Geopolitics

World sans a Global Policeman: Turmoil as US exits
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Issue Vol. 34.1 Jan-Mar 2019 | Date : 02 Mar , 2019

“It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” — President George W. Bush, 2005

“For the more lasting peace that can only come through opportunity and freedom for people everywhere, American leadership entails our willingness to act on behalf of human dignity.” — President Barack Obama, 2014

“It is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. It would be a dangerous idea to believe that we could make Western democracies out of countries that had no experience or interests in becoming a Western democracy.” — President Donald Trump, 2016

Seventy-four years of US global leadership, of which forty-six were shared with the erstwhile USSR seems to be making the US weary of this responsibility. As is evident from the quotes of the three US Presidents’ above, there is a perceptible shift to substantially embrace the idea of “America First”. It is likely that it will only gather momentum in 2019 and into year of the next US Presidential election in November 2020.

A “Global Policeman”. There has been no formal recognition of this position, but it has been around since the days of the British Empire. Pax Britannica (Latin for “British Peace”, modelled after Pax Romana and later Pax Mongolica) was the period of relative peace between the Great Powers during which the British Empire became the global hegemonic power and adopted the role of a global policeman. Since 1945 the United States of America, the most influential of the Four Policemen victorious in World War II inherited this mantle. This era of Pax Americana is primarily used in its modern connotations to refer to the peace among great powers established after the end of World War II in 1945, also called the Long Peace. In this modern sense, it has come to indicate the military and economic position of the United States in relation to other nations.

Theoretically, in international law, all nations are equal; ‘par in parem non habet imperium’ – no authority between equals, is the principle applied. In reality, international law is “decentralised, unpoliced, unenforceable, unclear and frequently broken”. States are ‘immortal’ and cannot be indicted – because of prohibition against any threat or use of force under the ‘jus cogens’ norms of modern international law.

Since 1945 the United States of America, the most influential of the Four Policemen victorious in World War II inherited this mantle. This era of Pax Americana is primarily used in its modern connotations to refer to the peace among great powers established after the end of World War II in 1945, also called the Long Peace.

Interestingly, within states, law restrains and limits power; between states, the opposite is true!!

Policing within states is based on the Peelian principles of policing by an ethical police force. A police force is regarded as a ‘citizen in uniform’.  They exercise their powers to police their fellow citizens with the implicit consent of those fellow citizens – since India’s governance methods are still in the ‘colonial’ mode it surely does not remotely apply to the Indian context!! “Policing by consent” indicates that the legitimacy of policing in the eyes of the public is based upon a general consensus of support that follows from transparency about their powers, their integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability for doing so. In contrast, a global policeman is self-appointed, from among the ranks of the most powerful and ambitious states of the world owed to it being an economically robust and militarily heavily armed state from among the two hundred odd states. To confer the role of ‘global policeman’ on any self-interested, expansionary state implies a conflict of interest. (“A conflict of interest is a set of circumstances that creates a risk that professional judgement or actions regarding a primary interest will be unduly influenced by a secondary interest.”)  These states wage war with maximum force; engage in arms sales; form alliances and thus lack impartiality – that’s where the conflict of interest lies.

There are two schools of thought on the fundamental concept of a global policeman. First believes in the need of a global policeman basically in terms of law, order and authority. They argue that growing US disinclination to assert order is the key reason for a more chaotic world. The second prefers to let regional groupings and entities take initiative to work things out among themselves. This school holds a counter-perspective in a more multi-lateral global environment.

In sum, a global policeman is a country geographically large (or a colonial power), amply bestowed with mineral resources (or has captive sources to exploit the same), militarily strong, at the forefront in R&D and technology, economically robust, has a strong dominant currency, a large manufacturing capacity, skilled human capital and an burning desire and ambition to control and orchestrate world affairs to suit its own interests. They dictate the world order as they have dictated it. Thus, it is claimed, this policeman (or policemen) prevents the world spinning out of control into chaos and nuclear war!!!

In an earlier century the British Empire played this role, although contested by Germany, France, Spain and Portugal. Now the neoconservatives and liberal interventionists wave the red flag against what they see as US abandonment of its ‘moral duty, leaving the world in the lurch’. They have a long list of duties the US has failed to do. A glance at this list will give an idea of the semblance of control that the policeman can exercise. The list includes non-removal of the Kim dynasty in North Korea, Assad in Syria, not blocking the referendum that reincorporated Crimea into Russia, not bringing about a regime change in Iran, not backing Saudi Arabia against Qatar which has caused a split in the Gulf, not deploying sufficient force in Afghanistan to end the civil conflict, not established firmer lines in the South China Sea and not backing Ukraine enough against Russia and the list goes on. They also have an equally long list of what the US neglected where its benign intervention, by their reckoning, would have altered the situation favourably in US national interest. 

To confer the role of ‘global policeman’ on any self-interested, expansionary state implies a conflict of interest. These states wage war with maximum force; engage in arms sales; form alliances and thus lack impartiality – that’s where the conflict of interest lies.

