Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why Save the American Empire?


The strategic culture in India is heavily dependent on realist paradigms that comprehend international relations only in terms of anarchy and self help. Many in the strategic community deftly ignore the salience of critical studies in understanding of the changing dynamics in the international political economy and also the relevance of empires in guiding the global security agenda. According to Joseph Nye, “Not since Rome has one nation loomed so large above the others. Indeed, the word ‘empire’ has come out of the closet.” But the Indian intelligentsia feels apologetic about using the word empire to describe America. The hesitation results from the fact that critical examination of empire naturally leads to studying in detail the exploitative relations carved out by the international capitalist order and the role of the comprador class in the developing world in sustaining such an order. Therefore, to avoid complications, realist models are adopted – these models offer an expedient explanation for the elite in the developing world to perceive parity with the empire in the global arms markets.

The net result of strategic myopia is that the understanding of India’s position in the changing world continues to be based on a belief that the structural realism straitjacket woven by Western scholars is the most apt fit for nations like India. Kautaliya, India’s Machiavelli is often invoked to justify purchase of arms. Kautaliya’s famous quote,  ‘My enemy’s enemy is my friend’ is being increasingly used - to adopt a more confrontationist stance vis-à-vis China - and for getting cozy with the United States. It is mainly for these reasons that the current foreign policy discourse in India is predominated by the following wishful thinking,

• America is too big to fall
• China will not be able to sustain its growth rate and its internal political struggle will weaken it further
• India must become a regional power and the only route to becoming one goes through Washington
I consider it wishful thinking because there is hardly any empirical data that supports such assertions of the realist community in India. When you ask them why should India send its meager naval resources to South China sea –K M Pannikar’s 1945 book and his advocacy of naval bases is dug out to justify India’s quest to expand its maritime forces. The question that comes to mind is, why are many of the thinking Indians (if not the Indian government) behaving in a particular fashion vis-à-vis China? What is their motivation and what is it that they wish to achieve?

The rise of anti-China cottage industry
Inspired by American think-tanks, a cottage industry has sprung up in India that works overtime to locate reasons to confront China - ranging from perceived Chinese incursions into Indian territory to the general aggressiveness in Chinese demeanour.  A big chunk of strategic community and armed forces think-tanks are engaged in commenting and also to a large extent shaping the Indian foreign policy directions - many of them constantly urge India to shed its cocoon and come out into the open to confront the Chinese.

As the Indian version of John Mearsheimer, Bharat Karnad, says, “Over the years, the Indian armed services have become… cautious, defensive, incremental in thought and action, and risk-averse when it comes to China. The ultimate offensive realist, Karnad goes to the extent of saying it may be prudent to arm... Vietnam, with everything Hanoi desires, including the nuclearised Brahmos supersonic cruise missile.” Similar sentiments are being openly expressed by others who want Indian ships to be almost permanently anchored in South China Sea. At another level the Indian National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon has initiated a debate revolving around the ‘use of force’ by India. In his address at the Cariappa Memorial Lecture, he brought out, “Today we are in a position to make a greater contribution to global public goods in areas such as maritime security. At the same time we are moving towards an Indian doctrine for the use of force.”

Kanard’s arguments intend to catapult India to becoming the regional power without wasting any time, Menon adopts a more nuanced approach hinting at sharing the global (or rather American) burden of providing ‘public goods’ (a euphemism for sharing the American burden of policing the world) in global security domain – a step by step approach – beginning with sending a more innocuous looking navy out - followed, perhaps, by unshackling the Indian army troops to operate under the command of an American general.

Most of these talks about changing the ‘use of force’ doctrine and taking the Indian Navy to South China Sea are also being simultaneously debated in Japan and Australia. Japan, for the first time in post war history has started operating a naval base in Djibouti – it wants to become a ‘normal state’ fast. A normal state would mean a country that exercises total control over the means of violence at its disposal. However, many in Japan – much like many strategists in India - feel that being ‘normal’ means being towed by American ships to hostile regions to off-load ‘public goods’.

