Sunday, October 26, 2014
9

The Silence of the BRICS

NEW DELHI – The world, it seems, is in the grip of geopolitical anomie. No leader, group of leaders, or institution commands sufficient authority to restore any semblance of international order and peace. For many, this global rudderlessness recalls Europe’s sleepwalk into catastrophe 100 years ago.

There are certainly some uncanny similarities between current events and that fateful time. The downing in eastern Ukraine of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 echoed the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in its recklessness, not to mention the failure of governments and citizens to recognize that diplomatic rivalry can quickly give way to violence.

Indeed, even after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and incitement of secessionist movements in eastern Ukraine, airlines did not consider it necessary to reroute flights. This reflected the international community’s response – or lack thereof – to the menacing developments. With Russian forces now directly participating in the unrest in eastern Ukraine, the match lit by President Vladimir Putin could spark a conflagration.

Shortly before the Soviet Union’s dissolution was complete, I asked Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as National Security Adviser under US President Jimmy Carter, what the world should expect from a post-Soviet Russia. He replied that the Soviet Union’s dissolution would bring about a new era of global peace, if – and only if – Russia remained within its geographical boundaries.

That is a path in which Putin clearly has no interest, as he leads Russia’s latest crusade, after its 2008 war with Georgia, to recover a part of its lost empire. The “history” that, according to Francis Fukuyama, was supposed to have ended with communism’s collapse has gotten a second wind. In Putin’s authoritarian capitalism – similar to that of China – Western-style liberal democracy, which was supposed to reign triumphant, has a new rival.

From Putin’s perspective, Russia’s focus on Ukraine makes sense. Ukraine’s allegiance is essential to Putin’s effort to establish his Russian-led Eurasian Union as an alternative to the European Union. Moreover, Russian leaders have always viewed Ukraine as an important security buffer; it is also a transit route for the energy exports on which Russia’s economy depends.

This is not the first time that Putin has worried about a Ukrainian shift toward the West. During Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, Putin believed that the CIA was behind the widespread protests that blocked Viktor Yanukovych’s attempt to steal the presidential election. But the scale of the protests, together with the West’s support for the protesters, compelled Putin to refrain from intervening directly. Instead of launching a military campaign – overt or otherwise – he used energy exports and financial incentives to keep Ukraine’s government in line.

This time around, Putin chose military intervention – a decision that has proved devastating for Russia. Western sanctions have fueled capital flight on a scale not seen since the early years of the country’s post-communist transition.

Moreover, the central bank’s decision not to defend a sharply falling ruble, together with Putin’s prohibition of Western food imports, will lead to a sharp decline in living standards and a growing sense of global isolation. As a result, support for Putin is likely to wane.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine now resembles a gang war, lawless and unconstrained. And the EU refrained for too long from taking decisive action that would undermine the economic interests of influential members like France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Just before the EU finally tightened its sanctions at the end of July, Marietje Schaake, a Dutch MEP, observed that almost every European country had “voluntarily handed over power to Mr. Putin, allowing him to play countries against each other.” Thus, in the wake of the downing of MH17, US President Barack Obama, as Geoff Dyer put it, was “caught between a strategy of trying to move in tandem with Europe and the clamor for a decisive US response.”

If the West’s response to the crisis in Ukraine has been weak and misguided, the reaction of the world’s rising powers has been one of willful blindness. China, for example, has effectively endorsed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine. That should have set off alarms bells in India, given China’s claims on large swathes of Indian sovereign territory, but there is no sign yet that anyone has noticed.

Considering India’s history, this is not altogether shocking. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, India did not express explicit disapproval. Indeed, India repeatedly abstained from United Nations resolutions urging the withdrawal of Soviet forces – resolutions that had overwhelming support among the other non-aligned countries.

By the late 1980s, when the Soviet Union sought an honorable and safe exit from Afghanistan, India had forfeited the standing necessary to help. Once the Soviets withdrew, India could not play any serious role in shaping Afghanistan’s future.

When the foundations of the global order are threatened, great powers must not adopt a policy of inaction and silence. For their part, emerging powers like India, Brazil, South Africa, and Turkey must, at the very least, loudly and categorically defend the fundamental rules of the international system that has enabled them to grow and prosper. Otherwise, when world leaders finally do wake up and take action, they could find that they have stumbled into yet another global catastrophe.

