The world descended into chaotic violence in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. The outcome was in accord with textbook predictions of the likely outcome when the bi-polar Cold War freeze imposed on local issues melted. Many disputes that had been forced into cold storage by Cold War rivalry found expression and antecedent local conflicts erupted. But a much more profound and violent political churning also began. The US began to consolidate its victory in the Cold War and embarked on policies to forestall future rivals by imposing its footprint with greater vehemence. This was the Dick Cheney-Donald Rumsfeld global plan and its intellectual exponents were Zbigniew Brzezinski, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle. Their view of the place of the US in the future world order was highly ambitious and without sentimentality.
Their plan was to deploy the hugely empowered US military machine, once the Soviet Union had effectively truncated its global reach, to create hard facts on the ground that would establish indefinite US global dominance. The unprecedented advantage the US always enjoyed was to impose a dollar tax on the rest of the world to pay for a significant portion of its military expenditure by forcing T-bonds on the world. This was the "exorbitant privilege" the French denounced in the 1960s. As a result, the greatest irony of the current situation is that China is paying a part of the cost of US policy to contain its rise. But US strategists continued to regard Russia as an adversary and India as problematic.
US policymakers are astutely deploying military, political and other resources in a holistic fashion. They are not merely interested in individual components of the menu of international rivalry per se, but how they affect the larger picture. As a result, they are directing their attention to the most feasible target within a likely coalition of countries against it. The foremost potential check on US global ambitions and interests is the emergence of a Sino-Russian combination. The Russians remain a significant military power due to their historic military prowess and nuclear arsenal though China is only an impending threat and still negligible as a nuclear power. The logic of a Sino-Russian rapprochement has implications for India because its significance for Russia is vastly diminished in the emerging post-war geopolitical struggle.
This is why the US reneged on implicit and explicit assurances of forbearance in Eastern Europe after the Soviets withdrew peremptorily and proceeded with an attempt to seal Russia’s fate. The main US aspiration is to create a compelling check on the still formidable nuclear capability of Russia. The US has sought to create forward Eastern European bases that give it an advantage in interdicting missiles through ABMs and also put in place a compelling threat of pre-emptive action. The purpose is to persuade Russia to give up its historic capacity to engage in nuclear deterrence with the US. The method is to raise the cost of Russia renewing its post-Cold War nuclear deterrence capability, already a burden for it by the 1960s, to a level that it cannot sustain.
The US absorption of virtually all of Eastern Europe into the NATO fold and the civil wars in Georgia and the Ukraine through subversion, in the guise of the civil unrest of Orange revolutions, were deceptively easy. But the desired outcome in Ukraine has stalled in the face of determined Russian opposition. Russia has historically possessed the intellectual wherewithal to comprehend geopolitics and unfailingly rebuffed attempts to subordinate it. Mobilising the global media to demonise Vladimir Putin in rage is standard fare, but found no traction in Russia, prompting the US to unleash an oil price war.
The Saudi monarchy, entirely retainers of the US, obliged. The idea the Saudis have allowed the oil price to slide with the aim of making US shale oil production unprofitable is simply not credible. The position of the Saudi monarchy in the ongoing turmoil of the Middle East is precarious, to say the least. The US is perfectly capable to reshuffling its nominees from the legion of Saudi princes-in-waiting and current incumbents would not dare provoke the US. The US has accepted the cost imposed on its shale oil production as the unavoidable price of pushing Vladimir Putin into a corner, in the hope of finding a malleable new Boris Yeltsin. The stakes are high and there is no free lunch.
The US intervention in the Middle East over the past two decades has been designed to remove regimes deemed unreliable and curtail the evolution of closer ties between them and China. Significantly, the first two regimes removed, of Iraq and Libya, were the principal regional suppliers of oil to China. Middle Eastern oil imports are an important area of vulnerability for China and the creation of local regimes, pretty much beholden to the US for survival, has instituted a powerful US choke hold over a vital Chinese artery. The recent Sino-Russian energy agreement is a countermove, in response to hostile US intervention in Europe and the Middle East.
The attempt to eliminate the Bashar Al Assad regime of Syria, despite Israeli doubts, since it has given little trouble to Israel and remained usefully vulnerable, comprising a minority elite, was intended to complete the circle and curb Russia’s presence. The determination of the Russians to resist has merely postponed the overthrow of Assad and his murderous entourage while imposing mass destruction on the people of Syria. But such costs, even higher in Iraq, are apparently par for the course and do not exercise Western human rights NGOs, which evidently work in conjunction with the intelligence communities of their country.
The South Asian arena is also relevant to future US global strategy, partly because its goals in the region, though not paramount overall, are achievable at relatively low cost. The US would like a much more obliging Indian government in power, which apparently seems to have occurred until the rise of Narendra Modi. There are circumstances in which India’s location and myriad human and material resources would be useful in facilitating US policy in Asia. The slightly puzzling dogged US opposition to Narendra Modi arose from doubts about his political inclinations and his attempts to curb evangelism in Gujarat during 2005. Much more importantly, he may well have also given the US grounds to worry that he was reaching out to China. Indian reconciliation with China or an understanding that instituted mutual forbearance between them would seriously undermine US policy in Asia.
