Narratives that confound strategic thinking in Asia

US President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping attend a welcoming ceremony in Beijing, China, 9 November 2017. (Photo: REUTERS/Thomas Peter)

Author: Editorial Board, ANU

In the end, it is decisions made by people — prime ministers, presidents and their advisers, given half a chance — and not just the backdrop of history that frames their choice, that shape the course of international affairs. At no time is this clearer than it is today.

The consequences of President Donald Trump’s populist assault on the post-war liberal rules-based economic order; the disconnect between President Xi Jinping’s China dream and international geopolitical reality; former British prime minister David Cameron’s hapless stumble into Brexit; Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s own-goal on RCEP against all best advice; or the personal imprint of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea on the downward spiral in Japan–South Korea relations are present examples that continue to play out across the global stage.

There is a plausible view that the default condition in human affairs is a state of anarchy. The intellectual quest of the ANU’s Hedley Bull was to mobilise the forces for global order over an anarchical international society. The myriad inclinations to lack of respect for humankind and evidence-free diatribes that claim attention day by day on the world-wide-web are a modern manifestation of a disturbingly anarchic world.

How does good order and reason prevail against all these odds?

The human experience of working together in teams and of creating frameworks for cooperative behaviour and its noble, religious and other inspirations, conditions the ordering of responsible societies. The multi-layered order of the nation state encourages civic duty and rational consideration of social choices through institutions, norms and customs that suppress the human tendency to chaos. Yet, while it may be true that the normal condition of mankind is not instinctive ‘nationalism’ or treating those different from ourselves as other, these are …continue reading