was 81 or 10/168.  Great Britain fared well on the RLI, with an overall score of .78 ranking it 12th.

France

France ranked 46 out of the 163 nations measured by the GPI, with an overall score of 1.829/5. On the CPI, France ranked 70 or 23/168.  On the RLI, France’s overall score was .74, placing it 18 out of 102 countries.

The Call for Reform

Kofi Annan astutely reflected that:

Where we collectively realize that we do not live in a zero-sum world where someone’s gain automatically comes at another’s expense. I envision a world where these values are supported by an international architecture, a modernized United Nations that reflects the changing balance of global power brought about by the rise of China, Brazil, India, South Africa, and other emerging countries.

But above all, of a United Nations that serves not only states but foremost peoples — and becomes the forum where governments are held accountable for their behavior toward their own citizens. A forum where the shared values of pluralism, tolerance, solidarity, democracy and dialogue triumph over unilateralism, ultra-nationalism, and over the politics of identity…

You may argue that this is a pipe-dream, that around the world, personal liberty, human rights, and democracy are being eroded — even in countries that have embraced democratic ideals. Let us renew and strengthen this international system. From epidemics to climate change, we need to set our narrow self-interests aside and realize that we are in this world together, for better or for worse. Hitting each other on the head has not done us much good in the past. It is time to move beyond that, to embrace our common humanity and resume our journey towards a fairer, more peaceful world.

Mr. Annan concluded that, “A United Nations for the twenty-first century would have to create new partnerships, respond to the needs of the individuals and stand for the principle that national sovereignty could never be used as a shield for genocide or a gross violation of human rights.”

“Yet the Security Council, which has primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, acting on behalf of all the member states, is still dominated by the same five permanent members that were designated all those years ago, being the five great powers that had just won the war. The governments of those five powers have become so used to their exalted status, which is protected by their ability to veto any change in the Charter, that they think of it almost as their natural right, sometimes forgetting that it is above all a responsibility. They assume that the world will continue to respect their authority, and fail to notice that, year by year, that authority is eroding,” stated a release issued by The Elders, a group of former statespersons who comprise a nonpartisan peacekeeping group.

As a result of the criticisms from around the globe, they have been numerous statespersons, commissions and entities calling for reform of the U.N., particularly the UNSC.  For instance, the 14-member Commission on Global Security, Justice, and Governance Commission convened by The Hague Center for Global Justice consisting of numerous ex-foreign ministers adamantly called for U.N. reform citing a “crisis in global governance.”

The Commission’s findings, “Confronting the Crisis of Global Governance”, was launched at the Peace Palace in The Hague on 16 June 2016. Commission Co-Chairs Secretary Albright and Ibrahim Gambari, former Nigerian Foreign Minister and UN Under-Secretary-General.  The Commission called for “…an expansion in Security Council membership and better engagement with nontraditional actors. Specifically, it seeks to create more opportunities for countries, regional organizations, local authorities, and business and civil society groups to contribute to peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace-building while, at the same time, increasing the council’s representative legitimacy and restraint in the use of the veto, particularly when a state fails in its responsibility to protect its own citizens.”

Secretary Albright warned that continuing failures within the U.N. “risks prolonging and deepening” global crises.

At the launch of the ‘Strengthening the U.N.’ initiative at the 2015 Munich Security Conference, The Elders proposed a model for expanding the UNSC, that the P5 agree a code of conduct on veto restraint, and argued that the UNSC provide greater opportunity for civil society groups to be heard through greater use of informal “Arria formula” meetings.  Arria formula meetings are informal, confidential gatherings which enabling the UNSC to have a frank and private exchange of views, within a flexible procedural framework, with individuals, groups or nations outside of the UNSC.

Another group, Uniting for Consensus (UfC), comprised of 111 of the U.N.’s 193 member states, mission is to increase the number of non-permanent UNSC members, from the existing ten rotating seats, to a composition and number reflecting greater regional representation.  In a March 26, 2015 press release the UfC stated:

[W]e could support a UNSC of up to 26 members in total – a Council that is more representative of the international community as a whole while preserving the principles of democracy and accountability to Member States. The legitimacy of the Council depends not only – or even primarily – on its composition, but on its transparency, accountability and effectiveness. It is not just about who takes decisions, but most importantly the inclusive and democratic nature of decision-making.

