Dr Bharat Karnad, emeritus professor of national security studies at the Centre for Policy Research, the New Delhi think-tank, believes the global political situation is in a flux, thereby impacting the strategic and domestic politics of countries across the globe.
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In an exclusive interview with Rediff.com Senior Contributor Rashme Sehgal, Dr Karnad explains some of the consequences of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The world order seems to be changing dramatically following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
China seems to have emerged as the senior partner of Russia and both India and China seem to be on the same page vis a vis the Russian invasion.
Yes, the Volodymyr Zelenskyy regime is under siege, and has upset Putin’s plans for a quick operation by its refusal to be intimidated by Russian military power.
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And the ‘correlation of forces’ has changed some, considering that NATO will now not be able to use the Ukrainian frontage on the Black Sea to attack Russia from the south.
China, for its part, is observing how the situation is developing, how Washington, in particular, is reacting and especially the step-up actions of the US and NATO.
These, sequentially, have progressed from initial verbal protests, airlift of a large volume of arms and ammo for tactical battle (by some press accounts totalling some $1.5 billion in the last three weeks or so), firming up of the NATO force posture, closing off of NATO air space to Russian aircraft, to announcing a slate of up-rampable economic and trade sanctions.
Beijing will know what to expect should it care to do an Ukraine in Taiwan in the future.
President Xi Jinping will, however, be reassured by the reluctance of the US to deploy its troops directly to fight the Russian forces in Ukraine.
But there are two changes of consequence in the pattern of big power conduct in international affairs.
The US trans-shipment of small value military equipment — the proverbial straw thrown to a drowning Ukraine, has only confirmed to Asian countries their apprehensions of the US as a fickle ally and unreliable security partner.
Equally, President Vladimir Putin has shown his determination to reclaim for Russia, at whatever cost, its Cold War-era buffer zone and sphere of influence.
Is this the beginning of another Cold War with China and Russia pitted together on one side and the US on the other?
Can the US be a match against these two powerful nations?
Cold War 2.0, perhaps. Except it is now US versus China as the principals, and predates the Ukraine crisis.
If the US-NATO tandem are more advantageously placed economically and diplomatically, the Russia-China nexus is weightier in terms of will power.
India seems to be caught in between with both the US and Russia wanting our support. We have not condemned Russia outright because we need their support to provide us with military hardware as also repairs, etc.
Actually neither the US nor Russia really expected India to side with one or the other side on the Ukraine issue.
It is just that the Vladimir Putin government had expected, and was politically prepared for and reconciled to India’s neutral positioning far better than the Joe Biden Administration, which had hoped to convince New Delhi to join like-minded countries unitedly to pressure Russia.
But India also needs military equipment, etc from US and other QUAD nations. How will they achieve this balancing act?
Right now, the arms supply relationship is hugely skewed in favour of Russia — some 70+% of hardware used by the Indian armed services are of Russian origin.
So there’s no question of achieving a balance anytime soon.
However, it is also this level of dependence on Russia that makes Moscow accept India going in for the occasional major weapons buys from the US and the West.
Such as the Rafale combat aircraft from France, M-777 howitzer and the versatile C-130J and C-17 transport planes from the US.
If US sees Russia in the days to come as being its main adversary, it may then concede China’s domination in Asia.
This could be a nightmarish scenario for us with India finding itself in a situation where it will have to single handedly face military action from both China and Pakistan.
Do we have the military capability of being able to cope with this double whammy?
In the circumstances you describe, the US and the West desperately need India to strategically and militarily stretch China westwards, even as the US and AUKUS plus Japanese forces try and distend the disposition of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) air, land and naval forces eastwards in the South China sea, East Sea, and the Indo-Pacific generally.
There is no ‘double whammy’! Pakistan is too puny a State to matter to anyone or be meaningfully useful to any side, especially because Islamabad’s concern with keeping its channels open to Washington will always over-ride its desire to get closer to China.
What kind of maneuverability will India have given our present economic and political situation?
India enjoys the maneuverability of a coming big power.
With its resources, and especially potentially large purchases of high value capital technology goods and promise of access to its vast market, New Delhi can economically benefit one or the other side and, should it decide to use its many military assets, including its central location in the Indian Ocean basin, it can decisively tilt the local, tactical and strategic balance.
It is this possibility that has persuaded Moscow to humour India and stayed Washington from getting punitive about India’s neutrality on the Ukraine issue.
Emboldened by the current situation in Europe, is there a possibility of China attacking Taiwan in the near future as is being predicted by some analysts.
It depends on how Beijing assesses the US and West European response to Russian aggression against Ukraine, and the lessons it has learned.
Unlike Ukraine that’s caught between and betwixt formal membership in NATO, the US is committed — it says, to maintaining the status quo and doing everything possible to help Taiwan defend itself.
Taiwan, moreover, is militarily a porcupine that can seriously hurt China should it try to swallow this island-State.
Rashme Sehgal is an author and a journalist. Her maiden book Hacks and Headlines was recently released. This article was originally published on Rediff.