Thursday, September 24, 2009

A New New World?

Change is on the air. The old power alignments seem to be all changing. Consider this: The British Prime Minister requests for a private meeting with the American President, and does not get one. He has to do with a few minutes conversation around the Kitchen table at the UN, while the President holds meetings with the heads of states of Japan, Russia and China. Russia says that they may climb down from their opposition to a sanction against Iran. The President of Iran addresses the UN, as does Colonel Qaddafi of Libya. The President of Iran says that it will shake any hand that has been honestly extended to it. What is going on?

There seems to be a clear realignment of the United States Foreign Policy, and the shift is towards realism. Eight years of George Bush and a shaking up of the financial markets made it necessary to look at the foreign policy agenda with a fresh pair of eyes. That seems to be happening now. It is no longer the democracy in the middle east zeal; it comes from a realization that American Military power, while vast, is not inexhaustible, and it is indeed a terrible waste of men and material to find distant wars for flimsy reasons, while there are greater challenges to be faced in the world. It is also a signal that the US Administration realizes that by overextending themselves across the world, they are allowing other challenger powers to emerge, and if a partnership is not built, this will eventually lead to a crisis and conflict of some sort. It is not in the interests of the United States, the current leading power in the world. And, besides, there is a realism that the Military power is not the solution to all of World's problems. The cowboy days of US foreign policy is truly over.

One of the key victories of President Obama so far is to warm Russia up. In World Politics, there are no evil powers; it is only national self-interest so far, and sometimes these get oddly aligned. I am not denying the existence of the likes of Saddam Hussein or Than Shaw; but, if history is any guide, these monsters show their true colours in the domestic arena first. Many catastrophes like this could have been averted if the World's key powers cooperated and reigned in these monsters at the very start, rather than feeding and protecting them till they have become a clear embarrassment. That is the true failure of John Foster Dulles' world view: It traded principles of cooperation for an undue reliance on America's military and intelligence communities.

One good thing about all major powers is, ahem, they all want to stay major powers. So, they want the world to go on as usual. They don't want crisis, conflicts that create imbalances and erode their standing. In the modern days, Britain and France are prime examples of how you can lose the plot. No one wants a repeat. So, the alternative to the prevailing world view of inevitable conflict is to think in terms of inevitable cooperation. Yes, one would throw some game theory cold water on my optimism and state that no one wants to cooperate as long as they think they can get away without it. But, there are two strong reasons why we may be entering an age of cooperation.

First, because education and information are spreading, at least in all the major countries. This means the people of these countries are becoming far more involved in the political process. Most major countries in the world are democracies, though every country should be able to choose the system of governance that is most appropriate for itself. Wider participation and accountability in government always brings moderation in policy. However, this goes hand in hand with the assumption that the nations will be able to continually develop their standards of living and bring prosperity to their citizens if they have to have a stake in the world system. This is the responsibility of the international community, to ensure that there is fair system of trade and support available to nations when they embark on their journey. Under the George W Bush's system of thinking democracy was to be brought about by an war, and national aspirations were to be denied by the powers of American military. That was flawed thinking from the start.

Second, because there is a common demon. The climate. If we are not looking now, our children are going to sink. Their children will run out of breathable air. And, Climate provides us with such a clear perspective why national self-interests are no longer enough and why cooperation must happen at the world scale.

The current American foreign policy takes into account its own limitations and challenges very well. President Obama clearly shows that he is ready to engage Russia, give its due respect as a major world power, support it through its oncoming economic and social difficulties, but demand, in return, its cooperation in maintaining the world order. He has been more ambivalent to China, but China is not a challenger to the United States, not yet. One can be hopeful that President Obama will be able to get China out of their support of rogue regimes around the world, and give them their rightful place at the world head table.

In those scheme of things, Britain may lose some of its importance. The world order following the Second World War has rested on America's military hardware and Britain's flawed view of good and evil. That is set to change. There is some clear thinking coming from America, and in the changed world, the British hold over world's thinking will now inevitably slip. It will be hastened with David Cameron, the politically correct Tory leader, taking over Britain in the next General Election. This will obviously mean its isolation from Europe and the world will increase, coupled with its declining economic influence as hedge funds and other financial 'rogue' practises are reigned in.

However, one George W Bush policy that President Obama may not want to reverse is emerging Indo-US partnership in various areas. Asia is indeed where the next decade or two would be played out, and it is important for everyone to create cooperation and prosperity between the great Asian nations of Japan, India and China. President Obama is surely committed to that, and despite his 'politically correct' statements on outsourcing etc, the process of two countries drawing closer did not reverse so far. One would hope that will continue.

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