In 2014, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon established a 17-member independent panel on U.N. Peace Operations to comprehensively assess the state of current and emerging UN peace operations.  The panel issued 104 page report, containing detailed and voluminous recommendations for change:

At the heart of …peace operations is the message that the United Nations must unite its strengths — of politics, of partnership and of people — to meet those challenges. This means that, where deployed, United Nations peace operations must be mandated and empowered to support the political resolution of threats to international peace and security. To succeed, United Nations peace operations must find a way to strengthen partnership at all levels, namely with regional organizations, with host Governments and with the local population, to overcome deep-rooted conflicts. United Nations peace operations must answer to “We the peoples”, the ultimate beneficiaries of peace and the survivors of conflict. Their perceptions and their assessments, particularly those of women and youth, are the critical barometer of the success, or failure, of United Nations peace operations.

The panel concluded that the U.N. requires “modernized approaches and structures to enable flexible and better United Nations system responses.”  However, the panel failed to state the structures and approaches to which it was referring.  As all substantive action of the U.N. requires UNSC approval, it can only be assumed that the panel was indirectly criticizing the UNSC.

Changes Supported by Sustainable Development Goal 16

On September 25, 2015, the U.N. General Assembly adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which include 17 Global Goals.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed the move as a universal, integrated and transformative vision for a better world.  The new agenda is a promise by U.N. leaders to all people everywhere.

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, “Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions”, adopted to “Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”

SDG 16 has been broken down to eleven measurable targets. SDG 16.3 is promote Rule of Law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.  SDG 16.6 requires the development of “effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.” This includes, under SDG 16.7, an increase in decision-making at all levels which is responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative, which is tied to SDG 16.8, which seeks to broaden and strengthen participation by developing countries in global governance.  Also relevant is SDG 16.10, which is promote fundamental freedoms in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.

In 2004, then Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressed that for the U.N. Rule of Law is “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards. It requires as well measures to ensure adherence to the principles of supremacy of the law, equality before the law, accountability to the law, fairness in the application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision-making, legal certainty, avoidance of arbitrariness, and procedural and legal transparency”.

SDG 16 cannot be achieved without amending the U.N. Charter to change the powers vested in the UNSC, and the increasing the number of UNSC members, to insure greater regional representation, or even eliminate the P5 or the UNSC in its entirety.

Amending the U.N. Charter

“A true United Nations would rise above the interests of individual countries. It would place the good of the planet and its people above the good of governments. The organization now based in New York cannot do this. Perhaps no world body ever will,” stated Stephen Kinzer, senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International Studies at Brown University.

The path to a true U.N., involves amending the U.N. Charter.  Following a conference, this requires a majority vote by the General Assembly and a vote by any seven UNSC members.  Despite all of the criticism, there has yet to be a call for a conference to amend the U.N. Charter. There has never been a better time than now for the General Assembly to come together and act to amend the U.N. Charter to insure justice, security, and rule of law for generations to come.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is a journalist focusing on geopolitics.  Ms. Lardner is a contributing editor for Tuck Magazine and E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive, and her blogs are read in over 37 countries.  As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.

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(140520) -- SHANGHAI, May 20, 2014 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin sign a joint statement aimed at expanding cooperation in all fields and coordinating diplomatic efforts to cement the China-Russia all-round strategic partnership of cooperation after their talks in Shanghai, east China, May 20, 2014. (Xinhua/Pang Xinglei) (mp)

In Deep Waters with China and Russia

The Threat to Global Stability and Security

Geopolitical tensions have risen to a level where another major war or even world war is no longer outside the realm of possibilities.  There has been a military build-up by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China in the South China Sea (SCS), and by Russia in the Baltic and Western European regions.

China’s SCS Dispute with Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines over oil rich territory rich is most troubling.  Both China and Russia have increased their military presence in the northern Pacific Ocean where they have been engaging in joint military exercises.  An eruption of armed conflict involving China, may result in both responding.

There are also the ongoing concerns regarding erratic North Korea, which has restarted plutonium fuel production.

Russia’s relationship with NATO, its member nations, allies and partners deteriorated following Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its unlawful aggressions in Ukraine.  This precipitated a sharp shift in Western foreign policy toward Russia.  The West has moved away from the Doctrine of Mutual Assured Stability and beyond a policy of containment to a position of deterrence.  Knowing that NATO will respond, it is unlikely that Moscow will engage in armed conflict on European soil.

