Dealing with an emerging world order
Vladimir Putin is not a man one can trifle with. He was an apparat of the old KGB that was born out of the NKVD, which in turn was Cheka during the Czarist times. The latter shot first and asked questions later. US President Donald Trump is learning now that if you play footsie with the present leadership of the Russian Federation, you will end up being treated the 'unspeakable' – in polite society i.e. - ways. There was a small lesson that was also taught to the 'special privileged partner' – Narendra Modi's India.
Once the dust had settled after the end of the Cold War and Boris Yeltsin, and his vodka-swigging buffoonery ended, Putin emerged from the 'deep state' of the former Soviet Union to take hold of the reins of power in Moscow. But, meanwhile, the Indian defence-industrial complex managers had found their new love – Israel. And if the Jews of West Asia were to penetrate a market that promised billions in 'greenbacks', can the USA be far behind?
Result: in just three decades after the Cold War's end, the slow but sure 'operation creep' of the Israel-US camp had displaced Russia from the pole position, as a defence contractor and supplier of India. While the Indian defence procurers complained that the Russians cause time delays and cost overruns, they extolled the virtue of diversifying sources of supply.
The UPA government did that. So did the NDA of Modi. Their new strategic partner, the USA seemed monolithic in many ways even if post-9/11 its unipolar moment appeared to have passed. First, there was China, which overtook them in terms of total gross domestic product and purchasing power parity terms.
The talk had begun early; in the mid-1990s that there could be an axis between India, Russia, Iran and may be China that could break the growing monopolistic influence of the global hegemon. But then Indian Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, did not have the requisite strength to push the idea through, though it had appealed to his intellect.
Cut to the post-9/11 carnage and the financial meltdown of 2008. Both the events eroded much of the sheen from the US glamour quotient. China wanted to spread its wings and was not willing to listen to its moderniser, Deng Xiaoping. Deng had said 'Bide your time, and hide your strength.' But the present-day China wanted to play the role that was being foisted upon it almost by default. They wanted to reorder the world – shifting focus from the USA and Europe to Asia.
The two post-Cold War European battles after – one of the former Yugoslavia and Georgia – with the NATO seeking to expand its tentacles, Russia was not feeling comfortable being Euro-centric. It realised that it should become what geography has handed it as a deal. Smart geopolitics dictated that it should be a Eurasian power. And, shorn of ideological predilections barring pure 'realism', yet, there is a 'but' that lurked somewhere.
Cynical as it may sound, the Chinese will overtake the US GDP in real terms in about another five years. Washington's military projection of power is really global: with the country spending more dollars than the combined spending of the next five countries that are resplendently featured in Jane's military yearbook.
The USA, with its Obama-like 'pivot' or 'rebalancing' to Asia-Pacific, was an attempt to check the growth of Chinese power. Little did it realise that the depleted but substantial Russian power can stop the NATO from expanding with alacrity at the gates of Ukraine – and a Crimea for which Moscow has a historic heartburn, besides being too proximate, could always be annexed when the US is in decline.
Now that Euro-American 'world order' which the world had been chafing against – as new powers emerge – is under severe challenge, India is still fiddling at the edges of this emerging order. Sometimes it seems it prefers the blackening family silver of the Euro-American Ancien Régime for the sake of just the memory of a colonial legacy.
Sometimes it also seems afflicted with what is called Schadenfreude, a sentiment that befits Pakistan, and not India, that too Modi's imagery of a self-confident country now not ashamed to flaunt from a Rs 1 crore business suite to 40-plus new ships that are to join an armada of an emerging power.
In the process, it missed the chance of being a part of the Belt Road Initiative (BRI) which is really about an alternative world order. Moscow quietly did the job just to let the diplomatic corps of South Block know that while the US cannot be a continental saviour of India, but Pakistan while exercising with the Russian Army can be a constantly yapping on the heels of the country in the sub-continent.
Not surprisingly, thus Prime Minister Modi has travelled to Saint Petersburg or the former Leningrad for an annual summit with President Putin. But his next stop after he returns doing the rounds in Europe is a visit to Washington to meet Donald Trump.
Is it worthwhile to visit an American president – who appears isolated even amongst his own. The G-7, which once underwrote the world's resources and made sure that aid to the less developed countries – poor but resource-rich – actually returned to them manifold more like a 'net transfer of resources.'
This G-7 meet became a laughing club seeing the antics of Trump. And he was completely isolated from the rest on the issue of 'Climate change.' So with Pax Americana in its last throes, will it be worthwhile to visit Trump and give him undue importance? Isn't a visit scheduled with the opening of the UN General Assembly in September better? That way one will also know whether Trump is headed to the slammer or not.