New Delhi: Quaintly and, indeed, rather lazily, Indian foreign policy specialists speak of the imperative of India balancing relations among the three Major Powers, namely the United States, Russia and China. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of challenging such lazy analysis, it is important to get a true measure of India and the three Major Powers in the present.

Of the three Major Powers, Russia is in irreversible decline. Russia is in the approximate position of Stalinist Russia driven by one man’s force of will. Joseph Stalin imbued the Soviet Union with such ideological fervour that it coasted along for the next quarter century before collapsing in a heap. Stalinist Russia survived Stalin’s tyranny but the geo-economic weaknesses of the Soviet Union eventually caught up. Russia is not as powerful as the former Soviet Union, relatively speaking, and has no satellites to feed on. Vladimir Putin is keeping Russia on steroids as Stalin once did. If death killed Stalin’s legacy, unpopularity is swiftly catching up with the current Russian strongman. Except for foreign military intervention, Putin has nothing to show for Russia to be a genuine Major Power. After Putin, the Russian collapse would be rapid and take unpredictable courses. Putin and his fans may like to believe he is immortal and that karate, deep sea diving, bare-chested horse-riding and other B-grade movie stunts are forever. But hard-headed analysts would visualize differently. On a scale of one to ten, Russia won’t grade more than three on a realistic assessment of its future prospects.

The situation of China is also dire although it may be less apparent. President Donald Trump has hit on China’s weak spot, its geo-economics, and his competitive programme for OBOR worth $ 60 billion for starters would have shaken Beijing’s core confidence. China miscalculated that it could wrap around the world and particularly the United States like a “vampire squid” and merrily draw blood. Indeed, it may be argued that Donald Trump’s protectionist policies have directly been instigated by Chinese mercantilism which boosted its rise to become the world’s number two economy. China has been blindsided by Trump at its worst moment when Xi Jinping has crowned himself for life. The trade war with the United States has thrust the Chinese economy into decline and threatens the social contract with the pro-democracy leaders of the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement. It has become more than a trade war now. Trump has moved to cut China’s access to civilian nuclear and other dual use technologies. Chinese investments in sensitive sectors of the US economy are ruled out now. China will have the most minimum access to cutting edge intellectual property henceforth. This is a twenty-first century version of containment and Donald Trump is unshakeable in his resolve to implement it. Last and worst, the United States has mounted a geopolitical challenge to China in the South China Sea and the East China Sea. In the Korean War, China managed a stalemate with the United States partly because the US leadership of Harry Truman could not determine how far to go without provoking the Soviets. Donald Trump will go all the way although he has a philosophic mistrust for military power and is far from being trigger-happy. China has finally met its match in a US president who is willing to call its bluff.

America, in contrast to Russia and China, has overcome the phase of decline and is showing rapid growth in geo-economic and geopolitical power. Unlike his predecessors, Trump has focussed on an area he understands best, business and commerce, and thereby re-empowered America’s rise. There is a factor, however, beyond Trump which is responsible for the United States fine showing. The United States is a liberal democracy. Liberal democracies have the unique feature of reinventing and regenerating themselves in a manner unavailable to totalitarian states like China and Russia. China learnt from the Soviet demise and concentrated on the economy but blundered by centralizing all powers in the communist party of China. This blunder has been compounded by Xi Jinping’s move to one-man rule. If Xi Jinping fails to meet the American challenge, the Chinese communist party will be hit, and once the legitimacy of the party goes, forces of democracy will push ahead in the country or the country will collapse with the collapse of central rule for the first time in centuries.

All this should make amply clear that a delicate balancing act will not put India out of harm’s way. India’s present future does not lie with the totalitarian Major Powers. If India were self-sufficient in strategic arms and oil and gas, a major manufacturing power, home of frontline technologies, generator of a sizeable volume of world trade, and a generic wealth creator for its citizens and for multiple regions besides, it would not have been in its present predicament. Sadly India has not grown geopolitically and geo-economically either. It is stuck with the same old enemies, Pakistan and China, and it commands even less traction than before in South Asia. India, to put it bluntly, has no assets on which to found strategic autonomy. It stands to lose what few treasures it possesses by remaining in the ministry of external affairs’ make-believe world that India is doing fine. New Delhi can’t be doing worse, and the sooner the coffee is smelt the better. This century will also belong to America. It is time South Block trashes the outdated algorithms of geopolitics.

Editor’s Note: M. J. Akbar should have had the decency to resign, apologize to the women who have brought charges of molestations against him, and faded into obscurity. By going to court, he has tempted fate. Already twenty women journalists have levelled serious allegations against him and the numbers keep growing. Narendra Modi has completely misjudged the situation by retaining Akbar and will come to repent the decision. Like with the Kathua outrage, the truth stares in the face of anyone who has the sensitivity and courage to see it.

M J Akbar has resigned.