Category: World Thoughts

The emergence of a global power (again)


You can easily guess, right?

I am going to write about……….

Cannot guess? Of course, you can.

My brackets in the title line should give you a hint.

No, it is not about India. May be that will take another 5 years or so.

It is about………RUSSIA. Yes, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia is again emerging as a global power that needs to be respected and feared about.

It is not about ancient Russian history or the enormity of the Russian geography (it is the single biggest country by geographical size). It is not about Russians, per se. The Russian population is shrinking. It is not about their nuclear power. It is not about their army. It is not about Russian energy industry (the biggest oil producer in the world, neck to neck with Saudi Arabia). It is not about Russian technology.

It is about one single man who has brought Russian pride to the fore. It is Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia.

An inscrutable man, Putin exudes power. He is far more potent than any other politician in power today in the world scene. He is surely more powerful than President Donald Trump of the U.S. He can get things done in Kremlin, that Trump cannot get done in Washington DC today. He is extremely powerful, he is not easily understood, he is not easily accessible, he has over 80% approval rating amongst the Russian public, as against less than 40% for Trump in the U.S.

The inability of other countries (including the U.S.) to make a reasonable guess on what is next on Putin’s Agenda, ensures that his aura remains intact. Putin is investing in his country’s defences, investing in modernising his nuclear forces, enhancing his cyber warfare technology, improving his energy productivity, mining the Arctic Ocean, and doing a number of other things in a concerted manner which should worry the Western nations, especially the European countries. It is critical to note that he is doing everything very fast.

Is there any benefit in provoking the Russian bear?

Not at all. While there is no need to be paranoid about what Putin will do (it is as difficult to guess that as guessing what Trump will do next), it is also very important not to unnecessarily provoke Russia. That is exactly what NATO is doing. It is reasonable for Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland to be mortally afraid of Putin, but that is no reason to bring advanced missiles and tanks to the borders of Russia. Putin has no use for these countries – he just wanted Crimea back (which was donated to Ukraine).

What are these guys smoking (I mean the NATO leadership and the U.S.).? It takes hardly any time for Russia to smoke out many of these countries. It is better to build a strong relationship with Russia on a sustainable basis, invite Russia to participate in NATO deliberations, and coordinate military activities with Russia, rather than to needle it. Russia unambiguously portrayed its capabilities in Crimea and most recently in Syria.

Does NATO want to take a calculated risk? It is not advisable to do so.

Russia has the advantage of surprise element built into all its planning. It has moved its active divisions to its western borders in response to NATO military exercises. It has moved its advanced S-400 missile batteries to Kaliningrad, the location of which is strategic and dangerous to NATO countries. It has its military waiting on the eastern borders of Ukraine. It is surely not happy with Ukraine, Poland and Latvia.

What are the options open to NATO?

Nothing much, except to destroy all of Europe with an all-out war with Russia, which could easily turn nuclear. Russia apparently does not have a nuclear non-first-use policy. And, neither does the U.K. which has Trident nuclear submarines trained on Russia. A nuclear holocaust in Europe would be unthinkable, but that does not mean Russia will not activate its strategic nuclear forces in response to aggressive and provocative actions by NATO. Loading nuclear missiles with active nuclear warheads appears out of line in today’s world, but not impossible given the tensions. While a nuclear war may never happen again, it is best that all nations avoid unnecessary provocation.

So, in a nutshell, NATO needs to sit back and think carefully, and should not get prodded by the U.S. and the U.K. It should use more sober heads in plotting a collaborative strategy. Putin may not be the worst of Russian presidents yet. He may be more reasonable than others in Kremlin. The West is not even in a position to predict who will be the next Russian president!!!

The European people should push the European Parliament and NATO to take a step back in the confrontation with Russia. THINK! Before ACTING RASHLY!!

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2017

Charlie’s Counsel


I met with an old friend of mine yesterday who worked with me in Singapore many years ago. He is from the Philippines and was visiting Singapore on business. He is some 7 years younger to me, but is wiser than me and I should say, more broad-minded. I always try to meet up with him whenever he visits Singapore, and has been the beneficiary of his counsel on many matters of life.

