Having spent much of the last months shuttling around Europe, the one big impression I have come away with is that the Old World Order changeth and no one has any idea what a new one it might yieldeth to would look like. International diplomacy and academia have entered turbulent times, and as one senior UK climate scientist put it, “We have not entered the Age of Post Truth as we have that of Post Trust”.
The lack of trust among senior global leaders is not confined to old East-West or Christian-Islam divides: it has transcended those conventional divisions, sharpened old ones and damaged those between old allies such as US and Germany or UK and the EU. It seems to have started with the very “success” of the West with the collapse of the Soviet Union. As per the chief architect of the Cold War George Kennan as well as the most astute US diplomat of recent times Henry Kissinger, NATO should have been downsized with the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. Instead, its expansion right to the borders of Russia meant that, according to those wizened diplomats, sooner or later Russia would react back. Kissinger argues that a stable world order has emerged only when the ostensible victors have brought the vanquished into the fold with dignity, as happened after Westphalia in the mid-17th Century or the Second World War more recently: it failed when the vanquished were humiliated as with Germany after the Versailles treaty in 1919.
Now we see that Versailles has been repeated in the New World Order promulgated by Bush (the Father)-Clinton-Blair combo and the EU after the collapse of the Berlin Wall as they dealt with Russia. The Russians were humiliated not only by the “loot of liberalization” by West-backed Harvard’s Russia privatization project and the robber-baron oligarchs they promoted but also by the direct US intervention to get the alcoholic Boris Yeltsin elected in 1996 to facilitate that loot. The elevation of Putin was the first Russian step towards that reaction predicted by Kennan and Kissinger, although till about 2010, Putin was still trying for a new rapprochement with “nashi partnyori” or “our partners” as he calls the West. The rift came in 2011 first with Libya, then Syria and finally with Ukraine: Putin and the Russians see those events as interconnected and leading to an unacceptable imposing the West’s will on the Middle-East and Russian borderlands. They promised to resist, and they have.
Muammar Gaddafi was assassinated after capture by NATO-backed rebels in 2011 and after he had spent a decade attempting to befriend the West: he terminated any vestige of a nuclear program, paid compensation for the Lockerbie plane bombing, and even secretly tortured prisoners of “extraordinary rendition” for the CIA on Libyan soil for its “war on terror.” He also kept the country’s huge petro funds in Western banks, despite its devaluation with controlled inflation, after handshakes with Tony Blair. Despite all that, as Hillary Clinton put it crudely, “we came, we saw, he died!” And Libya today has descended into anarchy that is the springboard of massive refugee exodus to Europe, which in turn is fueling the rising rightwing reaction across the EU. Putin said publicly in his interview that he would not allow this to happen to any Russian ally in the future, notably Asad of Syria, and he has kept his promise.
Ukraine was another red line for Putin. Given US State Department’s Assistant Secretary Victoria Nuland’s admission that the US spent five billion dollars to usher in “colour-coded” regime change in Kiev; given that the Russians saw the move as a NATO attempt to capture their Sevastopol Black Sea Fleet base; given that the Russian nation was born in Crimea in the year 900AD when Prince Vladimir was baptized into Orthodox Christianity there after the competing Islamic clerics lost the debate he had organized between the two competing faiths, and given that Crimea had always been part of Russia from the time of Catharine the Great until Khrushchev who, in a drunken spree, lumped it with Soviet Ukraine in 1954, it was inconceivable that Russia would just sit back and let that happen. They did not, and now the price is being paid primarily by the EU.
Sanctions are ineffective– they have never worked, not on Iran, not on North Korea and not even on Cuba just off the US coast for over half a century. Their net result has been that EU agriculture that occupied some 40% of the Russian market lost it to Brazil, Turkey, India and Israel. Conversely, Russia for the first time since 1905 began investing in its own long-neglected agriculture as Putin’s response to the sanctions; and in 2016 it has become the world’s leading exporter of wheat. Indeed, its agriculture exports in 2015 to some 140 countries was estimated at $20 billion, an increase of more than a third in one year of sanctions and 25% more than its arms export earnings and fully one third of its earnings from export of natural gas. Contrary to Western media portrayal, it is certainly far and away not the “gas station masquerading as a nation” that the hawkish US Senator John McCain calls Russia!
Couple these developments with the phenomenal rise of China as an economic, political and military power – Xi Jinping and not the US president is now the primary leader of the Davos globalizers; and its richest man, Jack Ma of Alibaba can calmly tell Trump that China is not stealing US jobs, that Americans have essentially bankrupted themselves with too many wars. China’s OBOR and BRICS bank initiatives provides a new “grand development narrative” hope for much of the non-Western world and it has roped in all the rising economies, despite US opposition. Couple this with the total confusion in Europe with the Brexit issue, the rise of fissiparous federalism politics in a rather dis-United Kingdom with talks of Scottish and Northern Ireland independence, and the pressure by Trump for EU countries to put up two percent of their GDP into defense spending. It means, even as Trump slashed the US State Department budget by a quarter, Europeans too will have to sacrifice their development aid and research funding to meet their own arms race requirements. So bad are the relations between Western allies that Angela Merkel and Trump could not even shake hands in public, something more reminiscent of the glum Obama-Putin encounter at their last G8 summit in Britain in 2013.
What does all this mean for Nepal? It would be difficult to find any senior politician among the political parties guided by the notorious 2005 Delhi 12-point Deal that even understands these tectonic shifts in global geopolitics. A simple indicator as proof would suffice: hardly four decades ago, Nepali student unions would have spent a good deal of their time and energy on international issues such as Vietnam, Angola, Palestine, non-alignment, disarmament etc. We have just seen recent student elections here where, forget international politics, there was no debate whatsoever by tomorrow’s leaders on anything pertaining to serious Nepali national issues such as the constitution, federalism or anything else. Such infertile minds cannot in anyway guide Nepal safely between the rock of assertive Hindutva and Sinophobia of the BJP to the South and the ruthlessly hard place to the North where capitalism marches remorselessly as its internal logic dictates it must (witness West Seti!). The Age of Western Aid has ended, and the sooner we get leaders who recognize that setting star against the backdrop of rising ones to the north and the south, the safer for Nepal in the turbulent times ahead; but don’t expect that to show up miraculously without much sweat and tears in the days ahead.