We live in a time when countries want to be on their own and independent, and at the same time, cooperate with the rest of the world. Formal international cooperation has become less than before, not only because of the ongoing Corona pandemic, but because big countries feel they can do just as well or better on their own, not having to contribute as much to the running of international organisations, such as the United Nations and its many specialised agencies. If they are alone, they can set even more of the trade and other cooperation rules. Military might has become less direct, although it is still there, including that of the rearmament of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) through its 30 member states, where the USA wants to contribute less and the European members and partners more.

After WWII, it became a competition among the superpowers and other groups of countries to host and play major roles in multilateral cooperation and control. The USA took the lion’s share, along with the UK, France, USSR (Russia) and China. The USA hosts not only the UN Headquarters but also the World Bank and IMF. Sometimes, some people say that they want the UN out of the US, and US out of UN. Neither is going to happen any time soon, but the USA is less keen on the UN than before, and it is wise if the UN looks to other countries and the private sector for more of its funding.

USA under President Trump has criticised international organisations more than was common earlier, but it isn’t entirely new; in 1985, USA (along with UK and Singapore) left the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) over issues related to the new international information order; USA returned in 2003, and it pulled out again in 2017 under Trump, demanding organisational changes, after having cut funding since 2011 when Palestine had been admitted as a member.

Since the USA pays a high percentage of the running costs of the UN, it wields much power over the organisation and its agencies; it continuously delays paying its dues. The other member states, indeed China, should be open to pay up for USA’s diminishing interest in the UN, and no single country should ever be allowed to pay as much as a quarter of the UN budgets, as the USA has been allowed to do.

With China’s economic growth, the world’s second and rising superpower plays a more prominent role in trade and commerce. China plays an important role in international development aid, through direct, practical cooperation that are win-win-situations for China and the countries it works with in trade and raw material exploitation. These forms of cooperation, including development banking, are on the way to become alternatives to the existing, Western-led and controlled systems, and most Western countries have already reduced their development aid budgets. Yet, the West and all other countries cannot close their eyes to the need for much more massive transfers to the poor countries and fairer international trade in order to create stability and lasting development globally, which is also the only way to solve the migration and refugee crises, and environmental issues.

Although the USA will for the foreseeable future play a leadership role in international cooperation, it is likely that other countries and groups of countries will play greater roles, indeed China, as I have mentioned, and, in some time to come, also Russia, and other groups of countries, including in Central and South Asia. The European Union is likely to play a more prominent role as a block internationally, together with or separate from the USA.

There is an international trend for countries to go for reduction and even withdrawal from certain international cooperation, indeed from the USA’s side under President Trump, but it is still more in words than deeds. Yet, when it actually happens, there is often support for it from unexpected quarters. This may partly have to do with the fact that international cooperation and globalisation went too far in recent decades, namely in capital and goods movements, but not in people movements. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has been criticised by many countries, as it often favours the rich countries and the rich segments in poor countries. Besides, superpowers, like the USA, are not willing to let international organisations take over leadership from them. China seems to have managed to find independent ways on its own, often leaving the USA disadvantaged.

Russia has been left in a difficult position after the fall of the Soviet Union 35 years ago. Western Europe and USA have not been supportive of the new era of Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States’ (CIS). The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) seems to have failed tremendously. The Council of Europe (CoE), with 47 member states, including Russia (since a major portion of its territory is in Europe) seems to have had good intentions in working closely with Russia, alas, without too much success. Belarus is not yet a member of CoE for lack of democracy, but Ukraine is a member.

Being an observer, not an actor in international politics, it may be easier for me to point out mistakes in hindsight, or so it may look like. But I have also pointed out many issues earlier. For example, there should have for long been broad global cooperation and discussion between China, USA and the West, in the economic, political and social sectors, and the current emerging trade-war with China would not have occurred. The lack of Western Europe’s assistance to Russia after the end of the Cold War is even more unforgivable. The current crisis in Belarus should never have occurred, and also not the continued problems in Ukraine, Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Russia’s democratic development should have been supported. True, countries are independent, but international cooperation plays a key role. Let us also be clear about the fact that much of USA’s unilateralism under Trump would have happened under any president, well, probably in more polite and orderly forms, but not so different in reality. And Brexit? That and other issues I will come back to in later articles.