He thinks highly of me as well, and shares his views on business and life with me. We know each others’ families, and I have stayed with him in Manila during one of my trips. My views on the Philippines is largely shaped by his commentary on his country.

Yesterday’s meeting was no different. It was a real pleasure to catch up, and the meeting veered towards substantive life issues. Charlie has been impacted by his father’s recent demise. He also described the cancer plaguing one of our mutual friends in the U.S. He mentioned that life is fragile and we all need to do things which we enjoy right away without any undue delay. No procrastination. Spend more time with your family and friends. Do not have regrets.

He asked me a rhetorical question – “is the world going to miss you tomorrow morning if you are gone today”, and the answer was a firm “No”. The world will move on with its business, and a small group of family members and close friends will probably shed tears and express remorse and grief, and that would be all. Things will get back to normal and even close family and friends will move on in life, except for occasional remembrances.

It is kind of difficult to understand and digest this aspect of life. What can we then do today that would impact folks around us? How can people feel the positive impact of anyone in their lives? We are not talking here about the great historical figures who built nations (like Mahatma Gandhi, or Lee Kuan Yew), or who discovered scientific breakthroughs (like Albert Einstein, or Thomas Edison), or the first astronaut who flew around the earth (Yuri Gagarin), et al. Many of these people have had strong impact in the manner in which nations and lives have developed during the 20th Century, and there are hundred of such figures whose names can easily be recalled. But, how about yours? Will anyone outside your immediate circle recall your positive contributions to society? Will anyone even remember us?

If a person has led a good life, causing no harm to others, always wanting to help others especially the downtrodden, and tries to contribute to society in some positive manner, it is not necessary that he or she should be famous with an easily recallable name. The small positive contribution will be recognised by the society. However, the most important effect is that his or her children carry on the same principles in their respective lives, and inculcate similar philosophies in their immediate circles. A small group of people will surely recall how good a person was during his or her lifetime. And, that should be enough.

Coming back to Charlie, he was gazing beyond me yesterday and thinking seriously about the fragility of human life. I told him that I completely synchronise with him on his line of thinking, and suggested that we should spend more time together discussing these aspects of life. It is critical to decipher when one becomes happy, and most of us do not ask ourselves that question – “what makes us truly happy?”. Think about it for a couple of minutes and you will see that the answer is quite complex. There are many happy things that you can do, there are things that you can do which makes others happy, but what exactly that you do that makes you very happy? Think about it.

May be sailing in the sunset with your life partner will make you very happy, or celebrating the arrival of your first grand-son or grand-daughter will make you very happy. But do you become very happy when you receive a huge sales commission or you sell a share for a big profit?

What are you going to do with that money?

We still live on 3 simple meals a day, and our wants are minimal (at least for most of us). One does not need to have huge amount of money unless one wants to donate to charity and help people of Syria, Rwanda, Angola, and other very poor countries.

So, it is time to ruminate your position in the circus of life and whether you are playing it well, not just for your own benefit but for others’ as well. Are people around you happy about you? What are you doing today to positively contribute to the mood at home, or to society at large?

A lot to think for the weekend, I guess.

Have a good one.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th July 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campus Protests and Free Speech


You might have followed media coverage of campus protests against conservative speakers in prestigeous U.S. universities like University of California Berkeley. This is an important development in the annals of free speeach and freedom of expression in university campuses and society in general.

