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History is not necessarily always rational but full of surprises

Comments on Jonas Parello-Plesner “The G-2: no good for China and for world governance”, 23/05/2009, http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2009/05/23/the-g-2-no-good-for-china-and-for-world-governance/

I personally don't like power politics much, as a personal preference for world governance, to start with. In this sense, I have some sympathy to Jonas Parello-Plesner's arguments in this article.

But one has to be reminded, even though counter to my personal preference, that during the cold war era that stretching a few decades in the not so long past, it was the two world superpowers that dominated so many world affairs. The whole world had lived in the shadow of the display of the two superpowers.

However, there were two good things that came out of that long agony. One was that there were two superpowers, not just one, so they sort or balanced each other out and did not lead the world into another world war. Another was that the collapse of the former USSR proved an important point to all nations and human beings that any system has to produce good both economically and politically, otherwise it will not last in the long term.

The two cold war world superpowers gave way to the sole superpower of the US. What we got from that? Certainly the world had collectively sighed a great relief that the constant threat of a global nuclear destruction had gone. But what else have we got? We got heightened terrorist attacks, culminating by the 9/11 attack on the US and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by the US and some of its allies and friends. The invasion of the former was internationally justified that Al Qaeda was harboured there.

The invasion of the latter was not necessarily so, and in fact many have argued that was the act of the sole remaining world superpower and that there was little international justification for its so called pre-empty actions. The matter of fact is that the main excuse for the war in Iraq, that it had weapons of mass destruction, has been irrefutably proven to be false. But that war has had huge costs, in terms of both human and economically. Even the US has paid dearly for that adventure with rising military tolls and military and other spending related to that war. Yet, no one has been responsible for those huge costs!

That was a legacy of an unconstrained or unrestricted sole world superpower. It can do what it wants and sometimes what it does can be very bad to others and to itself in the long run.

Even now the UN Security Council is still governed by the vested veto power to each of the five largest victors of World War II. That is an uncomfortable reality. Although there have been calls for reforms to the UN governing structure, there have been also difficulties to change that outdated structure, one has to admit.

Why and how the two superpowers did came into existence? It was probably not anyone’s wishful thinking or doing. It was the natural evolution in the aftermath of World War Two. The US, a traditional power, emerged as the leader of the west, while the USSR, a new and emerging power with a different system became the leader of a number of aspirant but relatively poor nations that were struggling to seek to change their countries’ destiny.

The two different systems competed and fighted with each other. They hated each with. They each wanted to destroy the other. So they built up their camps militarily with each having nuclear arsenals to destroy the whole world a few times over. On that point, the leaders of each camp had some sanity with them over that period, so they resorted to the principle of mutual deterrence that worked and saved the world from destruction. But eventually, one collapsed and disintegrated suddenly perhaps to the surprises of many including the very sophisticated intelligence of the other opposing camp. That was not the outcome of anyone’s well thought design. History has been full of surprises in that regard.

What about the G-2 concept? I don’t have an opinion at this stage, meaning I personally don’t have any idea. It may or may not work. Again history may present its surprises to us, irrespective whether we like it or not.

Nevertheless, I hope that any development along that line will not follow the competing and opposing two superpowers of the cold war ear, even though they do represent two different systems and also one traditional power and the other emerging power. I hope if they do emerge as G-2, they will work cooperatively rather than competitively with each other, for humanity's sake. We have come a long way, havn't we?

The experience of the superpower politics in the cold war era, as well as the recent history including the wars and the current great recession, should serve as a useful reminder to any superpowers in the years/decades/centuries to come, perhaps for all sides, both positively and negatively. Any superpowers should not assume they will be superpowers forever. They have their historical roles to play, but each of them will also have their sunset time. That is for sure, so don’t over play your role as a superpower.

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