2020 will always be remembered in history as a year which changed the geo-political game of the world. Covid-19 has not only changed the way we look at the world, but also transformed the relations between different countries in the world.
Before 1991, the world was roughly divided into three parts. The first world consisted of United States with its allied nations such as UK, Canada, France, West Germany, Italy, Japan, Israel, Pacific oceania (Aus-N.Z), Iran( separated after Islamic revolution in 1979) and S.Korea. They formed the capitalist & democratic bloc with various organizations linked to each other such as NATO, Five Eyes etc.
The second world were lead by former USSR/Soviet Union with its satellite countries ( known as Warsaw pact), and other nations like China ( split after 1970), East Germany, N.Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and Afghanistan. They formed the communist bloc with socialist government.
The third world was also known as the Non-Aligned movement (NAM), and while they were not officially part of any group, but still more or less remained close to Soviet Union, due to their history of being colonized by the first world countries ( primarily UK and France),and hence guided by their common struggle against colonization (Africa) or economic imperialism ( in case of South America where USA controlled the economy of these countries). They were India, Egypt, Middle eastern countries including Palestine, few South American nations, and Africa. They were either democratic or ruled by monarchy or military dictatorship.
And everything changed after 1991. The former Soviet Union got dissolved and its satellite countries got closer to the West. Russia lost the superpower status. The third world countries had to align towards United States for economic support. The world became unipolar, with USA being the sole superpower. The 1990’s years were some of the finest years for USA and the West. The world thought that all the conflict in the world had ended, and experts like Francis Fukuyama called the time as the “The end of History”.
But things changed after 9/11. United States became involved in Afghanistan and Iraq ( due to Bush family’s past history with Saddam Hussein), and this involvement changed the entire geo-political scene. Meanwhile, Russia which had seen some of the toughest years during 1990’s decade under drunkard Boris Yeltsin started seeing change under Vladimir Putin. China since Nixon’s visit in 1972 had drifted away from former Soviet Union and under Deng Xiaopeng’s leadership started trading and manufacturing for USA and the rest of the world. It quietly watched the collapse of Soviet Union and America’s involvement after 9/11. Meanwhile, it kept itself busy by increasing its manufacturing share and making its deep pockets deeper. But it also made sure its technology is developed, either by copying or stealing from USA.
And then the next pivotal event happened, which is the Great recession of 2007, and then the election of Barack Obama, America’s first African-American President in 2008. This sent an alarming signal to the world that things were slowly changing in United States, and its stand as a self-declared, undisputed superpower and world’s policeman role no longer stood strong. That is why Putin in Munich conference, 2007 famously remarked about the world changing towards being multi-polar. And during 2008 Beijing Olympics, China displayed its strength by competing with USA and showing the world, that the sleeping dragon had awaken.
The next few years until 2016 were some of peak years for international liberal order. United States became more liberal than ever, and the American public became tired of America’s over-involvement in the world affairs. This marked a new period during 2010’s decade when other powers in the world started to rise up, particularly Russia and China. Russia annexed Crimea, and started yielding its influence in Ukraine. China started becoming more aggressive in the South China sea, and its ambitions flourished with the launch of Belt and Road Initiative, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and surrounding India with ‘String of Pearls’ strategy.
For India, however, the years since 1984 until Modi’s election in 2014 were some of the toughest years in its history. Indira Gandhi Assassination, Khalistan movement and anti-Sikh riots in 1984, Indian peace keeping force to resolve Sri-Lanka conflict and the subsequent assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, Shah-Bano verdict, Hindu-Muslim resentment, fall of Babri Masjid and 1993 Bombay riots, rigged Kashmir elections in 1987, expulsion of Kashmiri Pandits in 1990 followed by Kashmir terrorism for the whole 1990’s decade, Kargil War in 1999, then Godhra Hindu-Muslim riots in 2002, various terrorist attacks during 2000’s decade such as Parliament attack in 2001 and Mumbai blasts in 2003, 2006 and the perilous 26/11 attacks in 2008. In addition to this, there were many corruption scandals in the UPA 2 government, and due to which the mass agitation happened in 2011. India suffered immensely for 30 years, and the only good events which happened during these 30 years were the liberalization of Indian economy by Manmohan Singh and Narsimha Rao in 1991, Pokhran nuclear bomb tests in 1998 and the fact that India survived and did not get shattered or split up like former Soviet Union. This was because of the strong and deep roots of democracy, belief in the idea of India, secularism and brotherhood amongst the diverse yet united people of India.
