24 June, 2024


Is The World, Hopelessly Divided Over Ukraine, Coming Together For Sri Lanka?

By Rajan Philips

Rajan Philips

Over the last two weeks Sri Lanka has been inundated with assurances of support by the world’s three most populous and powerful countries. India, America and China – all three of them marked their presence in Sri Lanka in one way or another. Japan and UK have also come on board to reinforce Sri Lanka’s pleas for IMF help. Before that on Sunday, January 8, 182 economists, social scientists and development experts, including such generational names in Economics as Jayati Ghosh, Thomas Piketty, and Yannis Varoufakis, issued a statement to the (British) Guardian that “all lenders—bilateral, multilateral, and private must share the burden of restructuring” Sri Lanka’s debt. Both were big news for Sri Lanka. A case of overwhelming global support to a rather underwhelming Sri Lankan government.

The big news for the world this week was the agreement between the US and Germany and the rest of NATO to send Germany’s Leopard 2 and America’s Abram tanks to Ukraine to fight Russia. And Russia is widening the frontiers of an emerging global cold conflict by partnering South Africa to stage joint naval exercises in African waters. There is no comparison between the situations in Sri Lanka and in Ukraine although there have been past linkages between the corrupt regimes of the two countries for private gains of the powerful. However, by all appearances and for the sake of argument while the world appears to be coming together in Sri Lanka, it is getting hopelessly divided over Ukraine. 

India and Sri Lanka

India was the first to declare its readiness to stand by Sri Lanka through its visiting Minister of External Affairs, S. Jaishankar. The Minister affirmed his Prime Minister’s commitment “Neighbourhood First” policy and extended “financial assurances to the IMF” to finalize the IMF’s agreement with Sri Lanka. China followed suit but not with unqualified support. Reports at the time of writing indicate that China’s qualified support is insufficient to the IMF. Japan was already supportive and has now been joined by UK. The question is what will the US do? 

Curiously, the US has so far marked its presence not by any assurance of support at the IMF, but by staging a joint maritime exercise with Sri Lanka in Colombo, Trincomalee and Mullikullam. This year’s exercise was apparently to mark the 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the United States and Sri Lanka and was joined by participants from the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Maldives National Defence Force. But the question about the US position at the IMF has been raised in a (un)diplomatic spat involving the US and Chinese Ambassadors in Colombo. The spat has provoked Dr Gunadasa Amarasekara, the Convenor of the Federation of National Organisations (FNO) in Sri Lanka, to take China’s side and chide the US Ambassador. Perhaps, he may have to write another letter to Chinese Ambassador not to let the side down.    

For all the diplomatic hustle and bustle in Colombo, the Wickremesinghe government is not being transparent about who in the government besides the President is doing what, and how, and where things are on the economic front. At the same time, the government is creating a rash of distractions in areas that have nothing to do with the economy and which are only diverting valuable efforts and resources which could otherwise be deployed on the economic front. The government’s shenanigans to stall the local government elections are the biggest unwanted distraction, but they are not the only one. In these circumstances, it will require a massive leap of faith for anyone to think that the government is sufficiently prepared to take maximum leverage of all the support that Sri Lanka seems to be getting now.

What is also not clear is the extent to which President Wickremesinghe and his government might be cognizant of the shift in India’s foreign policy under Prime Minister Modi with Foreign Minister Jaishankar as the shift’s chief architect. The shift is defined by what Indian commentators call the new buzzword – all-alignment. It is a rebuke of the old Nehruvian non-alignment, which Mr. Jaishankar dismisses as a failure in his 2021 book, The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World. 

Instead, Jaishankar advocates a transactional approach to foreign policy and dealing with other countries, in which India will advance its national interests “by identifying and exploiting opportunities created by global contradictions.” To that end, India will “engage America, manage China, cultivate Europe, reassure Russia, bring Japan into play, draw neighbours in, extend the neighbourhood and expand traditional constituencies of support.” Sri Lanka is being drawn in as a neighbour, even a special neighbour, but will Sri Lanka have the proportionate capacity to be transactional in its own way, and to identify and take advantage of global and regional contradictions? 

Ukraine Conflict 

How India’s new opportunistic foreign policy strategy will play out in Ukraine is not even of academic significance. What is significant is the relentless escalation of the conflict as it reaches its first anniversary. According to Doomsday Clock scientists, the war in Ukraine is triggering the gravest threat to the world since World War II. The Doomsday Clock was set up in 1947 by a group of atomic scientists to provide a measure of the catastrophic threats facing the planet and humanity. The clock is run by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, now a Chicago based non-profit organization which includes climate scientists and nuclear experts  with 13 Nobel laurates among them. The Bulletin updates the clock annually after assessing a range of significant threats facing the world, and it did so last Tuesday, January 24, moving the clock hands to 90 seconds to midnight, their closest ever to Doomsday – signifying global annihilation. 

