Tagged: Political Science

The Palestine Imbroglio


As I had written in one of my blog posts a few years ago, the Israel – Palestine conflict is an unnecessary one which has ravaged the Middle East politics and society, and caused untold misery and deaths.

I generally like Israel and the Jewish people who are creative, resourceful and talented. Israel was born out of the misery of the Jewish people. As was usual in those days (1940s), Britain was the cause of many territorial problems around the world. Britain just walked out of many trouble spots that they themselves created, and left it for the warring parties to settle scores. They did it in many nations, and I come from India wherein, Britain caused major damage to the fabric of Indian society.

It was no different in the Middle East. The Palestinian problem could have been resolved with the intervention of Britain (who was the occupier of many of the lands) just around the time of formation of Israel. Britain failed to resolve the matter and the result? A festering problem even 7 decades later.

I am not blaming either Israel or Palestinians for the problem. However, Israel is the more powerful party in the conflict, and it indeed has the most powerful military in all of the Middle East, the only one to have nuclear weapons and very advanced missile technology. Israel has the power – both military and moral – to stop all the killings which occurs in their conflict with the Palestinian factions. Please read one of my earlier blog posts – The Unnecessary War.

Now that the U.S. President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel, the Middle East is in a state of unrest yet again. Clearly, the Palestinians see this as a direct endorsement of the policies of Israel by its ally, the U.S., which is now increasingly losing its position as a conflict mediator between the two parties. The Palestinian President rightfully refused to receive and host the Vice President of the U.S. Mike Pence after President Trump’s announcement.

Israel has a great chance (it always had a chance) to call for an absolute truce and sit down for a dialogue without the presence of any third parties. Israel needs to communicate its sincerity about peace without getting irritated by unofficial statements of the Palestinian factions, and the anti-Israel utterances of many nations in the aftermath of the Trump announcement. Israel can show its magnanimity towards the suffering Palestinians and offer them the pathway to a dignified life with a statehood as they deserve. Of course, Israel’s security is absolutely critical, but then I believe that Israel is the most prepared nation in the event of an attack or a conflict. Israel needs to make it very clear to the Palestinian leadership that any violations of its security will lead to a complete reversal to the status quo.

And, Palestinians need to play ball with sincerity as well. There is no point in getting riven by internal factional politics without focusing on the welfare of the Palestinian people. They need to understand that the existence of the State of Israel is non-negotiable, and they need to make some compromises towards achieving a state of long-standing peace, like what Israel has to do as well. It takes two hands to clap, and the third hand(s) are now getting out of the picture, if you understand what I am trying to say.

So, in my opinion, the stronger party has to take the lead in establishing peaceful conditions for negotiations to move forward. Building settlements on Palestinian land (or, disputed land) should stop. Using brute force against unarmed Palestinians should stop. Accusations against the U.N. should stop. Similarly, Palestinians should stop street violence against the Israeli Defence Forces. They should compel their military factions to stop launching rockets against Israel. They should work with Israel in a positive way to defuse the current tense situation, and enter into negotiations with Israel.

Are all these things practical? Will they ever happen in our lifetime? There are tons of naysayers who preach that hostilities will continue till the time a “two-state” solution is reached, which appears impossible as of now, which then means that hostilities will indeed continue.

However, I think that if the U.S. and the U.K. get out of the peace negotiations, and let direct talks start between the Palestinian leadership and Israel, then we can hope to see some concrete progress in about a year’s time, provided there are no provocations from either side. If both parties are willing to make some compromises, make some much needed adjustments in territorial claims, remove irritants from the relations, and talk every day, then things can indeed move in the positive direction for both parties.

For Israel, this will be a positive step ahead towards lasting peace. For Palestinians, it will be a stop to their never-ending misery in living conditions, a stop to unnecessary deaths, and a potential realization of an official homeland for all of them, even with some limitations and compromises. It will be a huge start for them.

This is a real possibility only if Israel starts the ball rolling towards the Palestinians in a proactive manner, without any pre-conditions for starting the negotiations.

