Drishtikone Newsletter #338: Rules-Based Order and Righteousness Framework of Power

The Western Rules-Based Order is under threat. What is it anyway? And who is threatening it? How it is inspired by Biblical literature?

Drishtikone Newsletter #338: Rules-Based Order and Righteousness Framework of Power
"Afghan War Veteran" Alexander Jawfox
Photo by Alexander Jawfox / Unsplash
“The isms go, the ist dies, art remains” ― Vladimir Nabokov

Power comes from exercising power.  Not talk.

From religious forces to geopolitical ones, the ascendancy was predicated on the ability to destroy and annihilate the opposition.  Any talk of divergence or betrayal to the core cause is treated as the greatest sin.  A heretical action is worthy of death and destruction.

Whether the Heretic is a person, group, or country, fatal consequences await those who deviate.

Morality, the civilizational impediment, becomes the tool that the force on a pedestal uses to manufacture justification for the use of force.  Remember Iraq?

The real battle consists of the ownership issue: Whose Morality is it anyway?  

Who really creates and enforces morality?

That is really the question.  If one is serious about the power struggle in the geopolitical arena, the power to define, detail, and assign morality is the first key.  The critical part is to unleash punitive action against the heretics.

Without Morality and the Punitive Force, there is no control over society.

What Rules-Based Order?

On April 24th, 2022, during the Raisina Dialogue in Delhi, the Indian foreign minister was speaking in an interactive session.  He was asked questions on the Ukraine conflict and he shared his views on the hypocrisy and the fallibility of what is called the "Rules-Based Order".

Jaishankar responded by indicating that European powers had not reacted to challenges to the rules-based order in Asia for almost a decade. He said the West should “remember what happened in Afghanistan less than a year ago, where an entire civil society was thrown under the bus by the world”.  “When the rules-based order was under challenge in Asia, the advice we got from Europe is do more trade. At least we’re not giving you that advice,” he said. “In terms of Afghanistan, please show me which part of the rules-based order justified what the world did there.” (Source: Hindustan Times)

What is this Rules-Based Order?  Why do the Europeans and the Americans keep bringing it up as if it was a matter of faith and religion, and anyone they deem not to be adhering to this Order, is a heretic who needs to be brought under control?

Today's world is beset with a number of isms - economic protectionism, authoritarian nationalism, political tribalism, superpower unilateralism - that are being challenged by the geopolitical shifts taking place.

For this, we need to understand the framework which underlines this entire process itself.

The Righteousness Framework of Power

By far, the most dangerous concept ever invented by man has been the one of righteousness.


It is the quality of "rightness".  For one to be righteous, one needs to align with a standard.  

Any set of rules that have been hoisted as The Standard.  

However arbitrary or imaginary.

For a standard to be the rule of law or provide the quality of being justifiable once you are aligned to it, it has to have an unassailable authority to enforce it or be the source of it.

The concept of righteousness comes from Hebrew Bible and continues into the New Testament.  The concept was also picked up by the Qur'an and used in its own way.

The Source, as we said, is unattainable and unassailable.  So, it alone has the power and justification to provide the moral standard.  The rule of law.

For the rest, the righteousness - achieved via alignment to that rule of law - is at best imputed.

Source: The Gospel Coalition

So the structure of morality and rule of law is very clear.

  1. Entire Humanity is wrong (sinner)
  2. One unattainable and unassailable authority is defined
  3. This authority is the Source of Truth and Morality
  4. Rest of the humanity can at best achieve righteousness or the ability to be right or justified, by imputation from this authority
  5. Imputation is achieved by complete belief and abiding in the authority

This is what we call the "The Righteousness Framework of Power."

To rule the world - a set of imaginary virtuous symbols or ideals (set of rules or moral standards) defined by a power, which unleashes its fury on the rest of the world, are hoisted.  Any disagreement, any deviation from that set of rules or moral standards, and abiding by the Supreme Power is a justifiable and sufficient cause for a declaration of war.

In the modern world, it is called the Rule-Based International Order.  Or ironically known as the "Liberal International Order."

It is the biblical concept of righteousness rinsed and dressed up for the modern-day crusades and imperialism by the Church of the liberal do-gooders.

United Nations and other "International Organizations" are the Church's new apostles.

In fact, its foundational elements are from the treaty called the "Peace of Westphalia," which had its basis in the conflict that involved the Church and the people.

