Friday, May 23, 2008

C. Raja Mohan: Changing Geopolitical Dynamics

I lamented the lack of coverage or discussion in the U.S. press about the recent IBSA, BRIC, and RIC meetings. Fortunately, those interested in some excellent analysis of these developments can peruse C. Raja Mohan's essay in today's issue of the Straits Times. [Although one still has to go to a non-U.S. Anglophone outlet for the discussion.]

The piece is quite useful because it avoids the Scylla of seeing every meeting where the U.S. is not involved as a harbinger of a new global anti-American alliance (the Pravda approach) and the Charybdis of being dismissive about these developments (the "nothing will come of them" approach so common in Washington).

Why are we seeing these new groups emerge? Because countries want to, as Steven Weber and his authors noted last year, "use the forces of globalization to gradually revise the terms of their connection with the Western world in ways that enhance their autonomy." They want to hedge. They want options apart from accepting or fighting a "unipolar moment."

So, what Mohan says here is quite important: "There is no doubt they would love to see the US taken down a peg or two. Yet, improving relations with the US is the highest priority in all their respective foreign policies. In banding together, each hopes to leverage on the others to improve its own negotiating position with Washington."

I also thought his discussion about the multiple interests and identities a country may have and which a country may use in making its associations important, especially for those here in DC who want to reduce everything to simple binary choices. India can be a democracy associated in the "quad" (with the U.S., Japan and Australia); it can be an Asian power; it can want to balance China; it can want to hedge against the United States; it can be a southern democracy in IBSA.

But there is a shift in the global balance of power.

His conclusion? "... the BRICs forum is a wake-up call to the US and the West. For far too long, the West has deluded itself that a rapidly changing world can be managed by tinkering with such institutions as the UN Security Council, Nato and the G-8.
But the history of international relations tells us it is never easy to reform old institutions. It makes more sense to devise new ones that reflect the changing global distribution of power. Over the long term, a new global directorate is bound to emerge. The BRICs forum is part of the unfolding contest as to how an enduring international core might be constituted."

I recommend the essay to you and wish stateside readers of TWR a restful and peaceful Memorial Day (and hope people will reflect on the origins of this holiday, which was not to start the summer shopping season.)

India can be a democracy associated in the "quad" (with the U.S., Japan and Australia); it can be an Asian power; it can want to balance China; it can want to hedge against the United States; it can be a southern democracy in IBSA.

Japan is not a “southern democracy”. Otherwise…

There are differences to be sure. Recent history plus the nuclear umbrella have made it more difficult for us to do the kind of things towards the United States that states like France and India have routinely gotten away with. Or, conversely, to stand by you like those other Anglo nations.

Still, we have carved out divergent policy trajectories with regard to nuclear disarmament and the Palestine Question. So why stop there? If everybody else and its cousin is recalibrating its relationship with the United States, then it is only prudent to imagine what other bilateral elements we may want to change, and how we want to do that, for the sake of our own national interest, no?

Are we of the West? And is this question even relevant for us?

Questions, questions…
You are not the West and can never be so; however, you are in the same alliance since you have common adversaries - Unified Korea, China, and Russia.

At the same time, you are not fully sovereign thus you cannot chart an independent policy vis-a-vis the Middle East, for example. In this sense, you are condemned to geopolitical insignificance just Like Brazil and Argentina.

Do not forget, it is all about Power almost all of the times and not about values, or religion, or culture.

I had our national interest when I referred to "the West". I now see that I should have made that more explicit. My apologies.

Having said that, "adversaries"? Are you sure? Beyond North Korea's WMD programs, I can and have in the past made a defendable case that China is not the military threat that the hardliners believe it to be. Russia sees China, not Japan, the main geopolitical threat in the Far East. The Russia-NATO conflict is even further beyond our orbit. As for what a united Korea will do, let's wait and see what it does with North Korea's WMD programs.

In other words, consider the geopolitical interests in play, and rethink national priorities accordingly.
Per your points, if you are discounting the threats posed by the Unified Korea, China, and Russia then why do not you ask US to leave Japan, break your existing mutual defense treaties, and chart an independent course?

In regards to Korea: South Koreans state: "WE now have nuclear weapons."
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