LK Advani was much preferred as candidate for Indian prime minister by the US because of his willingness to accommodate their interests in the past. On one significant occasion, a huge commitment to the US proposed by LK Advani was vetoed personally by Atal Behari Vajpayee. But it is an important US asset in the BJP, close to Advani, who was the cause of Advani’s inexplicable truculence during 2012-2013. A similarly embarrassing conciliatory gesture towards the US was made by the late NSA, Brajesh Mishra, once again, repudiated by the canny Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee.
The US remains active in India because it managed to create a substantial fifth column within it over the preceding two decades, at low cost. Indian public life is now replete with US assets, whether amongst politicians, the media, NGOs. The shocking evangelical surge is a long term, ancillary aspect of US policy to create a loyal constituency in India that was proving hugely successful because of facilitation by the UPA. Neighbouring Nepal is also subject to dramatic evangelisation, a policy that seems likely to create another Nagaland in the northeast of India. However, this Nepali bridgehead against China is a doubled-edged sword that will also be a thorn on the side of India in future.
Pakistan remains crucial to the US because its loyalty to it, outside the Afghan theatre, which has irritated the US deeply, has usually been total. It sent troops to the Middle East during the 1970s at the behest of the US to protect its allies, the Saudi monarchy and King Hussein of Jordan. Pakistan’s obsession with India and insistence on securing "defence in depth" through primacy in Afghanistan are not issues that trouble the US unduly.
In any case, Pakistan alone can secure residual US goals in Afghanistan though some awkward issues will arise with China evidently seeking access to it through Pakistan. Pakistan also represents powerful leverage over India that can be applied persuasively to restrain unwelcome Indian policies. The occasional US statement denouncing terror against India emanating from Pakistan is essentially a public relations exercise now that Pakistan has made huge efforts to prevent spill over of terror from its jurisdiction to the US and Europe. Of course some Indo-US cooperation does take place because a cooperative India is a useful counter to the rise of China. But despite their supposedly burgeoning relationship Pakistani terrorism against India is largely unaffected.
The idea that the US regards Islamic terrorism as an existential threat is somewhat exaggerated. The US and the UK have a long historic record of sponsoring Islamic radicalism against Middle Eastern regimes that exhibited excessive nationalist or pro-Soviet impulses. Some of the terror groups may have escaped their control, but Islamic terror has been a potent US instrument for imposing severe costs on adversaries and recalcitrant governments. The Chechen revolt was sponsored by the US and radical South Asian Islam, used persistently against India since the late 1970s, was partly designed to discipline India after its interference in East Pakistan in 1971.
It had prompted Henry Kissinger to make dire personal threats to Indira Gandhi and the episode of the Emergency was a carefully laid trap for her, ultimately leading to her assassination. US involvement in the Khalistan revolt is well known and Khalistanis remain active abroad, under the supervision of US and UK intelligence agencies. The recent upsurge of Islamic radicalism in China’s Xingjian province, in particular, arouses suspicion of US involvement too. It may even be surmised that some episodes of Islamic terrorism internationally have been orchestrated deliberately to legitimate US intervention abroad.
It was the USSR that blocked the progression of the US to global imperial pre-eminence that the end of WWII might have enabled. The society and nation created by Joseph Stalin experienced the most cataclysmic conflict in recorded history to emerge triumphant and still capable of thwarting US imperial ambition. By 1990 that effort proved impossible to sustain and the US finally emerged the victor in a Cold War, fought more by deterrence than direct military engagement. The US is now making a historic attempt to consolidate its place in the world, in a reminder of Rome after 27BC.
China could potentially resist the inexorable rise of the US, but it remains insubstantial militarily compared to the US. And China’s economy is vulnerable to acute shocks that could induce the kind of political disintegration that frequently bedevilled its autocratic rulers in the past. There is also rapid religious conversion in China that predicts it will become the largest Christian country by 2030. Yet, the US may come to an understanding with China once it has created insurmountable obstacles to its unchecked build up in Asia. And China’s politically vulnerable rulers may acquiesce to condominium rather than countenance destructive conflict from which it cannot hope to emerge other than gravely damaged. The losers will be Asian countries obliged to adjust to the caprices of Sino-American condominium.
In the coming decades and beyond, the world is likely to witness prodigious bloodshed as the US agenda of world domination continues to unfold. The last decade has confirmed that the human and material cost will be deemed irrelevant. The pretensions of the post-war UN system, various twentieth century accords on human rights and treatment of POWs have already proved unequal to the task of restraining the worst. The world’s media has been mobilised to rationalise the most egregious violations of human rights since the Nazi death camps. Ask Iraqis, Syrians and the truly hapless people of the Congo of their experience of twentieth century human affairs.
Yet, the US itself may encounter its Teutoburg Forest, most probably at the hands of the nation which produced Suvorov and Zhukov. For India, the quality of its intellectual and emotional resources and the resilience of its national leaders will be sorely tested in the bleak future looming. It seems unlikely that India will manage to mobilise the sagacity and national unity required to escape the unsparing deluge of death and destruction in prospect. On the basis of present evidence, there are few grounds for optimism that it will cope.