20 November, 2018

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The Return Of Great Power Conflicts

By Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

Prof. Kumar David

The Cold War ended rather abruptly and we thought we were in a one-superpower world led by America, but this was not quite true since the global hegemony of American capitalism sort of crashed in 2008. At the same time globalisation, global supply-chains, and new technologies made the earth pretty flat for everybody. So the jargon changed; the world was declared multipolar with no one in pole position. But China was rising to economic superpower numero uno; hence the argot had to be modified again and even Lee Kwan Yue remarked in a TV interview that the principal issues of the Twenty-First Century were climate change and managing the Sino-US relationship. Thus again, there was confusion, was it a bi-polar or multipolar?  Or maybe tri-polar since the European Union, taken as one unit, is the world’s largest economy. Then quite unexpectedly the last two months saw a fourth kid, militarily powerful enough to match America’s nuclear arsenal, pushing and shoving his way into the party.

In military muscle there are four big global players now, rather like before the Great War when there were five; the British Empire, the German Reich and Austro-Hungarian Empire, France (Third Republic),  Imperial Russia and across the pond, the United States. The similarity is more remarkable than just numbers. The Cold War divided the world into two camps, but they were two great ideological camps. In the old pre-WW1 days it was nations and empires; the age of imperialism when great powers carved up the world, colonial territory and natural resource wealth. The struggle in the days before the Cold war was not for ideological hegemony by this or that –ism, it was just power, plunder and glory. Now in a matter of months, if not weeks and days, we seem to have returned to something similar to the old world; nationalism and Great Power politics, instead of ideology.

Of course it is wrong to overdraw parallels. The crucial difference lies on the other side of the world, epitomised by China and including all of Asia to which this Century is said to belong. There are many other growth centres too to justify the appellation multipolar. Yes, this is not the same world as 1914. Nevertheless on the European and Atlantic fronts the similarity is interesting. NATO, to begin with, was the military counterpoise to Soviet power and the Warsaw Pact. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact, NATO apparently served no purpose; it should have withered away, but it did not. NATO transformed from an ideological protagonist to a territorial one. American and European capitalism has no ideological opponent in Europe anymore; so what opponent does it have? A territorial and national adversary, Russia; NATO has no enemy except Russia which is its sole raison d’etre. Back to basics, we are back to the world before World War, but with rearranged protagonists; the Chinese may be having a bit of a laugh.

The Empire Strikes Back

Gorbochev’s miserable misrule presided over the systematic degeneration of the USSR while Yeltsin’s weak and ineffectual buffoonery oversaw its actual disintegration and the privation of the nation’s resources to crooks and oligarchs under the supervision of the US Treasury and MIT’s Economics Department; the greatest theft of public money in human history. From the mid-1990s the West has been pushing ever closer in and pushing Russia ever closer to the wall. Even the three Baltic States sitting on Russia’s doorstep have been drafted into NATO membership. This is rather like Puerto Rico joining the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War.  Now, 25 years after the USSR went up in smoke, Vladimir Putin, a stout and autocratic leader is repelling encroachers, attempting to rewrite the balance of power in Europe and assert Russian nationalism.

Donetsk Oblast in Eastern Ukraine. The two provinces just north of Donetsk and the one  to the south-west also have large ethnic Russian minorities. Crimea is in the extreme south

Donetsk Oblast in Eastern Ukraine. The two provinces just north of Donetsk and the one
to the south-west also have large ethnic Russian minorities. Crimea is in the extreme south

Crimea returned to mother Russia at express speed and pro-Russian demonstrators are on the march across eastern Ukraine. Several hundred pro-Russian demonstrators occupied city government buildings in Donetsk City, in Donetsk Oblast (Province) in eastern Ukraine. An independent republic is their aspiration; they urged Putin to send troops to the region as a peacekeeping force. So far there have been major no clashes, but demonstrators in Donetsk and a dozen other cities in eastern Ukraine (especially Luthansk and Kharkiv) demand a referendum to secede from Ukraine and join Russia, seemingly, in an effort to mimic events in Crimea. At this time of writing the Kremlin has not explicitly endorsed this but Ukraine seems to be disintegrating. Western media dwells the story that these take-overs are incited by agent provocateurs infiltrated into eastern Ukraine by Russia, which no doubt is true, but apart from this, in any acse the eastern provinces are clearly in revolt.

The formal Russian demand is that a federal system be introduced in Ukraine so that the people in the east have autonomy and can manage their affairs. The ethnic groups within the Donetsk Oblast are: Ukrainians 2.75 million (57%), Russians 1.85 million (38%), and other minorities 5%. Hence ethnic Russians do not constitute a majority even in Donetsk Oblast while they are 39%, 26% and 25% in the other three eastern provinces where their numbers are significant. Conversely, ethnic Russians made up nearly 60% of the population of Crimea. A federalist demand will not be viable unless it wins the support of  a third of the ethnic Ukrainians in these provinces; this seems to have been achieved.

