New Delhi: In an important sense, to be sure, history could never repeat. In the Nuclear Age, the Thirty Years War is unthinkable. Any war that threatens the national substance of a Major Power, which would ipso facto be a thermonuclear power, would lead to nuclear confrontation and Armageddon. A world war has the greatest possibility of inciting the end of the world. It is also simply inconceivable that you would have military adventurers like Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler seeking world dominion. History, moreover, is no longer confined to Europe and the West. Modern history, which may be defined as marking the consciousness of peoples and nations as part of one world, has spread globally.

At the same time, however, the growing inoperability, if not collapse, of the world order suggests the need for novel geopolitical models and new geo-economic engines, but there are no designs to have them in place. When the United States took over from Great Britain the practical running of the world after the Second World War, it was relatively still a young power, full of energy, absent any cynicism, and possessed with surplus capital and unbounded will. Today, the United States is exhausted and broken. It has no will to run the world. Donald Trump serves as an inadvertent metaphor for America: An old man desperate to accomplish something, anything, before he passes on.

If the United States no longer can run the world, it is also an admission that the world is beyond the capacity of a single power, however vaunted, to manage and police. A bipolar world has also been attempted and abandoned. A multipolar world is the logical next phase but it is one of those strange phenomena that is already present and concurrently absent. While scarcely in a position to manage the world peacefully and prosperously, the three Major Powers, the US, China and Russia, are not only in political, economic and military competition with each other, they are stymieing the growth of other power centres. Two potential world power centres especially excite comment. These are Western Europe and India.

Western Europe has been unable to forge ahead independent of the United States. There are doubtless legacy issues relating to NATO, the Cold War, the two world wars, the continental wars of the nineteenth and earlier centuries, and so on. Besides, there has been the tendency of Britain to chart its own trajectory independent of the continent. It is now embarked on Brexit; it never gave up the pound for the euro; during much of the Cold War, it shared the United States’ suspicions of France and Germany’s overtures to the Soviet Union. These divisions within Western Europe have prevented the emergence of a truly united political bloc (far more cohesive than the EU) not so much geared against the United States or Russia as having the capacity and drive to establish its own distinct identity. A powerful Western Europe would greatly serve the cause of multi-polarity but it is an idea whose time never seems to come. In the trade wars initiated by Donald Trump, Western Europe has taken a stand, but it is far from evident that France and Germany and the more modest southern European states would be able to stand American bullying for long. Their security dependence on the United States ultimately mars their independence.

India’s case, on the other hand, is one of lost opportunities. India is geopolitically so unique that it can only rise by its own genius and strengths. Non-alignment is tailor-made for it, but it needs a proactive variant while the one that Jawaharlal Nehru invented as the need of the hour was defensive in character. After Nehru’s Non-alignment, the 1991 reforms set India on robust economic foundations but the country has lost its way since and especially in the last few years under Narendra Modi. India has to practise a certain degree of isolationism to reach its true spirit where it strengthens its internal social, political and economic bonds. Its outreach to the world must be pragmatic, issue-based and non-aggressive without appearing weak. It must set no timelines on peace and friendship with its two principal adversaries, China and Pakistan, and factor for disruptive actions from them in forward plans and strategies for the country. On nation-building, geopolitics and geo-economics, broad national consensus must exist to obtain continuity and predictability of policies. (Another demonetization would be ruinous for the economy, for example.) By default, the world is moving towards multi-polarity. Unless India plots its way ahead, it will lose its place in the just and peaceful management of world affairs.

Concluded...

Also read “Method & madness 1” and “2” here and here.

Editor’s Note: 1. It is distressing to read in the papers that Narendra Modi is not meeting the Kerala chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, despite four requests. Modi is the prime minister of India and not that of the BJP. If he cannot discard his narrow political mindset, he should be prepared for opposition chief ministers boycotting his visits to states. Narendra Modi has plunged his office to new depths.

2. It is idiotic to be told through selective leaks that the NSG will somehow contain terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. Does it mean that the Centre has no faith in the counterterrorism capacities of the army, from which NSG cadres are also drawn? Such ultra-nationalistic posturing could rebound on the Indian state. In its eagerness to score political points and becalm its base, the Modi regime will likely leave Kashmir in a worse condition than before.