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  1. Commentedj. von Hettlingen

    Mr. Jaswant Singh regrets "the silence of the BRICS" - silent about Russia's aggression and Putin's revisionist ambition! He criticises that the "West’s response to the crisis in Ukraine has been weak and misguided, the reaction of the world’s rising powers has been one of willful blindness".
    India is a BRICS member. While he spares his country from criticism, he rebukes China, saying it "has effectively endorsed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine". Then he shows his real concern, implying Russia's aggression in Ukraine has "set off alarms bells in India, given China’s claims on large swathes of Indian sovereign territory, but there is no sign yet that anyone has noticed".
    Mr. Singh said India didn't condemn the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Instead it "repeatedly abstained from United Nations resolutions urging the withdrawal of Soviet forces – resolutions that had overwhelming support among the other non-aligned countries". This just shows that India prefers to stick to its realpolitik, instead of criticising the Soviet Union then and Russia today for violating other countries' sovereignty.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the BRICS summit in July, hosted by Brazil. It was his first conference since assuming office in May. Yet the media in India were more interested in Modi's first appearance on the world stage, praising him for putting India "squarely on the path of pragmatic internationalism" and outlining his priorities in foreign policies - to forge good ties with China and Russia.
    Russia and India have had historically close links since Soviet times. Energy is the core of their relations today. India wants to import more oil and gas from Russia, and Moscow is eager to sell arms to India. Yet the India-China relationship is equally important. Despite the border dispute, India is banking on improving ties with China, hoping it would contribute to regional stability, given Beijing's strong influence on Pakistan.
    The other two BRICS members: Brazil and South Africa seem to be playing the second fiddle. On the whole the BRICS nations are still not yet ready to assume global responsibilities. Their co-ordination among themselves on international political issues leaves much to be desired. It explains why they prefer to remain silent about its fellow member, Russia.

  2. CommentedWillard Hoffer

    Unfortunately the U.S. lost credibility with the rest of the world when it presented it with false information as justification for invading Iraq, the second time. Because of this, Putin is able to deny whatever the U.S. or its allies puts forward as evidence of Russian forces in the Ukraine.

  3. CommentedOnyedimmakachukwu Obiukwu

    There has always been this sort of silence from emerging powers, and indeed other nations, to political crises where Russia and the West play a role. The Georgia invasion, and this Ukrainian crises are latest examples that showcase the disinterestedness of 'other countries'.
    This happens because issues like these are seen in the scope of 'a match between the big boys' with the duty of other countries to be to sit and watch as spectators. This is wrong because these issues demand the stand, and if possible support, of all nations to point the defaulting nation- in both cited cases russia, and enforce through international mechanisms the principles of international law.
    I share the writer's frustration; while emerging countries- and others watch the Ukrainian crises as a spectacle between powers and await who'll be the Victor between Russia and the West, the victims- Ukraine, other less powerful countries and international law are the suffering vitims.
    And indeed this crisis is truly not about world powers but the victims- Ukraine which continues to suffer a blatant invasion and sponsorship of its destabilization; other countries, especially emerging powers whose sovereignty when trampled on by super powers- in the future- would be seen as just another power match. International laws and principles are also victims, discarded in this conflict, they are rapidly losing their relevance thanks to much of the world not interested in enforcing it or condemning its violation.

  4. CommentedVelko Simeonov

    When the local police chief starts stealing beers from the 7eleven store (US invading Iraq using obviously bogus arguments and outright lies) don’t expect the school security guard to fight the armed gang lounging in the school yard every night.

  5. Commentedhari naidu

    Singh writes, "China, for example, has effectively endorsed Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine. That should have set off alarms bells in India, given China’s claims on large swathes of Indian sovereign territory, but there is no sign yet that anyone has noticed."

    First, there is no evidence provided by Singh on his claim that mainland China endorsed annexation of Crimea and eastern Ukraine. On the contrary, People's Daily refused to endorse Putin's annexation of Ukraine's sovereign territory and abstained on it in UNSC.

    Second, Singh is not privy anymore, of course, to what Modi-XI are wheeling & dealing on their future cooperation in the region. However, if Modi had the political courage to publish the *1962 War Report* prepared for Nehru's Government by an Australian defense expert, the issue of Himalayan boarder transparency - i.e. southern Tibet - would become less contentious. Having lost 1962 war by using false (UK) maps, India must now reconcile and formalize its boarders with China - +5000 Kilometers!

    Finally, reference to Fukuyama and Zbig doesn't in any way provide credibility to your arguments. One is a failed historian. The other is a Polish intellectual with disdain for Russian atrocities against his former country. In terms of realpolitik, neither of them will surely admit they really understand what up with Putin in Ukraine.

  6. Commentedjim bridgeman

    One also has to wonder whether the earlier Malaysia air tragedy was connected to some internal China politics or rebellion.

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