“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.
29th July 2017
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.
23rd July 2017
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!!
15th July 2017
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.
15th July 2017
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.
28th May 2017
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?
01 May 2017
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.
23rd April 2017