Major power competition often prolongs conflicts

A resurgent Russia and the rise of China have challenged US hegemony; amid the political flux, the peace talks that history have relied on are struggling to work

Major power competition often prolongs conflicts

Recent history shows that major wars usually end with talks establishing agreements and settlements to end the conflict, with one side typically emerging victorious. In the case of a wider stalemate, war is typically used to enhance the negotiating positions of both sides ahead of any settled agreement to end hostilities.

Inevitably, all wars must end, and warring parties need to come together to negotiate the terms of victory, surrender, or other agreements and settlements. Surviving parties are left to negotiate whether they are the winners or losers of the war.

Throughout history, nations have shaped peace through diplomacy, dividing up resources and territories, establishing spheres of influence and setting up mechanisms for unresolved issues. History is awash with treaties that outline these matters, such as the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. The Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815—which ended the Napoleonic Wars with France's participation, even after it lost—ended up reshaping the geopolitical landscape of that era.

Then, you have the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I and extended to the Yalta Conference in 1945, where Allied leaders laid the groundwork for the establishment of the United Nations and the post-World War II international order. For its part, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union ended without a formal treaty or agreement. Instead, it ended because the Soviet Union simply disappeared, leaving Washington with no counterparty to negotiate with.

Throughout history, nations have shaped peace through diplomacy, setting up mechanisms to address unresolved issues.

Russian approach

This was when the world experienced a period known as the unipolar system, characterised by American dominance after the demise of its Cold War foe. It felt like a new era. But challenges to this unipolarity surfaced relatively quickly—not least from a resurgent Russia determined to regain its lost influence. Bolstered by its military might and extensive influence in different parts of the world, it was able to reestablish itself as a key global player. Global reliance on Russian resources—particularly its energy—helped it regain its geopolitical influence.

This quest to restore lost prestige is what drives Russian President Vladimir Putin—even if it comes at a steep cost to his country and with little regard for international law. This confrontational stance, particularly after its annexation of Crimea, prompted Western countries to slap sanctions on Russia to dial up pressure. Later, Putin dialled up the pressure even further by invading Ukraine.

Read more: Russia's economy has defied doomsayers–at least so far

Chinese approach

For its part, China pursued a different approach. It, too, opposed American unilateralism in the post-Soviet era for international politics. However, it opted for economic confrontation rather than military action. When the Soviet Union collapsed, China was in the midst of a significant economic transformation under Deng Xiaoping's leadership. Deng spearheaded China's transition from a centrally planned economy to a market-oriented one, allowing it to emerge as one of the top global power's through its economic strength.

Instead of helping to end or resolve conflict, the UNSC has had the opposite effect. 

Through its economic prowess, China has been able to extend its influence and expand its reach worldwide without resorting to military confrontations.

These two different approaches taken in Moscow and Beijing can be illustrated clearly by recent events. China announced it has developed a ground-breaking treatment for diabetes using stem cell therapy in a global first. This announcement came amidst Russia's increasing dependence on Iranian-manufactured drones in its conflict with Ukraine.

The dissolution of the Soviet Union without a formal agreement—coupled with the retention of Russia's permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council—resulted in continued chaos, undermining what was supposed to be the world's key body to address conflict. However, instead of helping to end or resolve conflict, it has had the opposite effect. 

Prolonging of conflicts

The Middle East knows this only too well. Prolonged conflict in Palestine has spanned over 75 years; in Syria, over 13 years. Today, Arab states navigate their relations with three major global powers—the US, China and Russia—although they tend to continue to lean toward Washington, as it continues to be the more dominant player.

Despite the regional implications of this global competition for influence and the inclination of some American politicians to withdraw from the region, two fundamental questions persist: Can these three competing global powers reach a consensus to help bring about lasting solutions to the Middle East's numerous conflicts? Or will the region remain trapped in a vicious cycle of temporary truces?

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