2014 marked the seminal year in the history of India. Narendra Modi got elected with majority votes, and thus the struggle of India finally halted. The later 6 years have seen tremendous changes. With a strong foreign policy, India conducted surgical strikes, twice!. With many policies like Make in India, Swachh Bharat, demonetization, GST, banning Triple Talaq, resolving long standing Kashmir issue with the removal of article 370, and Citizenship Amendment Act, India has finally made a comeback, however belated it may be. To challenge China’s aggression against String of Pearls, India has initiated ‘Necklace of Diamonds’ strategy. Also, India has become more closer to United States, Germany, Japan, Israel, Saudi Arabia and UAE to boost its trade and strengthen bi-lateral relations.
Just as 2014 marked the year of change for India, similarly 2016 marked the year of change for United States, when the USA and the whole world was shaken with the Brexit and unexpected election of Donald Trump. With Brexit and Trump’s surprising victory, the globalization based liberal order started getting on backfoot, and the more conservative, nationalistic driven approach started becoming mainstream. Trump changed the way the world looked towards USA. He reversed many decisions taken by Obama and prior administrations such as Iran Nuclear deal, Paris Climate Agreement, and pulled USA out of many organizations such as WHO, TPP, UNESCO, United Nations Human Rights council, and threatened to quit from WTO and NATO as well. This is a complete reversal of the superpower role played by USA since the victory in WW2 in 1945. No President has done so much changes during the first term, and this has caused troubles and resentment not only to the liberal order but also to the deep state which exists inside USA establishment.
Finally, the most recent event which years later will be compared similar to 1939 or 1991 is the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic which actually spread in early 2020 from Wuhan, China to the entire world. This pandemic (however the origin might be, whether accidentally escaped from lab or engineered one) has crippled the world economy. USA is the worst affected country in the world, with about 170000 deaths as of Aug 2020. European nations like Italy, Spain and Germany also suffered enormously in the early phase of the pandemic, and now, India, Brazil, Mexico are seeing the worst effects of this pandemic.
The pandemic changed the world view towards China. Until the pandemic, China transitioned itself from a poor, backyard communist country back in 1970’s to an economically developed, state controlled capitalist yet politically communist, ‘factory of the world’. But today, it is seen as a nation which not only poses significant threat to the United States superpower status but also is considered to harbor aggressive ambitions to spread its influence over the world, just like USA and former Soviet Union did after 1945. That is why, we see after the pandemic, China suddenly became more aggressive towards India regarding its border issue, and has yielded control on WHO as well. It is rapidly expanding its assistance to African and European countries amidst the pandemic, and looking at its history of capturing key resources in other countries by its ‘debt-trap diplomacy‘, it plans to do more so in coming future.
Today, the geo-political game has become more complicated yet interesting as never before. The world before 1991 was into three blocs, and from 1991 to 2007-08, it was only USA, the defacto superpower. But since 2008 Great Recession in USA and especially with Donald Trump’s election in 2016, the geo-politics started becoming multi-polar. And after almost 4 years of Trump Presidency, we see in 2020, the world is no longer looking towards USA as the superpower.
In the last 12 years after 2008, many events besides Trump and Brexit have also influenced the world affairs. The Arab Spring, killing of Bin Laden & start of Syrian Civil War in 2011 which lasted for the whole decade, election of Putin again in 2012 ( who continues to rule Russia as a new Tzar), Edward Snowden, Wikileaks and the whistleblowing of US spy program in 2013, Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the US-China trade war and killing of Iranian major general of Quds force Qasem Soleimani by US drone strike in 2020. All these events have altered the geo-politics on a large scale. Today, to counter the US and Western influence over the world, a bloc of group of nations have allied together ( some openly while other discreetly). They include Russia, China, Iran, N.Korea, Turkey and Syria.