Less likely would be a scenario where armed conflict develops in the Atlantic and Pacific theatres as it is questionable whether the U.S., the European Union, NATO and their allies could adequately respond.

 The South China Sea – A Deepening Rift

While China and Russia are embroiled in territorial disputes in the Pacific Ocean, it is China’s SCS Dispute that is particularly troublesome.  The expansionist goal of the two countries is that they gain control the maritime activities in the region, impeding routine missions patrolling the area and impeding the territorial rights of other nations, and allowing them to exploit the region’s rich oil reserves.  In the SCS there are 11 million estimated barrels of oil, 190 trillion cubic square feet of natural gas, and $5.3 trillion in annual trade passing through the region.

Competing South China Sea Claims

China’s sweeping claims of sovereignty over the SCS have antagonized Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines, each of which has competing territorial and jurisdictional claims in the SCS.  China has grown increasingly more assertive in advancing its position in these disputes, known as the South China Sea Dispute, by substantially modernizing its maritime paramilitary forces and increasing its naval capabilities.  In recent months, tensions in the South China Sea have steadily grown, amid global concerns over China’s constructions of artificial islands in the Spratly Islands and its continuing militarization in the Paracel Islands.

There is one pending case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague between China and the Philippines concerning lawful sovereignty over an area rich in natural gas deposits. The matter was brought by the Philippines as to the legality of China’s “nine-dash line”.  China has never clarified the parameters of the “nine-dash line”, which encompasses approximately 80% of the SCS. The Philippines claims that China violated the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS); an agreement about territorial seas and exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

China’s motivation is not the preservation of ancestral waters or historical fishing sites, protected by the UNCLOS; rather China seeks to complete a “strategic triangle” in the SCS to monitor and control regional maritime activities, to bolster its naval position, and to gain access to much-needed natural resources. To further its interests, China has built man-made islands and artificial harbors on reefs creating more than 3,200 acres, and increasing its EEZs by 200 nautical miles or 370 km, and its territorial seas by 12 nautical miles or 22 km, on which it has installed airfields and surveillance systems, and a radar tower.  China now plans on installing an Air Defense Identification Zone, or ADIZ, covering the SCS. An ADIZ demarcates a zone outside a country’s national airspace where planes must identify themselves for security reasons and follow the country’s military instructions.

Newly constructed radar dome on Chinese-controlled Subi Reef

The Pentagon has accused China of using “coercive tactics short of armed conflict.”

The Philippines is expected to prevail in proceedings boycotted by China.  China called the PCA arbitration illegal and stated that it would ignore the PCA’s decision, even though China is one of five permanent United Nations Security Council members.  As the PCA has no enforcement authority, enforcement will fall upon other nations both in and outside of the SCS region.

“Only when everyone plays by the same rules can we avoid the mistakes of the past, like when countries challenged one another in contests of strength and will, with disastrous consequences for the region,” stated U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter on June 3, 2016.

The U.S. could also be drawn into this conflict based on 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the U.S. and the Philippines. The Treaty states, “Each Party recognizes that an armed attack in the Pacific Area on either of the Parties would be dangerous to its own peace and safety and declares that it would act to meet the common dangers in accordance with its constitutional processes.”  If the U.S. failed to respond, it could damper its relationship with other nations in Asia.

Also relevant is the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties (DOC) in the South China Sea, in which ASEAN and China agreed upon multilateral risk-reduction and confidence-building measures.  DOC requires that territorial and jurisdictional disputes be resolved without resorting to the threat or use of force.

Chinese and Russian Joint Military Buildup

In advance of the G7 Summit, China warned Japan not to involve the G7 in the SCS Dispute.  Russian Prime Minister Sergei Lavrov, on April 14, also issued a statement that, while international law ought to be respected, Russia disapproved of internationalization of the dispute, stating, “Our position is determined by the wish, natural for any normal country, to see disputes resolved directly between the countries involved in a peaceful political and diplomatic manner, without any interference from third parties or any attempts to internationalize these disputes.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted “by heralding the two countries’ converging position on the South China Sea.”

Ignoring the Chinese and Russian warnings, but without mentioning China, the G7, from which Russia has been excluded since annexing Crimea, expressed concern over Chinese aggression in the SCS.

A Fact Sheet released by the White House sumarized the April 7, 2016 G7 Summit:

“G-7 leaders reiterated their commitment to a rules-based order at sea, peaceful dispute settlement, and respect for freedom of navigation and overflight.  G-7 leaders also reaffirmed the importance of states’ making and clarifying their claims based on international law [including the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea]; refraining from unilateral actions; not using force or coercion; and seeking to settle disputes by peaceful means including through juridical procedures.’”