The planet is not going to explode anytime soon, but the ticking Doomsday Clock provides perspective on the deteriorating global situation in the early 21st century. The farthest the clock has been from midnight is 17 minutes (see illustration), and that was in 1991 when the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rather than moving away from midnight and Doomsday, the clock has been ticking closer in the 21st century, getting to 100 seconds to midnight in 2020 and to 90 seconds last Tuesday. The risk level is higher now than it ever was during the Cold War. That is a sad commentary on the world leadership that humankind has been saddled with over the last twenty five years. 

The current Doomsday Clock update is a reflection of the confluence of climate furies, pandemic hangovers, spreading food scarcity, the war in Ukraine and the fear of nuclear escalation. Today’s world leaders cannot be held wholly responsible for the climate crisis, the origins of which go back to the beginning of industrialization. The Covid pandemic might be seen as the revenge of the pathogens for reckless deforestation for global consumption. But world leaders who came after the end of the Cold War must bear full responsibility for bringing back what is now a multilateral war in Ukraine and for reviving the old threat of nuclear confrontation.

During the Cold War the two superpowers, the US and the USSR, executed the art of containment quite remarkably. Now, the US and post-Soviet Russia are entrenching their standoffs in Ukraine without any thought about an exit door or offramp to get out. As well, there was a somewhat redeeming logic to the Cold War in that it underlaid two competing visions of world society – the trickle-down complacency of market capitalism and the emancipatory assertions of socialism. To make a passing point, even though the diehard decriers of socialism will insist that market has conclusively triumphed over socialism, the truth is that the threat of socialism has transformed the market albeit in different ways in different countries. 

There is nothing new here, for the origins of market responses to the spectre of revolution go back to the time of Bismarck and the (first) unification of Germany. And the dialectic will continue. The pressing point now is that there are no competing socioeconomic visions to rationalize the current conflict. Putin is a Russian Orthodox hankering to restore not Soviet socialism but Russia’s Tsarist glory. And there might be more socialists in America, at least in the reckoning of the Republican Party, than in Russia.  Yet, the rolling of tanks from Germany, the US and other NATO countries into Ukraine will raise the conflict to a different level, as the Russians are already noting as part of their PR exercise for domestic and selected international consumption. 

The emerging world divisions are already palpable, pitting ever more starkly the West against the Rest. South Africa has signalled that it is joining hands with Russia to push for a “redesigned global order.” South Africa and Russia are members of BRICS, along with Brazil, India and China. There are also signs that BRICS is looking to expand to include new members such as Nigeria, Egypt, Venezuela, Iran, Argentina and Saudi Arabia. While NATO is mostly limited to the West, BRICS includes members from every non-western continent. This is worse than Cold War with neither the need nor the justification for it. The Doomsday Clock scientists are spot on the clock.  

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Latest comments

  • 0

    When forces that have little in common come together for a ‘good cause’, one should not only look at the cause itself but also what is on offer and why.
    The B&R project brings the three big forces together. One to save its gains two to wreck. India and China will suffer financially while the US will sacrifice nothing.
    As for Ukraine, it is a war that started in 2014 but exploded in 2022. It is a clear North–South divide, and even the usually pro-US Arabs and the newer partner India are dragging their feet. Is it because they know something that the author of the essay is missing out about Ukraine and sanctions imposed by the US and EU?
    BRICS is no military alliance. So the joint naval exercise of Russia and SA has no bigger global significance than that of SL and the US.

  • 0

    Does the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists consult Nostradamus to set its Doomsday Clock?
    Probably ‘forecasts’ of Nostradamus are more precise as they are really postdictions.

  • 0

    India, America and China – all three of them marked their presence in Sri Lanka in one way or another
    Who is qualified and applied evenly and consistently to all the three they can do just about anything it wants, and then find some helpful language in the “laws” to justify it. Self-anointed rule writer and enforcer can anyone in our country stiffest challenge RW don’t have the peoples vote, most in parliamentarian are retirees