Let us all hope Israel will take that much-needed initiative, and bring about a much-needed peace to their lands, for the benefit of both Israelis and Palestinians. I hope Palestinians will cooperate if Israel takes the first positive initiative towards securing peace. Then together the world can celebrate the Israel-Palestine peace sometime in 2018.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th December 2017

one of my blog posts a few years ago, the Israel – Palestine conflict is an unnecessary one which has ravaged the Middle East politics and society, and caused untold misery and deaths.

I generally like Israel and the Jewish people who are creative, resourceful and talented. Israel was born out of the misery of the Jewish people. As was usual in those days (1940s), Britain was the cause of many territorial problems around the world. Britain just walked out of many trouble spots that they themselves created, and left it for the warring parties to settle scores. They did it in many nations, and I come from India wherein, Britain caused major damage to the fabric of Indian society.

It was no different in the Middle East. The Palestinian problem could have been resolved with the intervention of Britain (who was the occupier of many of the lands) just around the time of formation of Israel. Britain failed to resolve the matter and the result? A festering problem even 7 decades later.

I am not blaming either Israel or Palestinians for the problem. However, Israel is the more powerful party in the conflict, and it indeed has the most powerful military in all of the Middle East, the only one to have nuclear weapons and very advanced missile technology. Israel has the power – both military and moral – to stop all the killings which occurs in their conflict with the Palestinian factions. Please read one of my earlier blog posts – The Unnecessary War.

Now that the U.S. President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the official capital of Israel, the Middle East is in a state of unrest yet again. Clearly, the Palestinians see this as a direct endorsement of the policies of Israel by its ally, the U.S., which is now increasingly losing its position as a conflict mediator between the two parties. The Palestinian President rightfully refused to receive and host the Vice President of the U.S. Mike Pence after President Trump’s announcement.

Israel has a great chance (it always had a chance) to call for an absolute truce and sit down for a dialogue without the presence of any third parties. Israel needs to communicate its sincerity about peace without getting irritated by unofficial statements of the Palestinian factions, and the anti-Israel utterances of many nations in the aftermath of the Trump announcement. Israel can show its magnanimity towards the suffering Palestinians and offer them the pathway to a dignified life with a statehood as they deserve. Of course, Israel’s security is absolutely critical, but then I believe that Israel is the most prepared nation in the event of an attack or a conflict. Israel needs to make it very clear to the Palestinian leadership that any violations of its security will lead to a complete reversal to the status quo.

And, Palestinians need to play ball with sincerity as well. There is no point in getting riven by internal factional politics without focusing on the welfare of the Palestinian people. They need to understand that the existence of the State of Israel is non-negotiable, and they need to make some compromises towards achieving a state of long-standing peace, like what Israel has to do as well. It takes two hands to clap, and the third hand(s) are now getting out of the picture, if you understand what I am trying to say.

So, in my opinion, the stronger party has to take the lead in establishing peaceful conditions for negotiations to move forward. Building settlements on Palestinian land (or, disputed land) should stop. Using brute force against unarmed Palestinians should stop. Accusations against the U.N. should stop. Similarly, Palestinians should stop street violence against the Israeli Defence Forces. They should compel their military factions to stop launching rockets against Israel. They should work with Israel in a positive way to defuse the current tense situation, and enter into negotiations with Israel.

Are all these things practical? Will they ever happen in our lifetime? There are tons of naysayers who preach that hostilities will continue till the time a “two-state” solution is reached, which appears impossible as of now, which then means that hostilities will indeed continue.

However, I think that if the U.S. and the U.K. get out of the peace negotiations, and let direct talks start between the Palestinian leadership and Israel, then we can hope to see some concrete progress in about a year’s time, provided there are no provocations from either side. If both parties are willing to make some compromises, make some much needed adjustments in territorial claims, remove irritants from the relations, and talk every day, then things can indeed move in the positive direction for both parties.

For Israel, this will be a positive step ahead towards lasting peace. For Palestinians, it will be a stop to their never-ending misery in living conditions, a stop to unnecessary deaths, and a potential realization of an official homeland for all of them, even with some limitations and compromises. It will be a huge start for them.

