The Iraq war and its Strategic fallout

M.L. Sondhi and Ashok Kapur

The Telegraph, Calcutta, 2003

The US military campaign against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is the first major step in a new American plan to develop a road map for Iraq, the Middle Eastern region and the world.  It is an ambitious plan and it is built on a philosophy of liberation, not containment of threats as was the case during the Cold War.  It is meant to deal on the one hand, with the great powers – Russia, China, the continental Europeans, and India, and on the other hand, the rogue states and rogue forces like Iraq, North Korea and AI Qaeda.  The radically new approach is based on the view that countries which are not integrated into the forces of globalisation in its economic, cultural and strategic sense are sources of terror and insecurity.  So the new American worldview divides the world into three categories.  The first, those who are integrated into globalisation; North America, Europe and the new globalists, Russia, China and India, are not going to be objects of American military intervention.  The second, those who are not tied to globalisation – which is all of Middle East excluding Israel (the latter is deemed to be a well organized bully who is needed in a dangerous neighbourhood), requires various forms of American intervention including coercive action.  Whereas the globalised world constitutes the core, the second is the periphery which is lacking in economic and political reform, which is unconnected with the thought processes and the institutional arrangements of the core world, of globalisation.  This disconnect is the basis of the fundamental cultural and economic divide between the two worlds.  The second world is a large one, extending from the Caribbean, through much of Africa, the Balkans, Caucasus, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and excluding Israel the Middle East and North Africa.  The third category consists of countries which are straddling the line between the core and the periphery.  The list includes North Korea which is not integrating into the globalisation scheme as is Vietnam although both are communist systems, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, possibly South Africa, Greece and Thailand.  In recent history many of these countries were connected to the core world but have slipped from the globalisation world to the third category e.g. Indonesia and the Philippines.  USA is not the only country which is managing the core.  Russia is working its periphery which is occupied by the Chechens who are aligned with other periphery rogues and unstable entities who live in a world of terrorism.  Russia is developing alignments with Europe and North America in the economic political and military spheres and remains firmly against terrorism.  China too, through its economic links with the core world and international economic institutions is now part of globalisation, and it has its own war on terrorism in its western borders.  India is also now a firm part of globalisation and even before it launched on economic reforms, it was in cultural and diplomatic terms a part of the core mainstream as far as its thought–processes and its domestic and external policies were concerned.  Fear is the main element which shapes the policies of key members of the three worlds but the nature of far varies.  For America it is fear that the periphery, the second world, may gain ground after September 11, 2001, and the US may lose its power and its authority.  For automatic, monarchical and unrepresentative regimes it is fear of losing power and money to the angry masses.  This is a danger to the Saudis as it is to the Egyptians and the Syrians, and even the Iranian mullahs worry about the growing anger of Iranian students who were at the forefront of the Khomeini revolution in 1979.  So as the statistics about unemployed and frustrated Muslim youth grows in the Middle East and Southeast Asia and North Africa, the insecurity of the rulers also increases.  The fear of unpleasant change is thus the context of American strategic calculus.

Although the American military campaign against Saddam is likely to succeed the fallouts will be significant.  The involuntary movement of peoples from the war zone has started and this will strain the resources of Iraq’s neighbours.  The UN and Japan have already begun humanitarian aid, and Turkey wants to move militarily into northern Iraq to guard its interests with the Kurds and to prevent refugees from entering Turkey.  Secondly, Iraq is deeply divided between the Sunnis, Shias and the Kurds and it has no democratic tradition, so American plans to introduce democracy will require a prolonged presence in the country.  Democracy cannot be installed, it has to be learnt and practiced daily as a good habit.  Thirdly, many thrones in the Middle East including American allies like Jordan, Morrocco, and Saudi Arabia will be thinking about political pluralism and its effect on their power and wealth.  Fourthly, democracy is likely to produce a blackash from fundamentalists who do not like the Middle Eastern monarchs but neither do they like American democracy or America, and this may spawn more baby Al Qaedas.  Finally, although the campaign is directed against the rogue regime, as the UN Security Council debate has shown, the Bush administration diplomatic style has been rough and it challenges the regional and international interests of Russia, China, France and Germany.  These countries take a geopolitical view of the world today even as they favour globalisation.  They see Iraq as a long term American military presence in their southern underbelly and a long term line of pressure against their economic and strategic interest.  Russia’s Putin has already declared publicly that the American invasion is a sign of America’s quest for world domination, and hence it is dangerous.  Note the issue now is not one of Iraqi disarmament, it is about regional and global geo-politics.  

