A TRIANGULAR cold war is developing which could be much more dangerous than the 20th-century Cold War. This new cold war ranges the US against Russia and China.
The US remains the world’s number one military, S&T, economic and financial power. However, despite its global full-spectrum dominance, it is challenged in Europe and the Middle East by Russia, in East Asia by China, and in Central and South Asia by both.
The Pentagon officially says the “long war” against international terrorism is drawing to a close. It argues “the US must bolster its competitive military advantage relative to the threats posed by China and Russia” because “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security”. It concludes “the US-dominated global order today is challenged not by Al Qaeda and ISIS but by the aggressive behaviour of China and Russia”.
According to Prof Michael Clare “a permanent campaign to contain Russia and China in Eurasia has begun. The US military has committed itself and the nation to a three-front geopolitical struggle to resist Chinese and Russian advances in Asia, Europe and the Middle East”. Centcom commander, Gen Votel, told the Senate “the containment of China and Russia has become an integral part of Centcom’s future strategic mission”. Of particular concern is “the Chinese-managed port at Gwadar in Pakistan” which could contribute to “China’s military posture and force projection”.
What are the implications of a new cold war for Pakistan?
This answers questions why the US plans a long-term presence in Afghanistan and why it is concerned with Gwadar, CPEC and the Belt and Road Initiative. This is also the context within which it pressures Pakistan on Afghanistan, terrorism and its nuclear arsenal, and in which it has recruited India to its strategic camp.
The current spate of US and Western accusations against Russia and diplomatic expulsions increasingly seems an orchestrated prelude to a new cold war.
The US aims to sanction and isolate Russia into withdrawing from Ukraine and Syria, disengaging from its strategic embrace of China, abandoning its developing understanding with Iran and Turkey, and refraining from building a significant political presence in Afghanistan.
Russia may be economically vulnerable but militarily and politically it is strong. Moreover, Russians admire Putin because even if he has not delivered democracy and prosperity he embodies Russian defiance and resilience.
Russia has developed Sarmat 2 missiles which it claims the US cannot intercept. If true, it would have a nuclear first-strike capability. The US claims a similar capability. A US-Russian mutual first-strike capability is extremely destabilising.
In case of a serious military confrontation, neither side could risk not striking first. During the last cold war a shared second-strike capability helped avert such doomsday scenarios.
Despite mutual suspicion, China does not want Russia humiliated and destabilised by a US that regards China as its main adversary. The renewed American cold war with Russia and possible trade war with China brings both countries together.
The blustering Trump is a weak leader whom neither Moscow nor Beijing can trust to control his hawks. This is the opposite of what Nixon and Kissinger achieved. They exploited Sino-Soviet mistrust and enabled the US to become the preferred interlocutor for both China and Russia.
Today, according to Prof James Petras, “while China exports economic products, the US exports arms and wars.
The US has a surplus of arms exports and a growing commercial deficit. China has multibillion-dollar infrastructure investments in over 50 countries that enhance trade surpluses. The US has multibillion-dollar expenditures in over 800 military bases that enhance trade deficits”.
Moreover, a “trade war with China will result in higher prices for the US consumer, unskilled labour, war debts and financial monopolies. China will simply divert trade from the US to other countries and redirect its investments towards deepening its domestic economy and increasing ties with Russia, Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania”.
America’s response is to rely on its military supremacy to compensate for its woeful diplomatic and economic strategies.
What are the implications of a new cold war for Pakistan? US demands to “do more” will further escalate.
The US-Indian strategic alliance will deepen as the US remains distant and demanding towards Pakistan. India will progressively if not completely downgrade its strategic relations with Russia. It will bide its time with China which in turn will keep a door open to India, especially if Pakistan remains dysfunctional.
India would expect very significant transfers of military and development technology from the US and its allies, enabling it to eventually engage with China on less disadvantageous terms, at the expense of Pakistan.
Apart from these grave implications of a new cold war for Pakistan, the 21st century poses existential challenges that have been largely ignored by derelict governments and educationally and ethically challenged leadership, abetted by the narrow security focus of an overwhelming ‘deep state’. Pakistan’s population will be 400 million in 30 years.
Climate change threatens water scarcity and loss of agricultural land leading to widespread famine and disease. Human security is also threatened by deliberate underfunding for general, vocational and S&T education; generating family-supporting jobs in a global knowledge economy; providing adequate health and other basic services; developing institutional capacities and credibility; reforming the criminal justice and police systems; ensuring the rule of law; and guaranteeing human rights protections.
The government doesn’t even want to know about these challenges. They can only be addressed by good governance at home; deeper geostrategic and geo-economic cooperation with China and Russia; good and substantive if non-strategic relations with the US based on addressing each other’s concerns; a non-confrontational, dialogue-based and problem-solving working relationship with India despite outstanding differences and futile provocations; and developing mutual confidence with Afghanistan. I have suggested specific measures (see ‘Who is listening?’ in Dawn, Oct 9, 2017.)
Longer-term perspectives, rational mindsets, due diligence and honest common sense are what is required for policies to develop credibility, direction and momentum. Political and other non-civilian policy decision-makers should listen to and consider objective, professional and relevant advice and input.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.
Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2018