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The Epochal Value of the Global Security Initiative Surpasses the Traditional Western Security Outlook


Writing soon after Xi Jinping launched the Global Security Initiative in April 2022, a professor of international relations at one of China’s leading universities explains the need for the new initiative, citing what he sees as recent and historical geopolitical instability under the leadership of “the West.”

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On April 21, Chairman Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference 2022, proposing for the first time a Global Security Initiative (全球安全倡议). Under the traditional Western notion of security and the political dominance of Western countries led by the United States, the world situation is continuously turbulent, with an endless stream of war and conflict, sluggish economic recovery, and stagnation in global development. The international and regional security issues brought on by the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the game between major countries have become the focus of global attention. In this context, the theoretical significance and epochal value of the Global Security Initiative are self-evident.


The Western-dominated World Order Is Filled with War and Conflict


Whether from a historical or contemporary perspective, security issues are the greatest challenge that threatens human society. Under the combined influence of changes unseen in a century and a once-in-a-century pandemic, the global security situation is deteriorating at an accelerated pace and the world is becoming less and less peaceful. In this context, the proposal of the Global Security Initiative comes at just the right time.


I. The History of the Western-dominated World Is a History of War and Conflict

Since the modern era, Western powers have increasingly become the dominant powers ruling the world by virtue of their first-mover advantages in the military and economic fields. From the perspective of security, the history of the world under Western dominance is one of constant and unrelenting war and conflict. In his book Krieg und Kapitalismus (War and Capitalism), German sociologist Werner Sombart pointed out that, between the 14th and 15th centuries, England and France were at war for 100 years; in the 16th century, Europe had only 25 years of peace, and in the 17th century this number fell to 21 years. That is to say, in these two hundred years, 154 years were years of war. The Netherlands was at war for 116 of the 145 years from 1568 to 1713. In the book The Sources of Social Power, the British scholar Michael Mann pointed out that for three-quarters of the time from 1494 to 1975, European powers were staging wars and the time free from war did not surpass 25 years. By contrast, East Asia enjoyed 300 years of peace between 1590 and 1894, with only a few relatively small bilateral wars. Obviously, compared with the other regions of the world (at least compared to East Asia), the world dominated by Western powers has been filled with wars and conflicts. In the process of foreign conquest, the Western powers became more aggressive and eager to resort to war and violence, ultimately creating a savage and bloody hierarchical world system with the “law of the jungle” as its underpinning.


On the surface, the Western powers have maintained their dominant position in world politics for hundreds of years by virtue of their military superiority and foreign conquests. However, the ubiquitous zero-sum games and military conflicts have forced human society as a whole to suffer incalculable disasters and losses. According to statistics, between 1871 and 1914, Britain fought 30 colonial wars. During this period, Britain, France, and the Netherlands fought at least 100 wars. These colonial wars caused the deaths of 280,000 to 300,000 Europeans, while up to 50–60 million people from the colonized areas lost their lives.


In the end, enamored with using war to solve problems, the Western powers also sank themselves to a dangerous self-destructive position. World War I was a worldwide war waged by imperialist countries to redefine their spheres of influence. In this war, casualties at the Battle of the Somme alone exceeded 1.3 million. During World War I, millions of young men in Europe died on the battlefield, and many of the achievements of human civilization were destroyed in the war. After witnessing firsthand the scenes of this self-destructive war in the Western world, the German scholar Spengler completed his book The Decline of the West, and pessimistically predicted that Western civilization was on the decline.


World War II was, to a certain extent, a continuation of World War I. The level of industrialization was changing with each passing day, driving unprecedented increases in the lethality and destructiveness of various weapons of war. As a result, the catastrophe caused to human society by World War II was far greater than that of World War I. In 1945, at the end of World War II, Germany’s gross domestic product fell to its 1890 level, and Britain went from being a creditor to a debtor nation. From 1946 to 1947, about 100 million Europeans had to subsist on rations of 1,500 kcal per day. Facts tell us that relying on war to achieve hegemonic goals is ultimately counterproductive. As the ancient Roman scholar Cicero said: “Most people think that the achievements of war are more important than those of peace; but this opinion needs to be corrected.”


II. A More Turbulent World Under the Leadership of the United States

After World War II, the emergence of nuclear weapons and the accompanying “balance of terror” greatly limited the possibility of a world war. During the 50-year Cold War, despite the saber-rattling between the United States and the Soviet Union, both sides exercised restraint. This gave rise to a rare intermission between wars throughout the world. The U.S.-Soviet Cold War was to some extent a “cold peace.”