What is the likely fallout of India?  It will come from two different directions:  China and the USA.  Although Pakistan is in the third category in American calculation, a country which straddles both the core and periphery worlds, it has several advantages.  First, Pakistani practitioners are skilled in using American fears and they understand the American military mind.  Second, Pakistan is a help in America’s campaign against terrorism.  Third, America worries that in the long term Pakistan may slip into Islamic fundamentalism and the election of Islamist leaders in NWFP and Baluchistan is worrying because it means that democracy can become a tool for electing fundamentalists and defeat the democratic idea which is to promote peaceful dialogue.  The American concern is that the danger of radical Islam in Pakistan and the neighbourhood makes the Pakistan military an attractive alternative as the lesser of two evils.  So the shift of the Taliban capital from Kabul to the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier provinces has helped the Pakistan military’s relationship with America.  Finally, Pakistan has a cozy relationship with Beijing which it likes because it keeps the pressure on India.

One should realistically expect that Beijing will use the volatility of the Iraq war to step up its nuclear and missile transfers to Pakistan and to tighten its grip on Tibet further.  And Beijing will also try to draw closer to Russia, France and Germany citing the problem with American hegemony.  But should Indians practitioners adopt a position of defeatism in this scenario?  Certainly not, because having successfully completed five years in office as the leader of a coalition government Vajpayee and his colleagues have shown that if they avoid washing their dirty linen in public and if they grasp the full meaning of the new American strategy, its philosophy and its basis, India can play an important role in building up the region from the Middle East to Southeast Asia – where India sits astride the lines of military as well as cultural communications, West to East and North to South, and it can build its links further with northern neighbours like Russia and France which have mature geopolitical outlooks as well as its neighbours in the Gulf (Kuwait and Iran for example) and in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Myanmar and Singapore for example).

Indian practitioners may also keep in mind that the Pakistan military does not control much of Pakistan’s military and ideological space.  The political space is shared with the Islamists in the frontier regions and with Al Qaeda operatives.  Its diplomatic space is controlled by the US government which places its anti-terrorism requirements on Musharraf and company and in return for lifting of the sanctions and financial aid – replaceable commodities in American diplomacy, Pakistan military offers full and timely compliance.  Its nuclear and missile space is managed by the Chinese who would not like their ordnance with Chinese markings to reach American hands, it is also managed by the Americans who will take control over Pakistani nuclear and missile capabilities in case of a danger of losing it to terrorists; and then India is also an interested party in this area.   

Finally, practitioners should realize that behind the veil, China has many fundamental problems.  When the masks are lifted it becomes clear that China is running many internal campaigns which are dilemmas.  Under economic reforms it needs to shed many state employment economic enterprises; this means unemployment and social unrest.  It new leaders are younger but still socialized in the old thought processes and their expertise of foreign countries is limited.  For instance, China has very few and rather poor quality India experts in its academies and its government.  There is no innovative thinking, absent fresh blood in their think tank.  The Chinese communist party is still very corrupt and lives off the masses accept only economic reforms?  The Chinese military has lost its position as the peoples army and is now preoccupied in fighting a high technology war with America over Taiwan.  It is deceiving itself by thinking that stealth and deception can enable the interior Chinese forces to defeat the strong American forces.  As India builds its competition with China in the political, economic and military areas it will discover that the competitor has major weaknesses but it has a thought process which is old and unimaginative and it needs to be reworked through a process of continuous engagement.   

To take advantage of the prevailing balance of power India needs not only to analyse diplomatic gambits but develop a new strategy of comprehensive engagement in line wit its basic values and long-term interests.

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