The history of Russia with US has always been a game of tug of war to exert their own control over the world. Russia under Putin has emerged strong and has positioned itself a powerful leader in the Eurasian region. With abundance of Oil and advanced military technology, it remains a game changer for the events happening in Central Asia and Eastern Europe. It is widely considered that Syria was actively supported by Russia, and this resulted in the Syrian victory in the civil war. Russia had seen its worst years under US controlled Yeltsin and billionaire oligarchs, and so today Russia does not trust the West. It looks like the 1990’s debacle with Russia was the repetition of Treaty of Versailles, and even though Putin wont start any world war like Hitler did, but the Russian mistrust of western democracy and predatory capitalism has positioned them to support Putin and a strong yet isolated Russia.
China on the other side is becoming like the next Soviet Union. With its consistent belief in communist ideology among the top political party cadre, and a burning aspiration to make China strong, and to never again face humiliation from the western countries and Japanese, China has risen up to make itself an aggressive nation. Even though it is true that China did face a lot of humiliation and persecution for almost a hundred years until 1949, and even after that, for another 30 years or so, the Chinese suffered hardships during Mao’s rule. But after 1979, China has reversed its fortune and made a stunning comeback with a strong economy. The western world silently supported China when it embraced capitalism, and they hoped that eventually China would accept democracy as well. But this never happened. Just like Russia follows a managed democracy, so does China follows a managed capitalistic model. But what makes China aggressive like former Soviet Union was against USA, are the stronghold of Chinese Communist party over economy, people, and its spread of China led institutions such as BRI and AIIB, which pose a threat to USA and western led institutions. Also, China fares worst when it come to humans rights and is known for spying and stealing from US, just like Soviet Union did. China’s support for terrorist nations like N.Korea worries the world, and it is because of China that these two nations have nuclear bombs. Further, China has supported Iranian regime, and this poses a threat for Israel, Saudi Arabia and US. Finally, the recent Covid-19 spread from China and its futile attempt to hide it from the world, have exacerbated the rift between China and the rest of the western world.
Iran, is another country, whose ideology and leadership makes the geo-politics more complicated then ever. Considered one of the best friend of USA until 1979, when the Islamic revolution happened, today, Iran continues to remain on the enemy list of USA. This is also because of the inter-dependencies of the middle east politics. The middle east as we today, was never united in history. The British and the French made attempts to unite this region on the grounds of religion. Later, the formation of the state of Israel gave another boost for unity of the Arabs. But Iranians are not Arabs, they are Persians, historically. And due to the practice of Shia Islam, the Sunni countries have never accepted Iran and its adherents/kafirs. Even among Sunni Arabs, there are many spheres of influence. But mainly they are three, which are Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt. All these three nations compete to yield their influence over the region. Once upon a time, it was the Ottoman Turks who ruled through their Ottoman Caliphate, centered in Istanbul. But after the fall of Ottoman empire after WW1, Turkey became secular under its ruler Kemal Attaturk. But today, there has been a marked reversal in the Turkish policies. Turkey under Erdogan have championed itself as the new Caliphate and leader of Islam. That is why the Church turned Mosque turned museum Hagia Sophia and Chora Church is turned back to Mosque.
Egypt which had been influential during the British rule and due to Suez Canal, now does not yield much power, as it did back during its war against Israel. And after the discovery of oil and gas in Saudi Arabia, the Saudi royal family have become one of the richest in the world. But unlike Egypt and Iran, Saudi’s have not waged any war against Israel and due to its opposition to Iran, it continues to support Israel against Iran. Iraq under Saddam Hussein had become a trouble for middle east and Israel, which was duly taken care of by US, Israel with the covert support of Saudi and Iran as well (Iran and Iraq were enemies on grounds of religion). Hence, today in the middle east we see a Shia belt from Iran, Yemen, Syria to Lebanon ( with support of Hezobollah), which is against Saudi and its allies such as UAE, Israel, Bahrain, Egypt etc. And to counter Saudi influence, Turkey have started its own campaign to take back the caliphate it had lost to Saudis. The Syrian Civil War re-aligned the relations between middle east countries, and Syria with the support of Iran and Russia, won against the alliance which comprised of Saudi Arabia, USA, Israel, Turkey.
Thus, the world has become more complicated than ever. To understand middle east geo-politics itself is like finding a needle in the haystack. But just as the European affairs back in 19th and 20th century resulted in two catastrophic world wars, similarly this Asian conflict which covers from Russia, Syria, China, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia has the potential to evolve from being an Asian conflict to a world conflict. More to cover in next post. Stay tuned!
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