World on the Boil: Anything can happen, Anywhere, Anytime

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world in a war
Representative Photo

Current Geo-Political Truisms:  Let me start by quoting Lord Palmerston, “in geo-politics, there are no permanent friends or enemies, there are only permanent interests”; second that morality, ethics, even humanitarian considerations are given scant consideration by nations when taking geo-political and strategic decisions, and when prosecuting wars. Thirdly, when a nation or even corporates or groups (even terrorist) create capabilities and capacities, intent can always change rapidly, to either favour or harm you. Importantly, a worrisome trend is the very value and potency of ‘Deterrence (even nuclear)’ both punitive and preventive is declining, which is clearly discernible by the actions of many underdeveloped and smaller powers cocking a snook at global powers (North Korea, Venezuela, Iran), both individually and collectively. Lastly, gradually but with increasing rapidity, the rules based, liberal, democratic world order is being challenged, mainly due to perceived loss of comprehensive national power (CNP) and power projection capabilities of USA and her allies (the ‘West’ is too stretched). Nations especially global peers following differing ideologies, autocracies/ dictatorships (China, Russia, Iran, North Korea), who find the ‘West’ highly hypocritical, are more freely adopting their non-conformist style of governance, with many more nations willing to join or support them, even from the global South. This is naturally causing a lot of geo-political turbulence.

In todays globalized world of ‘persistent engagements’, nations have no choice but to constantly cooperate, compete, confront and if national interest dictates even engage in conflict bilaterally and multi-laterally (4Cs); specially when the Big Three (USA, China, Russia)’ constantly engage in global intervention to maintain/ enhance their strategic space. Experts and philosophers waxed eloquent of more neutral Switzerlands and Swedens being created, living harmoniously and peacefully with no stated affiliations or ideologies; last heard both are eager to join one camp (NATO), shedding their very hard earned and respected neutrality. Within this cauldron, emerges ‘Rising Confident India’, which is slowly establishing itself as a mature, credible global balancing power. India has as many supporters as detractors, trying to ensure that India remains fixated in her own South Asian backyard with both external and internal challenges specially to her security and economy.

Recent Geo-Political Power Games: History is replete with confrontations and conflicts manufactured for geo-political objectives. During the height of the Cold War, most interventions/conflicts specially in the global South was a direct result of proxy manoeuvres to further political and economic influence and interests of the bipolar powers USA and erstwhile USSR (now Russia). With the rise of China to replace Russia, the dynamics is gradually evolving into a multi-polar world. Insurgencies, proxy war and mindless violence is a standout feature of current times. The list of nations facing instability, insurgency or conflict is long: Syria, Iraq, Nagorno-Karabakh, Myanmar, Ukraine, Israel-Hamas, and African nations (Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Central African Republic (CAR), Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan). The span and domains of the 4Cs have also expanded to both kinetic and non-kinetic to include the political, diplomatic, informational, military and economic (PDIME) verticals. Conflicts have expanded into the multi-domain spectrum ranging from the traditional land, sea, air to space, underwater, cyber, AI and quantum physics, information operations and psychological warfare. The escalatory ladder too has widened ranging from non-kinetic (economic, informational, legal, psychological) to sub-conventional, insurgencies, grey, 5G, local to full scale war with biological and nuclear wars manning the other end; which can lead to Armageddon. Interestingly, non-kinetic wars can cause physical and infrastructure casualties and damage, like sensitive or dramatic fake news on communal lines, can paralyse and disrupt normalcy, delay response from state and government security forces, and lead to riots and violence.

The war in Iraq for the mythical weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was for the control of oil, as are most geo-political moves in the Middle East. Russia was constantly provoked by NATO (war gamed by USA) until she attacked Ukraine perceiving it as an existential necessity. With Europe and EU arming themselves, and finding common cause in Europe against Russia, they can contain Russia, while USA turns her attention to the Indo-Pacific, Asia and specifically China to cut her down to size and thus maintain her sole super-power status for as long as possible. Negotiations, affiliations, alliances including defence pacts, are being created and dissolved with rapidity, further exacerbating the tense geo-political and security environment.

