Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
THE surprise President of France Emmanuel Macron is clearly addicted to the history of the French colonial enterprise. He has spoken of Paris playing the keystone role in the future of that state, very much as was the case when the Arab country was a French colony. Whether it be the UK’s involvement in the Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts or Italy taking centre stage in negotiations over the future of Libya ( a former colony of that European country), the UN since the Kofi Annan years has adopted several of the characteristics of its previous incarnation, the League of Nations. Like the League in its time, the UN awarded trusteeships to countries over others, the most egregious example being Iraq following the defeat of Saddam Hussein in 2003. The UNSC resolution transferring control of the country to Washington gave powers to a foreign power that wholly negated the sovereignty and independence of the Iraqi people and their state.
Macron is evidently an individual who believes in dreams coming true. Certainly the once hopeless dream of him occupying the Elysee Palace did come about in a manner little short of miraculous. Now he is dreaming of conquering Syria the way the US and the UK did Iraq. Should he do so and ensure the end of Bashar Assad, it is almost certain that the GCC states would purchase around $ 20 billion of French defense goods at a minimum. This would add to the considerable purchases made by India under Narendra Modi, who stuck with the UPA decision to go in for the Rafale jet fighter rather than other options. This pleased both the Dassault company ( which has been saved from financial disaster by the India sale) as well as the French government. President Macron has established a much warmer personal rapport with Modi than his predecessor Hollande, who was far more restrained in his enthusiasm for the Prime Minister of India
Whatever Macron’s lessons in history, they are not likely to help him achieve his dream of getting a mandate to administer Syria the way France did during the age of European colonialism. Bashar Assad has establishing control over more than half the country, with much of the rest being in effective possession of Kurds. In order to keep their financial benefactors in the GCC happy, both Teresa May as well as Macron have to join in theatrical displays of military power such as the sending of 105 missiles to Syria as a show of resolve against Assad. It must be said that Macron is as loyal a follower of the US lead as was Nicholas Sarkozy before him. In his meetings with Trump, the French Head of State is clearly in awe of the physically much bigger US President. It was therefore no surprise that he followed the longstanding example of the UK in immediately joining with Washington in a military adventure.
However, the strikes were so obviously staged for television cameras then for military results that it is unlikely they will fetch Macron any political dividend. As for his idealistic dreams of a remade EU, the French economy is too small to carry forward such ambitions. Rather than reach the level of Germany, France is moving downwards in effective power to the level of Italy. However , the government in Rome is more realistic about its role in the world than is Paris Russian President Vladimir Putin now has to decide as to how he will react to the missile strikes against his ally. The most likely move will be to intensify the bombing and other attacks on the bob-Kurd proxies of the US and its allies. These are likely to be attacked in force by Iran, Russia and the Syrian military. They will pay the price for the need for President Trump to demonstrate to US television anchors that he is not hesitant to act against the wishes of Putin.
The Russia smear against Trump is having the effect of making his administration the most Russophobic in US history. US envoy to the UN Nikki Haley in particular seems an acolyte of Zbigniew Brezezinski in her hatred of Moscow. Watching her in action, memories come of V K Krishna Menon of India, whose acerbic comments against the US in the UN helped nudge Washington towards a policy of distance from India that remained even after the 1962 border war with China. The more the former colonial masters of the Arab states get involved in the internal matters of their former colonies, the greater the chaos that ensues. Iraq, Libya and Syria are the worst sufferers of the delusion by former colonial states that they somehow have the expertise for directing the policies of counties that were once made much miserable by rule from afar. Had France and the UK inserted themselves into Libya and Syria, and had they persuaded the US to follow their example, the world would have been much better off. Only Macron in his world of colonial nostalgia still believes that the way forward for the Middle East is to step backwards into a return of European colonialism together with the US.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.