The United States is consistently losing out to Russia and China in getting other countries to align with its views, according to a recent analysis of three decades of voting patterns in the United Nations General Assembly.
The analysis comes at a time when the U.S. appears increasingly at odds with both the world’s other major nuclear-armed countries as Russia wages war in Ukraine and as the growth in China’s might sees it rivaling the United States as the preeminent military power in East Asia and potentially beyond. Both countries, also veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council, have consistently challenged the U.S. dominance that emerged after the Cold War.
Russia and China have gained the affinity of swathes of the international community, particularly in the Global South, said one of the researchers, Dmitriy Nurullayev, assistant professor of government at the College of Applied Science & Tech at the University of Arizona.
The analysis of the data on U.N. General Assembly voting patterns by Nurullayev and Mihaela Papa of Tufts University looked at over 1,500 cases between 1991 and 2020 where Russia and China had disagreed with the United States. Their view prevailed 86 percent of the time. Alignment with the United States was greater—at 36 percent—when the analysis considered only the 211 resolutions that the U.S. State Department had designated as being important to national interests, Nurullayev pointed out in a follow-up article.
In 1997, China and Russia adopted the Joint Declaration on a Multipolar World and the Establishment of a new International Order, which stated their commitment to seeking a new world order based on the respect of sovereignty and every country’s right to independently choose its own path of development. In February 2022, a few weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, Moscow and Beijing issued another joint statement, again promoting a multipolar world and saying countries should not impose their own “democratic standards” on others.
China and Russia’s ability has been enhanced by membership of groups such as the BRICS alliance, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the G-77 group of emerging economies, said Nurullayev.
BRICS was initially formed of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, but recently agreed to invite Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to join from 2024. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization groups China and Russia with India, Pakistan and central Asian countries. G-77 members spread across Asia, Africa and Latin America.
“Membership in these soft-balancing institutions has a discernible effect on foreign policies of both authoritarian regimes and democracies. India, Brazil, and South Africa are all democratic states and yet tacitly support Russia over Ukraine,” he told Newsweek.
Members of the NATO military alliance were more likely to align with the U.S. view, but the strength of this has weakened over time, particularly when it came to questions over the Middle East, the research said.
The State Department did not respond to a request for comment. Chinese and Russian foreign ministries also did not respond to emails requesting comment.
Nurullayev said that there was not enough data yet to explore how the voting trend had changed since the start of the war in Ukraine in February 2022, but that he expected it had not changed significantly—though would likely weaken Russia and strengthen China.
“There is, however, an opportunity for the United States. A realist/sober policy would be to continue our support for Ukraine but not get entangled ourselves and to work with China to stop the war from escalating,” he said.
While the United States and its Western allies have imposed sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, Washington has not won backing for the measures from India, which has continued to import Russian oil, and many other countries in the Global South or even NATO member Turkey, which, as part of a diplomatic balancing act, has provided Ukraine with military equipment while maintaining trade ties with Moscow.
The shift had occurred as not only Russia and China, but the world in general, shifted in a more authoritarian direction. The Freedom House advocacy group recorded 16 years, from 2006 to 2021, during which more countries declined than rose on its index of freedom.
Washington could now take a different approach more broadly, Nurullayev said.
“The narrative that the U.S. is a declining power and China is a rising power is a bit overexplored. Perhaps we should embrace the status of the underdog,” he said.
“The United States has much to boast about: highly skilled work force, extremely favorable geographic location, high standards of living. Globally, we should focus on realistic, objectively beneficial tasks. We should walk away from international state building and involuntary democracy building.
“Instead, we should focus on strengthening our democratic institutions at home, creating a highly educated and sophisticated population at home and making America an attractive destination for both economic capital and intellectual capital. Internationally, we should focus on creating sustainable relations with our allies and work with China on issues of mutual interest such as climate change.”
Dmitriy Nurullayev, Mihaela Papa, Bloc Politics at the UN: How Other States Behave When the United States and China–Russia Disagree, Global Studies Quarterly, Volume 3, Issue 3, July 2023, ksad034, https://doi.org/10.1093/isagsq/ksad034