This article was originally published by In Depth News.
Proxy wars between countries was one of the more tragic features of the Cold War between the U.S. and the USSR. Both super-powers fuelled the conflicts supplying military materiel and political support while they piously claimed that nuclear deterrence worked so that they themselves never went to war. The U.S. in particular claimed that the George Kennan doctrine of the “containment” of the USSR worked and ere long the Communist giant imploded obligingly.
Fast forward two decades, and a declining U.S. super power, trapped in economic woes of its own making, is groping for ways to contain a rising China. Proxy wars are no longer possible especially for a super power mired in the morass of Iraq and Afghanistan and encumbered by the unending and ubiquitous “war against terrorism” fighting an unseen enemy.
What better then than to outsource the task of the containment of China to ambitious India and reluctant Japan? That, essentially, is the subtext of the unusually lengthy Joint Statement that came out at the conclusion of President Obama’s recent visit to India and the rationale for his Asian tour. Unsurprisingly both Japan and now India are the chosen candidates of the U.S. for permanent member status in the UN Security Council.
The scenario has been a long time in gestation and operation and spans the presidencies of Bush the Son and of Barak Obama giving it the bipartisan support it needs as national security policy. For India — the world’s most populous democracy unable to match China’s poverty alleviation record and bedevilled by home-grown terrorism — the opportunity to escape the stigma of ostracism following the 1998 nuclear blasts was too good to be true.
The Nehruvian vision of Non-alignment and moral superiority as the key to Great Power status had failed to unlock the door. Now it was self-built economic muscle (and a clever manipulation of the U.S. political system by the wealthy Indian lobby) and a replay of the old “Yellow Peril” cry replayed as a “string of pearls” theory that secured a place at the high table.
The sophistication of Indian diplomacy will ensure that the new game will be played with finesse and without any of the crudity of the earlier proxy wars. It will garner huge bilateral trade and technology-transfer benefits for itself while maintaining normal relations with China competing at the same time for economic payoffs and political influence with China in Asia and Africa with U.S. support.
Japan was settling into a low-key role after brief episode of assertiveness under Koizumi and a succession of bland Prime Ministers with little impact on the international political and economic scene. But China’s ill-conceived saber-rattling over the Diaoyu Tai or Senkaku islands plus Medvedev’s ill-timed visit to the Kuril Islands has made her ready to question China on its intentions in the East and South China Seas, recall its Ambassador from Moscow and play hard ball in the Six Nation Talks over North Korea’s nuclear weapon programme.
It is a dangerous game to play especially since China is able to revive old animosities against the Japanese with its domestic audience and apply economic pressures as well. For the U.S. the revitalization of its old alliance with Japan on the eastern flank of China was long overdue and the rebuff over Okinawa was a sign that Japan had to fall back in line.
While the speculation over the shift of the global centre of gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific goes on, the Atlantic powers — the U.S. and NATO militarily and the U.S. and the EU economically — are not ready to abdicate their role in global affairs. The logical — and inexpensive — way to continue to exert influence in the Pacific and the Indian Oceans is through allies justifying their selection as a natural alliance among “democracies” with a common allegiance to human rights, anti-terrorism and nuclear non-proliferation (giving the Obama slogan of “a nuclear weapon free world” a rest).
The side benefits are to break Non-aligned and G77 solidarity in the UN and other forums like the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round of negotiations and the upcoming Climate Change talks in Cancun isolating China at the same time. Possible irritants in the newly forged U.S.-EU-Japan-India axis will continue to be India’s stance regarding Iran’s nuclear programme, China’s human rights record and Myanmar or Burma’s military junta. The adroit management of this will be a small price to pay rather than giving the Republicans the satisfaction of shredding Obama’s foreign policy as they have done with his domestic policies.