Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 18:25 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 06 Oct 2021 | 18:25 | SYDNEY

Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue*


Rory Medcalf


2 September 2008 16:54

I suspect this is going to be a bad week for relations among the great powers, even by their usual dismal standards of cooperation, adding weight to the increasingly convincing argument that we are entering an era of unstable multipolarity – just at a time when an interdependent world’s problems need, more than ever, cooperation among the giants.

Consider these potential repercussions of a few unfolding situations.

The Russia-Georgia crisis: Russia-US and Russia-EU (is the EU a great power?) relations just get worse and worse. At the same time, major continental EU powers France and Germany can’t be too thrilled about the audacious and slightly risky US policy of gunboat humanitarianism in the Black Sea. China, meanwhile, is less impressed by Russia’s violent unilateralism than their shared taste for authoritarian ideology might suggest: its messages, via the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, seem to have damned Russia with faint praise, as this article suggests. China is hardly going to be happy about any succour to separatists that the ‘principles’ of Russia’s behaviour might provide.

The India-US nuclear deal:  This troubled agreement goes back to the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group late this week. Its prospects for approval look little better than they did last time the Group considered it. An opinion piece in a Chinese publication suggests that the official line in Beijing – which has long stayed fairly quiet on this issue – has finally been unveiled, and it sees the deal as bad news. China will hide behind well-meaning minnows at the NSG, but if their stances soften too much, will Beijing show and play its hand? That would be a serious blow to China-India relations; even to China-US relations. 

Regardless of who might block the US-India deal, its failure would be damaging to the US-India relationship. Washington and New Delhi will blame each other, even if they don’t say so publicly. The next US Administration will be wary of making deep commitments to an India which inflicted upon itself damaging delays in endorsing a pact that was manifestly in its interests. Indian governments, meanwhile, will be loath to risk their political lives on making agreements with America when Washington proves unable to deliver on its promised international diplomatic legwork.

The only major power this post has not mentioned yet is Japan. If Taro Aso becomes Prime Minister (see here for his vision of Japanese foreign policy), expect a turn for the worse in Sino-Japanese relations soon.

Of course prediction is hard, especially about the future.  Let’s revisit these pieces of speculation in due course.

* Ed. note: The headline is mine, not Rory's, and refers to this movie. Rory is not a glue sniffer, and to paraphrase from another movie, the imputation is totally without basis in fact, and is in no way fair comment, and is motivated purely by malice, and I deeply regret any distress that my comments may have caused him, or his family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat any such slander at any time in the future.