Key questions to be asked in this context:

  • Is there real freedom of expression in society and specifically, in university campuses today?
  • What is free speech and what are the limits of free speech?
  • Why do students generally and largely consider themselves “liberal”? Why do students not respect the need for universities and societies to listen to “alternative” facts, theories, hypotheses, though propounded by conservatives who have equal rights for expressing their views?
  • Why do we militate against people with different views on social matters as compared to ours? Why can’t we treat all people normally?
  • Why do universities, generally considered the bastion of free speech, free thoughts and freedom of expression, tend to invite controversial speakers and then buckle to student protesters? Do they not have a responsibility to execute their plans to defend the above key tenets of academic life?
  • Why do Republicans (in this context, I am referring to legislators belonging to the Republican Party of U.S.) wish to legislate this aspect of campus life, allowing fiery speakers belonging to either liberals or conservatives into campus without any cancellations (like what has been happening a few times already in the recent past), but without due regard to university administration?
  • Why has almost everything polarized in U.S. society? Why can’t things be simpler? Where is the need to create several camps of thoughts in a university, except for mock debates?
  • And, so on and so forth

I believe it is critical to hear what opponents to your belief say in a public forum. If not for anything, it allows one to strategize for evolving a counter approach to the ideas propagated by powerful believers of opposing philosophy. It is the right thing to do. Impeding free speech by anyone is not the right way to operate in a true democracy. If this is not possible in the U.S., then one can assume that the U.S. is not a true democracy. Unfortunately, what happens in the U.S. is frequently copied in other countries. Or else, excuses will be used based on what has happened in the U.S. Such practices, while unhealthy, are inevitable due to the influence of the U.S. on world affairs.

Don’t we disagree with other people all the time? We must disagree respectfully, however. Sometimes, we do not say anything, or respond to provocations. Sometimes, we reserve the right to speak or respond in a civil manner. Sometimes, we congregate and evolve a uniform approach towards countering people who vocally drive a wedge in society for their own benefit.

However, violence is not an option at all. Attacking professors and guest speaker? A strict NO, NO. Our students should know better, they are not kids in primary school. The changed political landscape in the U.S. does not give permission to students to physically assault folks who have an opinion different from theirs. If such be the case, what is the difference between illiterates settling disputes by show of force, and educated elite doing the same in an open forum. Walking out of a convocation being addressed by Vice President of the U.S. is fine, but disrupting the convocation is not.

Students have to learn reality of life. In real life, one learns to respect others. Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. When a co-passenger on a recent flight out of the U.S. asked me about what Asians think of President Trump, I told her what I think of him. I said I cannot talk for others, almost everyone seems to be enjoying the fun of a rather brash President. I uttered what I did on U.S. soil without any fear, because I believed in what I believe. She was a Democrat and might not have liked what I said about Trump and Hillary Clinton, but she did not shout at me or hit me! Civility and respect are the cornerstones of intellectual debates, and these cannot disappear from U.S. university campuses due to the outsized influence of extreme Left. Sometimes, the political Right may also be right.

Let us listen to all views before analysing and concluding. Academics should know this better than anyone else.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

Visa to the U.S.


You thought wrong. This is not about Indian IT companies getting the much-coveted H1B visas for their IT professionals, which is under threat from the Trump Administration.

This is not about getting any visa to the U.S. As you are well aware, the U.S. will not grant visas to human rights violators, criminals, and convicted offenders. For more than a decade, the U.S. Government applied this policy against the entry of Indian Prime Minister Modi, till it was gently revoked without much fanfare. Mr Modi’s violation? He was accused of turning a blind eye in the midst of killings of around a thousand Muslims in his Gujarat State in 2002, where he was the Chief Minister, in the aftermath of violent riots.

President Obama reversed the long-established American policy after the Supreme Court of India could not find enough evidence to implicate Mr Modi and his state administration. Not only that, he embraced Mr Modi and his reformist agenda.

However, President Trump is not Obama – in fact, he detests any comparisons with Obama’s rule. Trump thinks he has achieved more than any other president of the U.S. in the first 100 days of his presidency. So, it was not surprising at all that he continues to delude himself, in the hope of achieving a lasting legacy. Not just for the next 1,360 days but may be for another 4 years after the conclusion of his first term, which is not inconceivable though there are a multitude of constituents who would dread that possibility.

Now, American human rights policy has hit dirt. President Trump has invited President Duterte of the Philippines to visit him in the White House. He has already met with the dictatorial President of Egypt – Mr Sisi, at the White House. He has welcomed the consolidation of dictatorial powers of President Erdogan of Turkey. He also used to like the strongman president of Russia, Mr Vladimir Putin.

