“Transitions themselves are not the issue, but how well you respond to their challenges”.
Transition is an ongoing phenomenon in human life. However, its intensity and speed may vary in different scenarios. The systems in transition sometimes become unpredictable, hazardous, chaotic and jerky. At present, the world is witnessing multidimensional transitions. Ever since the end of Cold War, USA – the sole superpower – has been dictating the world. Its victory in Cold War generated feelings of arrogance, invincibility and omnipotence. Mark Twain once said, “to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Thus, unbridled might of sole superpower made it a ‘man’ with a hammer. Moreover, its cutting-edge technology and knowledge economy rendered it invincible. The sole superpower and its affiliates designed global systems to maintain their hegemony. There also seemed to be a feeling of intoxication with might and unflinching power. As is said in case of humans, so is applicable to states that, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Likewise, the absolute power also corrupted the sole superpower which handled every problem like a ‘nail’ with highly suspected motives.
Pakistan is also witnessing this transition in and around itself. The transformation poses challenges as well as provide significant opportunities for nation states. Historically, Pakistan has remained on the centre stage of global politics due to security concerns. But initiation of CPEC – as a lynchpin of BRI – has transformed Pakistan’s relevance and now it is again emerging at the centre stage of global politics but with economic relevance. It is noteworthy that economic activities have strong potential to generate stability. Therefore, projects under the BRI and particularly CPEC, also have the potential to economically integrate the region which earlier remained mired with intra-regional animosities and long-standing issues.
The West led by the U.S. maintained its domination in global politics by controlling three crucial factors namely economy, information and energy. U.S. Dollar dominated the global economy while the western media e.g, BBC, CNN, Time, Newsweek etc. directed the flow of information. Energy resources and its secured supply emerged as the third sought after commodity to dominate the global politics. It became very clear that domination of the world warranted domination in these three domains. On the other hand, there is a fall to every rise. Slowly and gradually, additional actors appeared to challenge the U.S. domination. Till the power equilibrium favoured the West, these were the muted challenges, however, the diminishing power of the West incited potent responses. For quite some time, the challenges to economic and information domination were eliminated. Whosoever attempted to challenge petro-dollar was shown the door. These included Mahathir bin Mohamad, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, however, efforts were put into crippling Putin and Hugo Chavez. In case of information, challengers like Russian TV (RT) are under sanctions whereas Qatar is being pressurised to shut down Al Jazeera.
The diminishing political power of the West can be judged from the fact that in 1991, almost the entire world supported the U.S. war against Iraq, while in 2003, half of the world was with U.S. against Iraq. In 2018, least of the countries favoured U.S. in UN resolution on shifting the Israeli capital to Jerusalem and now in Syria’s case, even U.S. public is not with its government. The closest allies of the U.S. in Europe are finding it very hard to stand with the former. As might of the U.S./West is diminishing, additional power centres are propping up. Thus, the first transition of unipolarity to multipolarity is emerging. Regarding its superpower status, the U.S. is waning while China is waxing. The world is facing Thucydides Trap which says that an emerging power is seen as a threat by the established power. Keeping in view the geo-strategic as well as geo-economic compulsions, chances of a direct conflict between the U.S. and China is not on the horizon, however, their rivalry will carry on.
Second transition lies in erosion of domination of dollar. The U.S. no longer holds a position whereby it can eliminate challenges to dollar. Six currencies ahead of dollar have ruled the world. Average period of domination of each currency was 80-90 years. Dollar has already outlived this period and is now coming under stress. Nation states are shifting to alternate currencies. Yuan is the biggest challenger, so much so that even IMF is accepting Yuan as second currency. The U.S. is struggling to maintain dollar’s domination in the global economy.
In case of information domination, so far challengers like RT and Al Jazeera are being squeezed to maintain western hegemony. In this domain, the U.S./West created World Wide Web (WWW) as well as social media which has created a havoc and the Arab Spring is a case in point. Both these technologies helped in growth of globalization. However, these were equally exploited by ‘forces of disorder’ against ‘forces of order’. These were helpful in flow of positive information as well as negative information. Flow of knowledge to create order is outpaced by knowledge to create disruption. Unmatchable domination in technology also incited ‘forces of disorder’ to challenge the hegemon through asymmetric means.