The US tax payer is asking troubling questions:–

  • Why should the US spill its blood and money around the world to enforce democracy at gunpoint?
  • How does it benefit the ordinary citizen if the US maintains its position of pre-eminence in the world?
  • Why should US prevent other nations from pursuing their own national interests?
  • How long can the US champion human rights and ethical governance and direct international order? 

The question that arises now is that if US does retreat to its secure bastion insulated between the Pacific in the East, Atlantic to the West, a balmy Canada to the North and a walled off Mexico to the South, how will the rest of the world cope with the expected geopolitical tremors? Will the world be a cauldron boiling over with anarchy, decaying democracy, shredded human rights, world order in disarray, the common goods in tatters, global commons usurped by the powerful, authoritarian and oppressive regimes goose stepping across the globe, rampant proliferation of nuclear devices, and an ideological vacuum? In essence, will the whole of humanity be in shambles – each to himself!? It just may be so if all nations also follow America and start to follow the “my country first” concept. Meaning that the rest of the world is there to be exploited for each one’s own national interest irrespective what is left over for the rest.

National interest and nationalism have an aggressive undertone – as George Orwell said that nationalism is the “worst enemy of peace”. Nationalism means to give more importance to unity by way of a cultural background, including language and heritage – monoethnicity!! While nationalism and patriotism both show the relationship of an individual towards his or her nation, patriotism pertains to the love for a nation, with more emphasis on values and beliefs. But then who decides how far to go? Autocratic regimes will not pause to consider general well-being of humanity. These are deeply moral questions where the larger good of humanity is allowed to be slaughtered at the altar of national interest and nationalism.

It is often expressed by world leaders that the world is undergoing profound changes and is confronted with complex security challenges. America once advocated for a “new world order”, now it seems to prefer “no world order”! Russian President Putin when addressing the UN General Assembly in May 2015 had attributed the deterioration in world affairs to the West’s “foolhardy intervention on behalf of democratic revolution”. He had also stated that “it should be the UN and not some agglomeration of prosperous Western powers guaranteeing peace and security for all”. Chinese President Xi Jinping in his report to the 19th Party Congress in October 2017 had said: “Both China and the world are in the midst of profound and complex changes… prospects are bright but challenges are severe.” In June 2018, Indian Prime Minister Modi in his keynote address at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore had said: “There are shifts in global power…. The foundations of global order appear shaken. And, the future looks less certain…. This is a world of interdependent fortunes and failures. And, no nation can shape and secure it on its own.” The US National Intelligence Strategy accesses the strategic environment to be changing rapidly and being “increasingly complex more diverse and interconnected in an uncertain world…. The increasingly complex, interconnected and transnational nature of these threats also underscores the importance of cooperation with international partners and allies.”

Recently the Head of NATO, Andres Fogh Rasmussen had stated: “The world needs a policeman if freedom and prosperity are to prevail against forces of oppression and the only capable, reliable and desirable candidate is US.”

National interest and nationalism have an aggressive undertone – as George Orwell said that nationalism is the “worst enemy of peace”. Nationalism means to give more importance to unity by way of a cultural background, including language and heritage – monoethnicity!!

However, in reality the support for US policing the world is diminishing – or perhaps policing by any single state. If the world’s security situation and global economy is truly in such a tumultuous state of flux then there is every chance that there will be chaos if the US were to retract and shun its role as global policeman and no one capable is willing to step into the void. Today Russia is deeply involved with rebuilding itself and China is still primarily a regional actor. Europe is weak, divided and leaderless. France and Britain are simply too small and exhausted to play a global role. India?! It does not figure in the global strategic calculus. Who then will draw the “red lines” that the US once did? It would be axiomatic that if policing is required it should involve a group of major international players which could include the European Union, Russia, China, possibly India and of course the UN – they should then be drawing the “red lines”.

To be relevant, the UN needs to be more oriented to the current century than continue to be hidebound by its archaic format and systems of functioning. Britain and France today have a negligible footprint in global affairs and therefore their continuing presence in the UN Security Council is in itself questionable. Even if these two countries remain as members, there is an urgent need to revamp the UNSC by inducting India, Germany, Japan, Brazil, Canada and maybe even Indonesia; thus making it more representative and globally aligned. European Union should be taken as one seat in the UNSC now that it is contemplating an EU armed force which would mean that Britain, France and Germany are amalgamated into one EU seat in the UNSC. All these nine (US, Canada, Brazil, EU, Russia, China, India, Japan and Indonesia) members should have veto powers but with a modification – veto on any issue would be valid if there is a two-third majority vote. This would ensure that one or two countries cannot obstruct what the majority vote for thus making the process more democratic in form too.

With the collapse of the USSR in 1991 the Warsaw Pact too disintegrated. The Russians demanded that NATO which was raised to counter any threat from the Warsaw Pact countries should also be dismantled. On the contrary NATO expanded and included erstwhile Warsaw Pact countries. So the western powers cannot be absolved of the responsibility for the continuing state of a tense security situation in the region.