Mr Duterte would not even be considered for a visa in the light of his murderous streak, killing thousands of his own citizens (more than 8,000 at last count) in the name of elimination of drug trade in the Philippines. How can a legally elected popular president be allowed to use his law enforcement machinery to kill the citizens in cold blood? Where is his Congress? Where is the Church of the Philippines? Where are the Courts of Law? And, finally, where is the conscience?

And now, President Trump is going to entertain President Duterte at the White House and legitimize all the killings which have happened and which are going to continue unabated because the leader of the so-called “free world” has endorsed the actions taken by Duterte thus far. How ridiculous it can get?

The U.S. Congress should not allow this visit with all its power and voice. Of course, Trump will do what he wants, but the U.S. should now clearly realize that it has irretrievably lost its bully pulpit of human rights advocacy around the world because of the completely wrong, adhoc actions of its President without much thought or advice whatsoever.

The ASEAN Summit, of course, cannot condemn any killings in member states, as that would be construed as interference and the construct of ASEAN is based on non-interference and non-criticism (I do not agree with that philosophy however). But for the U.S. to show a welcoming approach towards President Duterte at the current juncture is very wrong and is going to damage the standing of the U.S. in the eyes of the free world. There is no more free world in any case. Europe is the last bastion of freedom and democracy and even there a severe test is happening in France.

So to get a visa to the U.S. any elected representative has to commit murders – more so for the invitation from a sitting president. I do not buy the argument that Duterte got the invitation to ensure the Philippines remains as an ally of the U.S. against the interest of China – that shift has already happened.

What about the other dictators? Should they kill more of their own before getting the invite from President Trump?

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

01 May 2017

Europe under continuous attack


Europe needs and deserves a firm leadership against terrorist attacks which try to disrupt peaceful co-existence of the 28 countries in the European Union (EU).

Like any other association of nations, the very purpose Europe came together is for trade, employment and joint defense (against U.S.S.R. in the Sixties and Seventies). Similarities in cultural backgrounds help in all such associations, though a common religion plays a much less role. Europe has always been willing to take in immigrants from non-European countries, though various countries in the EU have their own restrictions. Some of them are very liberal, some of them are quite restrictive. Germany is an example of a generous nation, well-to-do people, who have accepted immigrants as long as these folks can adapt to the local culture and learn to speak the German language. The history of Europe is laden with wars and refugees, and crimes against humanity, so it is not surprising that the Europeans are more open than others to war refugees.

However, we will soon find out if Europeans remain tolerant to the vagaries of the refugee influx, especially from Syria and certain other Middle Eastern countries. France is a case in point. Paris has been diligently attacked by terrorists who do not like the French way of living. While it is easy to cast aspersions on a particular religion for these incidents (including the one last week), the French people will do well to recall that their freedom did not come easily – they had to fight for it every inch of the way in the Second World War with the help of the Allied Forces. They had to fight against Nazi occupation – they were refugees in their own country. It is critical to take stern actions today to defend French freedom, no doubt about it. However, it is rather easy to swing to the far right and attack the whole philosophy of Europe and the EU. What positive stuff can come out of it? Why would France try to isolate itself from the rest of Europe?

Colonial powers such as France and the U.K. cannot escape their histoy. If there are millions of Muslims in France, that is the result of French invasion and occupation of North African countries several decades ago, may be a century ago. Clear-headed, rational thinking is called for when a government is dealing with all kinds of its citizens – they do not always come with the same colour, race, ethnicity or religion.

Nevertheless, Europe faces tough times ahead. Elections are a way for the far right to assert their extremist philosophies and gain governance after a long wait. That did not work in Austria and Denmark, and is unlikely to work in France. Germany, in my opinion, will remain centrist for quite some time, unless jobs disappear and crimes increase as a result of uncontrolled immigration.

