New Delhi: The world is soon going to be divided into two blocs. One would be a liberal-democratic bloc led by the United States and joined by NATO and other World War II allies except Russia (as the inheritor state of the former Soviet Union) and China. The second bloc would be in opposition to the first with the leadership jointly shared by Russia and China. The second bloc would be a totalitarian bloc bolstered by other states of similar or proximate disposition. The formalization of the two rival blocs which is mostly a question of when and not if would formalize the commencement of the second Cold War. Its winner as with the first Cold War is likely to be the liberal-democratic bloc. India cannot get by trying to be non-aligned between the two opposing sides. India was a newly-independent developing country with a poor economy at the start of the Cold War and it only came into its own with the 1991 reforms. The grudging tolerance it was accorded then is unlikely to be repeated when the second Cold War gets underway. With a two-and-a-quarter trillion economy (which is underwhelming given India’s potential), it would count among the states with appreciable geo-economic heft. India would be compelled to make a choice, and it is manifestly obvious which bloc it would have to support given its own political orientation and national security imperatives.

The prospect of a world divided by two blocs is strengthened by the dramatic arrest of the Huawei Technologies heiress and chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, in Canada on a US justice department request. The arrest apparently relates to Huawei’s sale of US technologies to Iran since 2016 in breach of the US sanctions regime. India should not take lightly possibilities of US sanctions related to oil purchases from Iran and weapons from Russia, including S-400 air-defence systems. The Meng arrest takes dramatic overtones because Huawei leads the Chinese pack of technology giants closely associated with the Chinese PLA and the communist party. Together with ZTE Corp, they are in the forefront of accessing frontier American scientific research using means mostly foul. Huawei faces security barriers not just in the US but in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand and now Japan. The alarm over Chinese raids of US technologies almost resembles the hysteria over the stealing of atomic secrets when the United States held a monopoly over nuclear weapons. The Meng arrest occurred as Trump and Xi were headed to a working meal at the G-20 summit in Argentina and the fact that Trump had no knowledge of it suggests that the establishment autonomously is moving against China which is virtually unstoppable by the White House. Bipartisan consensus has been reached to challenge Chinese domination of geo-economics and thereby to contain its rise. With America leading the way, the rest of the West will fall in line.

While Russia would not care to be in the totalitarian bloc bankrolled by China, it has burnt its bridges with the United States and Western Europe with its occupation of the Crimea and proxy control of eastern Ukraine. Its naval skirmish with Ukraine ahead of the G-20 was not exactly a friendly gesture to the West. Vladimir Putin is so driven by populist nationalism that he cannot withdraw from the Crimea without losing face in Russia. Russia’s meddling in US elections, including the midterms, has turned the US establishment against Moscow. Moscow understands the danger of clubbing with China but rapprochement with the West is ruled out. In the totalitarian bloc, Russia will provide the muscle and China the money. China and Russia will further try to co-opt “undesirables” like Iran, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Syria, Pakistan and so forth. Any and all means to subvert the West would be par for the course, including terrorism, cyber warfare, financial undermining, nuclear brinkmanship and proliferation, destruction of markets, impaired freedom of navigation and overflight, etc. It is highly unlikely that the totalitarian bloc will succeed but India could be called upon to make a decision early. India cannot be on the side of China and Pakistan even though it has friendly ties with Russia and even ones with Iran and Saudi Arabia. Indeed, it would come as a boost to the totalitarian camp if they can bring about a temporary truce between Iran and Saudi Arabia while bringing them on board, but its durability would be suspect.

The point is this. India has to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best. It has to take sides whether it likes it or not. Upon taking sides, a price has to be paid. That price has to be understood. It has to be offset with gains. It would be the virtual end of the free world if the totalitarians win. China has to be stopped. Containing China has to be the number one geopolitical priority for the country without shouting about it.