Indians indeed have never been more confident of their future in history and that is reflected in every field. The elephant is more sure-footed than the Chinese Dragon or the British Lion. This is of course, an analysis, confined to geo-political issues. While all of this may come to naught if say, a San Andreas fault were to open up and swallow the state of California or we continue to rape the environment and ensure that the polar caps melt leading to the ‘Great Flood’. Is it any surprise that all ancient civilisations have their end due to a great flood or ‘pralay’. But short of these events taking place, one is certain that the world would move in the direction of making the 21st century India’s century, if not by design, then by default.
Globalisation as we know it today really began in the 17th century with the growth of sea trade and naval power…
As the world enters the sixteenth year of the 21st century, trends, forces, countries, communities and issues that were barely discernible at the end of the last century are becoming clearer. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Indians have never been as confident about the future of their country as this year. Despite this optimism, internal issues that may pose a danger of regressing into a morass of conflict are noticeable of late. A note of caution is however warranted. Futurology is strewn with the debris of failed prophets such as Fukuyama of Rand Corp. (an important US think tank) who some years ago predicted “The End of History” or his more illustrious predecessor at Rand Corp., Herman Kahn, who had predicted perpetual food riots in India in the year 2000 (‘The Year 2000’ MacMillan Press, 1968, page 300) while in reality India has a buffer stock of nearly 19 million tonnes.
What is instead intended here is to sketch out the dominant trends and add a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with an ‘and’ or ‘or’ rider. For there could occur many a revolution that may completely alter the global landscape, for who would have thought in the 1980s that America’s ‘beloved’ Cold War Mujahideen warriors would some day destroy a New York landmark and kill 5,000 Americans!
A Look at the Past
Globalisation as we know it today really began in the 17th century with the growth of sea trade and naval power. England was undoubtedly the first ‘Global Power’ in that sense and the 19th century can well be called the ‘British Century’. It was often said then that the sun never set on the British Empire! According to a naughty comment by an African diplomat (from Zambia) that was so because even God did not trust the British in darkness! The astute British diplomacy and her mastery of the sea were the two major components of this phenomenon. But before Britain could establish her sway, she fought a hundred-year war with France, her nearest European competitor.
Russia is still recovering economically from the ravages of ‘Communism’…
At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, British imperial power was at its zenith and none could visualise the demise of the British Empire in less than 60 years time. But the clash with Germany in the First World War broke the back of the British Empire. Britain lost close to one million men in that bloody conflict. Unnoticed by most, the US, a late entrant in that war, lost only 50,000 men and yet was the biggest beneficiary of decline of British power. While the war of 1914-1918 signalled the military emergence of the US, the economic centre of gravity had begun to shift to New York from London even earlier. Unknown to most at that time, the US surpassed the British in maritime tonnage at the beginning of the 20th century. The Second World War firmly established the United States as a Super Power. The US also set a trend of fighting its wars on foreign soil, keeping Fortress America safe from the ravages of war. The 20th century was, undoubtedly, dominated by the US.
Under the garb of Communism, the USSR tried to challenge American supremacy but throughout the five-decade long Cold War, there was really only one ‘complete’ Super Power, the US. Russian challenge was confined to the military field alone and economically, she was no match to the US. Even with regard to military might, the US’ ability to project power worldwide was unmatched and is so even today.
Towards the end of the 20th century, this Soviet challenge was also overcome with the collapse of Communism and dissolution of the USSR. It would be fair to comment that the Communist experiment collapsed due to its inherent internal contradictions and weaknesses as much due to any American endeavour. It would be correct to say that the USSR lost the Cold War but not necessarily due to America. Along with the defeat of Communism also occurred the end of the much older Russian Empire in Central Asia.
There appears to be a big ‘if’ as far as Russia attaining Super Power status is concerned…
Russia is still recovering economically from the ravages of ‘Communism’. Its countryside resembles India rather than a developed country; for quite some time, Russia will be busy in ‘Perestroika’ or Rebuilding. The current spurt in assertion is indeed leadership driven by Putin. Although Russia is still an advanced country as far as military technology is concerned, for the next number of years, Russia will be busy (or kept busy by the US) in its neighbourhood. In the medium term, it is bound to be busy fending off Chinese threats to its Far Eastern territories (the Amur region) that is extremely sparsely populated and borders a high population density China. There appears to be a big ‘if’ as far as Russia attaining Super Power status is concerned.