Westphalian Framework of World order

At the end of the Thirty and Eighty Years Wars, the “Peace of Westphalia” was signed.  This created the foundational framework for modern international relations.  Concepts such as State Sovereignty, Mediation between Nations, and diplomacy were part of this treaty.

The 30 years war between 1618-1648 was a conflict between Catholic and Protestant states within the “Holy Roman Empire”.  This eventually involved most of Europe.

The 80 Years' war was from 1568 to 1648 fought by Netherlands' desire for independence from Spain.  

Negotiations that followed involved deliberations and decisions in three elements - Religious Freedoms (obviously centered in the Christian theological frameworks), Diplomacy, and Sovereignty.

Now, let us dive into the world of Rules-Based Order.

Rules-Based Order - the modern-day Gospel

When you look at the Security or Defense Strategies of three countries - the UK, Australia, and the US - you find three points:

  1. The primacy of the Rules-Based International Order
  2. Underpinned by the power of the United States
  3. Guarantee for durable peace and stability (and prosperity)

Check them out.

Source: US National Security Strategy 2015, Australian Defence White Paper, UK National Security Strategy

So who is the "Jesus" in this version of the "The Righteousness Framework of Power"?  And who establishes the power?

Biggest takeaways:

  1. The Source of Power does NOT have to be real.  It can be imaginary or an idea that may or may not have any moral relevance
  2. Without the ability to unleash punitive power to establish the moral "rule of law" as defined by the Power Establisher, there is no power

The whole edifice stands upon one main ingredient - overwhelming power.  

Source - "Global Monetary Order and the Liberal Order Debate" (International Studies Perspectives, Volume 21, Issue 2, May 2020)

The Rules-Based Order really has no set definition in the first place.  Worse, no one, least of all those who have set it up, ever follows it.  But its presence, primacy, and infallibility arguments are repeated ad-nauseam.

Despite his diplomatic-speak, what Adm. Samuel Paparo (USN, commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet) is saying is quite clear if you can read between the lines.

Back in the day, when Christianity was being established, it was done so on the back of punitive, overwhelming, and ruthless power.  The non-believers were hunted, killed, and plundered.  Women of significant spiritual attainment, who could have had a following and shared the "Truth" were hunted and burned on the stakes as "witches".

Church had its own army which was formidable.

Not until the entire European landmass had been converted and brought under the Church and Christian ideology, did the Church stop its killing, attacks, and wars.

It then went on to invest in foreign "expeditions" which had the mandate of invasions and conquests.  To "spread the word of Jesus".  Or bring the others under the control of one definition of morality - controlled by one center.

When the power of the Church was ever challenged, the payback was severe and quick.

Source- “The Darkening Age by Catherine Nixey

To create the infallibility of Christian God and Christ, two things have been used - Persecution (Violence, killing, and annihilation) and Large scale narrative building with complex links and intertwining arguments that were established as facts over time because (1) they were repeated and (2) no one refuted them out of fear or derision while the Christian power dominated.

There does not need to be a clear enunciation of a set of rules, if there is enough power with the Establisher to unleash fury when questioned.

OK, but which rules, exactly, is America upholding? Biden administration officials don’t say. In fact, they never clearly define the term at all. Arguing about phrases like “rules-based order,” the political scientist Patrick Porter has noted, is like “wrestling with fog.”  That’s exactly the point. Since the “rules-based order” is never adequately defined, America’s claim to uphold it can never be disproved.  (Source: NYTimes)

America did not leverage the 'Rule-based order' but weaponized it.

Can the real Rules-Based Order please stand up?

What is this ubiquitous Rules-Based Order?

The rules-based international system was constructed mostly by leading democratic allies at the end of World War II, and was deepened and expanded by many other countries over time. The system is predicated on a set of norms and principles pertaining to global security, the economy, and governance. It consists of: a set of rules encouraging peaceful, predictable, and cooperative behavior among states that is consistent with liberal values and principles; formal institutional bodies, such as the United Nations (UN) and NATO, that serve to legitimize and uphold these rules, and provide a forum to discuss and settle disputes; and the role of powerful democratic states to help preserve and defend the system. In the security realm, the system is characterized by formal alliances in Europe and Asia, in addition to rules that protect state sovereignty and territorial integrity, and place limits on the use of military force and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. In the economic domain, the rules-based system has served to promote an interconnected global economy based on free markets and open trade and finance. Finally, in the realm of governance, the rules-based system advanced democratic values and human rights. The system has never been fixed, but has evolved over time, with major periods of adaptation and expansion at major inflection points after World War II and at the end of the Cold War. (Source: The Atlantic Council)

The winners of World War II, where one side decisively defeated the other, created a set of institutions that proposed to establish a world based on rules underlying, peace, trade, justice, and freedom.

