Today’s crises show that old agreements have reached their expiry date By Fyodor Lukyanov, the editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and research director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.FILE PHOTO. China’s sole operational aircraft carrier, the Liaoning (front), sailing with other ships during a drill at sea. © AFP
Taiwan has been in the global spotlight this month. More specifically, attentions are fixed on US-China relations in connection with the confusing and ambiguous interpretation of the island’s status. This fudge has underpinned the interaction between Washington and Beijing for 50 years.
The agreement to combine the legal (Taiwan is a province of China) and de facto (Taiwan is an independent territory) state of affairs was an elegant innovation in the early 1970s. It paved the way for the development of very intensive relations between the two giant powers, first politically and then economically. The premise was a tacit agreement on the strange nature of the island’s borders – real and imaginary at the same time. Now the time has come when the agreement is no longer valid.
The whole history of international relations is about one side establishing borders and another trying to cross them. Both literally and figuratively.
There has been no century when borders have remained immutable, at least in the spaces where international politics were concentrated at the time. And it is clear that redrawing the dividing lines has never been without the use of force, sometimes on a very large scale.
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The end of the twentieth century gave the impression – or the illusion – that geopolitical customs had changed. The previous 100 years were turbulent, including world wars and decolonisation – with the formation of dozens of new states. By the 1970s, however, there was a relative balance. The colonial empires came to terms with their own and others’ borders. In Europe, the centre of political tension, an agreement was reached, the expression of which was the Helsinki Final Act. This was in fact a division of spheres of influence between the USSR and the USA, with the recognition of existing borders – formal (state) and informal (political).
The second part contained a nuance: Moscow’s consent to general humanitarian principles, opened a loophole. It played a prominent role in subsequent processes, particularly in aggravating the crisis of the Soviet system. The latter, without a doubt, fell victim to its own problems, but there was also an external catalyst that spurred internal civic activity.
Those accords marked an important milestone in formulating the rules of the game. The sides agreed not to seek to attempt to change state borders by classical force, among other things.
Since then, the confrontation has evolved into attempts to shift boundaries invisibly – mentally and ideologically. The US and its allies have been more successful.
The late and post-Cold War period was a time of the powerful spread of Western influence over its former opponents. National boundaries were also changed, but more moderately than might have been the case, given the scale of what was happening. And with relatively limited violence. These few decades gave rise to the view that the political geography would not change again, even if many of the borders were illogical from a historical or strategic point of view.
But an important fact was not taken into account. The agreements on the inviolability of the dividing lines were negotiated in the context of an approximate balance of power. The end of the Cold War eliminated this and could not but shake the whole system of arrangements. (RT)
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