The solution is to give law enforcement more powers as they are called to face and deal with militant elements of societies. Governments have to make it absolutely clear that cultures and philosophies would not be trampled upon in the name of giving big space to immigrants. Everyone has to live together peacefully, and the message has to go out loud and clear that if immigrants are not happy to adapt and accommodate, they should be free to return to where they came from. This message is critical and needs to be delivered by all types of political parties or governments. immigrants remain as guests of the welcoming host nations till they earn the right to become permanent residents or citizens and start a new way of life. Why should they want to replicate the lives that they lived in their respective repressive countries?

Europe remains a beacon of an elitist kind of democracy that other democratic nations can only aspire to become. It should not be split radically into segments which then cannot work together in the European Union. That would be disastrous for the future of this world.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd April 2017

Religions and Future Generations


My views on the unnecessary importance that we ascribe to religions in our lives and the extraordinary negative impact that the segregation of people is having on societies around the world are well established via this blog communication in the past. I have written about the destruction caused by religions over the centuries and how religions divide, rather than unite us.

While nothing much has changed in our societies with regard to the treatment of religions and the impact that the religions have on societies, it is now widely accepted that multiple religions with differing philosophies have succeeded in dividing people, and polarize their views about what is right and what is wrong. Strong indoctrination of religious principles which are not subject to debate and discussion, has further fomented these divisions. Only a few religions are pacific, the rest push for indoctrination of principles, adoption of basic tenets, and followership of the “cult” to the exclusion of all others.

Added to the above religious divisions forged by major religions, the caste system perpetrated in India (for example) has further deeply polarized the society. While the caste system in itself is deplorable, the adoption of non-economic criteria in stratifying a country’s population into haves and have-nots has worsened the deep divisions in society, and has led to the departure of meritocracy from running of the society and the country. India was accordingly set back by several decades when compared to caste-less societies such as Japan or China, which are much more homogeneous in population demographics and treatment of citizens.

We argue vigorously oftentimes that equal treatment should be meted out to equal votes from citizens. Such is not always the case even in developed countries. There are very few examples wherein countries do not even differentiate based on gender – these are the Nordic countries which have reached a very advanced state of development, not found even in the wealthiest and more developed nations such as the U.S., U.K., or Germany. The treatment that citizens usually receive in countries such as India is dependent on religion, caste, race, colour or gender. We tend to ignore such treatment from society in the hope that economic advancement will eventually obliterate such divisive tactics. I am not so sure.

While we have felt the acute impact of religious and caste divides in our current generation, somehow we have been able to navigate our way through not just one system, but multiple systems, during our lifetime. This may be because of the early experiences that many of us have had in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, which had made most of us rather matured for our time. The ability to navigate the world in an equitable and non-offensive manner, while keeping our heads firmly on our shoulders, has been a key characteristic of our generation who are now in our fifties.

But, what about the next generation and the one after it?

My worry is that the next generation who are in their teens and twenties are not yet experienced the way we were – probably they will never get our experience because they have grown up mostly outside India. The conditions are vastly different and meritocracy is the norm rather than the exception, and societies have matured rather aggressively towards equal and equitable treatment in a conscious way. This did not happen overnight of course, but took several decades of enlightened governance with the interests of citizens at heart.

However, as we move towards our twilight years, we need to be concerned about how our future generations will shape up and react to the world at large when it comes to the articifical divisions caused by religions. I always believed that we should set an active example, by following our own religion in a light manner (not with a lot of religiosity) without too many rituals which segregate us even from our own people (meaning other Indians in my case), and have an inquisitive mind on any subject matter thrown in front of us as an “accomplished” fact or a done deal. I wrote recently about thinking, and it is an extremely critical concept. If we do not think for ourselves and the world, then we would be doing what our ancestors had been doing over centuries without questioning their larger impact. If I am not considered as very religious, that is by my own design. I do not wish to be “special” in any category that divides me from others. I go to temples, but I also visit churches and mosques occasionally. We should look not for conformity, but for unity in what unites us all. I have communicated my thoughts to my family members, and sometimes to my close friends. I have not always received a positive sync, but I thought there indeed was a sense of appreciation on my thinking for myself. I do not of course, wish to indoctrinate anyone!

