New World Powers and the International Game

Have you ever tried playing a strategy game like Risk? One in which the objectives and the rules were created decades before you were born? As you play the game and begin to understand the different strategies, you’ll ultimately start to ask yourself whether a particular rule makes sense or whether you can find a better way to win. You might employ shortcuts or ways to alter the original vision of the game makers. You might even propose new rules to your fellow Risk players. After all, if you didn’t participate in the making of the rules, why do they apply to you in the first place?

Image courtesy of Emmanuel Keller, © 2010

Image courtesy of Emmanuel Keller, © 2010

Perhaps it diminishes international law and rules of behavior to compare them to a board game, but the emergence of new powers onto the world stage continues to raise the Risk question. It’s a constant theme even today in U.S. trade, defense and diplomacy and the basis of a question former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger asks in his most recent book: What happens when a newer international power like China is expected to abide by the international system’s rules of the game, even though it did not participate in the creation of those rules? In World Order, Kissinger posits that China expects and will ultimately act on the expectation that the rules will evolve or change with its input.

Kissinger’s view on China is also supported by more recent testimony. In the September/October 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and retired U.S. Army General Martin Dempsey reinforces Kissinger’s assessment when describing some of his interactions with Chinese military leaders while in government service. According to Dempsey, his Chinese counterparts repeatedly pointed out that the international standards and rules of behavior were made when China was absent from the stage and that renegotiation is expected.

To end the conversation right there would be to conclude that China will simply choose to follow the rules it chooses to follow until the rules evolve to incorporate China’s interests, approach to foreign policy, and worldview. Nevertheless, there are a few places in which some version of a renegotiation of China’s global leadership can take place. At least one author has suggested that China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is a perfect opportunity to increase China’s involvement in international institutions in light of its limited voice in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Another opportunity presents itself in the maritime realm, a topic also discussed by Dempsey in his Foreign Affairs interview. We have already seen some progress (albeit preliminary in the opinion of some commentators) on this front: in 2014, the U.S. Department of Defense and China’s Ministry of National Defense signed a Memorandum of Understanding governing maritime encounters.

Perhaps of chief importance and offered in conclusion, cybersecurity may be the best opportunity for a renegotiation and further interaction and collaboration. Recently, the senior director of strategy at Salesforce wrote an article in CFR’s Net Politics in which he proposes the creation of a cyber-insurance fund. In the article, he argues this fund would help develop norms that are dually internationally enforceable: (i) first through the ultimate expansion into an international organization like the World Bank in which China participates as a rule-maker and (ii) as another way to enforce an already existing norm barring the knowing use of countries’ territories for cyberattacks.

In World Order, Kissinger takes great care to weave the complex history of the Westphalian system and today’s international rules of the game. Much like the game Risk, the negotiation of any new rules of behavior should view the involvement of a newer participants like China as a chief component of effective foreign policy.


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