(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)
There is all round concern for the extraordinary flux of international security environment that portends dynamic shifts in the international order – political, economic and financial.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, experts were reviewing and analyzing the likelihood of shift from unipolarity to bipolarity and multipolarity due to China’s rise, Russia’s resurgence, “America First,
Make America Great Again, and Sharing the Burden” policy of US.
In the past, resurgence of Russia and rise of China was viewed with circumspection. Donald
Trump’s slogan “America First and Make America Great Again” got hinged to it. Consequently, tremendous uncertainty loomed large in international security environment. Due to USAs reluctance to bear the burden of global policemen role, none ruled out the possibility of transition to multipolarity.
Now, COVID-19, the fourth major geopolitical shock in as many decades – Cold war ending, 2001– 9/11 and 2008 economic recession and the latest Covid-19. Analysts and leaders grossly underestimated the long-term impact on their society and on world politics in the first three shocks.
Following the outbreak Covid-19 pandemic, there is extraordinary unpredictability of outcomes in all dimensions of international and national security. How will the Covid-19 pandemic reshape geopolitics?
Not so easy to reach well considered the long-term strategic implications. Experts differ with divergent views. So, it is well nigh impossible to draw credible conclusions.
Post COVID-Pandemic International Order
The war against the COVID-19 has just begun. Crises in health and economy are real. Already, political, social and economic systems are under tremendous stress and strain. Both USA and China, two most powerful countries, are blaming each other over the causes of the pandemic and the blame for the global destruction it is causing. These arguments are likely to lead to negative-sum outcomes for both countries. The more the pandemic spreads and devastates economies, the more that all countries will suffer.
Experts believe that there will be major changes in the international order. A wide variety of views are in circulation –
Role of the UN and WHO diminished and irrelevant.
End of an era of globalization.
China may surpass the U.S. as a global power. Accelerate a shift from U.S.-centric globalization to a more China-centric globalization.
Failure of U.S. political and diplomatic leadership could cost the U.S. in international influence. As per analysts, "Many of the United States' closest allies and partners are dismayed by the U.S. approach to COVID and by Washington's unwillingness to lead the world through this historic crisis.& quote;
As per IMF, world economy is already under recession. Forecast worse than the Great
Depression of 1930s. Growth is bound to decline and shrink. Normal economy may never revert back. Many jobs lost will never return. Thriving supply chains may never recover.
Tourism is bound to decline substantially in short term context. Zero economic growth in many nations is quite likely. Recovery will be slow in the beginning; but pick up by the final quarter of 2020-2021 quarter. Doomsday scenario is absurd.
International order is set to alter. Likely scenarios:
Intensified Sino-U.S. strategic competition but no major reorientation of major powers.
Resurgent American leadership and multilateral institution-building.
Regional revisionist powers consolidate their positions at the expense of China in Asia, Russia in Central and Eastern Europe, and Iran in the Gulf thereby allowing American dominance to continue as hither to fore.
Status quo ante.
One thing is certain that hawkish would remain the international geo political landscape with crisis hotspots spread all over.
Following Trump’s unpredictability on the foreign policy front, former strategic allies of USA are in dilemma. NATO allies cannot anymore depend on the USA to militarily defend them from Russian aggression. Similarly, even the SEATO and ANJUS allies in the Asia-Pacific region also cannot depend on the USA to militarily defend from emerging Chinese threat concerns.
In a significant shift in stated postures in the past, Trump unleashed cruise missile salvo to warn Assad regime in Syria to degrade and dissuade from alleged ‘Chemical Bomb” strikes on civilians in rebel held areas. With Trump ordering cruise missile strikes against Syria under the advice of his National Security Advisor and Defense Secretary – both former Generals – there is reversal to old Republican view of USAs role in international affairs. But, what are the ‘end objectives’ in Syria and Iraq and overall strategy to accomplish them?
What next? Who will make the next decisive move on the Syrian front? A one-off strike certainly would not deter Russian backed Assad regime in Syria. Sanctions, per se, would only be cosmetic.
Even Assad would not be deterred to retract from his military operations against the rebel forces. If any, the USA cruise missile strikes have further derailed the “peace process” to resolve the Syrian Civil War crisis? Iran too would not broker a treaty based on Assad’s removal.
Putin on expected lines condemned unilateral military action by USA as an “act of aggression against a Sovereign country contrary to international laws and suspended the “Anti Conflict Agreement”; and with China rallying behind Russia.
Not to be left behind, Russia too is aggressively attempting to re-establish its influence and dominance in West Asia, Eurasia and Baltic’s (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) and also in Balkans to secure its national interests.
Ipso facto, in pursuit of securing national interests, China is flexing its military muscles in the North, East and South China Seas and wants to be treated with equal respect by the US. However, China does not want to enter into military conflict with the USA as of now in the Pacific region even beyond the Second Island Chain. It is deliberately implementing the strategy of “creeping Incrementalism and extended coercion” to assert its dominance not only in its spheres of influence on its periphery but also in spheres of interests on the global plane.
On the domestic scene, all three big leaders – Putin in Russia, Xi Jinping in China and Donald Trump in USA – are facing internal crises for which they are no easy escape routes.
In such a vexatious internal environment, the easy escape route is to win on external fronts in the name of protecting vital national security interests. It is the usual way to polarize society to ward off internal adversary threat concerns. But, it is easier said than done for status quo power like India.
Trump is generally viewed with tremendous skepticism among the foreign policy establishments not only in the USA but elsewhere in the world. As per USA experts, Trump is unpredictable, reckless, egocentric, petulant and megalomaniac narcissist. Trump is viewed as obsessed with his own fame, wealth and success; and his determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, his craving for adulation are real. At the first opportunity Trump has reversed his earlier stand "My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America."
In contrast, Putin and Xi Jinping, his main rivals, are quite adept in use of soft power on the basis of long term deliberative strategic thinking and excel in outwitting others sitting across the table. They will not be cowed down by arms twisting tactics.
In India’s domestic scene, internal political crises are simmering under the surface. No sooner the health crisis is overcome, an all out political war – blame games – is bound to breakout. After all, social safety nets may head for virtual shocks. Stimulus spending cannot be stretched beyond limits.
Foreign investment may stop flowing. Remittances from NRIs will almost stop. Tourism is unlikely to recover. Commodities demand may dwindle as the world economy grinds to a halt. Rupee value is losing traction against the dollar, and the cost of imported goods is rising rapidly. An early estimate by the Asian Development Bank, soon after the epidemic declared that it would cost the Indian economy $29.9 billion. A recent industry estimate pegs the cost of the lockdown at around $120 billion or 4% of India’s GDP. In sum, financial crisis is a distinct prospect.
How India will emerge out of the COVID-19 Pandemic War on the international scene is difficult to predict – badly bruised or maintain its current status of “swing power” or emerge as dominant regional power, which will ultimately depend on the current leadership sagacity to steer its course on even keel despite internal political vicious politics. All one can with circumspection is that the country is in the safe hands of Modi-led hierarchy.
Viewed in such an evolving framework, India as the “swing power” yet to genuinely gain “real regional power” status is caught in a strategic dilemma. In such an unpredictable scenario, the best option is to opt for “strategic silence” instead of estranging one or the other. As a “Swing” power, India must dexterously play the “strategic trapeze or tango” in the rapidly altering international order.