On April 29, 2016 Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a joint press conference in Beijing declaring shared opposition to “interference from third parties” and “attempts to internationalize” the dispute.  Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that China and Russia should join together to oppose “internationalising” the disputes.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stated on May 23, 2015 that, “Russia would deploy top-of-the-line Bal and Bastion coastal defense systems — with ranges of up to 450 kilometers — as well as Russia’s new Aeleron-3 drones. The apparent goal is to create an area-denial zone around the Kuril Island chain similar to those recently fielded in Crimea and Syria.”

The purpose of the Bastion-P is to engage various surface ships, as well as carrier battle groups, convoys or landing craft. In some cases missiles fired from this system can strike surface targets.  The Bastion-P launcher carries two P-800 Oniks/Yakhont and SS-N-26 Strobile anti-ship cruise missiles, having a range of 300 km, with hi-low flight trajectory and 120 km with low-low flight trajectory. The warhead, weighing 200-250 kg., can carry nuclear or conventional warheads.

At first, Mr. Shoigu alleged Russia’s Red Pacific Fleet was sending six of its warships carrying 200 troops, launched in April, to conduct a three-month “expedition” to the Kuril Islands.  The real mission is to establish a Russian military base on Matua Island, one of the Kuril Islands involved in its dispute with Japan.  The Matua Island base will hold 87 contract troops, 700 units of military equipment and weaponry, 60 new aircraft and helicopters, three vessels and over 20 drones. Based on a photograph released by Russian controlled state media, the warships were accompanied by nuclear-powered submarines.

Large landing ships “Admiral Nevelskoi,” foreground, “Nikolai Vilkov” and Varshavyanka-class diesel-electric submarine © Vitaliy Anko / Sputnik

Days prior to the May 30-31, 2016 “Russia and China: Taking on New Quality of Bilateral Relations international Conference”, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated, “[W]e closely cooperate on the international arena, where our cooperation serves as a very important stabilizing factor. We will continue to jointly with the Chinese friends advance the necessary steps in order to ensure that our cooperation reaches new levels.”

 Lavrov added that proposals for all directions of cooperation were being drawn up “with the goal to further deepen cooperation in politics, economy and humanitarian area.”

“Russia and China are priority diplomatic partners for each other within the framework of their strategic coordination. Our countries implement close interaction in the international arena. Russian-Chinese relations are an important factor in the world peace and stability. During Vladimir Putin’s visit to China, the two leaders will exchange views on the development of bilateral relations and on international issues,” stated Hua Chunying, Deputy Director of Foreign Ministry Information Department of the People’s Republic of China.

At the conference, Western economic sanctions against Russia were deemed moot by Russia as it is looking to the East for economic growth and stability with China and Russia agreeing to increase trade from $90 billion in 2016 to $200 billion within four years.

Calling the SCS Dispute a man-made problem “forged by the United States… both Chinese and Russian leadership understand that we are better together and we are not so worried about America and its attitude to this issue,” stated Boris Titov, co-chairman of the Russian-Chinese Friendship committee and Russia’s ombudsman.

Moreover, Russia and China have been engaging in joint naval exercises in SCS.  According to the Russian press service, Russia and China commenced their first joint computer anti-missile defense exercises Aerospace-Security-2016.  Russia and China will use the results to formulate proposals on Russian-Chinese military cooperation in the field of anti-missile defense.

China’s “waves -2″ submarine-launched ballistic missile launched from underwater

“My sense is that each country will try and oppose the U.S. where it feels that its national interests require it, and that in a number of instances their national interests converge,” stated former Dutch Diplomat Joost Dirzwager.

The U.S. and France have bolstered their presence in the SCS.  The Pentagon sent a guided-missile destroyer to maintain maritime rights. This was the third time in under a year that the U.S. has conducted freedom of navigation operations in the SCS.

U.S. Freedom of Navigation (FON) Program, created in 1983 “…provides that the United States will exercise and assert its navigation and overflight rights and freedoms on a worldwide basis in a manner that is consistent with the balance of interests reflected in the Law of the Sea (LOS) Convention. The United States will not, however, acquiesce in unilateral acts of other states designed to restrict the rights and freedoms of the international community in navigation and overflight and other related high seas uses.”

