Failed Five and Centrality of India by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

In November 2020 , the initial wave of the Wuhan Virus had abated. The global leadership was under debate. The world was recovering from its ill effects. At that time, I had written an article titled THE GLOBAL ORDER IS BROKEN! LONG LIVE THE NEW GLOBAL ORDER! . In that article, I had written,  among other things that “ First and foremost, nations, societies and people will endeavour to recover from the Chinese virus and get on with their lives. When they begin afresh, they will pick up pieces from a vastly different position. Till the virus lasts, a degree of physical and psychological isolation will endure. This will force self-reliance, protection and societies getting adjusted to new norms of life with a new sense of nationalism. Global interdependence and border less societies are no more in fashion.  Everyone will endeavour to establish an amount of strategic autonomy on issues which they consider critical to their national interests”. I had also written about the failure of the BIG FIVE…”Hither-to-fore the global order was set by the BIG FIVE monopolistically. Everyone followed suit. The order was based on circumstances of the last century. In current conditions, the BIG FIVE are themselves struggling. To trust them to set the new order will be folly. Very importantly the gap between the BIG FIVE and the rest has narrowed and even turned around in cases. New poles and younger nations aspire for more. During the pandemic, when the chips were down, the BIG FIVE left everyone to fend for themselves. In fact, they were part of the problem of collective global misery. The FAILED FIVE system cannot be reinforced to lead us into another failure. There is no choice but to expand the global leadership and set a new global order for the new challenges ahead”. 


When I wrote that article little did I imagine that there will be another event which will upend the Virus. In a world which was adjusting to the upheavals and changes forced by the Virus, the Ukraine War has been a broad side to sink the floundering global ship. It is forcing a change in the global structures which the Virus could not dream of. For the first time since the second world war, the BIG FIVE – USA, Russia, France, UK and China along with their allies are all involved and interested parties in this conflict.  USA and Russia are involved in an indirect proxy war through Ukraine. The fallout will be far and wide. The first causality of this conflict has been the UN which has stood out due to its sheer irrelevance. The EU and NATO who have been the instigators of this conflict have proven themselves to be ineffective in assuaging, deterring or stopping Russia from invading Ukraine. As this conflict enters the second month, China has not taken even the minimal initiative to end the conflict but has chosen to remain on the side lines, lying in ambush. It is waiting to let others wear themselves out, to take over the global leadership mantle. It has either been unwilling or unable to call on Russia to stop the aggression despite its diplomatic, financial, economic and military influence. China being a resource deficient nation has also not taken political or economic risks due to its slowing economy, ageing population, internal political instability and widespread viral breakouts despite boasting a victory over the Virus two years ago. Far from being a global leader it has proven to be an untrustworthy vulnerable nation bent on self-preservation. 


The Ukraine war has raised the spectre of a bipolar world once again. The first order effects have been impending militarisation of Europe,  a trans-Atlantic consolidation and a reinvention of  NATO’s relevance due to the perceived threat from an overmilitarized Russia. At the other end, the ‘No Limit’ partnership between Russia and China is  visible and strengthening. China sees a great opportunity to use a war torn but resource and technology surplus Russia to propel its own insidious aims in imposing its version of a global order. The Middle East is in a churn. The Saudi oil facilities are under constant attack by Houthi’s, their leadership is miffed at Biden and USA has lifted sanctions on Iran. Overall the Saudi’s are not playing ball with USA and are looking towards China to meet their ends. These geopolitical shifts are also causing chaos and strain on the global energy domain and financial systems. As if this was not enough, Russia’s overt threat of use of nuclear weapons and actual use of hypersonic missiles has posed the immediate threat of escalating the war situation beyond Ukraine. It has also triggered a debate in far off Japan and South Korea on going nuclear. All this has the potential to destabilise the uneasy global nuclear balance in the long-term. View it from any side.  The Russo-Ukraine conflict will alter the geopolitical and geoeconomic landscape. We are entering into an era of deglobalized uncertainty and economic turmoil where the outcomes are going to be lose-lose as it portends so far. Whatever the Virus and the Ukraine War won’t do will be completed by our much abused mother earth as climate change bears down on us remorselessly.


In this uncertain world into which the Failed Five have led us and find themselves in, where is the global stabiliser?  Outside the Failed Five, it is only Japan, India and Germany who have that potential. However, Germany and Japan due to their pacifist policies, proximity of being in USA/EU/NATO camp and being traditionally inimical to Russia and China respectively cannot don that mantle. That leaves a rising India to step up to the situation. Other powers like Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, South Korea, Nigeria and South Africa simply do not have the geopolitical weight to make the difference. 


Again, in the same article in 2020, I had written “India, with its young and aspiring population, vibrant democracy, growing GDP, and strategic location has a vital role in the world ahead. In pandemic terms, India has weathered the worst and has started recovering. It will lead in global recovery through its immunization program,  vaccine capability and experience. This was foretold by a WHO official when the pandemic began. While India does not aspire to be another China, it is the only alternative for decoupling and containing China.  It provides scale and safety from Chinese predation and undermining. India is the only country besides USA with the military prowess to confront China at sea or land. It will be an important and critical part of the Indo Pacific Construct.  It is one of the few countries which has credible space capability to aim for the Moon and the Mars. Surely such a country must be part of the Global Leadership”. I have no reason to change my views today.