Although the basis of the Rules-Based Order has always been couched in terms of high-sounding values, the fact is that it has more to do with competition and power than values.  

Here is the commentary on Foreign Minister Marise Payne's call for Rules-Based Order and its analysis by the Lowy Institute.

When a set of unilaterally defined rules become the basis of competition, then every set of players in the larger global conflict work to assert their values and ways as supreme.

During the Cold War, the competition was between the United States and Soviet Union.  Now, the new challenger is China.

Source: Foreign Policy

As economic power shifts and the East - primarily China - with its large population and the consequent economic power - takes up a greater role on the world stage, the Western power is reducing slowly.

We are witnessing a historic shift of power away from the West towards Asia, and the consequences are being felt in parliaments around the globe. Some ten years from now, China is set to overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy. The West is slowly losing its capacity to set the global agenda.  Looking back further in history, however, we see that Western dominance is an exception - a blip on the timeline. For two centuries, an extreme concentration of economic power allowed the West, despite representing just a small minority of the world’s population, to implement its own economic and social models across much of the globe. To most observers, non-Western actors hardly ever played a constructive role in the management of global affairs.  No wonder many in the West see a future global order – no longer under their direction – as chaotic, disorienting and dangerous. Indeed, the majority of leading international relations scholars believe the relative decline in US power will have profoundly negative global consequences. (Source)

The challenge has come with a different set of rules, those which are not even considered by the incumbents as rules at all.

Liberal neo-con Imperialism

Inderjeet Parmar (professor of international politics, and head of the Department of International Politics at City, University of London) shares an interesting - but apt - proposition.

That - the US-led "Liberal Order" is really Imperialism by another name.

Interjeet Parmar - "The US-led liberal order: imperialism by another name?"

The Liberal International Order (LIO) or the "Rules-Based Order" established by the West was disingenuous and faulty at best.  In its real form, it was indeed imperialist in its objective and structure.  In this, CATO's stand echoes that of Parmar - the Imperialist tendencies of the Rules-Based Order.

On closer inspection, while it is true that the postwar world was more prosperous and peaceful than what came before, the claim that a unitary “liberal order” prevailed and defined international relations is both ahistorical and harmful. It is ahistorical because it is blind to the process of “ordering” the world and erases the memory of violence, coercion, and compromise that also marked postwar diplomatic history. It loses sight of the realities and limits of the exercise of power abroad, the multiplicity of orders that arose, and the conflicted and contradictory nature of liberalism itself. While liberalism and liberal projects existed, such “order” as existed rested on the imperial prerogatives of a superpower that attempted to impose order by stepping outside rules and accommodating illiberal forces. “Liberal order” also conflates intentions and outcomes: some of the most doctrinaire liberal projects produced illiberal results. This nostalgia is harmful because framing the world before Trump in absolute moral terms as a “liberal order” makes it harder to consider measures that are needed to adapt to change: the retrenchment of security commitments, the redistribution of burdens among allies, prudent war‐​avoidance, and the limitation of foreign policy ambitions. It also impedes the United States from performing an increasingly important task: to reappraise its grand strategy in order to bring its power and commitments into balance. (Source: CATO)

And, here we are faced with an interesting challenge.

That it is not the conservative politics or ideologies that are at the root of modern-day imperialist agendas unlike in the past - but modern liberalism champions!

The new imperialist ways are being structured and pushed down the throats of the world in the garb of liberal world order.

Are you a liberal imperialist? Liberal imperialists are like kinder, gentler neoconservatives: Like neocons, they believe it’s America’s responsibility to right political and humanitarian wrongs around the world, and they’re comfortable with the idea of the United States deciding who will run countries such as Libya, Syria, or Afghanistan. Unlike neocons, liberal imperialists embrace and support international institutions (like the United Nations), and they are driven more by concern for human rights than they are by blind nationalism or protecting the U.S.-Israel special relationship. Still, like the neocons, liberal imperialists are eager proponents for using American hard power, even in situations where it might easily do more harm than good. The odd-bedfellow combination of their idealism with neocons’ ideology has given us a lot of bad foreign policy over the past decade, especially the decisions to intervene militarily in Iraq or nation-build in Afghanistan, and today’s drumbeat to do the same in Syria. (Source: Foreign Policy)

In the competition of the global orders, China, the current counterweight to Western imperialism, has its own articulation of the Global Order.