Even the Australian strategic community is talking only China. A recent paper produced by three think-tanks - Lowy Institute of Australia, India’s Observer Research Foundation and the conservative Heritage Foundation from the USA has recommended, “The United States should form a three-way security dialogue with India, in part to help counter any naval aggression from China.” ASPEN Institute, an American think-tank based in India recently released its Joint Study Group Report that urged India to “continue to welcome the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific as an indispensible contribution to Asia’s stability, peace, and security.” The report lures India into joining the “so-called Quad states (the United States, India, Japan, and Australia)’ by stating that, “The United States, as the preeminent global power, matters crucially to India’s rise as a great power. The United States and India have a shared vital national interest in preventing a unipolar Asia.” Many other think-tanks in US, like the MacArthur Foundation, International Assessment and Strategic Centre (the title of one of the articles “Looking Forward: Call for war in the South China Sea”), Carnegie Endowment for International peace and many other are busy churning out monographs, papers and books to feed the Indian strategic community almost on a regular basis as to how to recognize the reasons for rivalry with China. According to Ashley Tellis “the world’s two most populous states are doomed to rivalry as their power and interests expand.”

In the month of August, Financial Times, London and a day later the Wall Street Journal published reported that a Chinese warship confronted an Indian navy vessel shortly after it left a Vietnamese port in late July in the first such encounter between the two countries’ navies in the South China Sea. This story was denied by both the Indian Navy as well the Ministry of External Affairs, but none of these denials by the Indian establishment have deterred the Indian media as well the analysts from using this incident to corroborate their theories relating to the Chinese aggressive behavior and therefore, a matching response from India.

Towards 50 years of uninterrupted peace with China
Almost 50 years have passed since the last Sino-India war in 1962. For all these years, India never had any problems with China related to any issue. In fact, even the differences related to the border were put on a backburner. However, of late, we see one issue or another being raked up almost on a daily basis to create mistrust between India and China. The way venom against China is spread in seminars and media; one feels that war with China will happen sooner rather than later.

This brings us to question the real motives of making India more aggressive. Is it in the larger interest of India that Asia becomes a conflict zone? It is certainly in the American interests that its hegemony in Asia Pacific is maintained at all costs. The question that begs answer is why should the onus of saving the American empire fall on India’s head? Why should we feel morally obliged to make sure that China is not able to disturb the American hegemony? China is our biggest trading partner, what we will achieve by confronting them and keeping ourselves continuously engaged in finding faults with Beijing rather than diverting our energies in exploring areas of cooperation. We have the example of Pakistan in front of us – It has taken Pakistan almost 60 years - to grant India the most favoured trading partner status - realize that confronting India at the behest of America has not yielded any dividends to them. And here is India, almost dying to commit the same mistakes as Pakistan by following the US dictates.
Understanding the Empire

To a common man the road to great power status is simple –just as China has used America to become powerful - India too can become a great power by courting America. But the essential point is Sino–US relations developed in the Cold War times and Beijing understood the rhythms of American empire well. The hierarchies of layers that form the empire can be summarized as – money (US treasury, federal bank), military (Pentagon), MNCs (trade) – with money forming the center of gravity of the empire.

In the late 1970s the reform process started in China - it began courting the American MNCs to open up its trade. During this period, China gave no leeway to the US to even glance at its military. Nor did the Chinese ever made any attempts to learn or purchase military hardware from their American friends. So, in effect the Chinese interacted with the MNCs - the bottom level of the empire. However, by the end of the 20th century, China had acquired considerable economic clout, yet it never targeted confronting or courting the US military. But it had understood that the US empire could be tamed only by penetrating its financial structures – the top layer of the empire. While America was engaged in militarily planning to deny China from crossing the ‘first island chain’, China was quietly buying the US bonds and by the end of first decade of 21st century, China has caught the bull by the horns – determining the US financial and economic health - something that the USSR could not achieve despite their 12000 nuclear weapons. The Soviets had committed the mistake of interacting with the American empire at the level of their military and remaining indifferent to the MNCs and the money power. The dreams woven by the dollar power intoxicated leaders like Gorbachev to give up communism and therefore, his empire in central Asia and east Europe.