US President’s criticism of NATO’s dependence on US to shoulder the responsibility of defence of Europe and their reluctance in spending for defence got the EU thinking. The mood in the European Union on military affairs is undergoing a seismic shift. Policymakers across the Continent finally agree that hard power — long viewed as antithetical to the EU’s raison d’être — is now essential to the bloc’s survival. But it remains far from certain that European capitals can find the political will, the technical capabilities, the financial resources and, most fundamentally, the mutual trust necessary to transform the EU into a military superpower capable of countering Russia, acting independently of the United States, or ultimately wielding global influence. These doubts notwithstanding nine countries, including Britain (not with-standing the outcome of BREXIT), have signed for a joint intervention force.

For India to be geopolitically relevant in the future it will need to recast its national strategy. If the political construct is based on the notion of having at the Centre a “majboor sarkar” instead of a “majboot sarkar” (a helpless government instead of strong government) then India cannot aspire to be anything but a ‘helpless’ power if not a ‘hopeless’ power.

Seriously contemplating the situation in a world sans the US policeman brings to fore many questions. Is it that with the US exit from its role as the global policeman arena, chaos will be writ large? Will the forces of oppression rule the roost? Will Islamic fundamentalists simply fade away into oblivion? Will the Muslim migrant problem in Europe be resolved by the migrants returning to their homeland? Will Islamic fundamentalists see a victory in the US exit and then unleash mayhem in non-Islamic nations? Will regime changes not be necessary? Will an alternate political ideology to democracy now be enforced through the ‘barrel of the gun’?  Will authoritarian regimes headed by ‘Alpha Males’ be the order of the day? Will everyone turn a blind eye to serious violations of human rights and oppression of innocent people? Will global commons now become the exclusive domain of the powerful? What about the whole nuclear weapons security regime? Will FMCT, NPT, PTPT, CTBT (signed in 1996 but yet to enter into force) and TPNN (opened for signature in 2017 and has yet to enter into force) still be enforceable (because those violating these treaties have along been supported by China and Russia)? What about NSG, MTCR, Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation and the Wassenaar Arrangement will these still be relevant? Is the UN initiative for “Securing our Common Future: An Agenda for Disarmament” to “disarm to save humanity” be of any worth or value? Will nations be the ultimate identity for a person and an individual will merely become a numerical figure in national statistics? Will globalisation and interdependence in a “global village” just wither away?

From this list of questions above, the enormity of the challenges for the nations of the world are enormous. Hard decisions will have to be taken for the collective good of humanity. For that there will need of leaders with mettle.

Where does India figure in the scheme of things? What is preventing India in rising to its full potential? First, is that India is being weighed down by its systemic mediocrity by way of the policy of ‘reservations’. Second, the division of society for political vote bank on the basis of religion, caste, region and language.  Third, the polity has lacked vision for the systametic growth of the nation post the Nehru era. Fourth, having built a system of governance where there is authority but no accountability. Fifth, the political class and bureaucracy are not exposed adequately through appropriate training to understand national strategy and develop a requisite strategic culture. Sixth, the abject failure of successive governments to make India self-reliant in its needs of military hardware. Seventh, the civil military relations have degenerated to a competitive nature for mere ‘status’ which seems the be all and end all in India.  Eighth, consequently, the armed forces are being equated to a police force. Ninth, as a result government feels no need to seek advice of the armed forces and thus fail to comprehend the use of hard power to protect or pursue its national interests. Tenth, the nations of the developing world have an arsenal in their soft power, hard power, smart power and now it includes sharp power; India has been over-confident in its ability to resolve geopolitical and geostrategic issues through soft power alone while the world has suitably balanced these four powers to acquire comprehensive power.

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For India to be geopolitically relevant in the future it will need to recast its national strategy. If the political construct is based on the notion of having at the Centre a “majboor sarkar” instead of a “majboot sarkar” (a helpless government instead of strong government) then India cannot aspire to be anything but a ‘helpless’ power if not a ‘hopeless’ power. India has an exaggerated view of its own self-worth. The reality is that if just ‘nine’ persons in the country have the wealth equalling that of 50 percent of the population (as per a news report) then either these people have looted this country unabashedly or then the poor are extremely extremely poor!! Indian politics has been subverted by the underworld and is oriented to serve this clientele. For long governance and development had been incidental. It is likely that such regimes may return to power and take India down to the dumps once again. Such pessimism here is not unwarranted. Having said this before, that while other nations script for their people a ‘dream’ for their future, India seems content to let its people live in its miserable ‘nightmare’ and ascribe it to be their destiny. India needs to introspect.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen (Dr) JS Bajwa

is Editor Indian Defence Review and former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command and Director General Infantry.  He has authored two books Modernisation of the People's Liberation Army and  Modernisation of the Chinese PLA

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2 thoughts on “World sans a Global Policeman: Turmoil as US exits

  1. Gen Bajwa (India!!) as always hits the hammer on the head extremely hard with his incisively analytical ideas, however the targeted heads are like concrete, thoroughly mixed and permanently set.
    The political leadership and bureaucracy need to get off the gravy train before it gets derailed.
    Time to focus on national power projection through strong military and economy rather than focusing on retaining political power with divisive activities.

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