( September 8, 2018)
What is the nature of our world order? Is our world uni-polar, bipolar or multi-polar in essence? Is there any real order in this world or we are trapped in what Richard Haass calls A World in Disarray? Are we in a long but tense period of calm between two great wars? Can we be sure of anything anymore? What is the place of the United States, China and Russia in all of this? What is India’s role and where does Pakistan fit in? Above everything else, is the future of humanity doomed or is there still some hope left around us? While we will attempt to answer the rest of the questions in the coming passages, the answer to the last question is relatively easier. You are aboard SS World on a steady course to hit an iceberg and through countless coups the loonies have taken over. Good luck with that!
This talk of a world order takes me two decades back when as a young writer and a student I wanted to know where we are at. I wrote a piece on the very subject which was carried in the local press. The argument was simple. Borrowing from Hegel’s dialectics, I argued that socialism was capitalism’s natural antithesis and since the West had exhibited an uncanny haste in bringing its nemesis down, the demons of our collective past, known then as fascism and now as ethno-nationalism, were coming back to haunt us. Since then the trigger of that discussion Jorg Haider, the head of Austrian FPO, has died. But the challenge of ethno-nationalism has arrived like clockwork. And yet since then I have not just abandoned that position but moved light years away. Histories, philosophies, terms of political science and historiography exist to make lives easier for us, not to imprison us for good. We continue to reward our captors and keep misreading history at a lethal cost. And that precisely is the reason behind my new-found pessimism. We never learn.
At every momentous turn in history we have seen emergence of testimonials that shape the future of the political order. The post-WWII reality was shaped by the likes of George Kennan’s The Long Telegram and Paul Nitze’s NSC 68. The shabby, stinky reality that is drawing to a close walked straight out of Samuel Huntington’s mind. Primarily basing his first argument on Arnold Toynbee’s flawed and reductive definition of a civilisation the saviour of the predominant order told the world that Muslims and China were the next enemies. Muslims around the world allowed this hideous construct to define them owing to the identity crisis stemming from their post-colonial experience. With a skilled poker player like China the true scope of damage done is hard to tell. But from South China Sea and Africa to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and strengthening yuan it is difficult to ignore the possibility of some strand of Huntington’s wisdom contaminating the thought process. As I try to prove later in this piece, all of this is lethal in nature because it deflects us from the real threats that will devour us quietly.
And where does Russia fit into all this? At the time of creation of Shanghai 5, which later morphed into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), China and Russia agreed that the world ought to be multi-polar. With the steady rise of China and Russia’s momentary comeback pundits and wonks claim we are entering into the world of multi-polarity. Don’t let them deceive you. Many of them, with real power to shape things, are convinced that we are facing the onslaught of a bipolar world. That China and America are soon to lock their horns and this tussle will consume our near future. That Russia at best is a flash in the pan, with huge financial liabilities and little or no resources except its massive geography that has done little to sustain it so far. At best Russia is a complicating factor like North Korea, the Arab world and other complicated parts of the world. It is China that allegedly strikes at the heart of Western dominance, its economics. This worldview is a product of an unfinished discussion that was cut short by the surprise victory of Donald Trump. The wonks then aligning with Hillary Clinton who still influence our view of the world were to be convinced that a better world with less confrontation was possible once she won the election. Sadly, that was not to be.
Enter India, one of the worst complicating factors of them all. No two countries can disappoint an optimistic mind more than India and Israel. Both these nations have endured centuries of oppression, marginalisation and exploitation. Now that they have their moment under the sun they could have acted as the world’s conscience. Instead paranoia and ambition have won there, and both the states view the world with a jaundiced outlook. India is adamant that Huntington was right, and that China and Muslims pose the real challenge to the world and India should work as West’s wingman to punish them. On Muslims, Israel agrees. Sadly, many Muslims do too. On China however their doublespeak becomes quite pronounced. Everyone does business with China and even the dominant propaganda about the country ignores the fact that the country has never invaded another in the 5,000 years of its history.
Pakistan remains confused. Not truly cognisant of its true potential the country signs up to be part of wars in which its own victory affects it most adversely. And once it has signed up, the West makes sure it fulfills its assigned function before abandoning it. Consider the Cold War and the War on Terror as the two examples. Even today it tries to convince itself that Russia is a serious bet against the West, while trying to ignore the truth that a cold war between two of its most important allies, China and the United States, will damage it the most.
The paranoia and identity based world order that is emerging right now is also a gift of Huntington. Read his Who Are We? to understand the rise of ethno-nationalism in the West. Trump is its mascot.
But three real threats to humanity are independent of all these problems. The threats we face are rising overpopulation, the rise of artificial intelligence in a polarised setting and climate decay. Consider a multiplying population robbed of jobs and resources by machines living on a melting down planet. Unite and colonise space or die. Until then welcome to the worst dystopia ever.