This is a real possibility only if Israel starts the ball rolling towards the Palestinians in a proactive manner, without any pre-conditions for starting the negotiations.

Let us all hope Israel will take that much-needed initiative, and bring about a much-needed peace to their lands, for the benefit of both Israelis and Palestinians. I hope Palestinians will cooperate if Israel takes the first positive initiative towards securing peace. Then together the world can celebrate the Israel-Palestine peace sometime in 2018.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

17th December 2017

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Balanced Media Reporting and the Fake News Phenomenon


Just 20 months – that’s all it takes to badly damage the fabric of society and the news media. Today in the U.S. we have very polarized and ugly societal wars between the Left and the Right. That has in turn spawned very ugly and damaging wars between news media which continue to report in their long-established, traditional manner, and the media which has gone berserk towards the extreme right end of the political spectrum. The neutral media was always considered to be, ever so slightly, tilting to the left, and we all know that there is nothing that is absolutely neutral in this world. Everyone has an opinion, whether he or she voices it or not. We also know that when the silent majority does not voice its dissent on any matter, the country or the world is “in” for a major battle. When they do express their dissent, we can expect transformative change.

I have consistently followed both the “left” and the “right” media, to derive a real sense of where the world is heading. While many a time the neutral or “left-tilting” media is right, I have also seen instances when the “rightist” media gets it right for a change.

Achieving a balanced reporting stance is a hard thing to accomplish in today’s heavily polarized world. Couple of examples come to my mind: one is “BBC News” and the other is “CNN”. There are other excellent examples which I do follow such as “The NewYork Times” and “The Washington Post”, but sometimes they do take a harsh view of the right. I continue to enjoy their incisive analyses and opinion pieces, however. I also occasionally look at the “HuffPost” and “MSN News” – they are great alternatives, though clearly on the left.

On the right, my favourite is “Fox News” – there are rather interesting pieces of journalism that I read almost everyday, pretty captivating episodes, and well-intentioned, yet clearly manipulated headlines. There are many media channels on the right, of course, but I find more time for Fox News everyday.

I also follow two rather unconventional media diligently every day. These are “Aljazeera English” edition and “Russia Today (RT) News”. While Aljazeera is relatively new for me, RT News has been a staple for at least couple of years. I believe that both these “alternative media” provide a dose of reality as seen from their respective perches. I have seen wonderful and balanced coverage and analyses in both, and I am now of the firm opinion that the day is not complete without reading the headlines of both media.

I recently eliminated “The Hindu” and “The Guardian” apps from my iPhone – “The Hindu” being the oldest, yet running English language newspaper from South India and “The Guardian” from the U.K. I occasionally see their full web versions, and sometimes my research takes me to their archives. Nothing wrong with either one of their apps, however I felt they were a bit slow on news coverage and their analyses, and sometimes unnecessarily critical of the establishment.

From all of the above, you may come to the quick conclusion that I spend most of my morning hours reading these apps, looking for angles to write about in my blog! That is not true, my intent is to keep myself constantly updated on what is going on around the world, while uncovering some learning from the actions or inactions of global leaders.

With all this stuff, it unnerved me when I heard that some of what we read from global news media could be “fake” – what U.S. President Donald Trump has termed as “Fake News”. It has always been a possibility that some of what we hear could be wrong, or incorrect, but then responsible broadcast media make amends and apologize for any inadvertent errors on their part. That is pretty normal, because people do make mistakes.

But “Fake” news? Is that not a deliberate attempt to replace the correct news with deception to suit the political orientation of the media owners or editors? Yes, it is. But then who practices it? If you go by what Mr Trump says, almost all major news media – CNN, MSN, CBS, ABC, AP, and others who report on what he says, and what he does, are reporting “fake news” every day. Not that Americans are running away from these long-established broadcast media – most of them have grown up with these media, and they control the airwaves for the most part. It would be interesting to see the results of a survey which measures Americans’ responses to Trump’s fake news allegations.

