The United States and the Post-War International Order

Wang Yusheng, Yang Chengxu
“The United States and the post-War international order” is a big and complicated topic. Some famous international scholars and politicians have been exploring this topic, with a hope to grasp the trajectory of historical evolution and experiences and lessons and gain a true picture of the world we live in and the changes of the era.
I.  The Initial Leading Role and Active Contribution of the United States
As the Second World War was about to end, the United States, with forethought, pushed for the establishment of such international organizations as the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade with a view to putting in place an international order different from the pre-War one and in an attempt to lead the world on three fronts, i.e. political security, finance and trade.
That coincided with the declining power of the UK, France and other European countries, the war-torn Soviet Union and the pending internal war of China. Only the United States, far from the battlefield and being the last to be involved in the War, managed to keep the greatest power. It led the world politically, economically and militarily. Against that backdrop, it is only natural that it led and initiated the establishment of the post-War international order. With the establishment of the United Nations and other international organizations, the new post-War international order took shape. The Charter of the United Nations affirmed the principles of sovereign equality, opposing the use and threat of force, safeguarding the territorial integrity and political independence of any country and non-interference in internal affairs. It demonstrates that the United Nations is a new type of international organization with wide representation, thus endorsed by all countries of the anti-Fascist camp. It is noteworthy that the United States persuaded the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom, insisting that China should be one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. That is something that should be applauded, whatever motivation it had back then.
At the United Nations Conference on International Organization, President Truman fully recognized the significance of the United Nations and the UN Charter as a milestone, stressing that the world must use the United Nations as a great instrument and reminding people that we all have to recognize --- no matter how great our strength --- we must deny ourselves the license to do always as we please. No one nation, no regional group, can or should expect, any special privilege which harms any other nation. If any nation would keep security for itself, it must be ready and willing to share security with all. That is the price which each nation will have to pay for world peace. Unless we are all willing to pay that price, no organization for world peace can accomplish its purpose.”
Those words of President Truman are still relevant today. In implementing the Charter of the United Nations, major countries can and should play a bigger role and even a leading role in some form, but must never act willfully or set themselves up as superior to others, even less go against the call of history.
II.  The Outbreak of the Cold War and the Evolution of the US Role
But good things did not last long. The Cold War broke out in 1946. In March, UK Prime Minister Churchill delivered the famous speech in Fulton, thus the beginning of the Cold War marked by joint opposition by Western countries to the Soviet Union and socialist societies, the opening of the “Iron Curtain” and the start of the confrontation between the East and the West. In the following year, President Truman further built on the “Cold War” theory of Prime Minister Churchill and came up with the “Truman Doctrine”. It is generally believed that the “Truman Doctrine” marked a new “dramatic shift” in US foreign policy. The Soviet Union considered the “Truman Doctrine” an open threat by the United States to its controlled areas and its expansion as well as interference in internal affairs of other countries. Many scholars believe that the “Truman Doctrine” is an important hallmark of the official start of the “Cold War” between the US and the Soviet Union and typical of the big-power mentality in the post-War period.
Thereafter, the world divided into two camps, i.e. socialism and capitalism on the two sides of the “Iron Curtain”, with the so-called “East-West confrontation”. And then the world divided further, with the emergence of the “Non-Aligned Movement” and the “Three Worlds Theory”, which in general restrained the rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union and, at the same time, the non-aligned countries became the subject of competition between the two camps of the US and the Soviet Union. During that time, the role of the US in the post-War international order shifted from a “positive” to “negative” one and the United Nations had become a tool exploited by the US. The two camps interpreted the international order in the early post-War period in different ways and acted differently. The US and the Soviet Union both attempted to control their own allies and pushed for their own international order. There were continuous political conflicts, military tension and confrontation and few business ties between the two camps. The period was alternatively marked first by the US on the offensive and the Soviet Union on the defensive, then by the Soviet Union on the offensive and the US on the defensive.
It is worth mentioning that this period not only saw the emergence of the “Three Worlds Theory”, but also the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” and the “Ten Principles of the Bandung Conference”, which drew world attention. They were a highlight during the Cold War, as further development of the international order in keeping with the times. They not just fully affirmed but also greatly enriched and developed the spirit of the Charter of the United Nations, thus following the call of the era.
In this long period of time, the US was still at an advantage and many countries followed the US lead. The US and the Soviet Union competed at the United Nations, constantly vetoing each other, with neither winning the competition. But on the whole, the US had bigger influence politically, with its unshakable dominance backed by its strong military power and control of the world economy. But the Korean War ended in 1955 and the US had not won a local war. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the US was mired in the Vietnam War and finally lost the war. In particular, the end of the link between the US dollar and gold marked the collapse of the “Bretton Woods System” initiated by the United States. And since then, the US dominance of the international order has considerably declined.
