Shooting your own foot
Let us begin with a clip from an article in CBS titled “Russia’s Ruble is the strongest currency in the world this year”:
“Commodity prices are currently sky-high, and even though there is a drop in the volume of Russian exports… the increase in commodity prices more than compensates for these drops,” said Tatiana Orlova, lead emerging markets economist at Oxford Economics… Russia is pulling in nearly USD 20 billion a month from energy exports. Since the end of March, many foreign buyers have complied with a demand to pay for energy in Rubles, pushing up the currency’s value.”
There has been a resultant trade surplus. So much so that The Economist took a note about how Russian exports, especially those directed at the West, have been doing well, and how spikes in energy prices have only augmented that. Add to that an IIF pre-calculation which states that the Russian current account surplus could be USD 250 billion for 2022 (incidentally, it was USD 120 billion in 2021). The Russian Ruble is clocking an impressive rate already.
Now, wasn’t the whole purpose of these ‘sanctions from hell’, as Joe Biden puts it, intended to hurt Russia so bad that not only would they quit their Ukraine adventures but would crumble to dust, and in their crumbling, teach a vital lesson to China about abandoning its expansionist ambitions on Taiwan? And yet it looks like somehow the EU is sinking into a recession (with the added prospect of Russia stopping gas supplies), and the US is looking at an equally disastrous year with rocketing fuel and commodity prices; not to speak of China flying fighters in Taiwan skies.
Let us consider a broader angle.
Behind all those fabulous writers and commentators extolling virtues about how great an empire is, is a bare fact: a successful empire is a wealth generator for its elites. If you find yourself believing from time to time in yarns like ‘Mughal governance’ or ‘American liberal hegemony’, you are not alone. Many of us have been and still remain fascinated with the artistry of Garton Ash, William Dalrymple, or Krugman and a whole generation of elite propagandists. The fact is that from Mughals and Brits to the Americans, empires have prospered as long as they have managed to suck from their peripheries. It is a design feature; ‘empires’ cannot survive when their peripheries dry up.
The Turco-Uzbeks or the Brits vanished after they had sucked their peripheries dry. Aurangzeb’s notorious modes and methods of taxation and innovative forms of exploitation, or the reckless means of colonial resource extraction of the British are cases in point. They kept extracting as long as they could, folded and disappeared after that.
There is a second and an absurd way to get your empire to disappear. It is by voluntarily relinquishing control of the flow. The US is a great example of that kind of stupidity. In their eagerness to remain the richest country and at the same time maintain a comparatively smaller population, the US planners moved from importing/harnessing cheap labour, to importing cheap products. That resulted in shipping off their entire productive economy to the peripheries. The climax of this was the inclusion of China into the WTO a decade or so ago. Today American ‘exceptionalism’ has made sure that China holds the entire West to ransom.
Exhibiting unpredictable behaviour and disregard for its partners
For any nation that aimed to sit on top(?) of a network as interdependent as the one that emerged as a result of globalization, the US has remained too high-handed throughout. Henry Kissinger had once famously remarked that it is dangerous to be an enemy of America, but it was surely fatal to be America’s friend. Indeed, America has, across different times and geographies, pushed its ‘friends/allies’ into a ditch. Nominal clients like Afghanistan (after the Soviet withdrawal) or Iraq in 1991; long-term partners like Saudi Arabia; close friends like Israel; even its twin – the EU (post-Syria and now), have all found themselves at the wrong end of an unequal relationship across different times. Those countries that the USA does not consider as its ally or partner or whatever other terms it prefers to use have seen wars, regime changes, coups or colour revolutions.
India has never been the US’ choice as a partner; that has always been Pakistan. Pakistan offers geostrategic advantages; till about a few years ago the US was very keen to access and control central Asia. Pakistan provided three catalysts towards that: a) warm water port as well as a rolling path to central Asia, b) single point contact (the Army Chief), with democracy as window dressing, and c) among Russia China or Iran, it was the only country in the region that was not an enemy of the US.
India – with its access to central Asia squandered long ago – could never offer these advantages. American interest in India grew after they realized back during the ’91 liberalization that this was a massive marketplace. And one of the reasons why the interest has sustained is because the US sees India as a proxy that can be used to needle China.
Think Ukraine, and you would get the picture.
After the fall of the USSR, a reckless expansion of NATO was initiated by Bill Clinton. The result of which saw the Baltic states, Poland, Hungary etc get absorbed into NATO folds quickly. Russia protested, but they were too weak. Meanwhile, the EU too went on an eastward expansion mode. In 2008, they unveiled their Eastern Partnership Program and tried to woo Yanukovich of Ukraine (at the same time NATO announced its plan to expand into Ukraine). In a bid to stall the EU expansion, Russia offered a counter-proposal to Ukraine – one that was worth USD 15 billion, which Yanukovich began evaluating seriously.
That was the time when the US-funded National Endowment for Democracy with USD 5 billion; NED ran about 60 programs around the world that aimed at pushing civil societies of different countries to cascade anarchy. The Maidan riots happened soon afterwards (refer to the ‘leaked phone call’ of Victoria Nuland), Yanukovich – who was an elected President, was pushed out, a puppet was installed in his place, and Ukraine turned into anarchic chaos complete with neo-Nazis and militias that ran secret killing campaigns against specific sections of its population. The climax of this all is underway now. And whatever is the result of it, it does not look like Ukraine is going to be a model democratic setup anytime soon.
India has an elected government that is increasingly being bogged down with orchestrated domestic chaos every time there are efforts to effect a scheme; it looks like the opposition (to an idea) finds better sense in riots and destruction than parliamentary debates. The conventional consequence (as observed post-Cold War) of this method of opposition is usually a colour revolution, a civil war, and a change of government. Sharing borders with India, China remains a primary US economic adversary.
That establishes a pattern.
(Arindam Mukherjee is a Calcutta-based author and a Learning & Development professional who likes to dabble in Eurasian geopolitics during his spare time.)
Note: This piece is the first part of Mukherjee’s series on Indo-US relations
(Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.)