Published on 21 June in Brighter Kashmir
The war in Ukraine continues unabated. There are no signs of a ceasefire or conclusion to the deadly and devastating war. There are, however, serious repercussions of the war on the world, including India. It is critically important to mitigate those repercussions and reckon with the unfolding political and strategic scenarios across the world. Here is an attempt to discern those and deal with them.
One of the foreseeable consequences is food shortages leading even to famines and resultant social and political unrest. Ukraine has been a ‘grain bowl’ of the world. The production of food grain has been disrupted and the supply of available stock is interrupted by the war. Many countries are feeling the pinch of inflation, facing fuel and food scarcities causing social unrest and political instability.
Our immediate neighbour Sri Lanka is a case in point. Although, the recent Sri Lankan problems could be attributed to political mismanagement on a faulty majoritarian-partisan approach, the impact of the war could not be ruled out. Colombo has declared its readiness to buy oil from Russia despite the sanctions imposed by the Western powers. Even European countries could go into recession. India has managed to buy some oil from Russia but India-Russia bilateral transactions may not hold for long as the rivalry between the West and Russia deepens.
China is increasingly being shunned by Western countries which built up its economy in the first place. Beijing is in cahoots with Moscow as it competes with the west, mainly USA for leadership space in world politics. Hence, there are plans to create alternative supply chains. India could play a big part in this because of its population marginally next to China who could potentially constitute the world manufacturing hub and a market if a conducive context is created.
Apparently, the existing supply chain pivoted by China is being restructured. As said, India could be a major link in a new supply chain, but not an automatic one. Other countries like South Korea, Taiwan and Indonesia are in-waiting. India needs to reset its priorities if it wants to restructure the supply chain and be a part of it.
The other scenario could be, Russia, in desperation, extends its armed support and intervention to Georgia, Libya, Syria, Moldova, and such hotspots. Moscow has to make its presence felt by flexing its military muscles. Apart from other reasons for the war, displaying the military might was one such driver for Putin to invade Ukraine.
In economic terms, Russia will perforce play a junior partner to China. In the face of sanctions by the west, Moscow’s dependence on Beijing for trade and investment will increase. The other contrary possibility could be that China distances itself from Russia, the pariah state and build its alliance with other countries instead. However, it is unlikely since China wants Russia as a strategic ally and market for investment.
The western democracies and NATO allies have closed ranks, thanks to the Ukraine war. Countries like Germany and France, which were pursuing their own trade and foreign policies have remarkably come closer to the US-led block. It is an open secret that western European countries were quietly carrying on with China and Russia in trade and investment. They were alarmed only recently as Beijing opened its military fangs to bite into other countries’ territories – India, Philippines, Japan, Taiwan and others, and its ally Russia invaded Ukraine.
The current war is a pre-emptive assault by Russia on NATO military alliance and the European Union, the political and economic collective of Europe. The provocation was that both NATO and the European Union were enticing Ukraine into their fold. Beijing has aided this aggression by diplomatically siding with Moscow.
The west has characterised the emerging competition with China as a systemic confrontation. The west represents the ‘club of democracy’ as Russia and China have the rule of autocracy. It is another matter that the west failed to foresee the risk in creating the economic Frankenstein out of China. The monster seems to have escaped and has begun to attack its creators.
Normatively speaking, democracies have a greater appeal as they promise freedom, choice, and human rights etc. but what casts confusion is the failure of democracies to deliver at home, Asian democracies including India, and abroad, the western democracies themselves. Ukraine exemplifies the latter trend, as the west failed to prevent the war, having provoked it by their overt overtures to Ukraine for joining NATO and the European Union. The invitation to join EU has been repeated amid the war by the Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen.
Therefore, it is anyone’s guess if countries will follow the model of state-sponsored capitalism epitomised by China. If economic strength defined in terms of growth that leads to military might and diplomatic heft, many countries may prefer that path. The western democracies are really in danger of losing their moral-political edge by failing to protect the freedom and sovereignty of other countries mainly their potential or actual allies.
In all probability, Taiwan may be the next victim of aggression by China. The United States has declared to militarily defend Taiwan. The outcome of the Ukraine war will largely shape the strategic future of Taiwan. It is because Ukraine war in public perception is a proxy war between Russia and the west. So if Russia takes over Ukraine or makes it a protectorate, the west loses the battle. The western experts are already commenting that Russia may win the war but has lost it strategically. Such comments are yet to be validated as sanctions have not yet deeply hurt Russia. Any other strategic win by the west is not evident so far.
The geo-political scenario that may emerge in the wake of the war is the push for a retrieving the bipolar world order. China backed by Russia would like to replace US as numero uno world power. Short of that, Beijing will want a bipolar world with leadership and influence shared between itself and Washington.
Important to remember that world order changes, history repeats, albeit in different forms. We witnessed a kind of world order dominated by Germany from 1914-46; from 46 to 91, a bipolar world led by USA and Soviet Union, since 1991 a uni-polar world led by USA. Will the next phase be a multi-polar world, a bipolar one or the continuation of American hegemony if the western powers could break China apart, like that they did to the Soviet Union in 1991.
India has been advocating a multi-polar world, a scenario not supported by history. Even the national interest of India seems complicated. New Delhi continues its unviable flirtation with strategic autonomy, an euphemism for the obsolete concept of non-alignment. India also is acquiring a new nomenclature called a hybrid ally, cooperating in some, and not cooperating with other issues. New Delhi is part of the Quad as well as a member of SCO. New Delhi perhaps hopes to blunt the belligerence of China by being friendly. Nehru’s Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai (Indians and Chinese are brothers), and ‘swing and stroll diplomacy’ of Modi have made no impact on Chinese appetite for Indian territories.
If Taiwan falls, India could most probably be the next target. Does New Delhi have a strategy in store for such an eventuality? We do hope it has, even though we cannot see it.