  • 2

    Are superpowers engaged in a “Tank Race”? (I copied this term from the German Chancellor).
    After Leopard 2s, Abrams M1A1s (not M1A2s as mentioned by me somewhere else) and Challenger 2s, now President Zelensky pleads for fighter jets!
    I still believe German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is the most sensible leader in the world. But, he fell into a trap laid out by the US. For the US, it is all about “maximizing profits”. They don’t care about Ukraine. The survival of the US economy depends on wars and terrorism. In addition, they topple governments, install puppet regimes, try to destroy the economies of their competitors by way of sanctions, dictate terms to NATO and EU, etc. The US would have already abandoned Ukraine and left that country for NATO to deal with had they succeeded in provoking China to attack Taiwan. Because, China’s strong economy is a headache to them.
    The Collective West and Western media continuously mislead the world that Russia’s (special military operation) in Ukraine is unprovoked and unjustified. How could they themselves forget their own recent history of persuading Ukraine to join NATO and their own decision to militarize Ukraine? Weren’t they the immediate reasons for Russia to launch a pre-emptive strike in Ukraine? It is the world’s view that NATO is responsible for the Ukraine conflict.

    • 0

      Soon after the US orchestrated-coup in Ukraine in 2014, the then Ukrainian President started a civil war against Russian backed DPR and LPR Movements in Donbass.
      With the symbolic supply of 10 U.S. Armoured Humvees (230 in total) on March 15, 2015, as well as UAVs, counter-mortar radars, night vision devices, and medical supplies, (source: DSCA) the Collective West has been militarizing Ukraine for 7 years before Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine.
      The US arms exports to Ukraine also included;
      In March 2018
      210 Javelin Missiles and 37 Javelin Command Launch Units and contractor technical assistance, transportation, training and other related elements of logistics and program support
      In October 2019
      150 Javelin missiles and 10 Javelin Command Launch Units, and
      In June 2020
      16 Mark VI Patrol Boats, 32 MSI Seahawk A2 gun systems, 20 Electro-Optics-Infrared Radar (FLIR), 16 Long Range Acoustic Device, 5km loudspeaker systems, 16 Identification Friend or Foe systems, 40 MK44 cannons and training.
      Poland has been functioning as a logistical hub for military aid and equipment sent by the West and re-sending them to Ukraine. There were reports that a continued flow of weapons shipments were seen leaving the US bases in Europe heading for (Poland).

      • 0

        Since 2016, the Czech Republic, France, Lithuania, Poland and Turkey have supplied weapons to Ukraine. In 2019, Turkey has agreed to supply Bayraktar TB2 drones and pilot training. After receiving them in early February 2022, Ukraine deployed them in Donbass.
        This is the list of arms exports to Ukraine (from December 2021 to February 2022) by the Collective West and their allies and partners.
        1. In December 2021
        Lithuania sent its first delivery of military aid.
        2. On January 26, 2022
        Canada – non-lethal military aid.
        Mid January, 2022
        Britain – 2000 short-range and anti tank missiles, Saxon armored vehicles, as well as British trainers.
        Germany and Estonia co-financed a military field hospital and a training course for Ukrainian military medical instructors.
        3. On February 1, 2022
        Poland – Piorun (Thunderbolt) short-range, man-portable air defense (MANPAD) systems and munition; several thousand rounds of ammunition and artillery ammunition, air defense systems, light mortars and drones:
        On February 12 & 13, 2022
        Lithuania – Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems and ammunition.
        On February 14, 2022
        Canada – Machine guns, pistols, carbines, 1.5 million rounds of ammunition, sniper rifles, and various related equipment.

        • 0

          On February 18, 2022
          Estonia – Javelin anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
          The Netherlands – 3000 combat helmets, 2000 fragmentation vests with accompanying armor plates, thirty metal detectors and two wire-guided detection robots for sea-mine detection, two battlefield surveillance radars and five weapon location radars, and 100 sniper rifles with 30,000 pieces of ammunition.
          On February 21, 2022
          Slovenia – An undisclosed amount of Kalashnikov rifles, helmets, and ammunition.
          On February 22, 2022
          Latvia – Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
          On February 23, 2022
          Canada – A second shipment of military aid.
          **On February 24, 2022**
          Mr. Vladimir Putin launched a preemptive special military operation in Ukraine.
          In addition to weapons supplied by the Collective West, Ukraine has been among the 10 largest arms exporters in the world. That means, by the time Russia launched the special military operation, Ukraine was completely prepared to fight against Russia with 500,000 Servicemen who received 7 years of NATO training, 20,000 foreign ex-soldiers, 100,000 reserved Army, 40,000 armed civilians, 2,500 Azov fighters, a large number of Prisoners with military experience and International terrorists. Mr. Putin used ⅓ of Ukraine’s active military manpower and some “old tanks” to build a future buffer zone in Eastern Ukraine to defend Russia in the event Ukraine joined NATO.

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