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Return of Pax Americana

Ukraine crisis is about US strategy to reimpose Western dominance on Asia

Return of Pax Americana

TOUGH CALL: The current détente can only be short-term opportunism for India. PTI

MK Bhadrakumar

Former Ambassador

INDIA’S current entanglement with the United States as to whether to buy or not to buy Russian oil wears a surreal look. After all, India’s Russian oil purchases meet barely 4 per cent of its daily consumption of crude. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar put matters in perspective when he said last week, “Probably, our total purchases for the month would be less than what Europe does in an afternoon.” When this ruckus began, Petroleum Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had told Parliament that after all, India’s US oil imports are projected to have risen to 16.8 million tonnes in 2021-22 while from Russia, only 419,000 tonnes were imported in the first 10 months of the financial year.

The spectre of a multi-polar world haunts the US. But India can as well be in the Western crosshairs tomorrow.

So, where’s the beef? The Anglicised Indian intellectual, even when filled with grievances against the West, is mostly mute about the double standards of the West and blithely accepts the spread of Western power as synonymous with liberty and liberal values, free trade, good administrative practices, religious toleration, and so on. He simply refuses to read the writing on the wall that, quintessentially, the Ukraine crisis is about the US strategy to reimpose Western dominance on Asia, which will be three-pronged — put down Russia, isolate China, forestall the ‘Asian century’.

Compared to the period since the arrival of Vasco da Gama in Calicut in 1498, when most of Asia had fallen under European economic and political domination, this time around, the Western powers plan to dominate collectively. One singular outcome of the Ukraine crisis is that the US has re-established its transatlantic leadership. The US hopes to formalise during the NATO summit in June in Madrid its decade-old vision to transform the Western alliance into a global security organisation.

In a related move, a draft resolution has been initiated at the UN (on behalf of the US and EU) by Liechtenstein proposing that the UN GA must convene within a 10-day period whenever the veto is exercised in the Security Council. The seemingly innocuous idea is that the decisions of the Security Council will remain binding but Russia will be divested of veto power. That is to say, the US will dominate the UN Security Council decisions and will also be in a position to unilaterally legitimise all NATO interventions globally.

Behind all this is the growing fear that Washington cannot dominate Russia and China militarily anymore and that the century of American hegemony in the international economic, financial and political order is ending. With a national debt exceeding $30 trillion and with no hope on earth that it can be redeemed at all, and with an ailing economy out of control saddled with dated infrastructure and falling productivity, the US cannot compete anymore in the world market. On the other hand, the spectre of a multi-polar world order haunts the US — that is, principally, Russia and China today. But India can as well be in the Western crosshairs tomorrow. Therefore, don’t ask for whom the bell tolls today.

The US blueprint actually goes back to 2014 when within three months of the coup and regime change in Ukraine, then President Barack Obama said in his famous speech addressing the cadets at West Point: “The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come… Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbours. From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums… It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world.”

Obama bracketed Russia, China and India in the Rogues’ Gallery of revisionist powers! Suffice to say that the present ruckus in the US-Indian ties isn’t really about Russian oil or even weaponry. The EU and the US have belatedly sensed the danger that the vindictive ‘sanctions from hell’ against Russia — the militarisation of money — could in fact be hurting the West in equal, if not greater, measure, especially with regard to the weakening prominence of the US dollar (USD) and euro. A reputed Swiss asset management firm noted that ‘de-dollarisation efforts have received a new boost from Western sanctions, as has the desire expressed by Russia, China and India for a new, multi-polar world and monetary order… Meanwhile, a core function of money, its intrinsic value, has been affected in recent months. Record high inflation rates, at 40-year highs in some cases (as in America), continue to undermine confidence in fiat currencies — and, this erosion of confidence is only just the beginning.’

The sanctioning of Russia’s currency reserves confirms that the USD is no longer a neutral currency, but rather a highly politicised weapon. While de-anchoring from the USD as a world reserve currency will not happen overnight, the fact of the matter is that trust in fiat currencies as a whole is falling. Russia’s move to trade more in rouble will have a ricochet effect on other nations such as China and India to tilt toward de-dollarisation in future agreements, with global trade becoming increasingly multi-polar and multi-currency.

All things considered, the current détente between India and the US can only be short-term opportunism for India. India’s vision of the regional future might well follow KM Panikkar by seeing no significant long-term role for the US in Asia. The repeated incursions by Western imperialist powers in our history have left an indelible mark on India’s strategic thinking, leading to an emphasis on national sovereignty and fears of encirclement.

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