A World in Dis­ar­ray: A New Cold War?

People's Review - - LEADER - BY PRABASI NEPALI

The first part of the above head­ing is the ti­tle of a bril­liant book by Richard Haass, the pres­i­dent of “The Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions”. Our world to­day is in­creas­ingly de­fined by dis­or­der. The rules-based in­ter­na­tional sys­tem seems to be fall­ing apart, i.e. the rules, poli­cies, in­sti­tu­tions that have guided the world since World War II have largely run their course and the United States is un­able or un­will­ing to main­tain its lead­er­ship role. There is the in­du­bi­ta­ble im­pres­sion that things are fall­ing apart and the cen­tre can­not hold. Un­der Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump, the United States is vol­un­tar­ily re­nounc­ing its lead­er­ship in in­ter­na­tional af­fairs and there is no power or in­sti­tu­tion to up­hold or­der in an age de­fined by global chal­lenges from in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism and the spread of nu­clear weapons to cli­mate change and cy­berspace. There is the ten­dency that the world is mov­ing from a unipo­lar world [since the im­plo­sion of the Soviet Union in 1990] to a hap­haz­ard mul­ti­po­lar one de­fined by the US, Rus­sia, China and the Euro­pean Union. Rus­sia is try­ing to emerge as a new great power based on its geo­graph­i­cal space [it is the largest ter­ri­to­rial state in the world], dev­as­tat­ing nu­clear weapons and its vast re­serves of nat­u­ral gas and oil. It is not only chal­leng­ing Western Europe im­mi­nently, but also the US un­der a weak and in­com­pe­tent pres­i­dent, who is sus­pi­ciously and in­com­pre­hen­si­bly un­will­ing to take on Rus­sia’s Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin. The un­mis­tak­able rise of China – po­lit­i­cally, eco­nom­i­cally, mil­i­tar­ily and cul­tur­ally – is per­ceived as a ma­jor threat by the US, Japan and In­dia, the lat­ter two also ris­ing pow­ers. Xi Jin­ping : Pres­i­dent or Em­peror? The an­nounce­ment last week that China will drop term lim­its on the pres­i­dency clears the way for Xi Jin­ping to rule the coun­try in­def­i­nitely. How­ever, some an­a­lysts point out that what ap­pears like a demon­stra­tion of ab­so­lute power could ac­tu­ally be a sign of weak­ness, with Xi ap­par­ently un­will­ing to al­low the rise of a po­ten­tial po­lit­i­cal ri­val. This could also lead to fu­ture in­sta­bil­ity in the world’s most pop­u­lous coun­try [soon to be over­taken by In­dia] as would-be suc­ces­sors scram­ble for power within a Com­mu­nist Party com­pletely dom­i­nated by Xi. At the same time his ab­so­lute au­thor­ity will also leave him ex­posed to un­con­di­tional cul­pa­bil­ity should eco­nomic de­cline, for­eign pol­icy cri­sis or mil­i­tary mis­ad­ven­ture tran­spire. Af­ter the death of mod­ern China’s founder Mao Ze­dong in 1976 – in the af­ter­math of the so-called Cul­tural Rev­o­lu­tion, dur­ing which tens of thou­sands were killed and the coun­try was af­flicted by civil un­rest – his suc­ces­sors moved away from one-man rule to­wards a con­sen­sus sys­tem where power was shared by a hand­ful of high-rank­ing Party ap­pa­ratchiks. This re­sulted in rel­a­tively straight­for­ward trans­fer of power from Pres­i­dents Jiang Zemin to Hu Jin­tao to Xi Jin­ping af­ter each served two five-year terms of of­fice. How­ever, dur­ing Xi’s first term, it be­came ap­par­ent he would seek to defy this guide­line. He was de­clared “core leader” of the Party, and state me­dia be­gan build­ing up his pub­lic im­age with the type of ‘per­son­al­ity