Whatever it is, in my opinion the “fake news” phenomenon does not exist in the way it has been described. There is only one news, and most of us get it right every morning. Some of these could be incorrect, but that inaccuracy lasts only for a few hours before it is replaced with the correct content we should have seen.

There is a lot of satire by the U.S. late night shows on Trump, his tweets and his fake news. If the news as reported in the major news media is not as per his expectations, then that becomes fake news, and this “expectation” of Trump has smeared his presidential reputation to no end.

In a nutshell, we have to see both sides of the same coin. Balance is eventually achieved in our head because we are trained to see the right from the wrong. Our brains are hard-wired, and so sometimes we tend to fall on the side of the news that we really like to see. But then brain realizes its mistake and brings itself back to neutrality.

Enjoy your news via newspapers if you still get one. I get most of mine via the news apps, while still subscribing to The Straits Times which I never finish reading.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

2nd December 2017

Kindergarten Fight with Nuclear Missiles


I like the maturity and pragmatic approach of Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, when it comes to his comments about global affairs. He is a diplomat par excellence, one of the best in the world, with solid experience and an intellect which challenges most others in the diplomatic arena. He is 67, yet going strong and has seen four Secretaries of State of the U.S. during his Foreign Minister tenure for the past 13 years. He is also very polished and known for his tough negotiating skills. No wonder President Putin kept him going on the job in a consistent manner over the years.

In his comments last Friday, he called the exchanges between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un of North Korea as a “kindergarten fight between school children”. He also called for “hot heads to calm down”. So he called President Trump as a school child wanting a fight, and also as a hot head.

Most appropriate, right?

Only these two school kids are itching to get into a nuclear war with nuclear tipped missiles. That is a big problem for the world.

We also have President Trump on record in front of the august assembly of world leaders at the UN General Assembly that he would destroy North Korea completely if the “rocket man” attempts to attack the U.S. or its allies. That might seem OK, but it surely is not at the U.N. An irresponsible early morning tweet may be fine, but not in a formal address to the U.N.

President Trump has a long way to go before he is taken seriously as a true leader of the free world, like his predecessor was………he is acting unpredictable by the day, and is not in tune with world’s expectations of the U.S. Why go for another war, when the U.S. is still not able to resolve the wars it engendered in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere. President Trump, it appears, also wants to fight Iran, a much better equipped nation than North Korea, though not with a nuclear bomb as of now.

It is no wonder Mr Lavrov is feeling this way about this abominable exchange of words between the U.S. and North Korea. South Korea and Japan must be shaking with fear on this rhetoric, as they know that President Trump is impulsive, and Kim Jong-In is totally unpredictable with a lot up his sleeve. A nuclear holocaust over the Korean Peninsula will also not be allowed by Russia and China, both having land borders with the Koreas.

At the end of the day, the “hot heads” have to cool down. But, unfortunately they won’t. Simply because, Kim Jong-Un is probably preparing for the next missile launch or the next nuclear explosion, irrespective of what President Trump or his neighbours or the U.N. demand. All those demands and sanctions are totally irrelevant to him. He will proceed on his own plan, without any consultations with anyone, not even China. I think China has lost leverage over North Korea. It also appears that North Korea is leaning towards Russia.

If the U.S. – South Korea military exercises are postponed, that would be a first calming step in the process. Obviously, there is no lack of military preparedness on the part of the U.S. or South Korea – they are apparently ready for a war with North Korea any time. However, their collective maturity should make them defer their joint military exercises which annoys the North Korean Leadership every year. Why not do it when you can actually do it without any loss of face?

But President Trump won’t have it as he sees it as a concession to the “rocket man” on a “suicide mission”.

Who will blink first, then?

Surely not Kim Jong-Un. He will continue on his mission to make his country nuclear and missile capable, that is not going to stop.

