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Savouring a delectable geopolitical smorgasbord

MR josseBy MR Josse
KATHMANDU: The past week has been fecund in serving up a rich geopolitical smorgasbord. There has been such a profusion of delectable geopolitical offerings that it will only be possible to ‘taste’ just a handful.
Among them are observations by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif who reminded CNN in Munich that American “testing” of Iran for  38 years was unproductive, recalling that former American President Barack Obama imposed sanctions and “tried to be tough” when Iran had only “200 centrifuges” but when former US Secretary of State John Kerry came to negotiate Iran had “20, 000 centrifuges”.
Describing the 2015 Iran nuclear deal as “the best deal for all” he argued that it not only represented “what was possible” but that, because “Europe, as well as Russia and China, have endorsed the deal” it would not be invalidated if the United States backed out.
Comments to CNN by British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon were also instructive: apparently, he is more than reassured by his American counterpart James Mattis’ commitment of US support for NATO made at Brussels, an assurance that was reinforced by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at a G-20 meet in Bonn and by Vice President Mike Pence at the 53rd Munich Security Conference.
While Pence told European leaders and ministers at Munich that “America strongly supports NATO and will be unwavering in our commitment to the transatlantic alliance”, Mattis, while doing much the same in Brussels, reminded his European peers: “Americans cannot care more for your children’s future security than you do.” This no-nonsense message follows years of calls by Washington for allies to spend at least two percent of the GDP on defence, a goal that only a handful meet despite agreeing to it at a summit in 2014.
image001 image003The thrust of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s observations at the Munich meet, as highlighted by CNN, are no less absorbing, especially when he claims that the “post-West world order” has come to an end, having lasted from the end of the Cold War in 1991 to 2017. Though Lavrov’s full statement has not come my way, I believe that much the same thesis has been elaborated by Russian academic Sergei Karaganov, when he argues that a new world order is beginning to evolve, but adds that the process has so far proved slow, chaotic and laden with risk.
Specifically, he asserts that Russia would be “one key pillar” of the emergent world order: “Having lost whatever hope it may have held that it could build amicably a fair and stable world order, Russia has lately restored its hard power. It has used that power, first, to stop NATO’s expansion into territories that Russia considers vital to its own security, thereby averting the large-scale war that expansion would inevitably have brought; and, second, to forestall yet another illegitimate Western effort to bring about regime change in Syria (where Russia has demonstrated both military might and diplomatic prowess).”
No less fascinating is Karaganov’s recommendation the “big trioka” – the US, China and Russia – “must come together to create the conditions for a peaceful transition to a new, more stable world order…All the elements of security – from nuclear weapons to cyber security to politics – must be considered, in the service of the overarching goal of strengthening mutual multilateral deterrence.”
While it will be instructive to watch whether, or when, such a vision becomes a reality, for now, it should be worthwhile to ponder some aspects of current Sino-American relations that have assumed a heightened salience of late. One set falls into the South China Sea-Pacific category; the other involves the North Korea-China-America triangle. Taking the former grouping first – not least, against the backdrop of the recent none-too-subtle tussle between the aircraft carrier strike groups of the two behemoths – I wish to direct attention to some acute observations by noted American economist, Jeffery D. Sachs, entitled “Donald Trump’s dangerous China illusions.”
Particularly telling is this acerbic comment: “America has military bases in roughly 70 foreign countries while China has one (in Djibouti). America outspends China on the military by more than two to one. For decades, America has been in nonstop overseas wars and regime-change operations, while China has been in very few overseas conflicts, all short-lived. China, in short, has not been an expansionist or aggressive power, while the United States has sought unrivaled global power.
“While the United States cannot dominate China, it need not fear China’s dominance either. Yes, China is now larger economically than the United States, and will remain so, but the United States also remains far richer in per capita terms and will likely continue to be so throughout the 21st Century.” And so on.
Former South Korean foreign minister in Yoon Young-Kwan in a very thoughtful opinion piece challenges Trump to strike simultaneous deals with China and North Korea, keeping in mind not only his reputation as a consummate deal maker but also that “any diplomatic effort to denuclearise North Korea must also alleviate China’s geo-strategic concerns about the future of the Korean peninsula”, mindful that “for centuries, China has feared that the peninsula could become part of a chain of encirclement or serve as an invasion route.” Yoon
then provides concrete historical evidence to back his appealing thesis.
Finally, let me relate here what Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told Yung Byung-se, his South Korean counterpart, on the sidelines of the Munich security meeting – as reported by Reuters. Saying that China understands South Korea’s need to protect itself from North Korea, but Seoul still needs to respect Beijing’s concerns about the deployment of an advanced US anti-missile system, Wang credibly argued, stressing “that one country’s security should not be founded on the basis of harming another country’s security.”
That is the same point I have repeatedly been making. Nepal cannot become insecure for the sake of India’s security!

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