Global Scan of Ongoing Geo-Political Events: The Ukraine war is in attrition stage, with the Ukrainian counteroffensive generally stalling against prepared strong, Russian defensive positions. The Russians too are showing their renewed intent of consolidating their gains and stabilizing their territorial gains specially in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions extending towards Crimea. NATO is showing signs of internal discord and tiring of the war, especially regarding sustained logistical supply of weapon systems, munitions and training. Russia while weathering the storm of holistic support of NATO to Ukraine, will be badly singed by the end; and it could end up being a pyrrhic victory if and when it happens (currently we are set for another winter); with Russian economy in shambles along with her waning geo-political clout and standing.

The Israel-Hamas war is in its fourth week, with Israeli retaliation of bombing Gaza Strip continuing in full swing. The much-anticipated ground offensive into Gaza by IDF to destroy Hamas, with possible US help (even actual involvement) has been kept leashed. Probing actions have started, where Israel Defence Forces (IDF) have sealed off Gaza even from the sea, as also separating Northern Gaza from the South physically. Ground operations have been slow to start, in part due to diplomatic pressure by USA to calm down international, regional and IDF temperatures and humanitarian considerations; and allow parleys to release maximum Israeli and international hostages. Minimum casualties to own forces is a key consideration, as urban warfare to flush out well prepared and entrenched Hamas from prepared tunneled defences will be a very laborious time-consuming process, costing tremendous human casualties. Tempering international and internal public opinion is a geo-political necessity; after all social media and disinformation campaigns are very effective and spread rapidly, which Israel has to factor in.

USA with great alacrity has deployed two carrier groups, which combined project a very impressive firepower and airpower capability, as also 2000 odd marines, and special forces in case required for ground operations. Ostensibly, the buildup is to discourage intervention by other regional and major powers from triggering a wider conflict; ironically, their very presence will provoke others, and create an unstable, trip wire like situation which can flare up and explode, and expedite the very conflagration which they are supposed to stop! China too has shown her presence by sailing at last count seven warships into the region. Visit of high-ranking Hamas officials to Moscow typically messages Russia’s continued influence in the region. Both Russia and China have jumped into the turbulent region, with the intention of increasing their influence and presence, and seize the opportunity to weaken the West specially USA. They are operating in multiple domains; economic, militarily stretch her resource, ideologically engage in disinformation and information operations to show the established Western order in poor light; which with ongoing events has already taken a beating within the global South who find Western actions highly parochial and hypocritical.

The multi-domain maneuvers and messaging from the West sound ominous and reminds analysts of the Iraq and Ukraine conflict. The increasing frequency of rhetoric, and fingers pointed at their historic adversary Iran for her active involvement and using her proxies (Hezbollah in Lebanon, Houthis in Yemen, Syria) to widen the conflict, tells an all too familiar tale. Is there more than meets the eye? Is it exploitation of a genuinely shocking Hamas attack to cut Iran to size from her growing regional clout; unthinkable but whispers in the corridor even talk of a larger geo-political great game to clean up the Middle East to suit Western aspirations. After all, it is no secret that Hamas was propped up by Israel (Netanyahu) to weaken PLO, and her infrastructure buildup of tunnels and procurement of armaments was also known. What Israel and USA did not anticipate, was that once capabilities are built up, intent of its employment can always change, to bite the hand which nourished the organization; history is replete with too many such examples like Afghan Mujahedeen, ISIS, Al Qaeda, terrorist organisations like TTP in Pakistan. The urban warfare setting indicates that it will be a slow, agonizing grind, with large human casualties both civil and military (horrendous infrastructure damage already seen), with no easy solutions, and with probability of conflict widening increasing with every passing day.

The China Seas continues to see frequent clashes between Chinese Naval ships accompanied with her humungous fishing and merchant fleet, with other claimants to the high seas, protecting their legitimate EEZ and disputed islands. Tensions between Philippines and China have escalated, with Philippines in no mood to back down. Recently a ship collision between their naval ships, which Philippines has asserted was a deliberate dangerous provocation, has exacerbated friction, bringing USA into the fray. USA has a defence pact with Philippines, and has warned China of its commitment to help Philippines militarily, in case things hot up, specially escalation to further confrontation leading to conflict.