India, a big military manpower market for the empire
The Indian strategic elite that feigns ignorance of the imperial games, is just keen to join the bandwagon at any level. After the end of Cold War, New Delhi tried to join the empire through the MNCs - becoming an ardent fan of the ‘Washington consensus’ – jumping around at the world economic forum with a list of Indian middle class. But all this hardly impressed the Americans. Therefore, trade with America did not grow as per the Indian dreams. The Americans had different designs on India – they were eyeing the huge military manpower market in India. They had learnt well from the Indian colonial history that it was the military manpower from India that helped the British expand its empire far and wide into Africa. Thus began the process of making India join with the empire at the level of military. Joint naval exercises, intelligence sharing, training the best Indian armed forces officers under the IMET programs and much more started. The Indian elite and specially the Indian military elite were happy to be associated with the mightiest military power on earth – hoping to learn the tricks of ruling the world. But what the Indian elite are forgetting in the process are the lessons from the current history of Pakistan, Egypt and even NATO countries that had joined the stepped up military ladder to be in the good books of the empire. Empires don’t allow others to penetrate their military structure so easily – the Americans never divulged their military secrets even to NATO members and ensured that the technological gap was always maintained.

As far as the armed forces like Pakistan were concerned – they are at best given the status of a non-commissioned-officer (NCO) by the Pentagon. Such armies are treated by the empire as cannon fodder. It is for this reason that India’s eagerness to impress the empire by offering their military defies all logic. If Pakistan armed forces are NCOs, India cannot hope to be more than a junior commissioned officer (JCO) in the Pentagon’s scheme of things.

The armed forces are not  commodities that you put on the table as bargaining chips with the empire. Because once a country mortgages its military, it loses control over it. And this is exactly the situation in India- encouraged by their American friends, the armed forces are displaying increasing tendencies to identify their corporate interest and rock the civil-military boat. Small issues like the army chief’s age are being used to assert the independence of the armed forces. The fear is not that the civil-military relations will deteriorate to threaten the democracy in India, but the concerns are related to the fact that both the armed forces and the civilian establishment in the country should operate as one single entity and march in step.  Currently,  on some issues the two seem to be out of step.

The US has always found it convenient to deal with any country directly through its military - our strategy should be to deny US this space.  It is for this reason alone that  the Indian civilian establishment must sit with the armed forces and strengthen bonds and develop a clear understanding of the direction in which America is moving and trying to tow India along. Such an understanding can only come if we begin by doing a dispassionate analysis of the way the American empire is headed and what is happening in the domain of global money supply chains.

America, a falling empire
Just two decades ago - after a fantastic victory in Cold War- the United States of America had its chest out and chin up. But the 21st century America looks different. It is not the America that - weathered the defeat in Vietnam War with grace - stood tall against the Soviet encroachments into its empire - and more recently that demolished the threat of Islamic terrorism with a vengeance.

Yes, today, the US is an ‘emperor without clothes’. Despite its almost total dominance in the global military domain, its body language defies its status as the emperor of the world. It stands naked - its true monetary worth lies exposed. The Rothschild banking dynasty that strongly believed, “give me control of a nation’s money supply, and I care not who makes its laws,” is being openly questioned. As Benjamin Fulford at truth11.com tells us – “In fact, the entire Rothschild banking monopoly is in deep trouble. The IMF and the World Bank existed to force the Rothschild banking system on the countries of the world. “Our goal is to reboot the system, to start over and set all the parameters in a fair way so that all countries benefit from the pooled assets of the people of the world and not just Europe and North America.”

The process of rebooting has started through the ‘occupy wall street” movement. Where people are not directing their rage against - political class or a particular legislation, they are standing up against the overarching power of money that singly handedly controls all human interactions and relations on planet earth. As Jhon Hollway in a wonderful piece written in the Guardian brings out, “We rage against the government. But we know there is no answer there. Representative democracy holds our rage entrapped: like a rat in a maze, we run from one party to another but there is no exit. Things do not and cannot get better because behind political power stands another, greater power – the power of capital; the power of money.” Questioning the very validity of capitalist democracies, Robert Jensen (Aljazeera) opines, “For all the trappings of formal democracy in contemporary US, everyone understands that for the most part, the wealthy dictate the basic outlines of public policies. This is cogently explained by political scientist Thomas Ferguson’s “investment theory of political parties”, which identifies powerful investors rather than unorganized voters as the dominant force in campaigns and elections.” It is the growing political consciousness among the people that is unmasking the true face of liberal democracies. More than the declining military budgets, it is the unveiling of the mask over the myth of the ‘American dream’ that indicates the decline of the American empire. That this facade is being brought down by the American people and not by Chinese spies or Islamic terrorists gives credence to the fact that the days of the empire are numbered.

