New Delhi: When you cast your eyes on the world situation, it does seem reminiscent of the interwar years, which are the years between the First and the Second World War. No two situations are exactly alike, and neither is it in the present case. But there is the same sense of foreboding which was present after the Armistice of 1918, when German militarism hadn’t run its course, and awaited World War 2 to exhaust itself and ruin Germany.

Militarism is not restricted to one power today. After the Soviet collapse in the Cold War, Russia is rising again. It has shown by its timely and perspicacious intervention in Syria that it has lost none of its Great Power brilliance and dare. In Asia, China is rising, laying claims to island territories and indeed vast bodies of international waters at a time of economic decline. Economic decline and jingoism often go together and with dangerous consequences, as anyone remotely familiar with early 20th Century German history will tell you. Japan has to respond on its own to China’s growing militarism since America is no longer a reliable ally.

The United States in the Western Hemisphere, on the other hand, is facing an existential crisis of a peculiar kind. It appears to have lost the capacity to prioritize its critical national interests and to grade adversaries on the basis of real and potential threats. China is a real threat to the United States with its expansionistic project in East Asia and with its potential to snap at America’s heel economically. Russia is not America’s adversary in any real sense since the end of the Cold War but has territorial interests to protect from an expansionist West. It was not the aggressor in either of the two world wars and was nearly done in by military adventurers like Napoleon and Hitler drawn by the vast spaces of the East. Russia does not forget its tragic and bitter past.

Instead of being sympathetic and just, the United States has not abandoned its rampaging ways since the Cold War ended. Inheriting the Kosovo War legacy of her husband, Hillary Clinton is implacably and unreasonably opposed to Russia. She has no sense of world affairs even though she was President Barack Obama’s first-term Secretary of State. Animosities will rise with Russia if she becomes President. There is no knowing where her foreign policy will go. She will be worse than Obama in the employment of America’s diplomatic-military instruments sensibly and successfully. She didn’t act soon enough when the American consulate in Benghazi in Libya was invaded by militants and the US Ambassador killed. It puts her on a level of the erstwhile President Jimmy Carter who failed in Iran.

Her rival to the White House in the coming election is an unknown entity. Much of Donald Trump’s bravado will evaporate once the cares of office weigh him down. He may never recover from them. Or he might emerge triumphant like Ronald Reagan. What is certain is that the establishment will view him as an adversary and obstruct him at every opportunity. If he is a statesman with a long-term and long-range vision for America and knows how to get there, he will overcome the opposition. Never underestimate businessmen. There is a big if there, however. Reagan operated in the certainty of a Cold War. Today, everything is uncertain and vulnerable. Even America’s economic pre-eminence cannot be taken for granted.

Meanwhile, Europe is lurching from one crisis to another. At America’s instigation, it has picked up a pointless fight with Russia. Angela Merkel of all people should know how to deal with Russia. But she has to carry the rest of Europe and the alliance with America and she is losing time keeping up a phoney war with Russia. The rest of Western Europe is swept up by namby-pamby liberalism which, among other things, has blinded it to the threat posed by Islamism from across the Mediterranean and within the European territories. It is also daft about continuing with the European Union. The longer it continues, the more it will stoke the fires of nationalism, especially in countries like Germany, which bears much of united Europe’s burden.

In the circumstances, the Brexit issue should not be reduced to a mere British referendum on remaining within the Union or leaving. It is too early to know the real motive for the murder of a British Labour MP during the Brexit campaign. But it does suggest a sort of revival of the idea of Britain being the master of its own destiny without being tied down to Europe. Britain was doing rather nicely on its own and in a bygone era kept the balance of power in Europe by virtue of its physical separation from the Continent. However the final Brexit vote goes, it will sharply divide Britain, and it will not strengthen the European Union.

Finally to the last region of strife, namely the Middle East. This writer has written copiously on the region recently and he will restrict himself to the main trends. The sense of foreboding today which is alike in some ways to the interwar years is most strongly expressed in the region, and particularly around embattled Syria, which has drawn in all the Great Powers with the exception of China. (There are unconfirmed reports of China also being sucked in because of the rising Uighur profile in the Syria fighting encouraged by Turkish intelligence.). Russia has given a sense of purpose to the war against the Islamic State in Syrian territories, while the United States and its allies are out of their depths. They cannot identify the real enemy. This happened before in Iraq and Libya. In their state of virtual impotence, the Western powers have invented a monster called Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Putin is too canny to fall into a Western trap, but the provocative Serbia of World War 1 has been reincarnated in present-day Turkey led by a fundamentalist President. Turkey has designs on civil war-torn Syria with its ambition to regain some of the lost Ottoman Empire territories. Russia stands in the way. Turkey downed a Russian warplane in international skies and relations have plummeted between both states. If Turkey provokes Russia to the point of war, it would cascade out of control. This would spread to more theatres than the Crimean War did.

With storm clouds gathering, how should India conduct its strategic policy? The major part of India’s policy-making must be directed inward. Growth with jobs and development must be the thrust areas of the Narendra Modi government. While frequent elections cannot be helped, it would assist national stability and growth if the campaign were restricted to economic issues and poverty eradication. The onus for moderate politics rests on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

Externally, the country must focus on peaceful rise. India will rise by its own merits or never. No Great Power will make India one of its kind. Great Powers rise by themselves. Five hundred years of Modern History makes this point amply clear. While close strategic relations with the United States are unavoidable and indeed welcome, this cannot come at the cost of other Great Powers. India simply does not have the luxury and standing to choose its friends. International relations are not pursued, in any case, on an emotional sentiment such as friendship. Common interests guide relations and interests keep changing.

With the world in flux, it would be advisable for India to keep its profile uncontroversial and widen its stakes. Non-Alignment is a bad phrase to describe this stance. Pragmatism and realism are more apposite. In a piece on a similar subject earlier (Commentary, “Modi & the US,” 8 June 2016), this writer counselled for India to reach a balance on social, economic and military investments. This balance is hard to reach and even the most advanced powers struggle with the equilibrium. This is where India should start. The sense of foreboding will probably pass but India must be prepared for the worst. If it is sensible about the conduct of foreign policy, it cannot go very wrong.