China and Russia in the New World Disorder

Superficially, Russia and China may give the impression that they are pursuing the same path in proclaiming that they are “back” on the world stage. But this boast means different things for each country, although the Middle East’s deepening problems may ultimately force them to calculate not in terms of their “nuisance value” vis-a-vis the West, but in terms of their ability to make a positive contribution to global stbility.

Can Kosovo achieve independence without the tacit consent of Russia, and can there be a humanitarian and political solution to the tragedy in Darfur without the active goodwill of China? The two crises have nothing in common, but their resolution will depend in large part on whether these two permanent members of the United Nations Security Council use their veto power.

Comparing the respective abilities of Russia and China to block key international initiatives makes no sense in itself, but it does constitute a useful tool for understanding the transformation of the international system that is now taking place as a direct consequence of the relative decline of America’s global power. From that standpoint, the deepening of chaos in the Middle East poses both opportunities and risks for Russia and China, which may force them to define the roles they want to play and the images they want to project in the world.

The key question is this: Is Russia taking giant steps in the “wrong direction” while China is taking “minuscule” steps in the “right direction”?