Coming to the conclusion, it is my earnest submission that people should look for similarities while maintaining their individuality. Non-conformance to a tenet or philosophy does not mean any kind of insult is proferred. Every individual has a right to his or her own thinking. It is most important to shape the thinking of future generations accordingly.

Let us all think! It is the most important thing to do today!!

Cheers, and Have a great weekend,

Vijay Srinivasan

15th April 2017

Chemical Attack


The Syrian armed forces and government crossed many red lines last week when they attacked a rebel-held provincial town with chemical weapons. I agree with the almost immediate response taken by Donald Trump, retaliating against the airbase which launched the attack planes and almost completely destroying it with Tomahawk missiles from some 1,000 miles away. The U.S. blew away the airbase while President Trump was having his talks and dinner with the visiting Chinese President Xi, giving yet another strong message about the invincibility and decisiveness of American control of airspace around war zones.

More than anything else, President Assad of Syria has been a cruel dictator, officially killing over 400,000 of his own citizens and sending away millions of Syrians as refugees to other countries, mainly to Europe. How can he justify mass killings of Syrians – families, women and children – whether they are held hostage by the rebels fighting his government or not. And, how can Russia justify any more support to President Assad?

President Obama missed a wonderful opportunity to eliminate President Assad way back in 2013, when the red line was crossed on chemical weapons deployment by Syrian armed forces. Most of the middle eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia, were aghast that the U.S. would pardon off such a cruel dictator and not strike him militarily. That was a terrible mistake by Obama, and he would regret it forever.

Look at what happened – Russia supported Syrian Government, and strengthened its armed forces, which went on to decimate the rebel forces. The allied forces were more focused on ISIS, not on the continuous attacks carried out by Syrian armed forces against the rebels. Russia pounded both the rebels and the ISIS. At the end, the U.S. and allies ended up strengthening a dictator that they all along detested and wanted him gone.

President Putin of Russia should now sit up and think carefully about Russian support for President Assad. If he had not wanted the U.S. to attack the airbase, he could have told the Americans that he would protect the airbase with his S-400 missiles, or could have easily warned the Americans that Russian forces are at the airbase which therefore should not be attacked. He did not apparently take any action, and thereby corroborated the necessity of the U.S. missile attack, though Putin later said that the attacks were wrong.

Where is the world headed? We have a weak United Nations, and an ineffective UN Security Council, where the Permanent Ambassadors from the Big 5 nations talk tough but fail to reach consensus on any major issue of global interest, almost fighting with each other. How can the world trust these folks?

In any case, the chemical attack on poor people by Syrian government forces is unconscionable and unpardonable, and should be condemned whole-heartedly by the world. There are many quiet nations which keep their own counsel, but they will come to regret their inactions sometime or the other.

Just take time to see the pictures from the chemical attack. Horrible, horrible. On this one thing, I totally and fully agree with President Trump and his quick military action. How he will carry through further needs to be seen, but sometimes gut feel does produce results. President Assad should now know how an American attack feels, and how helpless he would be if President Trump chooses to attack his palace. What will the Russians do then?

It is critical for world leaders to condemn this reckless and horrible chemical attack on innocent civilians. President Assad needs to take total responsibility – he cannot lay the blame at the doorsteps of rebels. All chemical weapons were shipped out of Syria by Russia as per the agreement reached with President Obama, but apparently that does not seem to be the case.

At the end of the day, the world revolves on perception, and Syrian Government has done nothing to dispel any suspicion or perception about its hand in the attacks. And Russia is increasingly being viewed as a co-conspirator. This is not good for Russia.

Hopefully, rationale will prevail now, and President Assad will stop using chemical weapons like the deadly Sarin nerve gas. However, further actions must be taken against the Syrian government by world community. Russia should watch out as it also needs world support despite it being a super power.

Let us not kill our own people, or any people. The world needs peace for economic prosperity and growth.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

8th April 2017