Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
EMANUEL Macron planted two pecks on the cheeks of Donald and Melania Trump, and seems later on to have won the hearts of the members of the US Congress by making a speech explicitly repudiating much of what President Trump campaigned – and won – on. He backed multilateralism, the Iran nuclear deal and the need to battle climate change. However, the central thread holding together a miscellany of thoughts was the need for the Atlantic Alliance to continue into the 21st century, in an era when three of the top four economies on the globe will soon be Asian. These are China, the US, India and Japan. The speech the President of France made to the US Congress was in its tone very similar to what a French leader may have said to the same body in the 1950s, which was the need for the US and Europe to act in concert so as to prevent the baton of leadership from passing on to countries outside North America and the European Union. It testifies to the separation from reality of much of the US Congress that they allowed themselves to share in the nostalgia for the past created by Macron in a context where the world had changed, but hardly at all the institutions that were set up by the victorious powers after the 1939-45 war between Germany and the trio of the US, the USSR and the UK.
The World Bank is still invariably headed by a US national and the IMF by a European. It is clear in Paris, Berlin and London that unless Washington continues to frame policy as though the world has not changed much since 1945, their own privileged position in the international order would come under threat from countries that are already much more consequential than them, but yet have to content themselves with the crumbs thrown in their direction at the Bretton Woods conference. The only Asian country that was given anything resembling a fair deal was China, and this was because of the insistence of the US. Aa for India, it was because of the opposition of Winston Churchill that Delhi was kept outside the Permanent Membership of the UN Security Council, but Paris was brought in despite a very limited role in defeating the German armies, several of which spent much of the war comfortably billeted in France, enjoying the many pleasures on offer to them
As the Republican Party candidate for the Presidency, Donald Trump had appeared to have understood the shift in geopolitical relevance from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific. However, many of those within his administration and almost all the legislators in his party are still living with the fiction that it is still an Atlanticist world. In his speech to the US Congress, Macron got round after round of applause each time that he backed a policy the opposite of what Trump had proposed. His visit has become part of the Demolish Trump crusade that has been convulsing Washington since November 8, 2016, mainly through subtly casting doubt on the soundness of several of Trump’s policy positions. Both Melania and Donald seem entranced by the relatively youthful President of France, so it remains to be seen whether they will understand the camouflaged manner in which the 45th President of the US is being undermined in the eyes of international community by distinguished visitor.
Coming as she does from a country that is ever mindful of irs European roots, it may be that Macron’s implicit call for the US to work together with the Europeans to fight back modern trends in geopolitical power would have met with her approval. However, what may need to be remembered is the fact that the demonisation of Russia that has been going on unabated for years has at its root not any so-called “threat” from Moscow but the need for the Atlanticists to keep anger against Moscow white hot so as to ensure that the primary focus of US hostility remains Russia. Systematically, through the sanctions regime and by other ways, the US and the EU are trying to ensure that the Russian economy melts down, thereby creating a political avalanche that could bring back a Yeltsin Mark II in place of Vladimir Putin. In such a campaign, the effort is to make Donald Trump collateral damage, because of the former businessman’s appreciation of the need to pivot to Asia and away from Europe
A presumably unintended consequence of the rising frequency of challenges to Russian stability is a rise in closeness between Beijing and Moscow. But for China, the Russian economy may have entered Death Row by now. The two countries have fashioned a strong relationship that has weathered the disapproval of the US and the EU. President Xi Jinping, who has become the most consequential Chinese leader since Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, is aware that the Asian Century is needed for the Chinese Dream to come to fruition. He has therefore taken to heart Deng’s warning that a rapprochement between India and China is needed for the Asian Century to flower. A consequence of such a view is the informal summit Xi and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are holding in Wuhan. The two men are in charge of the governments of countries that house 40% of the population of the globe.
Both Xi and Modi have distanced themselves from those in their own entourage who seek to perpetuate tension between Delhi and Beijing. More, much mire than the Macron visit to the US and its revival of nostalgia for the past, it is the Wuhn Summit between Modi and Xi that will enter the history books as a groundbreaking encounter that could reshape geopolitics in the modern world. Including by persuading several in Tehran that entering on the nuclear deal was a mistake, for the reason that Macron will clearly not be satisfied with anything less than an Iran diminished in importance to the level of Bahrain. The French seek to keep the skeleton of the deal alive to keep the Iranians constrained, but are looking to gut it of any facet that would be advantageous to Tehran. The problem facing the President of France and his admirers in Washington is that it is no longer 1948 but 2018.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.