Demons & detente

Published April 24, 2021
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

AFTER a long spell of confrontation, ‘enriched’ by rhetoric which demonised the ‘other’ side, the world seemed to go for a spell of conciliation. Iran is in talks with Saudi Arabia and the US and its allies, on reviving the nuclear accord; the US and China talked to each other, too, albeit on the limited issue of climate change. But President Joe Biden wasted a good opportunity for fostering detente with North Korea by his criticism.

The US won hegemony after World War II. Britain, especially its leader Winston Churchill, bitterly rued its folly. France’s leader Charles de Gaulle foresaw it and warned against it. The US fully exploited the situation and contributed to the science and art of diplomacy doctrines of dubious worth, discarding the doctrines which the far more sophisticated Europeans had evolved over centuries.

Early in the days of the Cold War, US secretary of state Dean Acheson said famously, “What we must do is to create situations of strength; we must build strength; and if we create that strength then I think the whole situation in the world begins to change … With that change there comes a difference in the negotiating position of the various parties and out of that I should hope that there would be a willingness on the part of the Kremlin to recognise facts….”

Crafting a world order means renunciation of the US doctrine.

This was how the doctrine of ‘negotiation from strength’ was born. It has poisoned the discourse of diplomacy and altered its conduct for the worse. Its consequences were refusal to talk while there were yet opportunities for a settlement, building up hostile alliances to buttress strength and debasement of the language of diplomacy. The old-style diplomacy was replaced by ‘megaphone diplomacy’.

Winston Churchill, the epitome of old-style diplomacy, held a contrary view. He wanted a pact with the Soviet Union in 1944 on their respective “spheres of influence” in Eastern Europe. F.D. Roosevelt sabotaged it.

Fundamentally, FDR sought American hegemony. Churchill’s repeated calls for a diplomatic confrontation in 1948 and 1949 were based on the realisation that a failure to negotiate would mortgage the future. He said in 1948: “The question is asked: what will happen when they get the atomic bomb themselves and have accumulated a large store? You can judge yourselves what will happen then by what is happening now. …If they can continue month after month disturbing and tormenting the world, trusting to our Christian and altruistic inhibitions against using this strange new power against them, what will they do when they themselves have large quantities of atomic bombs? … No one in his senses can believe that we have a limitless period of time before us. We ought to bring matters to a head and make a final settlement. …The Western nations will be far more likely to reach a lasting settlement, without bloodshed, if they formulate their just demands while they have the atomic power and before the Russian Communists have got it too.”

America sought absolute security, but as Henry Kissinger repeatedly warned, absolute security for one power means absolute insecurity for all others. President Truman turned a deaf ear to Stalin’s request for a summit in the early, but formative, phase of the Cold War.

The posture which the Great Hegemon adopted then in 1948-49 was cloaked with the doctrine of negotiating from strength with all its terrible corollaries — opportunistic alliances, regime change, CIA’s interference in the countries’ internal affairs, covert action and propaganda warfare.

The rhetoric was laced with self-righteousness. Others’ interests were ignored.

By now, the US has laid waste four countries of the developing world — Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria: all Muslim states. The ‘great’ liberal president Barack Obama arrogantly declared, “Assad must go!”

All these interventions ended in failure. Nine-Eleven was not an act of war but, as Zbigniew Brzezinski admitted, it was an act of terrorism; not by the state of Afghanistan but by its guest, Osama bin Laden. What did the US achieve by intervening as it did in Afghanistan 20 years ago and in Iraq?

The world order which the US established rested on sheer force, renunciation of negotiations and abuse of others. The language deteriorated.

Crafting a world order means renunciation of the American doctrine and its practices. Sadly, both were aped by some leaders of the Third World in their relations with weaker neighbours. The same techniques of demonisation of other states are adopted. The Soviet Union was demonised since its birth in 1917 till 1941 when it was attacked by Hitler. China was demonised since its birth in 1949 till 1971 when the US sent Dr Kissinger to repair the bridge. All this left America’s allies, especially Japan, shocked. The US has developed a strong taste for eating its own words. But where will this leave the US allies of today?

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2021

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