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Opinion

September 18, 2016

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The new order

Henry Kissinger writes that the two competing strains of international relations have kept struggling for ascendancy as the afterglow of post-Westphalian peace. The first strain harked back to the order and equilibrium begotten out of a politico-clerical symbiosis predating the Thirty Years’ War in Europe that was challenged by a Protestant alliance, heralding the age of balance of power.

It was during the Thirty Years’ War that the notion of state as a fundamental unit of international system emerged with state interests emerging as the main impulse driving interstate relations. Prior to that, states neither enjoyed an identity nor a notion of sovereignty as the feudo-monarchical system pandered to the empire building and the religious universalism of the Catholic Church.

The same monarchical feudalism wedded to religion had manifested itself in China as well as in the Middle East and Turkey in the shape of the caliphate. France broke this entente cordiale between religion and politics by allying itself against the Catholic Holy Roman Empire in support of Protestant states up in arms against the tyranny of Catholic despotism. Cardinal Richelieu and Bismarck perfected the real-politik mode of politics with national interests as the immanent God in the pantheon of political ideas of three centuries following the Peace of Westphalia.

State interests and sovereignty were the dominant credo of international power politics when a new world order was ushered after the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. British statesmen Lord Palmerston’s famous saying, “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies, our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow” embodied that credo.

The three main reasons that ushered in the modern era of European political and scientific ascendancy included, first, a technological advancement and exploratory urge that took European nations to new frontiers discovering new lands and resources. The second was the information revolution in the shape of the printing press that was spurned by the Ottomans much to their regret later. The third reason was the Protestant reformation that challenged the tyranny of papacy ushering in a new era of socio-political emancipation.

The European balance of power concept however never fructified in the shape it was practised in Europe in the new world of America. The US geo-political philosophy epitomised its founding fathers and pioneering settlers’ thinking. Governor John Winthrop while in a ship bound for the settlement of Massachusetts in 1630 had spoken of his vision for the ‘New World’ as a “city on the hill”.

According to Kissinger, the US notion of foreign policy was not the “pursuit of a specific interest but the cultivation of shared interests”. Now this new political evangelism smacked surely of a new ‘white man’s burden’. Those who shared the Americans’ political philosophy had to share their interests – otherwise they were in the opposite camp. A long cold war and its eventual end confronted the world with the same dilemma that it had faced before the two world wars. Countries subscribing to this Pax Americana had to share their national interests with a globalised version of US interests or else.

The choices for the rest of the world were external balancing through acceptance of a surrogate status to the US unless they were ready to countenance the reprisals through US ‘super surrogates’ in every region. Certain dissenting voices emerged in the US against this neo-imperialism, recommending ‘offshore balancing’ against interventionism and permanent occupation. Professor Stephen Walt’s concept of ‘offshore balancing’ was based on rapidly deployable task forces and regional alliances instead of costly armed interventions to further US foreign policy interests.

The current US policy towards South Asia is aggressive offshore balancing based on the politico-economic coercion of India and a containment of China. China is being contained to deny it its full flowering of economic potential while Pakistan is being coerced to play second fiddle to India. Countries like Afghanistan are being used as regional proxies to secure Pakistan’s acquiescence in the US’s Great Game in the region. Iran, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Burma are also being used cleverly to complement the Indo-US squeeze on China.

China’s self imposed sea moratorium after the death of its champion sea navigator Zheng He in 1433 has come to an end, its information revolution has fully fructified and its economic appetite unrequited. It is a civilisation on the upswing, riding Toynbee’s historical cycles of the rise and fall of civilisations.

Would it be wise then to seek a balance of power accommodation with such a rising world power or to enter into a self-enervating containment bout at the behest of a rival global power? The above question could rightly be answered by Indian statesmen and policymakers. What would they be gaining through a fickle US politico-military alliance that they would not gain through a cooperative engagement with China, a rising regional and global power? Would a perpetual confrontation with a potential regional ally not come at the cost of missed economic bonanza in this new Great Game?

Perhaps the answer lies in the Kissinger’s exhortation that “the contemporary quest for world order will require a coherent strategy to establish the concept of order within the various regions and to relate these regional orders to one another”. It is up to the Indians now to reflect on the need of that strategy which brings peace and order instead of war and confrontation to this region.

Chinese forays into the economic realm, evidenced by their global reach, have become a fact of life and an idea whose time has come. It is the responsibility of the US to save the new world order from a confrontational fate. The weakening of the state-based international system because of the inability of international peace organisations like UN to broker peace between existing and emerging global powers bodes ill for world peace.

A new world order in South Asia that currently echoes neo-colonial imperialism on the part of the US and pre-Westphalian confrontation on the part of its regional surrogate – India – contains the seeds of destruction for South Asia. It is for India to decide on a cooperative regional paradigm through rejection of confrontational bait by the US in the interest of an inclusive politico-economic pluralism in South Asia. The ultimate aim must be to reap fully the dividends of a new Asian century.

The writer is a PhD scholar at Nust. Email: [email protected]

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