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Global Problems and Regional Issues

Thursday, August 16, 2007
Source : The Hindu , 15th August 2007


Rising global tensions and regional unpredictability will affect India; security managers have difficult choices to make
The Cold War era produced its more or less stable tensions of mutually assured destruction as the two superpowers stared across lethal nuclear fences. The transfer of these tensions to the ‘Third World’ where the main antagonists battled each other either through their surrogates or proxies, helped. Besides, these wars helped in other ways. They enabled the testing of new weapons and the transfer of obsolete weapons to others who did not really need them.

Threats to the security of nations was quantifiable in those days in terms of weapon holdings, men under arms and their fitness to do battle; it used to be about ORBATS (Orders of Battle), the enemy’s military-industrial base and similar other indices. The threats were simpler and somewhat predictable, if only one got the enemy’s intention right. Ideology was the excuse.
The Islamic Revolution in Iran against the Great Satan followed by the Afghan jehad against the Communist Infidel created a new Islamic belief of invincibility. The First Gulf War that followed was also the first Nintendo War. U.S. arms might, backed by hi-tech and smart weaponry, was visible for the first time. The war was fought as much on the CNN news channel as on the sands of Iraq. History was being shown and written in real time.

Closer home, the success of the Afghan jehad, helped substantially by U.S. weapons and Saudi money, along with the collapse of the USSR had a message for its Pakistani mentors. They assessed that they could transfer their expertise and the demobilised jehadi foot soldiers to the Kashmiri theatre. It was an opportunity to bleed India, wrest Kashmir and right the wrongs of 1971. Besides, it was necessary to keep these jehadis away from Pakistan and engaged in India.
The 1990s saw two unrelated developments but ultimately one took advantage of the other. Rising Islamic anger against perceived and real wrongs perpetrated by their rulers in league with the Christian West occurred at a time when technology was making rapid strides. Communications became cheaper, faster. The sat-phone and cell phone revolution along with the rise of the Internet meant that a new kind of threat was emerging. It was global, without frontiers. In fact, a cyber war would ensure that the terrorist need not even cross frontiers to strike. The other uncertainty in all this is that there is no knowing where technology will take us, beyond the knowledge that improvements in applied technology will be increasingly rapid, cheap and universally accessible, including to those likely to misuse and undermine existing systems and societal orders.

The counter-terrorist will remain comparatively flat-footed and also unable to agree unequivocally on the definition of the enemy. Intelligence organisations will continue to find that suicide terrorism and catastrophic terrorism will be the most difficult to predict and prevent. Despite all the intelligence, the terrorist will appear unstoppable at times, especially because it is impossible to kill a terrorist who is willing to die.

Terrorism has become truly global and interlinked with narcotics and diamond smugglers, arms traffickers, money launderers and human traffickers. This annual gross criminal product has been estimated to be about $1.5 trillion, making it substantially bigger than the nominal gross domestic product (GDP) of the U.K. Since this ‘industry’ injected so much money into the western economy, there was hardly any incentive to stop the annual cash flow. No national government is able to tackle this menace, and till September 2001 the west was not even interested.

The Global War on Terror is likely to fade away from the main screen in the next few months. It has far too many ugly memories of failure in Iraq and Afghanistan and of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. It will be extremely painful to go into an American election year with these reminders. Besides, states need new threats that are definable and tangible. The rest of us will be left to fight their own battles against terror while the U.S. gets involved in election-year politics.

There is considerable evidence that NATO, following its presence in Afghanistan, is now transforming itself into a global force. A scene from Afghanistan.

In the course of Congressional testimony last February, U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates defined Russia, China and Iran as potential U.S. adversaries. In fact, one can see the beginnings of this as the Anglo-American alliance takes on a resurgent Russia. Vladimir Putin’s Russia will not allow itself to be pushed over into allowing its gigantic energy resources to be the exclusive preserve of the western oil companies. The ballistic missile shields, ostensibly against Iran, are not to be located in Azerbaijan or Turkey but in the Czech Republic and Poland. The message has not been lost on the Russians.

A similar missile defence shield will be located in the Far East, possibly in an increasingly militarised Japan which has been showing growing closeness with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) apart from its existing multifaceted relationship with the U.S. The Chinese have been enquiring about an “Asian NATO” on the Pacific Rim. Globally, China sees itself as major player and worries at this trend that could adversely affect its energy security, economic development and military preparedness. China will view growing India-U.S. relations with similar suspicion even as its own defence expenditure burgeons. It is therefore unlikely to give India much space in the region and will try to restrict Indian influence to its national boundaries.
There is already considerable evidence that NATO, following its presence in Afghanistan, is now transforming itself into a global force. Its tie-ups with Gulf sheikhdoms like Kuwait are being strengthened against possible attacks by Iran, and energy security is the new doctrine. There have been extensive tie-ups between NATO and the Gulf Cooperation Council. The massive U.S. military presence in West Asia with its footprint all over the energy-rich Eurasian belt continues.

New tensions are bound to rise in the months ahead as Russia, China and Iran feel they are being encircled and seek to break out. We may be looking at a Cold War Version 2 with its excessive militarisation. This will happen at a time when the western economies are on a downturn and need some revival. Rising global military expenditures will be handy.
In today’s globalised, networked world, security, in all its definitions, is a more complicated business than it was earlier. Global events have regional effects, and vice versa. Wall Street has an almost immediate impact on Dalal Street. And we in India live in a region where six of our neighbours — Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka — are listed in that order as failed or failing states among the world’s worst 25, by the Washington-based Fund For Peace.

This does not mean that these states will actually collapse in that order or even collapse at all. But it has to be recognised that India does have more than one problem on its borders. The most important among these problems will be the direction Pakistan will take. These may not translate into conventional military threats but they do mean additional socio-economic and demographic problems at a time when India wants to break free as a major global player.

Rising global tensions and regional unpredictability will inevitably affect India. It may no longer be possible to remain non-aligned. The country’s security managers have difficult choices in the months and years ahead as India strives to seek its place in the sun but its rise is constantly hampered by an unsettled neighbourhood.

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