However, the collapse of the Soviet Union made the United States increasingly militant and belligerent as a result of the loss of its external counterweight. The five local wars that broke out after the Cold War (the Gulf War, Kosovo War, Afghanistan War, Iraq War, and Libyan War) were all initiated or led by the United States. At the same time, the United States has continued to intensify its encirclement and containment of China and Russia. In 1989, Deng Xiaoping said: “I hoped that the Cold War would come to an end. But I’m disappointed now. It looks possible that one Cold War has ended and two more have begun, with one directed against the Global South, or the Third World, and the other against socialism.” According to public information such as that from the U.S. Congressional Record and the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress, during the 111 years from 1890 to 2001, the United States initiated 133 military interventions.


In recent years, the transfer of power among major countries has accelerated, and the world has begun to experience great changes unseen in a century. On the one hand, the relative decline of Western countries led by the United States is apparent. The financialization and hollowing out of its economy have caused the United States to show indications of a transition from prosperity to decline. At the same time, after the “9/11” incident, the United States launched the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in quick succession, leading to the accelerated decline of its soft and hard power. On the other hand, the rise of emerging economies represented by China is apparent. Historical experience shows that periods of power transfer are often also periods of frequent geopolitical contradictions. The Italian historian Giovanni Arrighi argues that capital accumulation is positively correlated with war. Since the rise of capitalism, we have gone through at least three cycles of accumulation. Each shift in the cycle of capital accumulation (actually a transfer of power) is ultimately resolved through large-scale war. In the eyes of the United States and other Western powers, power is the ability to force other countries to act according to their own will. This determines the scarcity and exclusivity of hegemony. The United States will never allow any country to attain a position of equality with itself, so it has continuously increased its efforts to encircle and contain emerging powers such as China and Russia.


On the surface, the Russia-Ukraine conflict that broke out in February 2022 appeared to be initiated by a Russian attack, but it was actually the result of the U.S. promotion of NATO’s eastward expansion and the squeezing of Russia’s strategic space. Fundamentally, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is of a hegemonic and anti-hegemonic nature and is also a battle between the old and new systems in the bigger context of an international power transfer. After the conflict broke out, the United States and other Western countries constantly fanned the flames, using the provision of military aid to Ukraine and the staging of a “proxy war,” with the aim of prolonging the war as long as possible to profit from it.


III. The World Order Currently Stands at a Dangerous Crossroads

The United States sees waging war as a lucrative “good business” but, for the whole world, war is an unmitigated catastrophe. A 2018 study found that the United States has been responsible for at least 20 million deaths in 37 victim countries since the end of World War II, including 10-15 million deaths for which it is directly responsible. It is no exaggeration to say that it is the United States that is the greatest threat to world peace and development.


For countries around the world, the maintenance of peace and stability is crucial. Security is the precondition and foundation of development. A stable and peaceful international environment is conducive to all countries promoting their economic prosperity and social development, thus forming a virtuous circle where security and development promote each other. On the contrary, a poor security situation will greatly damage local business environments; high military expenditures will directly squeeze out investment in fields related to the people’s wellbeing; and regional conflicts and local wars will leave each of the warring countries crippled and reverse economic gains made over many years. In addition, a lag in development will exacerbate political instability and regional turmoil, causing countries to fall into a vicious circle of “the more chaotic, the poorer—the poorer, the more chaotic.” As they say, “well-governed countries are generally rich, while chaotic countries are generally poor.”


In the context of economic globalization, countries are increasingly interdependent, traditional security and non-traditional security are intertwined, and international security and domestic security influence each other. When it comes to wars and conflicts originally belonging to the traditional security and international security fields, their impact is not only on the growth and decline of national power and changes in the international structure, they also produce huge spillover effects and secondary catastrophes, bringing disaster to the entire world. For instance, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has not only caused a large number of casualties and the destruction of infrastructure in Ukraine, it has also led to high international energy prices and frequent food supply shortage crises in many countries, further slowing down world economic recovery.


What is even more worrying is that many factors, such as the continued spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, the gradual slowdown of the global economy, and the now protracted nature of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, are superimposed on each other. As a result, the breakup of the originally highly integrated world political and economic landscape has accelerated, potential contradictions and uncertain factors continue to emerge, and imbalances, disorder, and anomie in various fields have intensified on a global scale. A series of dangerous trends have emerged in the current world landscape, such as intensifying contradictions between major countries, the emergence of political camps, economic fragmentation, security self-help, and values-based confrontations. Once these long-accumulating contradictions pass the breaking point, it may be that there are unanticipated large-scale wars and conflicts. As Chairman Xi Jinping has said: “The themes of the era of peace and development are facing serious challenges, and the world is neither peaceful nor tranquil.” If we are to eliminate the root causes of war and build a better world, we must find a new security framework that embodies a new concept of governance.


