USA’s strategic drubbing in Ukraine could pose challenge for India

After its strategic defeat in Ukraine, Washington is looking to pit India against China

| Updated: 11 August, 2023 3:28 pm IST
America is not going to confront China directly anytime soon. It would do so through Taiwan and load-carriers like India.

It is now evident that the prime objective of the USA to push Ukraine into a war with Russia was to weaken Russia and its economy. Rand Corporation – arguably the most influential think-tank in America, published back in 2019, a paper – Overextending and Unbalancing Russia, where it elaborated on the fundamental Russian sectors that needed to be hit to extract leverage. The paper also spelled out details of means, cost, and risks. A few of the areas listed by Rand were: a) Economy – through sanctions, and through a reduction of EU’s Russian oil-gas dependence; b) Productivity – by encouraging the young and qualified Russians to move out by way of painting the country as backward, despotic, and corrupt; and c) Image – tarnishing to its limit, by way of expelling Russia from different sports, business, or strategic forums.

The overall arming (with certain restrictions) of Ukraine – Rand had argued – would also enable the US to rake up profits for its Military Industrial Complex, while keeping Washington or NATO out of any potential open war, thus minimizing the risks. It has worked out well for the USA at a tactical level. The M.I. Complex has made huge gains, the energy sector has been on a profiteering overdrive since the sabotage of the Nord Stream Pipelines, and the economic woes of the EU have enabled Washington to force a section of European manufacturing to shift base to the USA. Analysts suggest that NATO may be planning to shape the war into a 5-year conflict to ensure more bonanzas for the different American industries at the cost of the EU.

However, this picture looks slightly different on the strategic board. Strengthening of Sino-Russ links (which was fairly unwarranted) and talks about BRICS currency put aside, even Africa seems to be reorganising its priority. The recent Russia-Africa Summit and the fresh messages from the Sahel region (Mali, and recently, Niger) are testaments to that. Since the road to a recalibration and integration of the Global South goes through BRICS, it is expected that several African countries would be incorporated into BRICS+ in the near future. For the West, that looks like a substantial loss of control.

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Getting back to Ukraine – even discounting the US generals’ opinion that the Ukrainian counteroffensive has been useless, average American citizens appear tired. When the Russian SMO began, about 62% of US citizens thought that America was not doing enough. Today, 55% of Americans think that the Congress should not waste money on Ukraine. Biden’s popularity graph shows no signs of rise – a cause of concern with an election due next year; especially as Vivek Ramaswamy’s highly convincing speeches and campaign captivate more and more Americans. Vivek, like Donald Trump, is a designated ‘outsider’ – someone who is determined to make it difficult for the elite-politician nexus.

Keeping all these in mind, the USA is showing signs of bringing forward its next strategic move. Just about one and half year after painting Russia as an existential threat, Washington is now trying to convince its people that the latest existential threat is China; it is important to thus spend the next decade weakening China.

One guesses the decision was taken in the recent Vilnius Summit. Permanent American proxy NATO is on a high. Its defence budget has soared; two new members have been added to the club, and even Turkey is showing signs of ghar-wapsi. Perhaps buoyed by its recent windfall, an addition to the recent summit in the shape of New Zealand, Japan, Australia, and South Korea point out towards an expansion of NATO into the Indo-Pacific theatre.

To predicate future strategy on small tactical outcomes could be a risk. While the Western elites have been enjoying a bull run, the larger objective to ‘weaken Russia’ before taking on China has not worked out well. Putin still remains, and with an approval rating that puts Western leaders to shame. Russia has not disintegrated; there has been no coups so far; its economy has not crumbled, nor have their oil and gas industries. With a large section of their fighting force still idling at the sidelines, Russia – with its revamped military industrial manufacturing – remains potent enough to keep a chunk of NATO engaged in the Euro-theatre, even discounting the nuclear option.

If the Western plans for China remain unchanged, it is India that runs the risk of being drawn into a conflict. ASEAN nations’ stance is getting clearer by the day – they are not going to decouple from China that easily. And Australia or New Zealand is not going to invest in a direct confrontation with China early in the day. That leaves India.

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Recent Indo-Chinese relations have not been optimal, to put it mildly. China has shown no signs of resolving the singular outstanding issue that persists. Indo-US relation on the other hand, is on an apparent high following the recent visit of PM Modi, and the promise of several deals.

But appearances could be deceptive. Truth is, the USA doesn’t fight countries that can fight back. It, instead, carpet-bombs the nations that are decrepit like Afghanistan or Iraq; and fights those, who can retaliate, through proxies like Ukraine.

America is not going to confront China directly anytime soon. It would do so through Taiwan and load-carriers like India. While there is nothing much of value in Taiwan (except semiconductor maker TSMC – which the Americans say they would bomb in case of a Chinese aggression), a Sino-India conflict will weaken both the countries. That is going to undermine BRICS, the Global South, the ASEAN neighbourhood, and the CARs.

In a nutshell, this conflict would certainly ignite a slow burning chaos along a huge chunk of Asia and potentially destroy the Asian growth story. No prizes for guessing who benefits. In fact, that could be the larger strategy to counter the failure in Ukraine. Indian and Chinese policymakers should take a cue from that.

(Arindam Mukherjee is a geopolitical analyst and the author of JourneyDog Tales, The Puppeteer, and A Matter of Greed.)

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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