Let us examine this in the current framework. Japan’s PM announced a $42 billion investment in India over the next five years during a summit meeting with our PM on 19 Mar. He also sought to strengthen security amid the Ukraine crisis and improve economic ties between the two nations. On 22 Mar, during a virtual summit with our PM, the Australian PM announced  an investment of  over $280 mn to boost economic cooperation with India.  Further, Australia has said that Quad has accepted India’s position on Ukraine crisis and also qualified it by stating that India has used his contacts to call for the end of the conflict. Even the USA fresh from its Afghanistan ‘Wobbles’ has stated that ‘Shaky’ India is ‘essential’ for the Indo Pacific and the QUAD. In fact without India, the Indo Pacific strategy to contain China is a cropper. If India takes a different tack, Indo-Pacific can be added to Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine in the long list of American ‘battle dis-honours’. 


Parallelly, on 16 Feb,  as this conflict was brewing, UAE and India inked a major investment pact, of over $100 billion in bilateral trade. Besides this, one of the first things Iran did when sanctions on it were lifted by USA was to make an offer to resume oil trade with India. Russia, the main protagonist of this conflict wants to sell its oil at 25-30% discount to India. The current Israeli Prime Minister is to visit India soon. If one turns to the neighbourhood the Indian lifeline to Sri Lanka during its current economic crisis is not lost on other neighbours. Resultantly, neighbouring Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh and even Myanmar have started looking at India to keep China off their back. Everyone senses that the  Chinese internal and external environment has changed drastically in the recent past. Is it any wonder that the Chinese foreign minister made a bee line to start the process of mending its fences with India so as to woo it away from the Quad and into the Russia-India-China construct. 


Why has this come about all of a sudden? India is a civilisational state with deep democratic roots. Internally, the Indian political scene is strong. Its  GDP continues to grow volumetrically at fast pace. The virus is under full control. Its geopolitics are agreeable to most nation. It is emerging as the ‘go to’ partner to almost everyone. Old ties are being strengthened as new ties are being forged. It is the only power which is neutral to all parties in this conflict. Its stand , though under initial criticism, is grudgingly being accepted as sensible. That realisation has set in all around. India’s global leadership is visible over and above what  was predictable two years back. Samuel Huntington in his controversial book – Clash of Civilisations and Remaking of the World Order had described India as the swing state in civilisational terms. While a lot of other things in the book are debatable, the fact India is a swing state has emerged to be true. Given the current set of conditions, the direction in which India swings is critical to the Failed Five and the emerging global order. However, the India I know and have served through out my life  does not swing between power blocks. It stays true to its national interests which are dictated by its people and their welfare. It also stays true for the global good however idealistic and mythological the concept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam can be. Is it not? 


The true endorsement of India’s position comes from  Pakistan. In Aug 2021, Pakistan was on a high as US forces withdrew unceremoniously from Afghanistan. It boasted of itself as the global geostrategic centre. Then the steep slide began. Today, when a Pakistani PM in a  political ICU praises India, when a Pakistani economist looks eastward at India to develop trade links to resuscitate its economy, when a Pakistani agricultural expert looks at India to solve their water woes to revive its ailing agriculture, and when a scientist compares with envy,  India’s education and scientific temper vis-a-vis its internal radicalisation, one can say it means a lot. One might say that Pakistan is no great nation for emulation to be a global leader. However when your bitter adversary from birth acknowledges your strengths, the moral of the story is significant.      


One has to recognise that India’s centrality to world affairs has come to stay. More than outside acknowledgement, it is the internal realisation which is more important. We must also be prepared for the fact that an energy and resource deficient India will  face global opposition and high table blues. It will need all its multilateral skills to navigate potholes and manage the outside environment. However it will also need sagacity, wisdom and fortitude to develop internal strength on multilaterally inclusive lines based on Sarvadharma to fulfil its ordained role. 


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6 responses to “Failed Five and Centrality of India by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Sir, we should avoid the trap of aspiring to be a global leader. Our only goal should be to provide a safe and secure environment for our civilizational values to flourish and towards this goal, single-mindedly pursue atmanirbharta in water/food/energy/defense. To paraphrase what Thomas Jefferson hoped for the US, trade with all without getting entangled with anyone.

  2. I agree with your views and analysis Sir. However I am worried about the internally widening fault lines of political differences,religious intolerance, state wise regional imbalances and lack of true friends in our neighbourhoods.Hope that good sense prevails within our political eco system and India grows from strength to strength.My compliments for your outstanding periodical thoughts which I always follow.RegardsMaj Gen R C Padhi

  3. Very insightful analysis, Sir.

  4. Agree with you sir on the rise of India's stature. The speed with which India responded to the COVID threat and her export of vaccines to all countries is worthy of emulation. The response to the Ukrainian crisis has been mature.However our internal strife and divisive politics whether on religious beliefs or water or communalism is an area of concern.

  5. Very incisive article. Media built narrative on visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister may be an over statement. I feel the visit may be to gauge the Indian heiarchy before springing a surprise on us. Hence accept their climb down wit a pinch of salt.

  6. […] of global consequence which will grow. It must conduct itself accordingly as it moves into the centre of Global affairs as the Third […]

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