According to DoD spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Michelle Baldanza, on May 17, 2016, when the U.S. sent an unarmed U.S. military aircraft on routine patrol over the SCS, China responded with two fighter jets carrying out an interception at less than 50 feet forcing the U.S. plane to rapidly descent, which the Pentagon deemed unsafe.

China insists that reconnaissance activities undertaken without prior notification and without permission of the coastal state violate Chinese domestic law and international law. The U.S. responded by stating that the UNCLOS does not negates the right of military forces of all nations to conduct military activities in EEZs without coastal state notice or consent.

Days after Russia requested Vietnam permit it naval access, U.S. President Barack Obama visited Vietnam at which time a 50 year arms embargo was lifted, enabling Vietnam to obtain U.S. sourced radars and sensors, surveillance planes and drones to monitor and deter Chinese forces.  The U.S. Navy has requested access to Cam Ranh Bay, the most coveted deep water harbor in the western SCS.  If permitted, it would complement U.S. naval facilities in the Philippines on the SCS’ eastern edge.

Japan and Russia’s Kuril Islands Dispute

Japan has been embroiled in a long-standing dispute with Russia over a portion of the Kuril Islands, an archipelago stretching 1,300 km or 810 mi, from northern Japan to Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula, separating the Sea of Okhotsk from the North Pacific Ocean.  As part of its territory, Japan claims the four ancestral islands; two southernmost and large Kuril Islands, Iturup and Kunashir, as well as the Shikotan and the Habomai Islets.

On February 7, 1855, Japan and Russia signed the Treaty of Commerce, Navigation and Delimitation, which established boundaries in the Northern Territories.  Japan lost control of several of its islands at the end of World War II, when they were claimed by Russia.  Japan has rejected Russian sovereignty over the islands in a dispute that has come to be known as the Northern Territories Dispute.  Japan does not dispute Russian sovereignty over the other Kuril Islands.

As recent as this past April, Japan has engaged Russia in frequent but, unsuccessful dialogue in an effort to diplomatically resolve the conflict, going so far as to state that it would not displace Russians occupying the islands as Joseph Stalin did to the Japanese people.

The U.S. supports Japan’s claim in the Northern Territories Dispute.

“A conflict involving China over the East and South Seas was more likely than a Russo-Japanese conflict over the Kuril Islands/Northern territories,” stated Steven Pifer, Senior Fellow Brookings Institute Fellow, and former U.S. Department of State Foreign Service Officer.

The Kuril Islands are salient based on Russia’s military build-up there.  While Russia and Japan are not predicted to engage in armed conflict over the Northern Territories Dispute, the military build-up is nonetheless significant as it relates to the SCS Dispute.

Insecurity in the European Union

Russia’s Methodology

“Russia’s interest in breaking up Europe is clear and it uses a variety of means, anything it can possibly do, to achieve its breakup,” stated Russian scholar and analyst Anne Applebaum.

Russia’s toolbox of hybrid warfare i.e. that without physical aggression, includes weaponising information; intelligence gathering; and cyber, political, psychological, and energy warfare.

Russia has been accused of cyber warfare in Estonia, the German parliament and in Bulgaria.  Russia has backed the far right front in France, the Hungarian Jobbik, and the German AFD, and has secured the support of Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras.

Ukraine and Crimea

Recent geopolitical tensions between the West and Russian can be traced to Russia’s annexation of Crimean Peninsula, which the West deems illegal, and its military aggression in Ukraine, which the West stands firm in stating that in so doing Russia failed to implement the pre-existing Minsk Agreement.  Statements have recently issued from both sides.

“The path NATO has chosen is one of strong deterrence combined with meaningful dialogue. There cannot be any return to business as usual until Russia comes back into compliance with international law,” stated NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow.

Mr. Vershbow noted that ‘the first step toward that end should be the full implementation of the Minsk agreements – ending the Russian-backed insurgency in Eastern Ukraine, implementing a real ceasefire, withdrawing Russian forces and heavy weapons, and creating conditions for free and fair elections under Ukrainian and OSCE supervision aimed at re-integrating the occupied portions of Donbas into Ukraine.’

At the May 2016 G7 Summit, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United States and the European Union condemned Russia’s “illegal annexation” of the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. In a formal declaration the G7 threatened “further restrictive measures” but indicated sanctions could be scaled back if Russia implemented the Minsk Agreement to respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Mr. Putin responded by stating that, “As far as Crimea is concerned, we consider this question is closed forever. Russia will not conduct any discussions with anyone on this subject.”