In the same period, the socialist camp experienced the incidents in Poland, Hungary and Czech, building up internal conflicts. The control-versus-anti-control contradiction between the Soviet Union and China gradually became apparent. For the sake of its own interests, the United States began to get close to China in the triangle relations between China, the United States and the Soviet Union. That had great significance for the international order. In 1971, Henry Kissinger made a secret visit to China. Before he left Beijing, the United Nations, after years of struggle and thanks to the support of developing countries, finally adopted a resolution to dispel the representative of the Chiang Kai-shek regime and restore the legal position of the People’s Republic of China in the UN. Afterwards, President Nixon paid an official visit to China, and with that, China-US relations gradually normalized. In the race between the US and the Soviet Union for dominance of the international order, the US somewhat won because of the evolving big triangle between the Soviet Union, the US and China. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and, after ten years of hard fight, it finally withdrew from Afghanistan. The Soviet Union had since been on the track of decline till its collapse. The United States thus consolidated its leading position in the international order.
III. What World Order Does the US Seek?
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Eastern European countries joined the then European Community and NATO, the setup of the world saw dramatic changes and the national strength of the US grew considerably, becoming the sole superpower. At that time, the US was puffed up. In the words of famous scholar Francis Fukuyama, “capitalism has triumphed over socialism” and “history has come to an end”. President George W. Bush even publicly proclaimed that the authority of the United States was higher than the United Nations. Even now President Obama said that he would not accept second place for the United States of America. And therefore the United States has continuously misjudged the situation strategically, expanding to the East and reaching to the West, spreading the US-style democracy, designing the “color revolution”, interfering in others’ internal affairs, squeezing the strategic space of Russia and China, “looking for enemies everywhere in the world” and furthermore waging wars again and again, and believing that “the values of the United States represent the international order”.
But the US forgets a basic fact that the world has entered into an era with peace and development as its theme. Developing countries are rising in big parts of the world. In the words of former leaders of France and the UK, now is the era of “relative great powers” and in this world, without such countries as China, India and Brazil, no major issues will be resolved. The world belongs to all countries and it cannot go without such countries as Russia either. Former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union George Kennan who was one of the initiator of the Cold War also said something to the effect that this world will never accept a sole leading center and neither the US dollar nor the bayonet will ensure success.  
Then, what kind of international order does the US want now? And what international order can it ask for?
In 2009, the first BRIC Summit in its joint statement clearly affirmed their joint strategic goal of establishing “a more democratic and just multi-polar world” and supporting the central position and role of the United Nations. They all called for a fairer, more equitable and just international economic and financial order to gradually change the current domination or monopoly of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund by old, well-established developed countries, in particular the United States. They advocated the increase of the say and representation of emerging markets and developing countries in international financial institutions and the establishment of a stable, predictable and more diversified international monetary system.
BRICS is the most influential developing-country organization in today’s world, representing the major interlocutor with the G7 within the G20. Their aspirations are as follows:
First, they stand for “supporting the central position and role of the United Nations”. This is the most fundamental requirement of today’s international order and also the international order sought by wise men of the US such as President Roosevelt and President Truman. If the US can face up to the reality and indentify its position accurately, there clearly exists convergence of interests. Take counter-terrorism for example. Now with the increasingly grave counter-terrorism situation, the US cannot do it alone and Russia also needs cooperation. Only when the United Nations is enabled to play a leadership role can there be a certain form of united front or joint endeavor.
Second, they call for a “more democratic and just multi-polar world”, hoping to put in place a fairer, more equitable and just international economic and financial order, which is also quite reasonable. Should the United States still keep its veto power at the International Monetary Fund? Shouldn’t China and other emerging economies have greater say and representation in international financial institutions? That is an unstoppable historical trend, anyway.
Those demands of the BRICS, combined with China’s innovative foreign policy concepts on establishing a new type of major-country relations, are actually giving rise to an international order in the new era. In short, it is about “the Charter of the United Nations Plus” with a view to safeguarding the post-War international order in the real sense and make necessary reforms of it. That is a good prospect the United States should and will sooner or later have to face.
Wang Yusheng is Former Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria and Columbia and China’s Former APEC Senior Official.
Yang Chengxu is Former Director of the China Institute of International Studies and Former Chinese Ambassador to Austria.