ARE WE LOOKING AT TECTONIC SHIFT?

BY

Anil Athale, Coordinator Pune based Inpad ( Initiative for Peace and Disarmament)

 

In astrology confluence of planets and stars portends major events, though a non believer in this ‘science’, I believe some such thing may well be taking place right now! The convergence of several events and discernable trends seen in the world today, point towards a major international realignment in not too distant a future. Just sample this!

 

In Europe, the Russians have for the first time come out strongly against the NATO expansion in the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia  and Estonia. The NATO decision to base its offensive airpower in these rabidly anti Russian countries is seen as clearly threatening Russia and Russia has promised a response including a rethink of its nuclear posture. Baltic states pose a peculiar problem for Russia. Not only are these former republics of Soviet Union vehemently anti-Russian, they all also have a substantial population of ethnic Russians. Any stoking of anti-Russian-ism there can have grave internal repercussions for the Russian government.

 

In the Far East, the Taiwan crisis appears to have come to a boil with China threatening intervention should the current political crisis not resolve in its favour. For all intents and purposes the electoral contest between pro-independence President Chen Shui-bian and pro Chinese defeated challenger Lien Chan was a proxy fight between US and China. The Americans have an enduring stake in Taiwanese independence as it provides her a reliable outpost to check and act against China should need arise. Even on economic grounds, merger of Taiwan with China would make the later immensely more powerful and also put US economic interests in Taiwan in jeopardy. The Taiwan issue seems to be coming to a boil sooner than thought possible by most analysts.

 

In the Middle East, Ariel Sharon continues to handle the Palestinian issue with the subtlety of a bull in China shop. In Europe, the anti-American electoral rebellion begun in Spain may well gather force and engulf UK. It would strengthen the hands of Chirac and Schroeder  who favour an independent European line on world affairs.

 

STRAWS IN THE WIND

 

But the mother of all changes may well take place in South Asia. It is indeed extraordinary that the Chinese Defence Minister is visiting India for five days beginning Mar27, 2004. This is the first visit by Chinese defence minister in ten years. What lends it importance is the fact that he is coming to India when the country is fully in election mode. That the normally thoughtful Chinese have decided to go on with this visit is indicative of a seriousness and urgency. The later may well be linked to what is happening in Taiwan.

The possible Sino-Indian rapprochement is not confined to security issues alone. On March 25th, 2004, the two countries have decided to begin serious talks on creating a Free Trade Area ( FTA) . It is significant that India- China trade in 2002-03 was worth $ 7.6 billion, a jump of over 53% over the previous year. As the Indian economy continues to grow at 7 percent and China continues to grow at 8 percent. It is only a matter of time before these giant Asian economies occupy the world’s top economic slots. Political co-operation between the two is thus sought to be given a strong economic underpinning.

 

On the top of all these happenings came the American announcement of resumption of military supplies to Pakistan. It seems that the US is going back to the 1954 model when she built up Pakistan as an imperial outpost of the West and  bulwark against pro Soviet India. In 1958-59 when the arms supply to Pakistan began in right earnest, Prime Minster Nehru had commented that no amount of military aid can change the balance in the subcontinent but what it would do is to encourage elements in Pakistan who want an adversarial relationship with India.  The timing and manner of Secretary of State Collin Powell’s announcement  of special relationship came about just when the Indo-Pak relations were warming up, thanks to the successful cricket diplomacy and thaw in Kashmir talks.

 

In the recent past as well, every time there seemed a turnaround in situation in Kashmir, the US has queered the pitch. May be American aim is to keep the pot simmering in Kashmir. Writing on 27 March  in the ‘Dawn’, former Pakistani Ambassador Afazaal Mahmood  has cautioned Pakistan over the ‘dark shadow ‘ this American move may cast over Indo-Pak peace process. He has rightly concluded that for Pakistan there is no alternative to peace with neighbours.

 

WEAKNESS OF THE US & ITS CONSEQUENCE

 

On 17 July 1991, in a meeting with the Director Far East and South Asia of the American NSC ( National Security Council) I had raised the issue of extremist dominated education in Pakistan and its long term repercussions on the world at large. This was no academic exercise, and I had provided her with extracts from school text books. 13 years later, control of Madarsas  occupies a major role in American war against terrorism. On similar lines, in 1996, on the eve of review of NPT, Inpad had produced a roadmap to deal with the problem of access to WMDs ( nuclear weapons) by non state actors. Eight years on, the US has now woken up to this grim threat of Al Quaida using nukes.

 

One has come to a conclusion that all this is the result of structural weaknesses in the American government. The weakness of permanent   bureaucracy  vis a vis the political appointees is one such instance. But even more fundamentally, the whole American approach to research is based on ‘issues’ and problem solving and not search for truth or understanding. There is thus terrible lack of objective data for decisionmakers. On top of this flaw, the Americans fill up their universities and think tanks with foreigners who advocate American cause. Their output is worthless and meant to please their paymasters. No wonder,  in crisis situations Americans invariably then turn to the old colonial powers for expertise, be it the Arabists or India hands.

 

None of this would have been of any consequence if the US were some country like Guatemala  but it is not, it is super power with huge accumulation of military and economic power. It has great capacity to do good that seems wasted. World may be soon seeing a reluctant alliance eme4rging to check this loose cannon called the US!

 

Are we then seeing the first tentative steps in building of a Russia-China-India alliance?