The Baltic States, Poland and Romania

On April 1, 2014 following the annexation of Crimea, NATO member nations unanimously voted to suspend all cooperation with Russia save essential diplomatic dialogue.  Since then, Russia has conducted military exercises involving 30,000-80,000 troops in close proximity to the Baltic region.

“To the east and north we face a resurgent and aggressive Russia, and as we have continued to witness these last two years, Russia continues to seek to extend its influence on its periphery and beyond. We are prepared to fight and win if we have to … our focus will expand from assurance to deterrence, including measures that vastly improve our overall readiness,” stated NATO Supreme Commander General Phillip Breedlove on March 31, 2016, just days after the conclusion of the Munich Security Conference.

NATO Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said NATO is strengthening its deterrence and defence posture by implementing the Readiness Action Plan (RAP), which includes a 5000-strong Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, in response to a more assertive and aggressive Russia.

Russia’s interest in the Baltic States is multi-faceted. First and foremost, Russian President has stated over and over again that it is his responsibility to protect Russians, regardless of where they now live in the European Union.  Russia, having allowed its Baltic Sea port of Kaliningrad to deteriorate has, until recently, relied upon Baltic States’ modern and ice-free ports to transport its oil throughout Europe.

The deployment of Iskander-M missile complexes in Kaliningrad will “fundamentally change the balance of security in Europe,” stated NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

NATO responded by bolstering its position in many countries flanking the Russian border. NATO is deploying 4,000 additional troops to the Baltic countries and to Poland.  Another 4,200 troops are set to be deployed in early 2017.  NATO has also just committed to sending four rotating groups of combat battalions to Poland.

Despite NATO having voted to suspend cooperation with Russia, NATO members are complying with the May 27, 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation (Founding Act), even though some NATO members believe it to have been violated by Russia.  Under the Founding Act, significant numbers of troops cannot be permanently stationed in Eastern Europe.  The Founding Act does not define “significant”.  By rotating troops in the Baltic States or the East, Russia is deprived of the pretext of a Founding Act violation to engage in armed conflict.

The “Visegrad Four” – the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia – have proposed to NATO that they create a common “rotational” force to bolster defence in the Baltics starting in 2017.  Also in 2017, the U.S. military plans on an increased rotational presence in the East of up to 5,000 troops, including in both Romania and Bulgaria. A number of other countries have committed to or are considering sending troops to the Baltic Region and Poland; with the issue to be discussed at the July NATO Summit in Warsaw, Poland.

A 2015 Rand study suggested the need for seven brigades, including three heavy armored brigade, to have a chance of stopping a major Russian offensive. This exceeds NATO’s present capacity. Moreover, such a force would appear overly provocative to Moscow, posing a potent ground offensive less than 400 kilometers from St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city.

Also bypassing the Founding Act, the air forces of 16 different NATO member states have been actively securing the Baltic air space.  There have been many incidents of these peacekeeping flyovers being improperly threatened by Russian fighter jets.

“There should be no gaps. Deterrence must be the new normal,” stated Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas.

If the rotational troops and increased air surveillance caused Russian ire, the U.S.’s recent activation of a land-based SM-3 missile defence interceptor or shield at its base in southern Romania, with a second defence system to be operational by 2018 in Warsaw, has only amplified the situation.  The radar, similar to that on U.S. Navy warships, detects and identifies incoming missiles, then launches interceptor missiles destroying the incoming missile in space.

“To put it simply, our new missile defense architecture in Europe will provide stronger, smarter, and swifter defenses of American forces and America’s Allies. It is more comprehensive than the previous program; it deploys capabilities that are proven and cost-effective; and it sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the U.S. homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats; and it ensures and enhances the protection of all our NATO Allies,” stated U.S. President Barack Obama.

Mr. Putin stated that Russia will respond to the U.S. installation of missile defence shields in Romania and Poland as they directly threaten Russian security.

“We are convinced unconditionally that the deployment of an antimissile defense system does indeed pose a threat to the security of the Russian Federation,” stated Russian Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov.