The Global Security Initiative is an Effective Path to Relieve the Global Security Dilemma


As the once-in-a-century pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict intersect, the world dominated by a traditional Western notion of security is facing unprecedented turbulence and uncertainty. Unbalanced global development and increasingly apparent international contradictions have spawned more unstable factors and international security issues. The traditional Western security concept with bullying the weak and protecting oneself at the expense of others as its core is arousing the dissatisfaction and opposition of more countries and peoples around the world. Against the backdrop of the accelerated adjustment of the international landscape, countries around the world, and developing countries in particular, are urgently calling for the establishment of a new security concept based on equality and mutual trust on a global scale. Based on this, the Global Security Initiative, which aims at safeguarding the security interests of a wider range of people around the world, was born.


I. Disadvantages of Traditional Western Security Concepts Are Apparent

The frequent occurrence of wars and conflicts in the international system dominated by the West is directly related to the politics of strength in which Western countries believe. The values of power politics are deeply rooted in the history and thought of Western countries. The Western academic classic History of the Peloponnesian War records a negotiation between the Athenians and the Melians. The Athenians, having the upper hand, summed up the situation frankly: “The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” These remarks express fully the hegemonic mentality of Western countries to use strength to take advantage of the weak. Their admiration for force means that Europeans in their interactions with non-Western countries often use military might as their main reference point for evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of non-Western nations.


Realism is the most popular and accepted theory of international relations in modern Western countries. This theory views the international community as being in a state of anarchy, with countries having a strong sense that they are responsible for their own security and pursuing the maximization of their own interests motivated by fear, interest, or prestige. In the view of Western realist theorists, the pursuit of survival and power is the ultimate goal of a state’s existence. Hans Morgenthau, a representative of classical realism, believes that the goal of competition among nations is to compete for power, maintain power, and display power. In Man, the State, and War: A Theoretical Analysis, Kenneth Waltz, a well-known scholar of neorealism, holds that the origin of force lies in international anarchy. The root causes of war can be generalized into three situations: defects of human nature, defects of the state, and defects of international society (anarchy). Meanwhile, the offensive realism that has emerged in recent years, while advocating the pursuit of power, is also developing more aggressive policy propositions. This is especially true of neoconservatism in the United States. Theory itself is not politics, but once the theory is embodied in national policy, it will have a massive influence on real-world politics. To a certain extent, it is precisely because of the widespread adoption of various specious Western theoretical propositions that the international security dilemma continues to worsen, making today’s world a “defective world” (坏世界) in which the few benefit and the many suffer.


Western countries observe and handle world affairs based on the values of individualism and selfish departmentalism (本位主义). This easily leads to the formation of a you-die-I-survive zero-sum mentality and a Cold War mentality, a narrow nationalism in which one’s own country is paramount, and even a hegemonism and power politics where the strong take advantage of the weak. The problem is that the world has always been an organic whole, and states are only parts of this organic whole. Chairman Xi Jinping has pointed out: “Today, the development of the international community has become a complex, delicate, and organic machine. Tearing down one part will cause the running of the whole machine to face serious difficulties, and both the torn down and those who do the tearing will suffer.” From the perspective of the whole and the system, the whole is greater than the part. The more that countries coordinate and cooperate as parts of a whole, the more the world as a whole can continue to improve, leading to the formation of a “good world” (好世界).


II. The Global Security Initiative Embodies the Spirit of the Era

To relieve the current, constantly intensifying, global security dilemma we must first, on the level of values, abandon the Cold War mentality and the habit of using a zero-sum game approach. The world today faces two very different governance concepts and paths to choose from: one is the old security outlook that adheres to the stubborn Western zero-sum game and Cold War mentality, takes power politics and military force as its code of conduct, and accepts group confrontation and sacrificing the security of other countries in exchange for one’s own so-called absolute security; the other is a new security outlook based on the values of common interests and a globalist perspective, emphasizing fairness and reasonableness, joint contribution and sharing, political negotiation, and mutual respect. The facts show that the old security concept long practiced by Western countries has increasingly constricted the development path of human society, causing the whole world to become less and less secure. In this context, it has become increasingly urgent to advocate and practice a new security concept that is shared, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable.


The Global Security Initiative proposed by Chairman Xi Jinping is the concentrated expression of this type of new security concept. Looking at its specific content and internal logic, the “Six Persistences” (六个坚持) which the Global Security Initiative stresses are practical and feasible guiding solutions for the various crucial problems in the current world security dilemma. These propositions are interlinked and complement each other, drawing a blueprint for building a new and better world.


