2025: A glimpse of the geopolitical future

Columnist  | Krishnan Srinivasan

Opinion, Op Ed

The growth of India’s economy and the democratic system remains our best insurance policy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

To look too far into the future is speculative: 2025 is a better horizon; President Donald Trump will have finished a possible second term; Prime Minister Narendra Modi will have finished his second term, and China’s targets set by President Xi Jinping can be assessed.

In many countries, populist-nationalist parties have squeezed traditional political parties; only they seem to fire up enthusiasm among voters. The public is abandoning mainstream political parties because the social contract that promised equal opportunity and rising incomes for both the elites and the masses is discredited. Financial corporates made profits in globalisation while the working class lost jobs; in the United States, the average income of the top one per cent is 138 times higher than the bottom 50 per cent. The Western flagship model of democracy and free market prolonged itself through widening the franchise, but voters everywhere distrust elected representatives and democracy looks headed for a long drawn out decline.

Liberalism is used in India today to attack the government and by the government against its detractors. Russia and China are not the only countries to believe they have a different kind of civilisation where sovereignty trumps democracy and stability trumps human rights. India, Turkey, Iran and many others feel they present an alternative model to Western-style liberalism.

The desire for freedom is universal, but freedom to shatter the economy in protests as in Hong Kong, or freedom to blaspheme as in the French Charlie Hebdo or Russian Pussy Riot cases, or freedom to bear arms as enshrined in the American Constitution, are examples that show that liberty has limitations, even if self-imposed. The relative success of street protests in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, France, Ecuador, Catalonia and Hong Kong are indications that this trend will continue, driven by the social media. No country will find the golden mean between free-range liberalism and statism.

In international relations, the centre ground for concepts like strategic autonomy will shrink with polarisation, and affect countries like India, which has already, with a wary eye on China and Pakistan, moved towards a more aligned position with all the liabilities that this entails.

Mr Trump’s foreign policies are more popular than commonly perceived, with support for isolationist and protectionist policies. So, whether or not Mr Trump is re-elected, the America First doctrine will endure. This makes US foreign policy essentially bilateral, generating less chance for the expansion of permanent membership of the UN Security Council to which India aspires.

Leaks are a feature of American politics ever since the founding fathers and will grow apace. Impeachment will be on the agenda if Mr Trump wins a second term. The Zelensky telephone scandal will make every foreign leader cautious in talking to the US President.

America perceives China as its greatest threat. China is regarded as an affront, since the presumption is that being American implies Number One status.
China’s rise is something that the world has to adjust to. Despite the slowdown, China grows at around six per cent and will overtake America’s GDP before 2030. The Belt and Road Initiative will succeed in bringing Central Asia, Eurasia and West Europe into greater economic cooperation and enabling China’s reach into Latin America and Africa. Connectivities are never exclusive but the political implications are clear when China becomes lender of first resort rather than the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank put together. President Xi Jinping has set 10 objectives for global leadership for China by 2025; among them, Artificial Intelligence, driverless cars, robotics, and quantum engineering.

There is unlikely to be a China-US war other than by accident. Iran and the South China Sea are unlikely to cause accidents, but North Korea may. India’s efforts to normalise relations with China will flounder because of Pakistan. An India-China war is also unlikely, but China will use Pakistan as a proxy to hinder India’s rise. The growth of India’s economy and the democratic system remains our best insurance policy. India is one of the world’s big economies, but big-player status is difficult without being pivotal in South Asia where India’s leadership is insufficiently credible.

Multilateralism is the answer to managing China’s rise. The West will regret their refusal to grant China its rightful share of control in the multilateral financial institutions. Multilateralism is also the means to counter trends towards unilateralism, ethnocentrism, protectionism and racial intolerance.

On the “frozen” disputes of Cyprus, Palestine, Ukraine and North Korea, little progress is possible unless Washington’s position changes on the last three. If the situation in Kashmir deteriorates, the issue may be revived in international forums, although no third party has enthusiasm for India-Pakistan disputes. Kashmir cannot be solved bilaterally except on the basis of the status quo.

Eighteen years after the Twin Towers fell, 75 per cent of Americans call terrorism a national priority and 50 per cent prioritise security over civil liberties, but the number of fatalities directly attributed to terror is microscopic compared to the 700 killings a year by so-called law enforcement agencies. The same is the case with India, where the number of road deaths is 364 times higher than terrorism casualties. The ability of intelligence agencies worldwide against terrorism has enormously increased.
The race is on for supremacy in artificial intelligence and 5G. Cyber attacks will proliferate. The role of the intelligence agencies will grow with technological capability; governments will increasingly rely on them and eventually be in thrall to them. It will be impossible to distinguish between the role of intelligence organisations and conventional diplomacy.
The quality of democratic debate will plummet. Opponents will be regarded as enemies. Interference in elections by the US, Russia, China and smaller fry will increase. The green movement will continue to grow, but remain on the political fringes for want of corporate financing.

Muslim grievances, which can take extremist form, will remain as long as the Kashmir and Palestine issues remain unresolved and the Shias believe the West is hostile. Iran will continue to be a stone in the throat of the West. So too Turkey, to a lesser extent. The oil monopoly of the Middle East and its political influence will diminish sharply.

The West will attempt to drive a wedge between Russia and China, but the price to pay for this will be high.

The World Trade Organisation will fall into disuse, unable to engineer global agreements. It is arguable that China and India no longer deserve special differentiated status as developing nations.

In the US, Europe and everywhere, it will be harder for the minorities, refugees, economic migrants and asylum seekers.

The mainstream media will be on the defensive to show accuracy as it scrambles to compete with an ever-growing number of news sources.

The Responsibility to Protect doctrine will be back on the shelf where it belongs. As for humanitarian arguments, such reasoning has been appropriated by Russia in Georgia and Ukraine. The International Criminal Court will remain without credibility.

The time has come for a new Geneva Convention to replace the existing four, a new global agreement to replace the WTO, and treaties on the use of plastics and ocean sanctuaries. Action to protect the environment against global warming, despite US opposition, has a greater chance of success.

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