NATO's new Strategic Concept defines a new but hazardous world order
Huang Yongfu
Before a group photo taken during the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, June 29, 2022. /VCG

Before a group photo taken during the NATO summit in Madrid, Spain, June 29, 2022. /VCG

Editor's note: Huang Yongfu is an economic affairs commentator. After earning a PhD, he started his career at the University of Cambridge and then moved on to the UN system. His current interests lie in global development and Sino-U.S. links. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) released its Strategic Concept 2022 on June 29. This U.S.-led document singles out China for the first time, saying its "stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values." It points out threats from Russia, China, Africa, and the Middle East, meaning that the majority of the non-Western world is allegedly presenting a danger to the global order that the U.S. established in the 1940s.

In addition, NATO is ready to absorb Finland and Sweden at this critical juncture, which could be one of the most dangerous geopolitical moves in decades. Russia has issued a warning that the two countries joining NATO would end the "nuclear-free status" of the Baltic Sea.

Targeting at Russia and China: A disastrous strategic mistake

It's clear that the Biden administration continues to believe Western deterrence via NATO could ensure eternal peace and security. The world has never been closer to yet another drawing of the Iron Curtain over continental Europe and the globe more generally.

However, from a historical perspective, targeting, isolating or cornering two nuclear powers, Russia and China specifically, will put a new burden on the system that American allies have designed to partially encircle them at best. Though the two countries are not formal allies, under the common pressure from the West, both have undoubtedly moved closer  strategically and stood "back-to-back."

The Biden administration's decision to reignite a new Cold War against Russia and China will be a disastrous strategic mistake. This is supported by the idea of the "Heartland," put forward by Halford Mackinder in 1904 based on the modern history of geopolitics, arguing that whoever controlled the core of Eurasia, roughly between the Arctic Sea and the Himalayas, could command the world.

Another to follow is Nicholas Spykman, a political scientist who argued in 1942 that it was not the heart of Eurasia which mattered, but its rim. He held that a maritime strip stretching through the Mediterranean, south of the Himalayas and across South-East Asia to Japan was the key. He wrote, "Who controls the Rimland rules Eurasia" while "who rules Eurasia controls the destinies of the world."

France and Germany turned conflicts in the 19th and early 20th centuries into friendship after two gruesome world wars. Their tragic history is reminiscent and their historic lessons should be learned that contests between civilizations can only come to a permanent end when a devastating war redraws the map in blood.

Biden's worldview based on values incapable of attracting mass popular support

The Biden administration is following the practice in the 1920s when Americans chose to stand for so-called democratic principles, international law and economic cooperation with allies to prevent another world war. They misjudged the situation and failed.

After World War II, American policy makers constructed an Americanized version of a global order backed by U.S. military might, or so-called Anglo-American order. 

The post-WWII order has proved resilient and effective to some extent during seven decades, with post-colonial countries being integrated into the world economy, wars between major great powers being prevented, and both Germany and Japan being brought into the world system that they had once tried to destroy.

The underlying factor making for the long-term success of post-war world order is the neoliberal doctrine, with a multilateral trading system based on the classic Ricardian trope whereby politics, ideology and cultural values didn't matter. Put in another way, an open society, competitive business climate and laissez-faire trade allow trading partners to get rich economically or make technological progress as long as they can trade together regardless of politics, ideology and values.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, American policy makers hoped to extend that system further and sought to build a purified world order that excludes communist rivals specifically.

After taking office, President Biden wanted to restore U.S. leadership in the "free world," with a greater emphasis on the principles of freedom and democracy, human rights, gender equality, etc.

However, in recent decades, those principles have been eroded in Western societies under the influence of so-called illiberal philosophical fads and possibly intellectual trends like post-modernism.

The commitment to defend freedom has dwindled to the point that many young people are cynically indifferent to liberty and inherent rights.

Democracy continues to lose ground and ambivalence about Western values is growing following various wars. The war in the Balkans of the 1990s led to the massacre of civilians; the Syrian war has killed about half a million people, and the Iraqi and Afghanistan wars ended up with innumerable deaths.

A child eats at the Babrak Garden Refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 12, 2004. /VCG

A child eats at the Babrak Garden Refugee camp in Kabul, Afghanistan, October 12, 2004. /VCG

Biden's worldview based on values sees global stability guaranteed by a "rules-based order" and enhanced by a growing number of democracies and vibrant international trade within like-minded partners. It isn't simply a compelling worldview capable of attracting mass popular support worldwide, but it is also against the interests of the non-Western world.

The right path forward

A stable world order should not depend on U.S. values or its economic and military power, but on a rough equilibrium among major civilizations backed by the great powers, especially the U.S., China and Russia, with nuclear weapons as an effective pacifying equalizer.

A new world order for true and steadfast peace should respect all the needs of humanity including every civilization. The democratic world order touted by the West should be based on trans-civilizational unity where the West is but one pole in a democratic multi-polar world order.

As Richard Nixon wrote years before his famous trip to Beijing in the 1970s, rather than leaving China forever "outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors," America and its allies should respect the reality - that China is a rising superpower - and commit to a new world order where the West and China can both thrive by working out where engagement of both sides helps and where national security is threatened.

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