Is US Dominance on the Wane?
Under its Monroe Doctrine and ‘Forward Defence’, within less than five years of the end of the Second World War, the US fought a major war in Korea and lost nearly 50,000 men. Though the Korean War was a stalemate, the Americans still succeeded in saving South Korea. But in Vietnam, where she fought for nearly 18 years, she lost nearly 56,000 men and divided American society. In April 1975, Henry Cabot Lodge, the last American Ambassador fled Saigon in a helicopter leaving the war to end in a disaster for the US. A small country, using tactics of guerrilla warfare, had successfully challenged American military power. Osama Bin Laden’s campaign of terror and present insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, are logical sequels to the Vietnam episode. Possibly what the US lacked was not military power but the astute diplomacy of the British kind.
A small country, using tactics of guerrilla warfare, had successfully challenged American military power…
But like the surpassing of the British maritime tonnage at the beginning of the 20th century, another event that ‘really’ could be called the turning point was reached in the 200th year of American Independence. Yes, one is referring to the breaking of the bond between gold and the dollar- the rock solid $34 for an ounce of Gold! In theory and reality, the dollar was dethroned from its summit from that time onwards. It is a coincidence that the Nixon episode also damaged the US image almost immediately afterwards, most have even forgotten the equally sordid departure of Spiro T Agnew, his Vice Presidential mate. It was in the late seventies that the clamour against the rise of the Japanese economy began in the US. Today, the target is China in manufacturing and India in software!
There is indeed some historical parallel here to the Anglo-German rivalry and America benefiting from it, a clash that favoured and led to the rise of America. In the 20th century, China similarly reaped the benefit of the US-USSR clash. Much of the Chinese ‘miracle’ of today is due to the generous American investment and technology transfers that took place during the Reagan initiated ‘crusade’ against the Soviet Union.
But even more importantly, it is the changing American internal demographic situation that could be a major challenge for future. The Spanish speaking Hispanics and Afro Americans together are in near majority in states such as California, South Carolina and New Mexico. A similar demographic change is underway in many Eastern states. It is only a matter of time before this is reflected in the internal political balance. A million dollars or Henry Kissinger would prefer to say $64,000 (after the most famous crossword puzzle prize) question is “How will the White Anglo Saxon Protestants (WASPs) take this change?” Internal peace in the US would come under increasing pressure in the future. Let us not forget that the Oklahoma bombings were not the work of Osama Bin but of White Supremacists.
In the 20th century, China similarly reaped the benefit of the US-USSR clash…
Hurricane ‘Katrina’ of August 2005 demonstrated not only the American inefficiency in anticipating and dealing with a natural disaster, but also showed deep fissures within the society. A later much less hyped cyclone ‘Wilma’ that hit Florida in October 2005 revealed the soft underbelly of the US. I have it directly from one of the Indian immigrants that in the rich and prosperous locality of Fort Lovedale, people went without electricity for one whole week. Without electricity there was no water either. Imagine the plight of a couple in their 70s, living on the 12th floor! The whole town was also put under ‘curfew’ due to looting! Compared with this even the laid back state government of Maharashtra under Mr Deshmukh reacted swifter to the 26 July 2005 deluge in Mumbai! One really wonders which of the two is a developing country – India or the US?
The US of the 21st century seems to have come a long way from the idealism of Jefferson or Lincoln. What binds the Americans today is the ‘Ideology of Affluence’, with ‘Consumerism’ as the ruling deity. But let none make the mistake that the US is likely to fade away, for such is the surplus of resources over population in the US that even a minor change in the wasteful consumption could usher in American economic solvency. Currently, the US is the biggest debtor nation in the world. For instance, if the Americans were to just take to fuel-efficient and small cars, it would be free from need to import any oil… But if the US does not change, then there are many parallels with the case of the Soviet Union!