Analysis

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger advised that, “To play a responsible role in the evolution of twenty-first century world order [each country] must be prepared to answer a number of questions for itself:

  • What do we seek to prevent, no matter how it happens, and if necessary alone? The answer defines the minimum condition of the survival of society.
  • What do we seek to achieve, even if not supported by any multilateral effort? These goals define the minimum objectives of the national strategy.
  • What do we seek to achieve, or prevent, only if supported by an alliance? This defines the outer limits of the country’s strategic aspirations as part of a global system.
  • What should we not engage in, even if urged by a multilateral group or an alliance? This defines the limiting condition [of a country’s] participation in world order.
  • Above all, what is the nature of the values that we seek to advance? What applications depend in part on circumstances?”

The West seeks to prevent the denigration or disregard of Rule or Law.  It has done so through NATO, it member nations and their alliances and partners.  This is and has been the driving principle for all actions it has undertaken in the Baltic Region, Western Europe, Ukraine, Crimea and the SCS.  With the exception of Crimea, the West has unequivocally indicated it will go to war if provoked by Russia.

As to what Russia seeks to achieve, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has stated, that Russia wants to be treated as an equal partner in foreign affairs, especially in Europe, but that the European Union has failed attribute to Russia the credence that it feels due and justified.  The reality is that Russia will never gain the acceptance of the European Union or the U.S. until it demonstrates adherence to Rule of Law.  This tests the outer limits of Russia’s foreign policy initiatives.

Nonetheless, given the powerful statements from the Kremlin, the European Union may yet be able to positively engage Moscow. After all, a Cold War is nothing more than failed diplomacy.  The European Union must consider the truth; if conditions deteriorate in either the East or the West, the West, in its current state, is not equipped to engage in deterrence let alone defence. In addition to the ongoing fight against terrorism and the distressing presidential elections in the United States, there is a lack of cohesion among European Union members impeding cooperative efforts with NATO and its other partners and alliances.  These are the limiting conditions that the West cannot ignore.

An alternate and more plausible explanation is that Russia, expert at psychological warfare and the use of propaganda, has used the ruse of an attack on the Baltic States, Poland or Romania to deflect public attention away from the South China Sea Dispute.

As for China, “There are a number of political and economic factors which militate against a military conflict, though the probability is not zero,” stated Mr. Pifer.

China seeks to achieve a leadership role in global financial stability.  It has strengthened its global financial position through the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank, known as The BRICS, to which many foreign powers, save the United States, have acceded to one or both.  China’s limiting condition is jeopardizing the many trade relationships it has built, not only with Western countries, such as Great Britain and the U.S., but with countries around the world.  The reality for China it that if SCS aggressions continue, especially in tandem with Russia, it may destroy positive relationships.

A second reality, based on Mr. Kissinger’s decision-making tree, is that China continues its military build-up in the SCS, with or without Russia, and that those countries adhering to Rule of Law are forced by treaty to respond.

As to joint Chinese and Russian military cooperation, while China and Russia have been bound to some degree by a shared ideology, it has thus far never extended to joint military cooperation or to an expansionist philosophy based on the use of force.  In this scenario, diplomatic relations with China might produce a positive result, not just in the SCS, but China may influence Russian interactions elsewhere in the world.

“The United States will make it clear that we are looking for a peaceful resolution to …  the disputes of the South China Sea. Let’s not resolve this by unilateral action; let’s resolve this through rule of law, through diplomacy, through negotiation. And we urge all nations to find a diplomatic solution, rooted in international standards and rule of law,” stated U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during Sangri-La talks held on June 7, 2016 in Beijing.

US Secretary of State John Kerry attends the US – China High Level Consultation on People to People Exchange at the National Museum in Beijing, June 7, 2016. (Photo credit SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urging other European Union members to undertake “regular and visible” SCS patrols, stated, “If we want to contain the risk of conflict, we must defend this right, and defend it ourselves.”

Previously, the G7 members signed on G7 statements on maritime security and freedom of navigation.

India’s Prime Minister Narenda, following a visit to the White House, stated that it had no comment on the SCS Dispute.  India struggles to meet the energy demands of its citizens.

The necessary diplomacy might transpire at the G20 Summit – comprised of 19 individual countries—Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States—along with the European Union (EU) – to be hosted by September 4 to 6.  While less than 100 days away, it provides ample time for all parties to re-evaluate the current diplomatic posture.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is a journalist focusing on geopolitics.  Ms. Lardner is a contributing editor for Tuck Magazine and E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive, and her blogs are read in over 37 countries.  As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.

Cover Photo Courtesy of Xinhua.

Sources available upon request.