The India – China Disputed Borders: Line of Actual Control (LAC) and Multi-Domain Contestations : China’s hegemonistic designs have from the beginning included India, by claiming the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin area in East Ladakh. Xi’s belligerence globally, and increasing intervention and interference in India’s immediate neighbourhood and internally too, coupled with her military penchant of salami slicing others territory has brought India-China relations to a low. Her military actions to creep and claim Indian territory, which resulted in violent clashes opposite Arunachal Pradesh, and fatal causalities in East Ladakh (Galvan), has broken the ‘Peace and Tranquility Treaty’ and brought relations to a nadir. India maintains that relations with China is dependent on China making peace along the borders (similar stance with Pakistan for indulging in cross-border terrorrism). Ironically, our trade has ballooned to over $100 billion since Galvan (maybe a lesson for India-Pakistan relations).

Three adversarial nuclear weapon states, collusive all-weather China-Pakistan relations having boundary dispute with India; massive mobilization and permanent positioning of military forces very close to the borders by all three, makes for a powder keg, which requires just a match/flare up either along the borders (IB, LoC, LAC), or even internally (attributed terror attack, multi-domain acts which are considered inimical to national interests like economic or diplomatic blackmail). A nuclear conflagration cannot be ruled out as enunciated by geo-political experts and Think Tanks. Not in the limelight presently, but South Asia plus China is indeed a very dangerous geo-political region. India should stay wary of China and watch every multi-domain indicator, lest China, using the world’s attention towards Ukraine and Middle East as an opportunity, tries a mis-adventure (even a localized or full shooting war) against India, with Pakistan opportunistically joining the fray.

The Indian Connection in the Global Cauldron: India has been navigating very choppy waters with numerous global geo-political upheavals, with great maturity, skill, dexterity and statesmanship. With her growing CNP and her credible neutral stance, she is being seen as a balancing power. While not out rightly condemning Russia, India has emphasized the necessity of respecting national sovereignty, which has been appreciated globally. India has strongly condemned the terrorist actions by Hamas, while firmly emphasizing her historic support to the two-nation solution. Global turbulence, Russian invasion of Ukraine and her strategic partnership with China, Chinese belligerence, multi-domain actions and military presence along the LAC, has compelled India to increasingly strengthen her strategic relationship with USA and her allies (QUAD, I2U2).

USA is finding it increasingly difficult to police the World; further diminished by decreasing CNP and military power projection capability. This is apparent in the Indo-Pacific region where China is slowly emerging as the power arbiter with more strengths than vulnerabilities, compared to USA, creating apprehension within nations of the region. USA desperately needs India to be a counter-balance in the region. This is a geo-political opportunity for India, but could well be a counter-weight or albatross inhibiting India’s traditional political independence and neutrality. After all, India should not get drawn or caught up in the cold war between USA and China. India needs to read the forthcoming challenges very astutely and navigate with precision and surety.

The Global ‘Nuclear Equilibrium’ is Falling Apart: Lastly and vitally, in addition to the geo-political and security storm striking the World, there is another dimension which is not logging much attention but which could cause a global disaster; the shifting unstable ‘nuclear equilibrium’.  With the nuclear surge in terms of capabilities and capacities by China, the global bi-polar nuclear balance too has been upended. China thinking like a peer to USA now wants parity in terms of warheads and credible second-strike capabilities too. China’s shift from a ‘counter value’ doctrine (targeting strategic non-military targets like cities, oil facilities) which placed primacy on credible second-strike capability by protection of warheads and delivery assets, thus not getting caught up in numbers possessed by adversaries; to a ‘counterforce doctrine’ (targeting strategic military targets like nuclear weapon silos, naval dockyards, military airfields) which gives primacy to number of warheads held by adversaries, ensuring capability of assured second strike capability against each adversary specifically, is fraught with danger. The stable bi-polar nuclear balance has become tri-polar and unpredictable, and some say ‘n’ polar, as other nations want entry to the exclusive club, further exacerbated by a nuclear arms race with NO formal global nuclear protocol. The volatile geo-political combination is a surefire recipe for a ‘Nuclear Armageddon’.

It is time to strengthen and refurbish the UN, for the global powers USA and China to work together on global common concerns, and for the rest of the World to get their act together. For India it could be an opportunity to further buttress her global balancing power status, by playing a mature, non-partisan leadership role.

(This article was first published in  www.bharatshakti.in)

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