However, the danger is that as the American empire gets into a free fall, its elite that control all its wealth is getting afflicted with a dangerous disease. As Simon Jenkins writing in the Guardian says, “A virus seems to be running through the upper echelons of Washington and London that of a moral duty to wage war against perceived evil wherever it offers a bombing target. Anyone watching last month’s Republican primary debate in Las Vegas will have been shocked at the belligerence shown by the six candidates towards the outside world. It was a display of what the historian Kaplan called “the warrior politics … of an imperial reality that dominates our foreign policy”, a fidgety search for reasons to go brawling round the globe, at any cost in resulting anarchy. The spectacle was frightening and depressing.”

This brings us to the point where we must ask as to why the US military is planning to hop from one end of the globe to another? Why is their quest to wage wars not getting satisfied? This is happening because the Churchills’ in US, UK and even in India (as in most of the other countries) want to save the empire by hook or by crook. This school of thought firmly believes that colonial possessions are a must to maintain healthy prosperity levels in the developed world. The shock wave sent out by the great depression led most of the industrial world to adopt socialism (welfare economics) in their home countries, while advancing capitalism in other parts of the world. China did exactly the same in 1980s, when it adopted capitalism under a communist umbrella. The only difference is that unlike the West, China neither has friends nor the might to  go around forcing its  world view across the globe. The rising debt  is preventing  the developed world from giving its public the comfort that they have grown used to. There are two options- to change the system and ensure that wealth is evenly distributed- this entails tweaking capitalism to the extent of abandoning it. This is not acceptable to many in the politburo of capitalism (like the Bilderberg Group). Therefore, the second option is to use the military to garner economic resources.

The military option can easily be executed using the American  air power, but mere bombing a place does not yield economic benefits. You have to send foot soldiers to occupy. And as Afghanistan and Iraq have proved, occupying countries is a costly and difficult proposition. To obviate this difficulty, the US wants to broaden its military alliance base beyond the Atlantic. The game plan as enunciated by Thomas Barnet is “ to define international stability in the 21st Century. We’re interested in enforcing minimum rule sets, not the maximal rule sets associated with imperialism.  We want a level playing field not just in global trade, but in global security as well. We want to administer the global security system, not rule it. Like those “system administrators” that keep the Internet up and running, America needs to play system administrator to the global security network. We need to keep globalization up and running—to be, in effect, its bodyguard.” The proposals like 1000 ship navy and rekindling the imperial desires of France, Japan and the Indian elite is part of the global security structure envisaged by Barnet.

As always, the class war is on at a global scale. On which side of the divide does India intend to be is the question that our strategists must address. At the end of Cold War, we decided to join the globalization bandwagon by following the liberalization and privatization route. While moving on the path of globalization, we treaded cautiously- retaining hold over our banking and insurance sector - thereby, partially, insulating ourselves from the vagaries of the global market place. Despite our measured approach, we could not prevent ourselves from being sucked into the hubris associated with privatization of state assets - the malice of big ticket corruption that we are trying to fight is a part of the same system that we adopted in the 1990s. Now, when the basic tenets and the inherent inadequacies of the same globalization are being questioned in its birth place, we do not understand as to where we should look.

Now, the global leaders of capitalism want to globalize security- a ruse to appropriate the military strengths of medium powers to sustain the longevity of the empire. Before, entering this security  infrastructure, let us ponder and ask some searching questions as what this entire game entail for our nation. What are the pros and cons of joining a globalized security network. How is it going to impact our civil-military ties. Entering such security arrangements will also involve sending our troops to fight imperial wars. Are we ready to sacrifice our men? Will our nation allow  its sons to be used in wars that help a few elite to maintain their membership of the club run by 1% wealthy Americans? These and many more hard questions need to be debated extensively.

The issue is not China. China has avoided wars  for many years. It probably is not interested in a war at this juncture in its history, when it does not have adequate friends. Nor does China have an idea that can help it rule the world. India too does not have much energy to waste on fighting stupid wars. Even if we were to fight a war with China and win it - it will not help us beyond satisfying the egos of the elite. We need peace to develop. Just as America has not let war come near its shores, we must also prevent war into the Asian theatre. In fact, Asian nations must realize  -  America is on the decline, China is not strong enough - this is the most opportune moment to carve the continent’s security paradigm as equals minus a hegemon.