EMERGING GEO-POLITICS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY!

(PART 1)

by

Anil Athale , Co-ordinator Inpad.

 

As the year 2005 ends, we are mid way through the first decade of the 21st century. Trends, forces, countries, communities and issues that were barely discernible at the end of last century are becoming clearer. Yet it would indeed be foolhardy to follow in the footsteps of failed prophets like Fukiyama of Rand Corp. ( THE most important US think tank) who some years ago predicted  the “ End of History” or his more illustrious predecessor, Herman Kahn, who had predicted perpetual food riots in India in the year 2000( ‘The Year 2000’ MacMillan Press,1968, page 300). What instead is intended is to sketch out the dominant trends and add a yes/no, and/or rider. For there are many a revolutions that may completely alter the global landscape, for who would have thought in the 1980s that the America’s ‘beloved’ Mujhideen cold war warriors would some day destroy a New York land mark and kill 5000 Americans!

 

A LOOK AT THE PAST.

 

Globalisation as we know it today really began in the 17th century with the growth of sea trade  and sea power. England was undoubtedly the first ‘Global Power’ in that sense and the 19th century can well be called the British Century. It was often said then that the sun never sets on the British Empire! According to a naughty comment by an African diplomat ( from Zambia) that was so because even the God did not trust the British in darkness! The astute British diplomacy and its mastery of sea, were the two major components of this phenomenon. But before Britain could establish her sway, she fought a hundred year war with France, her nearest European competitor. At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the British power was at its zenith and none could visualise the demise of  British Empire in less than 60 years time. But the clash with Germany in the First World War, broke the back of the British Empire. Britain lost close to 1 million men in that bloody conflict. Un-noticed by most, the US, a late entrant in that war, lost only 50,000 men. While the war of 1914-18 signalled the military emergence of the US, even earlier, the economic centre of gravity had begun to shift to New York from London. Unknown to most at that time, the US surpassed the British in maritime tonnage at the beginning of the 20th century. The second world war firmly established the United States as a Super Power. The US also set a trend of fighting its wars on foreign soil, keeping the Fortress America safe from the ravages of war. 20th century was undoubtedly dominated by the US.

 

The USSR and the Russians under the garb of Communism, tried to challenge the American supremacy, but throughout the fifty year long Cold War, there was really only one super power, the US. Russian challenge was confined to the military field alone. Towards the end of the 20th century that challenge was also overcome with the collapse of Communism and dissolution of the USSR. It would be fair to comment that the Communist experiment collapsed due to its inherent internal contradictions and weaknesses as much due to any American endeavour. It would be fair to say that USSR lost the cold war but not necessarily due to America. Along with the defeat of Communism also occurred the end of much older Russian Empire in Central Asia.

 

IS THE AMERICAN POWER ON THE WANE?

 

Under is Monroe Doctrine and ‘forward defence’, within less than five years of end of Second World War, the US fought a major war in Korea and lost nearly 50,000 men. Though the Korean war was a stalemate, the Americans still succeeded in saving South Korea. But in Vietnam, where it fought for nearly 18years, she lost nearly 56,000 men, divided the American society and yet in April 1975, Henry Cabot Lodge, the last American Ambassador fled Saigon in a helicopter, ending the war in a disaster for the US. A small country, using tactics of Guerrilla war, had successfully challenged American military power. Osama Bin Laden’s campaign of terror and present insurgency in Iraq, are logical sequels to the Vietnam episode. Possibly what the US lacked was not military power but the astute diplomacy of the British kind.

 

But like the surpassing of the British maritime tonnage at the beginning of the 20th century, another event that ‘really’ could be called the turning point was reached in the 200th year of American Independence, yes, one is referring to the breaking of the bond between Gold and Dollar- the rock solid 34 US $. In theory, the Dollar was dethroned from its summit from that time onwards. It is a co-incidence that the Nixon episode also damaged the US image almost immediately afterwards, most have even forgotten the equally sordid departure of Spiro T. Agnew, his vice Presidential mate. It was in the late seventies that the clamour against rise of Japanese economy began in the US. Today the target is China in manufacture and India in software! There is indeed some parallel here to the Anglo-German clash that favoured America in 20th century while China is reaping the benefit of the US-USSR clash. Much of the Chinese ‘miracle’ of today is due to the generous American investment and technology transfers that took place during the Reagan initiated ‘crusade’ against Soviet Union.