cult’ not seen since Mao. This cul­mi­nated with “Xi Jin­ping Thought” be­ing added to ref­er­ences to ‘Yuan Shikai’, the for­mer Pres­i­dent of the Re­pub­lic of China who dis­solved a demo­crat­i­cally-elected par­lia­ment in 1913 and ap­pointed him­self em­peror, which, how­ever, was very short-lived. Nowhere has Xi’s new self-as­sertive lead­er­ship been more ob­vi­ous than in China’s for­eign and mil­i­tary pol­icy. He has pushed the re­form and mod­ern­iza­tion of the ‘Peo­ple’s Lib­er­a­tion Army’ (PLA) and has di­rect con­trol over it. In the South China Sea, Bei­jing has con­tin­ued the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of is­lands, reefs and islets in de­fi­ance of a rul­ing of the In­ter­na­tional Court of Ar­bi­tra­tion. It has also sought to in­crease its mil­i­tary and eco­nomic in­flu­ence in South Asia, es­pe­cially Pak­istan and the Mal­dives. Last year, the PLA and In­dian troops en­gaged in a months-long stand-off over the dis­puted (Bhutanese) ter­ri­tory of Dok­lam near the Silig­uri Cor­ri­dor or the “Chicken’s Neck”, the ex­tremely strate­gic area no one knows how much is blus­ter. How­ever US and Rus­sian forces op­er­ate in close prox­im­ity at sev­eral cri­sis zones like Syria and across East­ern Europe and there is an ever in­creas­ing pos­si­bil­ity for things to go wrong. As re­tired US Navy ad­mi­ral and for­mer com­man­der of NATO forces James Stavridis points: “The risk for mis­cal­cu­la­tion be­tween US and Rus­sian forces is higher than at any time since the height of the Cold War . . . Op­er­a­tionally, the stakes are ex­traor­di­nar­ily high any­time two mas­sive armed, nu­clear-ca­pa­ble states have com­bat forces in the same bat­tle space.” United States: Chaos at Home, Rud­er­less Abroad In the mean­time, the dire con­se­quences of Don­ald Trump’s pres­i­dency – in the do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional arena – are now be­ing felt. For­mer CIA chief John Bren­nan said last Fri­day that the pres­i­dent was “ill pre­pared” to take on the du­ties of com­man­der-in-chief, par­tic­u­larly with re­gard to the grow­ing mil­i­tary ag­gres­sion from Rus­sia and North Korea. Fur­ther­more, “it is no se­cret to any­body that Don­ald Trump was very ill pre­pared and in­ex­pe­ri­enced in terms of deal­ing with mat­ters that a head of state/head of gov­ern­ment needs to deal with, and I think this is now com­ing to roost.” Not only did Trump com­pletely lack a sense of pri­or­i­ties, “if we have some­body in the Oval Of­fice who is un­sta­ble, in­ept, in­ex­pe­ri­enced, and also un­eth­i­cal – we re­ally have rough wa­ters ahead.” Trump an­nounced on March 1, 2018 that the US would im­pose 25 per­cent tar­iffs on im­ported steel and 10 per­cent tar­iffs on alu­minum – the most sig­nif­i­cant im­port re­stric­tions since 1971 un­der Pres­i­dent Nixon. US busi­ness lead­ers now worry that Trump “by im­pos­ing stiff and sweep­ing tar­iffs on steel and alu­minum, will set off a trade war with other coun­tries. The global tit­for-tat could hurt Amer­i­can ex­porters and raise costs for man­u­fac­tur­ers that rely on a vast sup­ply chain around the world” (New York Times). As a chain re­ac­tion, it would def­i­nitely axe eco­nomic growth. Ed­ward Alden, writ­ing for the “Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions” said with in­sight: “It was once said that Bri­tain lost its em­pire in a fit of ab­sent-mind­ed­ness; the United States, it now ap­pears, could lose its own in a fit of Don­ald Trump’s im­pul­sive­ness.”

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