Russian President Vladimir Putin has started flexing his muscles amidst Cold War type allegations of a Russian hand in the US Presidential elections. There are rumours of secret ties between arch enemies Israel and Iran along with Saudi Arabia. A strange Turkey U-turn has baffled everyone.
Alarmists are hinting at a possible World War III as America and Russia clash over Syria. Strange things are happening in international politics and the things have become quite fluid. This is India’s chance to secure a good place in the New World Order when it shapes up over the next few years.
For hundreds of years till the 19th century, colonial powers vied with each other for global domination. Then they all united to oust Hitler during World War 2. After that it was the West versus Communism. After the collapse of the USSR, the US emerged as the sole superpower in a world bereft of challengers.
As Tennyson said, “The old order changeth, yielding place to new.” Well it is changing yet again. The globe has been thrown into a state of flux in the 2010s and America is no longer the power that it once used to be.
For a start, Putin is seriously looking to counter America. He has capitalized on the utter failure of US President Barack Obama’s West Asia policy. Obama has signed a humiliating nuclear deal with Iran (they still have the capability to go nuclear any time) and has paid $1.7 billion is hard cash which is alleged as ransom money for hostages by his detractors.
The Iraq policy has totally collapsed with an autonomous Kurd region and the Islamic State replacing Al-Qaeda as the world’s number 1 terror brand. Even friend Saudi Arabia lowered oil prices and one of the reasons was to sink the American shale oil market. The Saudis launched airstrikes against Shia groups in Yemen, another first.
Obama and Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State embarked on a suicidal policy of toppling dictators. They orchestrated the region in such a manner that led to the assassination and brutal end of Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The problem was that there was no “after” plan and Libya soon descended into anarchy.
They tried the same thing in Syria, (which many claim led to the actual genesis of the Islamic State) but the plan fell apart and President Bashar al-Assad is President to this very day and looks untouchable.
This has given a foothold to Putin and now any further interference by America could actually provoke an American-Russian confrontation, unthinkable till a few decades back. Headlines like “Obama ends Syria talks with Russia” next to “Putin suspends plutonium deal with US” in a single day are a common occurrence.
Relations between Obama and Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu have been quite frosty to say the least. That’s a far cry from decades of US-Israel bonhomie. But that hasn’t helped the Palestinian cause which seems to be receding by the day.
That’s because Israel has been slowly mending its ties with its neighbours. There are tales of secret deals between Israel and countries like Iran and the Saudis to counter the Islamic State which has begun bomb blasts in Saudi Arabia and threatened to wipe Iran off the world map.
In the last Gaza conflict, Hamas was squeezed on one side by Israel and the other side by Egypt! Who would have thought that former foes would work in tandem! Time was when Israel’s only friend was the US and it used to be totally isolated.
But the strangest thing in foreign policy of late has been the absolute U-turn of Turkey. Turkey was a staunch ally of America, a member of NATO and an aspirant of the European Union.
In fact it even took on the might of Russia and shot down one of its fighter jets and Putin retaliated by cracking down on Turkish business interests in Russia. Then in a curious turn of events, a coup happened and it was crushed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Erdoğan became a virtual dictator and has provoked an unprecedented confrontation with America. He has directly accused America (via Hillary) of harbouring coup mastermind Fethullah Gülen and threatened Obama.
(Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte called Obama a “son of a whore” and Boris Johnson called Hillary “a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital” and still made UK Foreign Secretary. Nobody really seems to fear the US anymore.)
But more importantly Turkey’s NATO bases are under threat and America and Europe are alarmed. There is absolutely no chance of Turkey joining the EU now. Talking of the EU, the world is still shell shocked by #Brexit.
All the world’s financial czars talked of a unified economic world order all the time and #Brexit has severely hampered these plans. Europe itself looks towards disintegration. The migrant crisis has blown out of proportion.
Citizens are rebelling and Right wing political parties are rising. These Right parties are calling for multiple #EUExits (France’s fiery Right wing leader Marine Le Pen is already clamouring for #Frexit). These parties also threaten to throw out Muslim migrants that could lead to a sort of Clash of Civilizations.
And of course there’s China. It is ramping up militarily, economically, diplomatically and scientifically and it considers America the only rival and all other countries way beneath the Top 2. So where does India stand in all of this rapid and chaotic change?
In the age of empires, India was a British Colony. During the Cold War it claimed to be part of the Non Aligned Movement but was in fact a virtual Russian ally. After 1991 you could call India a bit confused and directionless.
But now with the decline of America as every country tries to assert itself it is imperative that India does so too. The era of monopolies and bipolarity may be over and we could be entering an era where a group of 5-10 countries dominate and call the shots.
Note that countries like UK and France are rapidly losing power and we can aim to surpass both of them. That way one must commend Prime Minister Narendra Modi for at least realizing this and going all out.
The three jewels of Modi’s foreign policy are: 1. Aggressive diplomacy. 2. Ramping up foreign trade. 3. The policy of “The Stick”.
Many people make fun of Modi’s foreign blitzkrieg. But you have to go and meet world leaders regularly, engage with them, see what they want and have a dynamic foreign policy.
India has been a sleeping tiger for too long and Modi is telling everyone that India means business. He has also kicked the dreaded zero sum game out of the window (that good ties with one country means bad ties with its rival) and realised rightly that there are no permanent enemies and permanent friends on the world stage.
China and America may be rivals, but he is engaging both of them aggressively. Israel and Muslim countries can’t stand each other, but all of them can like India. Saudi Arabia and Iran are bitter rivals, but both can have warm ties with India.
He is pushing aggressively for things like a permanent seat for India in the UN Security Council, the BRICS New Development Bank and the International Solar Alliance headquartered in India.
Secondly many trade deals are coming as a result of all these foreign trips and India has already become the number one Foreign Direct Investment for the world. We are finally on our way to become a financial powerhouse.
Finally, Modi has really taken a hardline stand towards Pakistan. Indian troops were given powers to fire back freely across the LoC/border immediately after he took over, the issue of Balochistan has been raised internationally and we recently had the high-profile #SurgicalStrike which has left Pakistan really rattled.
Modi gave the go ahead to double troops at the Arunachal Pradesh-China border with new outposts, planned development near this border so civilians will move in to counter Chinese advances. New roads and railways are being planned so that military bases can come up. In fact there is frenetic activity around Ladakh related to both the Army and Air Force.
By now both Pakistan and China know that India mean business, but things will not change overnight and we have to keep at it.
We followed a really disastrous Jawaharlal Nehru foreign policy from 1947-90. The first paradigm shift came under PV Narasimha Rao in 1991 and that good work was carried forward by AB Vajpayee though it languished under Manmohan Singh.
Modi is now going in for a second paradigm shift and if it works then India is assured of a good seat in the New World Order.
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The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs here