The West has mastered the Roman strategy of pacification so thoroughly that the entire world is now in danger. Liberal institutions have made the global citizenry comfortable and complacent. They now lack the will to fight or engage in war.
Pacification finds its origins in the Latin pacificatum, the “pacifier”, which is a role that was held by the magistrates of the Roman Republic. The geopolitical concept borrows from the Latin pacificatio, which translates from French as “return to peace, accommodation, reconciliation.” Pacification was used as standard foreign policy by Western powers during the colonial period and has continued through democratic institutions since. Most notably, the policy of pacification was used during the Vietnam War to raze the grounds inhabited by the Viet Cong and then establish control by building schools and clinics to win the hearts and minds of locals newly under South Vietnamese control.
A pacified West has emboldened Russia and China
Research shows that the disinterest in coercive and repressive acts that comes from democratic institutions have successfully pacified the West. Unfortunately, that pacification and illusion of widespread security have made the world less safe. US President Joe Biden faced the vitriol of a constituency that had no will or desire to continue with a war on terror in the Middle East, and Eastern great powers took that as a signal to move in their own interests. Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to launch a “special operation” in Ukraine not long after the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan by the US. China has exhibited an increasing appetite for invading or reclaiming the island of Taiwan, which has strained relations not only between the US and China but also the US and Taiwan. However, China has likely held back on taking decisive action in the likeness of Russia due to the international blowback against the Ukraine invasion. The international fallout from the war in Ukraine presents an opportunity for China to claim a moral high ground on how it moves forward in defending its sovereignty and right to territories of interest.
China Will Decide Who Wins the Fight: Russia or the West
China’s recent flyovers in Taiwan and expanding presence in the South China Sea send the message that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is prepared to act with violence within its own territory if necessary while globally engaging in hybrid warfare tactics that remain below the threshold of armed conflict. The message shows finesse in Chinese foreign policy. Chinese President Xi Jinping is keenly aware of the peace guaranteed by the international order and seeks to manifest a global balance of power with China in the lead rather than outright hegemonic conquest.
A clash of values: democracy v autocracy
One must contemplate the future of the international order at a time when great power competition shows sharp contrast in ideologies. A clear line has now been drawn between democratic pacification and autocratic coercion. Morality and good governance are the name of the game in these times, but the methods of achieving and showcasing both are the competition. Liberal institutions and their democratic pacification have proven to be inherent liabilities in a world where human nature continues to reign supreme, aggressor states and non-state actors continue to use violence, and great powers compete in flexing their political as well as conventional firepower.
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Autocratic coercion has grown in popularity among conservative groups around the world, which is a concerning trend for liberal idealists and the state of democratic institutions. Russia’s circumvention of global sanctions strikes a big blow against the narrative that democratic institutions are most effective in international relations. As it stands, coercion and brute violence reign supreme, as the East continues to weather the geopolitical storm of international isolation. With Beijing kicking off its largest-ever military exercises around Taiwan, China continues to become more troublesome. Also, while Beijing may maintain a neutral stance on Russian actions in Ukraine, it is still supporting Moscow in a measured and indirect way in the game of great power competition with the US.
The world can expect a contentious competition between the West and the East. Hybrid warfare and information operations will increase. Violence will also continue to increase as the world witnesses one last power grab by world powers dedicated to traditional forms of culture and governance through repression, violence and coercion. Unless the West pulls off a quick and swift win for democratic pacification through institutions and diplomacy, the world will likely become a less safe, secure and equitable place for humanity.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.