 

But even more importantly, it is the American internal situation that could be a major challenge. The Spanish speaking Hispanics and Afro Americans together are in near majority in states like California, South Carolina and New Mexico. A similar demographic change is underway in many Eastern states. It is only a matter of time before this is reflected in the internal political balance. A million dollar or Henry Kissinger would prefer to say 64000 $ ( after the most famous cross word puzzle prize) question is how would the WASPs ( White Anglo Saxon Protestants) take this change? Internal peace in the US would come under increasing pressure in future. Let us not forget that the Oklahoma bombings were not the work of Osama Bin but of White Supremacist.

 

The recent cyclone ‘Katrina’ showed up not only the American inefficiency in anticipating and dealing with a natural disaster, but also showed deep fissures within the society. A later much less hyped cyclone ‘Wilma’ that hit Florida showed up the soft underbelly of the US. I have it directly from one of the Indian immigrant that at the rich and prosperous locality like Fort Loverdale, people went without electricity for ONE WHOLE WEEK. Without electricity there was no water either. Imagine the plight of a couple in their 70s, living on the 12th  floor! The whole town was also put under ‘curfew’ due to looting! Compared with this even the laid back state govt. of Mr Deshmukh reacted better to the July deluge in Mumbai! One really wonders which of the two is a developing country, India or the US?

 

The US of 21st century seems to have come a  long way form  the idealism of Jefferson or Lincoln.   What binds the Americans today is ‘Ideology of Affluence’, with ‘Consumerism’ as the ruling deity. But let non make the mistake that the US is likely to fade away, for such is the surplus of resources over population in the US that even a minor change in the wasteful consumption could usher in American solvency, currently the US is the biggest debtor nation in the world. For instance if the Americans were to just take to fuel efficient and small cars, it would be free from need to import oil……But if the US does not change then there are many parallels with the case of the Soviet Union!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PART II

EMERGING CHINA AND INDIA ON ITS TAILS.

 

 

CHINA

In a monumental work on world history, Arnold J. Toynbee, in his final volume had predicted the rise of India and China as major world powers. Nearly 200 years ago Napoleon had prophesized that China is a ‘sleeping giant’ and once it wakes up the world will shake. There is absolutely no need to dwell on Chinese economic prowess as that is self evident. There is some scepticism about it in India though. I am reminded of a my own memories of 1950s and 60s. Those days in Bombay ( now Mumbai) plenty of Japanese goods were available through door to door salesmen. The most often heard comment used to be that the Japanese goods are shoddy and ‘cheap’. The preference was for English or German products, due to perceived  durability  and quality. Before the dawn of 70s, Japan had excelled in both quality and prices. China today is in similar position and could well be like Japan raised to the power of 10. China is the future ‘Mecca’ of manufacture.

 

Yet more like the US, China faces daunting internal challenges, possibly more severe and also more plausible. Under the one party iron rule of Communist party, there is no individual freedom in China. Even the judiciary is under party control and an individual with personal grievance has no method of redress. The news that filters through the ‘Bamboo Curtain’ often gives a glimpse of violent reactions to various injustices. But the vice like grip on power of the Communist Party and the Peoples Liberation Army is such that any organised resistance to the regime is unlikely. Chinese have been careful to squash any organization other than the Communist party. The sever crack down on the ‘Guang Falong ‘ is an example. But individual frustration could lead to acts of terrorism and industrial sabotage. There has already been several such incidents. If these individual revolts against the system take a form of epidemic then the effect could indeed derail Chinese economy. Internet and spread of communications as well as ‘external’ encouragement could well make it more than a mere pin prick.

 

China in its drive for industrialisation completely ignored safety and environment. It is indeed strange that a would be super power suffers from mine accidents on a very regular basis. In the ‘Workers Paradise’ the mine workers have no godfather.( Would the Indian Communists leave aside their Pavlovian instincts and look at this objectively?) The frequent explosions in coal mines raises serious questions about the efficiency of the management and state oversight.

