Courting anarchy

| Updated on October 22, 2018 Published on October 22, 2018

A rule-based international order will work only if all players — including the most powerful — agree to abide by it

Do we live in an era of rules and regulations that govern the interactions between nations or do we live in an age when might is still right? The murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi has thrown up a situation that’s unparalleled in modern international relations. Though the Saudis admit only that he was killed during a struggle, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that a team of Saudi assassins was sent to Turkey, and they dispatched the target in the Saudi embassy and in the presence of Saudi Arabia’s consul general. The Saudis have always been famous for not tolerating dissidence but any acts of violence have been confined to within their own borders. The incident has infuriated Turkey and also created an international firestorm that may have taken the Saudis by surprise.

Saudi Arabia’s oil wealth gives it an unusual place in the world and makes other countries unwilling to take it on directly. There are, for instance, over three million Indians working in the country so India is unlikely to raise its voice about the killings. Similarly, US President Donald Trump explained with an extraordinary lack of artifice, that the US didn’t want to lose out on huge defence orders placed by the Saudis. Even technology czars around the world are expected to keep a low profile because the Saudis have been splashing money into the sector. A Saudi sovereign fund invested $3.5 billion in Uber and has around 5 per cent stake in Tesla. The country has put a colossal $45 billion into Softbank’s Vision Fund.

In the aftermath of World War II, nations from across the world got together to devise a new world order that would prevent international lawlessness. The UN and countless other agencies were set up to ensure that nations played by the rules, no matter what their systems of government. That idea is facing its severest test now, because the world’s most powerful countries are now signalling that they will even indulge in criminality, without giving a toss for world opinion. It looks almost certain that the Russians sent assassins to the UK to eliminate former Soviet intelligence agent Sergei Skripal. At an entirely different level, the US is showing an unwillingness to follow the rules that govern relations between states. Trump has repudiated treaties and deals struck by earlier administrations including the over-30-year-old Nafta, the UN-backed Paris Climate Change Convention and also the Iran nuclear deal. He’s also contemptuous of the UN. Key people in the Trump administration actually believe that the UN is a threat to US sovereignty. Trump’s similarly dismissive about the WTO. When the world’s most powerful nation sets such an example, it is hardly surprising that the next rung of countries should decide that they can break the rules with impunity. That belief makes the world a very dangerous place.

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Published on October 22, 2018
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