China's global order philosophy stems from what is known as the Tianxia philosophy.

Chinese Tianxia Framework of Imperialism

Tianxia (Chinese: 天下), literally means "(all) under Heaven".  It is a Chinese term for a Confucian Chinese cultural concept that denoted either the entire geographical world or the metaphysical realm of mortals, and later became associated with political sovereignty.

Zhao Tingyang, a Chinese Philosopher, a senior fellow of the Peking University Berggruen Research Institute, is credited with modernizing the concept of Tianxia.

In his book titled "All Under Heaven - The Tianxia System for a Possible World Order," Zhao shares his concepts.  He shares a "distinctively Chinese centripetal "whirlpool" model of world order" (Source), which predicates upon the mechanism in which the Chinese internal identity has shaped its engagement with the world.

Per Zhao, Tianxia has a trinitarian conception - Geographic, Social psychology, and Political.  In our discussion, the political component becomes critical.


Replete with the high-sounding ideals of harmony, oneness, and commonality, Tianxia in its geo-political avatar is yet another mechanism for establishing an imperialist agenda.

Just that this time, the imperialist power would be China.

Source: Global Asia

It is obvious that Tianxia promotes an autocratic empire-world order. It aligns with the more popular ideation of the Pax Sinica (Peace under Chinese Rule) hegemony where China becomes the power that forces other nations to agree to its rule.

What this has meant is a legitimate concern about overt Chinese imperialism that stems from its worldview based on Tianxia.

It is believed that the inefficacy of the established order to pose as a credible counter or deterrence for China is evident from the repeated violations of international maritime law along with disregard for the jurisdiction and significance of international institutions. In recent years, therefore, narratives seeking to uphold the existing order have sought to ground it in operable themes such as ‘free and open Indo-Pacific’ which comprise the foundation for the building of ‘like-minded partnerships.’ Conversely, China sought to bolster its own position through systematic blows at the tolerance threshold of this very international order. While concerns such as the oft-cited debt-trap diplomacy, wolf-warrior diplomacy, para-military activities, and others continue to spur and unite a variety of coalitions, an effective and credible deterrence mechanism is yet to take shape. (Source: ORF)

The coalition against the Chinese hegemony is coming together and includes the players in the Western hegemonic circles as well as the victims of both - the West and China.

It is interesting to note here that while there is a credible and clear positing of forces against the Chinese "Global Order" framework, such opposition in geopolitical terms did not exist against the Western "Rules-Based Order."  Even when it has been as much of a hegemonic framework as Tianxia has been.  Formulations apart, the basic objective and mechanisms of hegemonic actions of the West and China have not been that much apart.

So what gives?

Ingredients to establish the World Order

Let us analyze how the hegemonic frameworks and systems work.  And, these methods have been perfected via the Righteousness Framework days.

  1. Hegemony does not only work on Power and Morality (High Sounding words).  They are critical, but not the only main ingredient.
  2. The main ingredient to legitimize the hard power is the soft message.  "Love of Jesus" or "Democracy, Justice and Freedom" variety.  Disingenuous it may be, but it needs to be articulated in different ways and different scenarios and circumstances ad-nauseam.  Until it becomes the truth
  3. Hard Power, Morality, and Soft Message can only be delivered if one has full and complete control over the messenger.  The Media and communication.  Those who want to rule, cannot let go of the Media and pervading communications.  If you do not have control over Communications and Media, the rest will not work.  China is a great example.

China realizes that the only way to counter Western universalism and its Rules-Based Order of Imperialism is to create its own.

What China missed is the Soft Message and its Dissemination.

That one mistake - will be the death knell for its plans and designs.

For India, it is important to understand the full import of "The Righteousness Framework of Power," if it intends to counter the Global Order frameworks floating around globally.  The basis of that will need to be control over communications.  Without that, nothing can be done.

Video Corner: India and the Economic handling

Nirmala Sitharaman, the honorable Minister of Finance in Modi's cabinet is an intelligent person with a lot of experience and knowledge in her field.  We have often disagreed with her handling of budgets and economic steps, but it is always an education to listen to her describe things as clearly as only she can.

Such discussions, of great importance, are often missed out on.  But they hold great pointers, frame of analysis, and justification of actions taken.  That is why we want to share this discussion, which we believe is very significant and insightful.

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