Shaping the new world order

[ Suresh Chandra Mohanty ]

Against the backdrop of a highly turbulent and rapidly transforming new world order, it is pertinent to question what this new world order (distinct from unilateralism, hegemonism and protectionism), is? Who defines it? Who decides as to what constitutes a violation of the world order? Is it the United Nations, which is progressively losing its relevance and is not representative of bulk of the developing and underdeveloped world? Who decides what the tenets of basic human rights are and what constitutes free speech and violation of universal human rights when multiple nations tend to build their own narratives? It is relevant to raise these questions against the backdrop of the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against Russian President Putin for war crimes. There are over 40 countries which are not signatories to the 1998 Rome Statute, including Russia, China, India and the US, which has even threatened to impose sanctions against over 120 countries that have ratified the statute.

The permanent court of arbitration in Hague passed a judgment in favour of the Philippines and against China in 2016, which China trashed despite being a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Law of The Seas (UNCLOS). The US under the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from multiple international agreements in 2018, including from the Paris Climate Agreement and the UNHRC (due to a probe into killings in Gaza), and moved the US embassy from Tel Aviv to East Jerusalem against the UN resolution of 1967, and from the joint coordinated plan of action, popularly called the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, though the nuclear watchdog IAEA did not necessarily issue a negative report against Iran. There have been no war crimes warrants issued against the US for its widely recognised war crimes, predominantly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. It assassinated an Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani (besides five Iraqi nationals and four other Iranians) in Baghdad by a drone strike supposedly to prevent an imminent attack. In blatant violation of the UN resolutions, Israel continues to build and expand settlements in the occupied territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In violation of the NPT, China has been providing nuclear missiles and know-how to both North Korea and Pakistan. North Korea continues to test nuclear capable missiles in violation of UN resolutions. The international community has so far not been able to arrive at a common definition of terrorism as one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter, and China repeatedly blocking UN resolutions to designate globally recognised terrorists.

The Chinese diplomatic coup in bringing about a rapprochement between longtime arch rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia as a global peace broker would have certainly checkmated the Abraham Accord of 2020, initially between Israel and UAE and then between Israel and Bahrain, followed by Morocco and Sudan. It has deflated the US diplomatic heft and diminishing sphere of influence in the Middle East, notwithstanding the recent Red Sands joint exercise with Saudi Arabia. The deal was in the making since 2021, expedited by frictions between the US and Saudi Arabia over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and Riyadh’s ongoing participation in a pandemic-era oil pact with Russia. The race to forge alliances and counter alliances is expected to only intensify with Chinese initiative to broker a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine.

The US commenced its rebalancing to the Asia Pacific under the Obama administration in 2011, later rephrased as Indo-Pacific, with emphasis on Indian and Pacific Oceans, and renamed the Pacific Command the Indo-Pacific Command in 2018. The ignominious withdrawal from Afghanistan was indeed a means to prioritise the Indo-Pacific urgency. The Russia-Ukraine conflict and Chinese belligerence in the South China Sea have accelerated proliferation of new groupings and alliances and recasting the existing ones, with the Western aim of degrading Russian military and economic relevance and contesting China on one hand while Russia and China hedge against Western containment strategy through an alternative global order on the other. The Quad, which took birth in the aftermath of the tsunami in 2007, was revived in 2017 and raised to summit level for the first time in 2021, with the spirit of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific and a rule-based maritime order, a la counter Chinese belligerence in the South and East China Sea. Later, in 2020, it expanded to Quad plus, including South Korea, Vietnam, New Zealand, as also non-pacific countries Israel and Brazil, as a platform for multi-sectoral cooperation to tackle international challenges. I2U2, a grouping including the US, the UAE, Israel and India, at times referred to as Western Quad, was conceptualised in October 2021 as an Indo-Abrahamic alliance 2021/22 to cooperate on joint investments and new initiatives to include food security, water, energy, transportation, health and space. AUKUS emerged as a trilateral security pact including Australia, the UK and the US, to enhance cooperation in the fields of cyber, AI, quantum technologies, hypersonic, counter-hypersonic, electronic warfare and intelligence sharing as a direct strategic deterrence in the Indo-Pacific. The pact included provision of nuclear submarines to Australia. While continuing to fund the war against Russia to ensure its military, economic and diplomatic subjugation, the US has also doubled down on containing rise of China through economic decoupling and supply chain diversification, CHIPS Act, visit of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, denouncing human rights violations in Xinjiang; short of levelling it the axis of evil (North Korea, Iran and Iraq) as it did in 2002 by George W Bush.

As against western groupings, the BRICS and the SCO, which have a dominant presence of Russia and China, can act as counter groupings as economic, security and political groupings can seldom be mutually exclusive. The BRICS is being proposed for expansion to include Iran, Argentina, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and over a dozen other countries. The new development bank to fund projects in member countries is an effort to reduce dependency on West dominated IMF and WB. The SCO, which started as Shanghai five, is expanding into the gulf region from central Asia to promote an alternative world order and drive global geo-economics governance.

Notwithstanding the economic downturn in China with a number of western nations closing shop in conjunction with its own crackdown on tech companies, coaching institutes as part of common prosperity, prolonged shutdown as part of a zero Covid policy, demographic crisis and reduction of working age population; Chinese initiative to bring about a reproachment between Saudi Arabia and Iran was only to be expected. The diminishing US political, economic and military heft, in conjunction with internal turmoil led by Trump and world, divided between the wealthy West, the impoverished sub-Saharan Africa, developing Asia and turbulent Middle East only hastened the process.

A just world order with a western prescribed free society, democratic values and human rights is no longer the prerogative of the rich and powerful because the economic and military pecking order have become increasingly blurred and conditional. It is unlikely to be a situation of “either you are with us or against us” as nations tend to define international relations based on core national interests as they tend to militate against purely geopolitical interests.

India has been remarkably steadfast in maintaining its policy of strategic autonomy in foreign policy articulation in the face of sustained pressures to take sides in the Russia-Ukraine war. While emphasising on dispute resolution by dialogue and diplomacy, its diplomatic positioning will have to be to serve its core national interests. While drumbeating its vaccine diplomacy, economic growth and demographic dividend as a bulwark against China, attempts to trigger its multi-cultural and religious fault lines to stymie its growth can be seen in Khalistan uprising in the UK, the US and Australia. Its relations with Russia and China (RIC) are premised on whether Russia can continue to remain an equal or a stronger partner in the Russia-China power matrix. Given the India-China trust deficit, any disturbance in China-Russia power balance will only complicate matters for India.

The US-India strategic embrace is an indispensable imperative for India to balance out the prevailing regional economic and military asymmetry. However, it should not be merely with an aim to contain China, or serving the larger US interest, but concomitant to India’s aspiration in securing its economic and security interests. India cannot let itself be drawn into a binary world order, viz, China-Russia led or US-EU-UK led. It has to carve out its own space in a multipolar world order while leading the global south. It must secure its immediate (regional) neighbourhood through development of strategic deterrence instruments, as highlighted by the Indian COAS, and astute calibration of its military, economic and diplomatic power. It needs to condition its extended neighbourhood through cross cultural linkages, management of common challenges, soft power, and first responder to disasters and economic cooperation.

At the global stage, India will have to rely on likeminded countries with shared interests and challenges (climate change, food security and absorption of technology). The strategy of maintaining a delicate balance between the US-led West and Russia-China conundrum will continue to be a challenge for India while serving its core interests – the immediate one being a joint communiquæcopy; of the G20 in September. (The writer is security adviser to the Arunachal Pradesh government.)