I am sure that the Pentagon Generals are not advising President Trump to launch a surgical strike to take out the nuclear sites in North Korea. Whether there is a war or not, it is not advisable to provoke a reaction from the North on the hapless citizens of the South, just 30 KMs away from the DMZ (De-Militarized Zone). It is estimated that at least 1M citizens will perish even in a limited war with mutual attacks from both sides (the U.S. will primarily attack from air and sea). And a tactical nuclear weapon from the U.S. to stop the war will not stop it, as the Koreans (like the Vietnamese) have proved to be extremely resilient when it comes to war and hand-to-hand combat even. The war will not stop, and the Koreans will not forget the U.S. for taking an unnecessary military action which would plunge the entire peninsula into an endless war.

I hope Japan does not want war, either. Traditionally, it has sided with the U.S. thought process, so there could be some disparity here between South Korea (which surely does not want war as it stands to lose the most) and Japan.

At the end, I see that Russia is playing a wiser role, articulating a well-calculated strategy on how war is not an option and everyone needs to return to the negotiating table. Given that Russia has some leverage over North Korea (providing employment to the impoverished North Koreans), it might be time that the U.S. listens to Russia, though they both seem to be having interminable issues of all kinds.

But this is about War and Peace.

Everyone should strive very hard to stop war from happening.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

24th September 2017

Insanity with nuclear trigger


May be it is the right way to deal with an unpredictable dictator like Kim Jong Un. May be it is the only way to call his bluff. May be it is a vastly different way to tackle North Korean bluster. May be this way there will be some positive movement towards a dialogue.

But, whatever it is, for the chief of the most powerful country in the world, and that too the only nation which has actually used a nuclear weapon in war, to make the statements that President Trump made over the course of the past one week, shows that a nuclear nightmare is indeed not only probable, but entirely possible.

We now have, not one mad man at the nuclear trigger, but two. Of course, one is on a smallish trigger (which may or may not work), but the other one has thousands of nuclear bombs and means of delivery at his disposal. For President Trump, it is very easy to “nuke” North Korea, whether the U.S. Congress gives permission or not, whether the United Nations agrees or not.

Diplomacy is in tatters, finally.

World’s governance is moving to mad men, finally. At some stage in the history of the world, this was thought feasible, of course. But, now, we are finding that the most powerful man in the world actually does not have checks and balances when it comes to exercise of the strategic nuclear command. If President Trump wakes up today (being a Sunday), and does not like the latest utterances by the “small” mad man, then with his impetuosity, he can order either a traditional attack on the nuclear and missile sites in North Korea, or order his SEALS or marines to go in and capture Kim Jong Un, or press the nuclear trigger.

While obviously such actions are always contemplated by all U.S. Presidents, that investigation and discussion are always done in absolute secrecy. Not exposed via the infamous Twitter handle of the President!

It will not be inappropriate to state that the Western Allies are shaking in their shoes after reading President Trump’s Twitter blasts against North Korea. Some must be holding the tables and some must be banging the tables. Some must be cursing.

Threatening situation, isn’t it?

You can visualize the mushroom clouds. More than 210,000 people died in 1945 in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Think about the power of the latest nuclear bombs 70 years later, with much more potential to cause huge havoc in an area as densely populated as Seoul…….

It is very unusual and unbecoming of the U.S. President to talk like the way President Trump did. Nothing is unusual about North Korea, however. That is the way North Korea operates. Personally, I don’t think their ICBMs will fly as long as they think, and their nuclear bomb miniaturization could be a false report designed to generate anxiety amongst military circles. Their ICBMs should be shot down once they cross Japan, and that will be done in any case by Japan and the U.S.

What should the world do?

That is for another blog post. When things settle down (without a war of course), world historians will critique the behaviour of North Korea and the U.S. They will draw conclusions which would eventually force the U.S. Congress to implement a system which would enforce a joint decision-making between the President and the Congress when it comes to matters as critical as this – annihilation of millions of people by couple of insane folks who just have the triggers, but not the wise counsel enjoyed by other Presidents.

How can anyone sleep at peace in the night like what U.S. politicians are asking Americans to do? Everyone has thinking capability and everyone should think.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th August 2017

Note: My tagging of this blog post is intentional…….see for yourself.

