The New Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact
On February 4, 2022 President Vladimir Putin of Russia and President Xi Jinping of China met and issued the Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development in which the countries agreed that “friendship between the two states has no limits” and “there are no forbidden areas of cooperation.” This agreement between totalitarian dictatorships brings to mind the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (also known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact) signed between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was infamous because it gave a green light to Germany and the Soviet Union to invade Poland and to divide that country between the two powers, which Hitler did eight days later, starting the Second World War. The Soviets waited until the Wehrmacht subdued the Poles and strolled in a few weeks later. The only real difference between the Pact and the Joint Statement is that Putin waited 20 days to invade Ukraine (a courtesy to China so that the 2022 Beijing Olympics would be unsullied by the treachery of the two countries).
It is also important to note that Soviet Russia was not content with dismembering Poland. They invaded Finland a few months later where they received a bloody nose and hundreds of thousands of casualties. Undeterred, Soviet Russia over the course of the next year invaded and annexed Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bessarabia (now Moldova) and some other parts of Romania.
The Putin-Xi Pact, like the Hitler-Stalin Pact, inaugurates a new era of great power aggression against their neighboring countries and others around the world. The new pact specifically supports the One-China principle and “confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan.” It goes on to state “Russia and China stand against attempts by external forces to undermine security and stability in their common adjacent regions.” The desire of Ukraine, a sovereign and independent country, to more closely align with Europe and to eventually join the European Union and even possibly NATO would violate the terms of this new pact.
The new pact is full of moral and ethical references and principled assertions of their desire to “champion such universal human values as peace, development, equality, justice, democracy and freedom.” The document mentions democracy 12 times and asserts that “Russia and China as world powers with rich cultural and historical heritage have long-standing traditions of democracy, which rely on thousand-years of experience of development.” They are obviously thinking about a different kind of democracy than the one commonly understood by people who are actually free.
It is, of course, foolish to believe the word of totalitarian dictators. Hitler ignored the non-aggression promises in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to invade the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, in Operation Barbarossa. And Putin used the vague statements about undermining security and stability in their common adjacent regions to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The pact would also give China justification to invade Taiwan. It is only the fierce resistance of the Ukrainian people that gives them pause. The principled words in the new pact such as peace, justice and democracy are, after all, only words. Words to be discarded when they no longer serve the dictators’ purposes.
Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping are correct. The world is entering a new era. But it is America and its allies that need to define what that era will be like.
It is clear that the Putin-Xi Pact uses high-sounding words to disguise malicious intentions and evil motives. What is also clear is their methodology for achieving their ambitions. The parties to the agreement have no objection to using military force to achieve their objectives as shown clearly by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Xi’s saber rattling in the skies and seas around Taiwan.
But their preferred method of achieving their nefarious goals is to use the international organizations created by the United States and the victorious allies after the end of World War Two. The United Nations is mentioned 20 times in the Joint Statement document. The World Trade Organization (WTO) is also prominently featured in the new pact as is the World Health Organization (WHO).
The inability of the United Nations to come to the aid of a peaceful member nation viciously attacked by a permanent member of the Security Council shows that that institution is helpless in the face of great power aggression. The Putin-Xi Pact denounces alliances such as NATO stating that such agreements for the common defense, “pose serious threats to global and regional peace and stability and undermine the stability of the world order.” That would be the world order as defined by Russia and China.
The United States and its allies in Europe can no longer naively believe that the United Nations is a force for peace in the twenty-first century. It has been taken over by malign entities who use the high-sounding phrases of the UN Charter to prosecute an agenda undermining the civil rights of free people around the world. The United Nations was poorly conceived at its birth when Eleanor Roosevelt (at the behest of her husband FDR) included numerous social justice aspirations into the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As I noted in my commentary, Wonky on Civil Rights, published September 26, 2018, civil rights or liberties are freedom from government oppression. For example, the First Amendment to the US Constitution starts out “Congress shall pass no law…” The rest of the Bill of Rights lays out all the things government cannot do and goes further saying that “enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people,” and goes on to say that the federal government only has the power given to it by the Constitution. Civil rights give us our freedom by limiting the power of government.
FDR laid out in a 1944 speech what he called the Second Bill of Rights or an economic bill of rights that said that people were entitled to employment, housing, social security and other benefits. While these are all good things to have, the only way that the government can provide such rights (or entitlements) is to have the power to take from some people in order to give to others. So economic rights require an increase in government power while civil rights require a limitation on government power. Authoritarian governments have used the inclusion of economic rights in the UN’s Universal Declaration to constrain the civil rights of millions of people (or in the case of China billions).
America cannot allow the fate of freedom-loving people around the world to be put in the hands of a coopted and incompetent institution that is long on noble sounding phrases but short on the ability to keep people free. The United States must provide the leadership to reinvigorate and expand our defensive alliances which Russia and China so clearly fear. The League of Nations was a failure, and the United Nations is turning out to be an even bigger failure. Time to move on.