As has been argued by many, including this author, that in the space of geo-politics, nothing really ever changes, with the alignments dictated not by stated principles of nation states, but by never changing geographies and deep seated hidden ideologies which only change glacially or through black-swan events. Given the pragmatic hard headed cynicism that naturally comes with the study of world affairs, it is often hard to believe when changes come, even when made by directed efforts by our own towards the same. However, it does seem that the wheels of the world are turning in at least in parts and a new system may be on the cards.
One of the key indicators of the change was when earlier this year, during extensive talks held earlier in Manila where the Indo-Japan-US-Australia quadrilateral was “reborn”. The quadrilateral is not a new concept, it was first mooted in 2007 by Shinzo Abe to extend the trilateral strategic dialogue (TSD) involving Australia, Japan and the US to include India to create a global “Arc of Democracy” spanning the regions of Asia and Pacific, but it took 10 years and the arrival on the scene of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump to create the **Indo-Pacific** formulation which underpins the quadrilateral. **Coincidentally** it is also a full decade since then CM of Gujarat, Modi visited Japan in 2007, an event, which no doubt had nothing whatsoever to do with PM Abe’s drive to invite India into the TSD, which till then had not thought about Indian inclusion. Close on the heels the development of the quadrilateral security dialogue working group, comes yet another straw in the wind in the shape recently released national security strategy document by Trump administration in December of this year. While admittedly written from a American perspective, it does provide for an detailed yet sweeping summary of the geo-political map of the world on which it bases prescriptions for American actions. A useful technique to examine the key takeaways of an extensive paper such as this is to look at its word cloud.
The centrality of US, America, national etc. is of course the defining feature of the word cloud as Trump sets out the new view of the world from an “America first” lens, however as we get past that, the interesting pieces begin to emerge. A corner stone of the architecture of the new world order as seen by the U.S. which shows up in the word cloud, is primacy of economic aspect. This is an interesting evolution from the military centric setup of the past, where the worldview was primarily based on key military alliances with economy being the supporting pillar. In the emerging order while the military aspect is still important, it occupies second tier to the words “economy” and “partners” which are bigger and bolder than it in the cloud and the two most prominent themes. The other key words that stand out are trade, free, law and energy. The narrative that then emerges is a US focused on economic aspects, based on free trade based on laws and rule based partnerships amongst comity of nations. This message is something which does hold itself even on a detailed perusal of the vision paper. This theme central to Trump’s presidency, dove tails perfectly well with the quadrilateral and complements it. The quadrilateral provides a framework which can realize the goals of increased economic activity based on shared values of democracy, with multilateral interactions of powers each on equal footing in rule based environment. Such a framework although not exactly US centric, would be largely be aligned with the evolving views of the US establishment and would support many of the policy actions listed therein.
If the above model were to translate into reality, it would be in line with long held Indian interests and values at many levels and therefore be appealing to us, in fact, appears far too good to be true. The question then that begs to be asked is, why ? What would be the interests that would drive the other nations in the quadrilateral and specifically the US to move towards the system outlined above ? After all US is the established power of this age, and willing devolution of power is not something that has a historical precedent. Neither is US known to respect international multilateral forums outside of narrow military groupings with it being in the lead. It does not stand to reason that the hopes being read into the recent developments would be anything more than still born, based on past experiences. It is here that we examine the reasons that present themselves that indicate a change, if not a complete break, from the past. One reason which was presented above was the rise of Modi and Trump to the heads of their respective nations, with Abe continuing and cementing his position in Japan. However, this leadership change is not limited to the three individuals. There has been a shift in leadership worldwide as the cold war considerations have receded and newer dynamics replaced the key concerns of the world. In Australia too, Kevin Rudd, who backed out of the quadrilateral has been replaced by Juila Gillard, a far more right wing politician without any baggage of hypocrisy that comes with leftism. This leadership change has in part been driven by the growing realization amongst the people of the world about the increased power of absolutist and fundamentalist ideologies and forces and their inimical impact to their way of life. It is a different matter that the same forces had been nurtured by the very same people before under shortsighted alliances, but in any case the names are finally being named. It is the changing threat perception, coupled with realization of the so far ignored, but weakness inherent amongst the established powers that is driving the effort to create new opportunities based on their current strengths to complete the SWOT matrix.