 

Censorship on School Campuses


This post is about the intolerance plaguing American University Campuses, which label themselves as mostly “liberal”.

What does “liberal” mean in its correct sense?

“Liberal” means a generously endowed viewpoint, with no outward biases towards anyone, an acceptance of anyone’s ideas, an examination of all kinds of viewpoints, et al. “Liberal” in itself, denotes “acceptance” of anyone, any idea. This is all the more critical on university campuses, which pride themselves on their openness to outside influences and ideas.

A particular viewpoint, simply because it is considered too “conservative” or it is emanating from a conservative speaker, cannot be construed as “illiberal” and so not worthy of a meaningful analysis and discussion amongst elitist liberals. Such a rejection, subtle or otherwise, points towards an intolerance which is commonly not found on university campuses, or in the environs of academic research.

Why then are the students of famous universities not open to listening to conservative, though controversial, speakers with some standing in society? Why are the universities losing their cool and reversing their invitations to such speakers? Why are they blaming the potential law and order problems that could evolve if the university administrators do indeed allow the conservative speakers on campuses?

How come universities are under the control of left-wing student organizations? How is this the only acceptable mode of operation on a university campus? How come left-wingers are considered more acceptable as compared to right-wingers?

My conclusion is that most people do not like to hear differing views. There are many governments around the world who would not like to even discuss opposing views to their ideology. I have plenty of friends who want to have “alignment”, which simply means they wish to have my endorsement of their views. I may or may not endorse their views, but strong endorsement results in strong inclusion. You become “part and parcel” of a particular group of thinkers or ideologists, and you will become either a left-winger or a right-winger.

On a political note, most people that I meet belong to a non-conservative ideology (though they may follow a strictly conservative ideology when it comes to their personal lives). Very few conservatives wish to show that they are one, especially in Asia. I am sure that this is not the case in the U.S. however. As a visitor to the U.S., I keep my views to myself, and rarely indulge in a free-for-all, late night discussion on what is right and what is wrong.

Left-wing idealists do indeed induce some fear due to their overwhelming numbers, and their strength is further enhanced by Democratic Party Officials / Cabinet Members / Liberals at university commencement speeches. Conservatives tend to be richer and elusive to a certain extent, keeping their views to a strictly conservative network of friends and associates wherein their acceptability is rather high.

My surmise is simple – if university and college campuses proclaim themselves as liberal centres of higher learning and research, it is imperative on their part to be open to all viewpoints, irrespective of political ideologies, race, gender or colour of the speakers invited to campuses. Such “different” kind of speakers cannot be shouted down simply because they do not conform to the regular left-wing expectations.

Significant time goes into evaluating all kinds of speakers and determining who would be the right fit for a commencement speech. A number of committees approve the selection. However, due to pressure from a certain group of students, the university administration decides to call off the invitation. This is utter nonsense and not compatible with academic criteria on assessment, evaluation, determination and collaboration.

Students can choose to hear just one type of view all their lives and they will be poorer to that extent, and universities should not be absolved of their dereliction towards their academic duties concerning impartiality of viewpoints.

I am sure there are many dissenters but this is my view. All views should be analyzed, discussed, debated and discarded or accepted. University campuses are the most important crucibles for experimentation of new ideas, and they need to defend their status against any vested student community, irrespective of political or religious ideologies.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

30th July 2017

 

 

Needling Russia


“Mother Russia” should not be trifled with.

At least not by other European countries.

It’s OK for the U.S. to say bad things about Russia, impose sanctions, and get away with whatever the Senate, or the House of Representatives of the U.S. Congress wishes to impose. It’s also fine for Nikki Haley, the Permanent Ambassador of the U.S. to the U.N. Security Council to utter very bad things about Russia, which are in any case, totally ignored by Russia.

Russia is a difficult country to deal with, no doubt about it. Russia is also unpredictable on most occasions. It is true that Russia sometimes takes inexplicable decisions, and sides with some of the world’s worst dictators. It is also true that minus the energy (oil and natural gas) business, there is virtually nothing in Russia that the world would want to buy (except of course, its defence equipment). It is true that Russia is not a transparent country.