In terms of ideological origins, the basic content of the Global Security Initiative is both the condensing and sublation of the basic norms of international law and the experience and lessons of international security governance, and a manifestation of the nature and coloring of eastern civilization and the core socialist values. From the perspective of philosophical thinking, Chinese civilization emphasizes dialectical thinking, understands the complex interplay of good and bad, and mutual transformation through contradiction. As a result, it seldom goes to extremes and opposes either-or thinking and the deeply metaphysical Cold War mindset. In inter-state exchanges, in contrast to Western values’ domineering practices of being quick to impose on others, Chinese civilization advocates “do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself” and emphasizes inclusiveness. In terms of the notion of security, Chinese civilization has a strong awareness that “the world is one family” and advocates a shared, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security concept, which is at a far higher level than the “winner takes all” values of Western civilization. As a socialist country, China emphasizes the spirit of internationalism and advocates equal respect and peaceful coexistence with other countries (especially developing countries). The Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence advocated by China are a typical manifestation of major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics, and the Global Security Initiative is an organic component of this theoretical system.


From a vertical perspective, the Global Security Initiative is a continuation of the overall national security outlook (总体国家安全观) and the Asian security outlook. With an inherent logical connection, the three construct a new security outlook with a complete system from the domestic, regional, and global levels respectively. From a horizontal perspective, the Global Security Initiative complements the Global Development Initiative proposed by Chairman Xi Jinping at the General Debate of the UN General Assembly in September 2021. It is an important pillar for building a “community with a shared future for humankind,” thereby providing a foundation of theory and thought for creating a new form of human civilization different from the Western system. The major innovative initiatives put forward by Chairman Xi Jinping on global security and development issues are precisely the concentrated embodiments of China’s contribution to human society in the field of values.


In the Practice of the Global Security Initiative Hegemony Must be Opposed


In the process of human social development, peace and security are the most important and most precious global public goods, and are also the most luxurious and scarce global public goods. According to statistics, in the recorded history of humankind, there have been only 268 years without war. Private ownership is the general root cause of imperialist wars. Capital is “value that can bring surplus value,” and it is the inherent nature of capitalism to realize capital appreciation. Marx once pointed out: “Capital is the economic power that dominates everything in bourgeois society. It must form both the point of departure and the conclusion.” “If turbulence and strife will bring a profit, it will freely encourage both.” As long as the capitalist system based on private ownership exists, imperialist wars with capital accumulation as their ultimate goal are inevitable. Looking at world history and the current reality, the capital accumulation of Western countries is often accomplished through hegemonic means, and hegemonism and power politics are still the direct causes that exacerbate the current global security dilemma. History is always spiraling upwards and moving forward in waves, and relieving the global security dilemma will be a long and tortuous process.


World peace and stability cannot be achieved by relying only on goodwill and desire. Ultimately, in order to maintain world peace and implement the Global Security Initiative, we must oppose hegemonism. Deng Xiaoping once pointed out: “The world now has two most fundamental issues. The first is to oppose hegemonism and maintain world peace. The root cause of the unrest in today’s world is the struggle for hegemony; what it harms are the interests of third-world countries. The second is the North-South issue. This is an extremely important aspect for international issues in the future.” The proposition of opposing hegemonism and maintaining world peace is still of epochal significance.


In the current international political reality, the war-loving United States has increasingly become the greatest threat to world peace. Since U.S. independence in 1776, there have been less than 20 years when the United States was not involved in a war. According to incomplete statistics, from the end of World War II in 1945 to 2001, among the 248 armed conflicts in 153 regions of the world, 201 were initiated by the United States, about 81% of the total. The United States has more than 800 overseas military bases around the world and frequently launches foreign wars. In August 2017, a poll conducted in 20 countries by the Pew Research Center, an American polling agency, showed that 35% of respondents believed that the “power and influence” of the United States was a “major threat” to world peace. In this context, curbing the unilateralism and hegemonistic behavior of the United States has become a major issue of the times.


From the perspective of war and peace, the world generally has two forces: one is the force of historical progress that wishes for peace and development, and the other is the reactionary force that yearns to wage war and profit from it. If we are to implement the Global Security Initiative and maintain world peace and stability, we must unite all peace-loving countries and peoples in the world to form a united front against hegemony. Only when peace-loving countries and peoples in the world unite so that their strength exceeds that of war-loving forces can world peace and stability be truly guaranteed.


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Cite This Page

田文林 (Tian Wenlin). "The Epochal Value of the Global Security Initiative Surpasses the Traditional Western Security Outlook [全球安全倡议的时代价值超越西方传统安全观]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in Contemporary World [当代世界], May 16, 2022

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