China vs. Russia vs. USA; Xi vs. Putin vs. Obama

EDITORIAL, 21 Dec 2015

#407 | Johan Galtung, 21 Dec 2015 - TRANSCEND Media Service

From very high up three major countries-states stand out clearly: China, the most populous; Russia, the largest; USA, the most military. With three leaders, Xi, Putin, Obama, with much power on their hands.

And here is the key hypothesis, presumably more right than wrong: China-Xi: positive peace; Russia-Putin: negative peace; USA-Obama: war.

We have in mind China–also a region–building relations for reasonably mutual and equal benefit with China all over the world, spinning Asia-Europe-Africa together in a road-rail-ship-air Silk network available to all (with major mistakes in the South China Sea).

We have in mind Russia–itself also a region–calling to Russia leaders in violent conflict from all over the world, seeking cease-fires and accommodation (making itself a major mistake in Syria).

And we have in mind USA–more than a state, less than a region–since WWII ended killing more than 20 million people in 37 countries:

Afghanistan, Angola, Argentina, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Dominican Republic, East Timor, El Salvador, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Korea North-South, Laos, Nepal, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Sudan, Vietnam, Yugoslavia (James A. Lucas,; Not included: daily USA mass shootings).

And weaving the world together with the incredible internet (making a major mistake, using it for spying, betraying us all).

We are not selecting the best from some and the worst from others; we know there is more going on. But the idea is not to identify the best and worst of big states, but the roles, games they are playing right now in the state system. States have peculiarities; the state system generates roles to be enacted, states are (self-) allocated to those roles, whether they are up to the job or not.

Our task is to explore what happened, how, maybe even why.

What is Xi, 62, from Beijing, up to? The Weekly Mirror, Kathmandu 11 Dec 2015: “10 countries on 4 continents, 9 conferences in 2015”:

Pakistan (50+ cooperation deals); Asia-Africa (Bandung Spirit, 60th Anniversary); Russia-Kazakhstan-Belarus (WWII 70th Anniversary, boycotted by the West); Moscow with Putin (aligning Silk Road Economic Belt and Eurasian Economic Union frameworks); Kazakhstan (aligning development strategies); Belarus (industrial park as model); UN 70th anniversary (“new type international relations based on Win-Win cooperation-Common Destiny for Mankind”); USA (strengthening mutual trust); England (Chinese-French companies building a nuclear power plant in England); Vietnam-Singapore (Win-Win relations in a community of states); G20-APEC (to recover strengthen communication, coordinate macro-policy, open world economy); Johannesburg (15th Anniversary of Forum on China-Africa Cooperation FOCAC, democratizing international relations for more just future); Paris (climate, not zero-sum, fulfilling Beijing’s commitments); Heinan (SCO deeper cooperation).

No doubt, this also serves China’s interests: celebrating others’ victories over direct and structural violence (China did not oppose Western colonialism, Japan did), cooperating bi- and multilaterally,   reforming the system with Africa; no state excluded, even US win-win.

And Putin, 63, from St Petersburg? Centered on BRICS and SCO much may be secret. But Putin’s 8 points on Ukraine are indicative:

  • Federalization of the Ukraine even under the label “decentralization”; Special LNR-DNR status, political authorities not subordinate to Kiev; Full budgetary autonomy; Full freedom to choose official language;
  • Full cultural freedom; The right to choose the “vector of economic integration; The Ukraine must be declared a neutral state; and
  • All of the above must be explicitly stated in Ukraine’s Constitution
  • A Ukrainian state, federal, neutral, with free choice for the parts of language, culture-religion, economic system, all built into the constitution, with special status for Luhansk-Donetsk. A tricky point. Like Liechtenstein in “Switzerland-Liechtenstein”? Missing: positive peace cooperation between Russia and a possible-probable Ukraine.

Obama, 54, grew up in Honolulu and Djakarta, father from Kenya, mother from Kansas, rooted in three continents. And yet: see above.

Obama did not start but inherited the deep US “addiction to war” (William Astore, 30 Jun 2015); playing the world sheriff role, with deputies dropping off as the empire declines. The world saw the US role as normal, assuming others to do the same unless deterred by USA. But China and Russia now doing something else.

How come? We are not assuming any system wisdom, but increasing demand for positive and negative peace when major wars threaten. The Nordics are too small and biased in the China-Russia-USA triangle; no allies with them will do. EU missed the chance, militarily tied to USA, and neo-colonial. Like Japan did, by not advocating A9 for all. So, China and Russia filled peace roles generated by US belligerence in space and time. The last decade, but for how long we do not know.

How will this role system evolve? The more belligerent the USA, seeking ever more bases for ever more military power and action, the more demand for positive peace–particularly for mutually beneficial economic deals, and mediation. The more USA excludes China (TPP, etc.) and punishes Russia (Ukraine, etc.) the more will others be fearful of major wars and be open to the Silk Road Economic Belt and Eurasia.

The USA is separated from most of the world by two huge oceans; sources of security, and of isolation from Economic Belt and Eurasia. China fills a vacuum with cooperation, easier than for USA to change dominance, coups and invasions in Latin America to equity and empathy.

Hence, USA will still for some time play the war role expected, but against heavy competition from two peace roles if well enacted. USA may try to force them into war for “freedom of navigation” or “for Crimea”, but may find few, even no allies after fiascos in other places. Saudi Arabian belligerence may cause internal revolt, and Israel may be playing a more clever game buying ISIS with oil via Cyprus-Turkey.

It takes at least two to make wars, and two to make peace. The other side has to play the same role. The question is: who will yield to the other, China-Russia to major wars, or the USA to major peace?

The peace roles pay off better economically than the war role. But they are very distant from Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s war on Muslims and on Arabs; let alone from the present US Congress.

So, Bernie Sanders, here is your big chance in world history:

A USA for peace. Cooperating, not competing, with both China and Russia.


Johan Galtung, a professor of peace studies, dr hc mult, is founder of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment and rector of the TRANSCEND Peace University-TPU. He has published 164 books on peace and related issues, of which 41 have been translated into 35 languages, for a total of 135 book translations, including ‘50 Years-100 Peace and Conflict Perspectives,’ published by the TRANSCEND University Press-TUP.

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