(First published on October 27, 2018)
At the end of World War II two documents namely the Long Telegram by George Kennan and NSC 68 by Paul Nitze helped identify the challenge ahead. Both authors were convinced that it was the USSR, a wartime partner if not ally, that would pose the next biggest challenge. The Soviet ambitions were not hidden from the world. During the war in every nation it had recovered from the Nazi grip it had installed a Moscow-friendly government. Then as Kennan pointed out in matters of worldview there was a striking difference which was underplayed by the rigours of war and the choices made stay on the same side of the divide.
But notice that unlike the last Great War here the difference was being emphasised. These days there is little or no appreciation of the fact that before Hitler started showing his true colours there were a lot of similarities between his discourse and the dominant thought process in Europe and America. Henry Ford’s intellectual contribution in the rise of Nazi Germany is often understated if not totally ignored. This time, however, the new prolonged confrontation, the Cold War, would look for differences. Not that the challenge posed by the Soviet Union could be readily dismissed but the subtle art of picking, reinventing and embellishing an enemy had been born. It continued until the end of the Cold War. Then we witnessed the same circus returning to town in the shape of Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’ postulate. Radical Islam and China were next. Remember, this art of inventing an enemy not only conditions your mind to look at reality in a certain way but also empowers a certain perverse tendency in your would-be nemesis, brings out the worst and ensures the talk of an impending clash a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Radicals in Muslim societies with depressed identities since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire were the first to take the bait. The perverse conflict industry soon found two key allies namely Israel and India. Both these nations had endured a long reign of tyranny, discrimination and subjugation but when came the payback time, instead of choosing to instill a new set of values which protected the new victims of abuse, they chose to assume the shape of their age-old tormentors. If the DNA of Muslim societies were being rewritten by hate, so was in these nations. Since then from lynch mobs in India to the lot that brought their chairs to the mountains to witness Gaza being bombed to a pulp over popcorns, refreshments and pleasantries you have witnessed it all. “For what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul.”
The challenge of radical Islam had to crumble and so it did. Now the next challenger is China. Or so it is led to believe.
As we listen to the talk of a new cold war between China and America you will notice the new Nitzes and Kennans are often supplied by India. In a world governed by unfixed, if not unhinged reality, India thinks that it can benefit from a clash between China and America. But will it? Perhaps in short term, myopic, cutting off nose to spite the face sort of way. But as is pointed out earlier you are living in an unfixed reality. What comes next cannot be predicted. For two and half decades, folks like me have been celebrating the remarkable economic genius of Dr Manmohan Singh, which in a manner of speaking made India. Don’t get me wrong. To me he still remains an unrivalled practical genius and a hero to his people. But thanks to other Indian economic geniuses like Dr Raghuram Rajan, we were too quick to celebrate the miracle of the Indian growth. Yes, the true flaws in the plan are surfacing after over 25 years in the shape of over Rs9.6 trillion worth of non-performing assets. The Indian economy is far more vulnerable to an all-out crash than you imagine. What happens if the clash between two leading economic powers envelops your economy first?
If the Cold War brought a shift in focus from similarities to differences, from balance of power to collective security based on shared values, the logical evolution should have shifted the focus to the state of human condition. Why? Because the two rising economic powers, China and India, still have huge swathes of poverty within their borders. China has sought to ameliorate the lot of its own overlooked and impoverished regions through the invention of the Belt and Road Initiative. Amid the talk of predatory loans, demographic changes, trade monopolies and colonisation, most of which is alarmist at best, there exist two serious challenges that pose threat not just to the predominant world order, if there is one, but also to China itself. First is the inexperience. As I have just mentioned the Indian mirage above, let me also reiterate here that everyone is in a learning phase right now, including and especially China. It can easily if unwittingly break things rather than building them. The second as evident from the South China Sea situation is of rising paranoia which can make the first challenge even more lethal. It is imperative that nations do not spook such a mighty force for petty gains.
Here you are reminded of the day and the age we are in. Three changes define the human condition today. 1) Population explosion. We are now a population of over seven and a half billion now. Population doesn’t increase, it multiplies, and resources are limited. 2) Our planet is decaying. 3) With the rise of Artificial Intelligence this exploding population will start witnessing sharp decline in jobs. If you think you have to worry about earth resources alone and your petty wars I wonder what you are smoking. We need two things immediately. Space colonisation and global group think. You don’t have to be a globalist or an idealist to reach this conclusion. A realist approach will invariably lead us to this conclusion as well since survival of our race, human race, may depend on it.
There is a need for China and America to mend fences where China can be kept in a ruled-based order to combat real threat emanating from its soil namely the intellectual property theft. And to avoid another stupid clash that sets us another half a century back. We haven’t got the time. A welcome opportunity has presented itself. Pakistan is an inextricable part of the BRI and is going back to the IMF soon. China has grudgingly allowed some information about the CPEC- related debt to be shared with the IMF. This is how trust can be built and paranoia rolled back. In the presence of Xi Jinping and Donald Trump the two countries can easily work out their differences on trade. Let reconciliation begin then.