Notwithstanding all of the above, Russia is still one of the top 5 greatest countries in the world (in my opinion). It has the largest land mass for a country, almost twice the size of the U.S. or China, but with less than half the population of the U.S. It is a permanent veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council. It possesses massive weapons of mass destruction. Russia is a space power as well. And, Russia has huge natural resources.

The erstwhile Soviet Union was even bigger, and more powerful than Russia. But, under President Putin, Russia has been fast regaining some of the power it had lost, with a rapid military modernisation program, and an assertiveness which is yet to be matched by the Western nations. Russia has a strong mind of its own, and makes its own calculations on the emerging strategic scenario, and does not toe the line of any other major power. Russia has been a constant thorn on the side of the U.S., which has not been able to completely claim its world super power No.1 status after President Putin’s ascendancy.

Given this situation, what is the best course of action for European nations, many of who share borders with Russia?

Sabre-rattling with NATO is one way, which most European countries are already doing in a visible manner just to threaten Russia. Do they honestly think that Russia is bothered? Of course, it is annoyed, and somewhat concerned when it sees the most advanced missile systems from the U.S. in its backyard. Increasingly, Russia also sees NATO military exercises happening very close to its borders. However, notwithstanding such provocations, Russia knows that one missile strike by NATO, or one misadventure of any sort by NATO, would set the clock back on Europe to medieval times. All of Europe is very conveniently located within easy reach of Russia’s airforce and missiles, and any war over European skies is sure to cause extensive destruction. And, the U.S. is far away to have a real problem on its soil.

Given this scenario, it is only but natural that Finland has set a model for dancing with the big white bear. Finland shares a long border with Russia, and there has been no military adventure of any sort along its border for a rather long time. In fact, Russia has long ago pulled back its armed forces from the Finnish border, and maintains a peaceful relationship with Finland. Though technically Finland is a Western country, it is not a NATO member. That fact has helped to maintain the peace and the calm between the two nations.

In any case, why fight against a very large country with nuclear weapons and long range missiles? Of course, the forced acquisition of Crimea by Russia back in 2014 has upset all European nations, especially the ones who were under Soviet occupation after the Second World War. It has brought back rather unpleasant memories, and the real possibility that President Putin would go far to reclaim the lost Soviet glory.

In my opinion, Russia wants to be recognised genuinely as a world power, compatible with its status as a U.N. Security Council Member. It does not like the constant needling by NATO at its edges, and the expanding threats that it sees everyday on the tactical side and the expansion of NATO on the strategic side. Left alone, Russia is not a threat, it just wants respect and recognition. It wants trade with the West, not sanctions on the basis of  unproven assertions, such as what has been imposed on it by the U.S. Congress earlier this week. It would like to settle the war in Syria, and could be leveraged to pressurise North Korea. It sees that the U.S. sanctions are going to affect its export of natural gas to Western Europe, affecting its hard currency earnings.

Russia sees some positive signs from Germany, Italy and France, though not from the U.K. Europe does not like the ongoing confusion in the U.S. with President Trump’s Government, and is afraid that further tightening of the sanctions against Russia would affect Europe as well.

Given all of the above, it would be better for EU/NATO to sign a peace treaty with Russia and constrain both sides from aggression. Imagine what would happen when an unknown person succeeds President Putin as the next Russian President – wild cards are terrible for foreign policy, like what we have seen with President Trump.

Time for peace, Europe and Russia. Work for a stronger Europe and a stable Russia, and engage Russia in joint policymaking and mutual trade, rather than constantly threatening each other.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

29th July 2017

 

 

 

The Danger of China


China is the world’s most populous country, and its second largest economy with a GDP of USD 11.2T in 2016. Its GDP per capita stands at a little more than USD 8,000. This is a huge accomplishment in less than 25 years. The size of China’s economy dwarfs that of India by a ratio of 5:1 and is more than twice the size of the Japanese economy. It has only the U.S. to surpass (the size of the U.S. economy in 2016 was USD 18.6T). China is a U.N. Security Council member and wields significant influence in world affairs by throwing its political, economic and military muscle all together.

