A RECENT speech by the chief of MI6 — the UK’s external intelligence agency — provided a key insight into the thinking of one of the Western bloc’s principal members about global affairs. Suffice to say, Richard Moore minced no words when he listed China, Russia, Iran and global terrorism as the UK’s “big four” security concerns. The British spymaster said China was his “single greatest priority” while terming the threat from Russia as “acute”. He added that Iran was playing a ‘destabilising’ role. Perhaps during the Cold War era such language would have been commonplace. But three decades after the communist and capitalist blocs ended their dangerous confrontation, with the defeat of the former, clearly a new competition in global hard power politics is underway, with the Western states unwilling to see other centres of power challenge their economic and military dominance. The CIA chief has made similar comments about China, terming the People’s Republic as “adversarial” and committing more resources to confront it.

As in the past this confrontation is being described in moral terms, when the ‘free’ West took on the ‘evil’ monster of communism. The fact is that then as well as now, the true competition between states and blocs is over power, influence and control of the global economy. China, Russia and Iran all pursue policies in their national interest, as do the US, UK and other members of the Western bloc. Of course, these interests don’t always align, which gives rise to confrontation in global politics. The key is managing these conflicts through a combination of balance of power and accommodation of the other side’s views. Instead of pursuing a confrontational course, the Western states must realise that China, Russia and other states will not simply ‘submit’ to their wishes. Beijing, Moscow, Tehran and their allies should also be willing to accommodate the West’s concerns. If all pursue a zero-sum game, more global conflict and instability will be the likely outcome — one that can and should be avoided.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2021

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