In this geostrategic setting, Farid Zakaria postulated the future in his book, Post American World. Alternately, George Friedman in his book, Next 100 Years, opined that next complete century belongs to the U.S. He seems to be over optimistic, unrealistic and straddling in domain of propaganda. Ground realities bespeak totally different about the future. Apparently, U.S. hegemony may last for 30-40 years. Currently there are four major powers making two blocs i.e., Western bloc comprising U.S. and Europe and Eastern bloc comprising China and Russia. China has played a masterly stroke of BRI. On one hand, this initiative takes care of all three contending theories attributed to Mackinder,2 Spykman3 and Mahan.4 Mackinder asserted on supremacy of Land Power for Global Dominance; Spykman suggested who controls Rimland, controls Eurasia and the destinies of the world while Mahan proposed Sea Power to be a deciding factor in world dominance. On the other hand, BRI will wean Europe away from the U.S., as Europe is going to be economically integrated into newly emerging Chinese dominated global economic system. China should also be indebted to President Trump (for pulling Europe) who is complementing China’s efforts by pushing Europe away from U.S.
Six currencies ahead of dollar have ruled the world. Average period of domination of each currency was 80-90 years.
The U.S. frustration and anxiety is clearly discernible from its actions. Strategically, she seems to be on a reactive mode. President Trump is being labelled as an ‘agent of chaos’ a.k.a. “The Kraken”.5 President Trump and his deep state has realized that the global systems are serving the adversaries more than the U.S. itself. He wants to create chaos, uproot these systems and rebuild them. It is akin to a losing player who tosses the board to quit the game.
In case of regional setting, Robert D. Kaplan projected in 2006 that the Indian Ocean would be the centre stage of rivalry in 21st century. The rationale behind his argument was that both energy rich Middle East & Central Asian Republics as well as energy hungry areas i.e., India and China lie in IOR. He as well as George Friedman highlighted geographic limitations which would inhibit China becoming a superpower. It was opined that geographically China is hemmed in with long, circuitous and vulnerable sea lines of communication. Rivalry in Indian Ocean has been picking up since the start of 21st century. Chinese strategy of ‘String of Pearls’ is being countered by Indian strategy of ‘Necklace of Diamonds’. The battle for ports is going on. In case of Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives, if one port is with China, the second is with India as highlighted in the following image.6 Djibouti port is with China whereas nearby Duqm port of Oman is with India. Gwadar is linked with China and Chabahar is with India. In this setting of rivalry as well as with a view to offsetting geographic limitation of China, Pakistan has assumed significant importance.
Likewise, the global transition, Pakistan is also witnessing this transition in and around itself. The transformation poses challenges as well as provide significant opportunities for nation states. Historically, Pakistan has remained on the centre stage of global politics due to security concerns. But initiation of CPEC – as a lynchpin of BRI – has transformed Pakistan’s relevance and now it is again emerging at the centre stage of global politics but with economic relevance. It is noteworthy that economic activities have strong potential to generate stability. Therefore, projects under the BRI and particularly CPEC, also have the potential to economically integrate the region which earlier remained mired in intra-regional animosities and long-standing issues.
These transitions encompass opportunities as well as challenges. There is a need to deftly play the cards so that one is not caught up in the envisaged chaos and confusion.
The writer is present DG ISSRA, National Defence University (NDU).
E-mail: [email protected]
1The Thucydides Trap, a term coined by Harvard’s Graham Allison, is the notion that when a rising power challenges the established leader of the international order conflict often ensues.
2 The geographical pivot of history (also known as the heartland theory or simply the pivot of history) is a geostrategic theory that was first proposed by Halford John Mackinder in 1904.
3 The Rimland is a concept championed by Nicholas John Spykman, professor of international relations at Yale University. To him geopolitics is the planning of the security policy of a country in terms of its geographical factors.
4 In “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History”, Mahan reviewed the role of “sea power” in the emergence and growth of the British Empire.
5 Andrew Korybko, “Trump: Agent Of Chaos (a.k.a. “The Kraken”)”, Oriental Review, December 27, 2017.
6 Eleanor Albert, “Competition in the Indian Ocean”, Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), May 19, 2016.