EMERGING GEO-POLITICS FOR THE 21ST
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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?
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!
AND INDIA ON ITS TAILS.
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
Yet more like the US,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.