Of the names being named, the key one is of course that of China. It is the only country name which stands out in our word cloud apart from U.S. That China shows up prominently in the word cloud is not accidental. There are no less than twenty three (23) references to China in the paper, and these references span the entire article, from the very introduction where it is introduced as a threat, to the very last page of the last chapter. At twenty three, it has by far the highest count of any nation, state or geography referenced. To contrast whole of Europe is referenced 14 times and Asia 18 times, many of which are in context of China. The words associated with allusions to China make for a fascinating read. In the introduction itself the tone is set with statements of the country “**challenge** American power, influence and interests” and “**erode** American security and prosperity”. In the chapter on Protecting the American way of life, we have China “**Threaten** critical infrastructure” and calls for US to “develop missile defense to counter”. In the section on Promote American prosperity, the dragon is in focus for “Stealing US intellectual property”. In Peace through strength, the Communist country wants to “**Deny** America access”, engages in “continuous **competition**” and “information **warfare**”. When examining the Regional context, China is in focus as it “**Endangers**” the free flow of trade, **diminishes** the sovereignty of many states.” It does this through “**Unfair** trade practices **extractive** economic footprint”.
Challenge, erode, warfare, extractive, endanger, deny, steal, threaten.
These are not pretty words, and every mention of China is peppered with these.
There is not a single positive attribute around the country, and the list of negatives could barely be stronger. It is at the level of denouncing communists during McCarthy era. It is hardly necessary to make the point that US views China as a threat once these are listed out. It is a case which makes itself more clearly than any possible commentary on Trump’s doctrine can. This then becomes a first of threats driving the change.
The other enemy, which actually manages to outshine China in the citation count is Islamist terror, between the different words used to describe it, it has nearly forty references spanning the words of jihad, jihadist, Islamic state, Islamist etc. The word terror is clearly on top of the mind with **seventy three** (73) references to either Islamist terror or terrorists. Like in case of China, each of these mentions is either negative, or overwhelming negative. Allusions include “wicked”, “harm”, “murder”, “repression”, “slavery”, “supremacist”, “barbaric”. This delightful set also includes in its swath, Pakistan, which has eight references to it, which are in context of destabilizing behavior around it, support for transnational terrorists and militants and potential for Nuclear conflict in the region. Iran with twelve references also forms a part of the terror axis from the American viewpoint. Apart from China, the Islamist terror is the only other theme to span the entire paper through its various different sections.
However it is important to note that the document does not restrict itself only to US when it identifies these threats above. It has examined their impact on different regions and alliance partners. For example, the impact of extractive economics from China on Africa and Europe, or that of terror on West Asian and European allies etc. For each call to US exceptionalism, there is a corresponding call for US to network with like-minded partners to build a bulwark against the threats, and amongst the allies, India seems to emerge as the favored partner of choice.
There are nearly 20 references to either India, or India in context of Indo-Pacific.
To compare and contrast, Japan, Australia and South Korea get only three four mentions. Very clearly if not unexpectedly Trump seems to be moving away from the “Atlanticism” of the Kissinger school. The erstwhile partner nations in Europe get barely a mention each, and even refrences to Europe are more in context of the Russian threat or general overall historical references. The one part which stands out as clearly as the focus on key threats, is the near complete lack of interest in the “Anglo-Saxon” paradigm. The paradigm of choice in the paper is Indo-Pacific. The attributions to India are a key part of this, and the passages “Welcome emergence of India as leading global power and stronger strategic and defense partner”. There are calls to “Deepen strategic partnership” with us, and for US to “Support leadership role” for India in the region as a stabilizing force. US would “Encourage India to improve economic status” as a bulwark to limit the negative economic policies of hegemonic countries. And then of course there is the discussion on the quadrilateral; where the paper includes the countries in the Indo-Pacific region, including Indonesia, New Zealand, South Korea etc as part of the regional architecture.
With these additional points, the initial premise of the new order appears to be more viable. It does stand to reason that intelligent minds running a SWOT analysis can see that of the few options that exist to preserve peace and prosperity in times to come, a new architecture centered around Indo-US collaboration is possibly the only sustainable solution.
[National Security Strategy, Dec 2017] https://www.whitehouse.gov/…/…/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf
[Quadrilateral Security Dialogue]https://en.wikipedia.org/wi…/Quadrilateral_Security_Dialogue
[Trump has put Pakistan on notice] http://www.hindustantimes.com/…/story-pFWxdATDMChlqpRqBWort…
[PM Narendra Modi with PM Shinzo Abe] http://indiatoday.intoday.in/…/narendra-modi…/1/1048020.html