 

But even greater disaster in waiting for China is the utter disregard for environmental impact of economic development. The recent incident where hazardous chemicals have flowed into major international river like the Amur is a cause for concern not just for China but even for Russia. The situation  has arisen due to the fact that in the Chinese system there is no room for checks and balances or rival power centres. This may well give an appearance of  efficiency and decisiveness,  but in reality result in poor decisions. How China overcomes this is a question mark. Does it democratise? Can it control the process? There are no easy answers.

 

China has over last two decades succeeded in controlling its population. Its rising living standards are to some extent due to this. To achieve this the Chinese ENFORCED ONE CHILD NORM.  It is well known that in China in general ( and India ) in rural area in particular there is a marked preference to a male child. In China’s opaque system with wide spread use of abortions, it is indeed certain that the male-female ration is skewed badly in favour of males. What impact this would have on crime and law and order situation in future is unknown to even the best of social scientists since this is a indeed a unique case. With the enforcement of ‘one child’ norm, already large part of the Chinese population would be the ‘only’ child of its parents. From universal experience of families, it is seen than a single child is often obstinate, demanding and selfish. Imagine a country where 500 million citizens have this psychological background. Nation is after all a collection of individuals. What will a future China look like? Will such a nation be able to live in peace with the rest of the world or would it be aggressive and domineering?

 

The Chinese Communist Party seems aware of the fragility of its ideology and is therefore seeking the rehabilitation of Confucius and Buddha.  The internal dynamics of China are uncertain and may swing wildly, taking along it the fate of the world.

 

 

ELEPHANTINE INDIA.

 

It is noticeable that the most common animal motif in India is that of Elephant so also its favourite God. Subconsciously, Indians possibly identify their nation with the Elephant. India like the Elephant is slow to move but sure footed, non aggressive, vegetarian and if it makes up its mind can make the King of Jungle ( the super powers like Lion or Tiger) run for his life. Vegetarianism and taboo on eating beef has given us food self sufficiency and made us the biggest milk producer in the world and the best is yet to come.

 

India’s democracy and pluralism are NOT the result of its constitution or the British influence but inherent to the Indian civilisational ethos, these are pluralistic at roots. Tolerance of dissent, the linguistic, racial and religious variety, are all a product of this so also the Indian talent in software! An Indian is born in an environment that  is free from a single dogma.

 

With its powerful military and nuclear weapons, India is reasonably safe from external threats. The biggest issue in India is internal and that of empowerment of the downtrodden. The Indian constitution gave the affirmative action a pride of place when the so called advanced democracies were still restrictive. The US gave   equal political rights to the Blacks in 1964 and the British granted them to the Irish Catholics in 1968! It is ingenious on part of these countries to point finger at us. Yet since the affirmative action came without struggle, there is no appreciation of it. The Dalit movement instead of going in the direction of constructive work has found agitational path. This is posing a big challenge to law and order as seen recently when mobs ostensibly coming to pay homage to Dr. Ambedkar, indulged in rapes and rioting in Maharashtra. It is indeed a bad omen for the Dalits as their progress would be the first casualty of  this approach. Much of the violence in India today is out of growing aspirations and not oppression though the language used is that of ‘revolution’.

 

Some may be dismayed by the recent scam involving MPs, yet the free media has made sure that the process of accountability has begun. Like we solved the vexed language issue through the ‘three language’ formula, there is no issue that cannot be resolved peacefully in Indian democratic context.

 

Indians have always thought globally. ‘Vasudhev Kutumbakam’ or whole world is one family, was propagated by our ancestors much before any one else thought of it. Our cultural vibrancy and confidence makes us ready to take on the world, peacefully. Today the issue is no longer whether India would be a global power but when!

 

 

CONCLUSION.

 

The Indians indeed have never been more confident in its history and that is reflected in every field. The elephant is more sure footed than the Chinese lion or American tiger. This is ofcourse an analysis confined to geopolitical issues. While all of this may come to naught if a say a San Andean fault is to erupt and swallow the state of California or we continue to rape environment and ensure that the Polar caps melt leading to the ‘Great Flood’. Is it any surprise that ALL ancient civilisations have a story related to the great flood or Pralay’. But short of these events taking place, one is certain that the world would move in direction of making the 21st century India’s century, if not by design then by default.