The march of folly 

Context: At present, Russian invasion of Ukraine is facing a lot of criticism from the international community. It seems Russia is not going to win the war.

This is going to be very similar to the Russian and US failures in Afghanistan, and their failed interventions in West Asia. 

Why is Russia not going to win this war? 

Russia is said to be a superpower not on the basis of its economy, but due to its conventional military capacity. For example, a vast nuclear arsenal. 

The conventional military invasion cannot succeed, fierce domestic resistance (Underdog strategy) in Ukraine.  

Russia’s war will remain subject to local resistance, strong sanctions and Russia will remain a pariah state in the eyes of the West. It will lose the economic links with Europe, which are central to its economic viability, and will be forced into a subordinate position in an alliance with China. 

What are the implications of Russian failure for global geopolitics over the next few years? 
Optimistic Scenario 

There can be a rapprochement between Russia and Europe. The reason may be the impact of economic sanctions, unexpected military setbacks, Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas and Russia’s dependence on access to European markets.

In fact, Europe is still importing energy from Russia & has exempted the banks from the sanctions for making payments for the energy import. 

Most likely outcome  

There can be a new Cold War dominated by China and the US-NATO. Russia will be playing the role of a junior partner to China. Its substantiality in global geopolitics and the world economy will depend on two factors –

(1) First, Russia may not accept subordination to China. Both have competing interests in the Stans of Central Asia 

(2) China’s geopolitical claims and ambitions in the South China Sea and Taiwan or its economic, technological and investment linkages with the West. However, China will remain cautious to project its power in Taiwan and the SCS. China can face the potential impact of Western sanctions on its economy. It depends on access to the OECD markets and Asian market and investments from the developed world. 

Pessimistic Scenario 

Russia can escalate the war by using tactical nuclear weapons or chemical attacks. It will deepen the western engagement in the war, and could lead to an all-European war if the conflict extends to border NATO states. This could well become a global war with the inevitable US engagement and a possible Chinese involvement. 

Subsidiary outcome to pessimistic Scenario 

Germany and Japan can emerge as military powers. They have economic and technological capacity. They can move to higher military spending, and can start projecting power abroad. This can influence the power balance in Europe and East Asia. 

Implications on India  

India is caught in the middle of this geopolitical tension between the US-NATO and China-Russia. India could not exercise geopolitical choice due to Its defence dependence on Russia 

Way Forward 

India needs a medium to long-term strategy to cope with the new Cold War and the threat of escalation.  

It should reduce its defence dependence on the super-powers, by balancing the dependence on Russia and the West, and at the same time building up domestic capacity more rapidly. 

At foreign policy level, India can build a global alliance which would act as a coalition of restraint on the two adversaries in the emerging geopolitical conflict.

For example, the 58 countries which abstained from voting on the UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution to expel Russia from the UN Human Rights Council can be a starting point. They can revive old non-aligned movements. 

If and when the geopolitical conflict gets entrenched, India can lead this global alliance to form a Third Force. This force would act as a restraining force. This would prevent the European conflict from becoming an implicit or explicit Third World War. 

Source: The post is based on an article “The march of folly” published in the Business Standard on 28th April 2022. 

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