However, most people forget that China is a totalitarian regime, with its Communist party ruling the nation for the past nearly seven decades with an iron hand, with very little tolerance for dissent. The major difference is the adoption of free market philosophy by the Communist party in 1979 when the then Chairman Deng Xiao Ping opened up the Chinese economy to outsiders and global investments. But, one can never forget the fact that the regime is authoritarian and flexes its muscles against its own citizens and other countries who are seen to be going against its interests.

Since there is no democracy in China, generally outsiders (and citizens) have to toe the party line and government mandates in their operations in China. People who don’t are punished. After all what can you expect from a dictatorship which is not accountable to the people of the country?

All this could be fine for the trading nations of the world and for countries who are afraid of the growing might of China. However, what is not fine is the militant aggression demonstrated by China on its way to the apex of the world. And, now there is just one country which could test China’s limits and arrest its aggression. That is, of course, the U.S. No other country can hamper China’s intentions as badly as the U.S.

China claims all of South China Sea as its own, and is soon planning to extend its Air Defense Identification Zone to West Pacific Ocean. There is one simple strategy that China is adopting – that its Navy should be able to access and control seas which are thousands of miles away from its own shores. So, it is developing a Blue Ocean Navy capable of operating far away from its shores, like the U.S. Even Russia, the U.K., and France have their limits, but apparently China does not have any limits – financial or otherwise. It is seeking to claim world hegemony like what the U.K. did in its heydays, and what the U.S. has been doing via its global military might posturing over the past several decades.

China wishes to challenge the U.S. in every sphere. It is very clear that China does not play by international rules. It has consistently ignored mandates and rulings from global multilateral institutions (not unlike the U.S.). It has ignored the ruling of the World Court on the territorial sovereignty of the Philippines. It will continue to do so, as China feels it cannot be challenged. The ASEAN nations will toe China’s line, as these countries are dependent on China for trade. Chinese economy is far too big for any country to ignore. So China cleverly uses its economy as a big carrot for making countries follow its diktat.

There are a few countries who won’t do that as a matter of philosophy, apart from the U.S. India is a good example of a nation which would stand on its own, irrespective of what China does or does not do. China, for example, has not allowed India its much desired access to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, but that has not held India back from doing nuclear commerce with several countries such as Australia. China needles India along the Line of Control at the border between the two countries, but so far India has stood its ground. Of course, it is easy to see that the U.S. and India are large countries with significant power on the world stage. India also adopts a multi-pronged alliance strategy by working with the U.S., Japan, and Australia on military related matters such as joint naval exercises.

The Chinese Navy is conducting joint naval exercises with Russia in Baltic Sea this week, and alarm bells are ringing (rightfully) in many Western capitals. Baltic Sea is very, very far from China, and yet China has chosen to send some of its most advanced ships for this exercise. The U.S. must be worried. Europe is a very different theatre, with many countries closely packed together and several of these countries have borders with Russia. And, Russia has a Baltic sea port in Kaliningrad.

The unfortunate thing is that China is not a transparent nation with democratic ideals and an open society and media. Many things are unknown and not discussed in civil society. This is the most worrying factor for other nations, who have to depend on what the Chinese leaders publicly say and do, and then carry out their own assessments and preparations.

So, China is a danger to world stability and peace, unless it becomes less aggressive and less petty in dealing with smaller Asian nations. A country, irrespective of its size or population, cannot aspire to become a global leader who is respected around the world, while trying to steal what is rightfully others’ property and livelihood. China needs to learn this fact, and learn it very quickly. It needs to develop “soft” power like what the U.S. also has (apart from its hard military power), and that would take China a much longer time than just 25 years. China also would not be able to match India on “soft” power – India has much more respect on the world stage and is considered mostly a friend if not a big trading nation.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

23rd July 2017