Russian interest is not only concern for ethnic Russians in Ukraine but also the strategic need for a buffer to keep NATO at bay. Given the dicey military balances in this region it is fair for Russia to demand that NATO keeps away from the whole of the Ukraine as well as Belorussia and the three Baltic slivers. On the other hand, ethnic non-Russians throughout the region are in a panic about the intentions of the Russian Bear. Those old enough to remember that a single gunshot in Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 lighted up a conflagration that lasted four years and cost 10 million, will appreciate how perilous the new turn of events are. Now, like then, a single misstep may release a spring loaded with decades of anger and frustration.

Ukraine’s plight

The troubles in its eastern regions make it impossible for the government in Kiev to impose the harsh economic measures the IMF is demanding, now compounded by a gas price hike of 80% imposed by Russia’s gas giant Gazprom which also wants settlement of outstanding bills of $2.2 billion. As conditions deteriorate the existence of Ukraine as an independent becomes problematic. If it falls apart will the tanks roll in? It will then be more a matter of pacification than conquest. Russia will not allow anyone else to send troops except with its consent – for example UN peace keepers.

There are three important lessons for Lanka in all this. Settle minority conflicts expeditiously; grant devolution, autonomy or whatever the term in vogue, and allow people to manage their affairs in their areas of domicile. Second, don’t mess around with the legitimate security and internal stability concerns of great powers (or in our case, regional powers). Cuba learnt in 1962, JR in 1987, al Qaida in the post 911 years, and Kiev last month when it drove out a legitimately elected pro-Russian president in a coup d’état whose final stages may have been orchestrated by fascist gunmen and ultra-rightwing agent-provocateurs.  These, and especially Indira Gandhi in the 1980s, are lessons for Lanka’s next government to memorise. It is too late now for the Rajapakses; they are too far gone in other directions, denying devolution and damaging the Northern Regional Administration, to be able to retreat or retract. In any case, this sibling regime may already be altogether on its way out.

There is also a third lesson for great powers wishing to bring about regime change in small countries. It is not enough that a regime has lost moral legitimacy; constitutional legitimacy in the process of change is a sine qua non. (Except when the regime flouts legitimacy or holds on by the barrel of a gun). The West, especially the EU, desperate for regime change in Kiev encouraged months of civil disobedience and brought the government to a halt.  But Victor Yanucovych was a legitimately elected president, and the demonstrators and the West failed to have him removed by legitimate constitutional means. (He was also a shameless kleptocrat, it’s the same story everywhere, but that’s beside the point). He was driven from power illegally; then, inevitably, the Crimean crisis and Russian meddling, then troubles in the east, and now perhaps the demise of independent Ukraine.

This is an especially important lesson for the great powers which pushed through the anti Rajapakse resolution in Geneva to assimilate. Our regime has long ago lost its moral legitimacy, it is riddled with kleptocrats, but it is still constitutionally legitimate. Regime change is on the agenda of the great powers, but they would be making a cardinal mistake if they encourage anyone to resort to unconstitutional methods. Of course I want to see the back of this regime, but only by constitutional methods, unless the regime rips up its own legitimacy, for example by subverting elections or resorting to military repression.

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Latest comments

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    “..This is an especially important lesson for the great powers which pushed through the anti Rajapakse resolution in Geneva to assimilate. Our regime has long ago lost its moral legitimacy, it is riddled with kleptocrats, but it is still constitutionally legitimate…”

    The staggered elections and election rigging and malpractices, violation of constitution, illegal removal of CJ, non existence of law and order, impunity factor, kleptocracy status, appalling HR status, absence of freedom of press and expression, militarization of everything civilian, lack of democratic space, violation of international treaties etc. etc. defy the logic of KD and hence the West et al are justified in taking actions against this regime.

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      Sure, take action; but the act of regime replacement MUST be constitutional. I agree with David. Does Silva justify a coup, a seizure of power like intended in 1971, or a foreign military invasion? An extra constitutional seizure of power is justified only in cases where the regime itself has lost constitutional legitimacy – eg dispenses with elections, it is a military government, etc.

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      This is what Putin recently said about Russian military movements.

      “Forgive me but, [Ukraine] is a country where there has just been a military coup, so naturally any country is going to take particular precautionary measures in terms of ensuring its security.”

      Only a fool like Silva will call for unconstitutional regime change in Sri Lanka. The biggest mistake the EU and Americans made in Ukraine is encouraging illegitimate regime change. These fools, acted like a Silva, and screwed it up when they may have soon won a legitimate election!

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        EW Golding and loony (il)Legalist,

        Only a mutt head like (il)Legalist who will grate about ‘constitutional regime change’ of an unconstitutional rogue regime. This illegal regime has lost its legitimacy a long time above by now. The president lost his legitimacy even before he was elected when he colluded with former CJ cockroach SN Silva and swept the tsunami theft charges and investigation under the carpet. Then he lost legitimacy when he bribed Tiger to prevent Northern voters. Next he lost legitimacy when he shelved the election rigging petition by SF. He then lost legitimacy ordering slaughter of tens of thousands of civilians in the process fighting the LTTE. Again he lost legitimacy by not taking action against COPE report disclosed culprits and illegally defecting thief-politicos of former government into his concoct regime of criminals, chain snatchers, takaran horas, rapists and the like. Again he lost legitimacy tampering and tinkering the Constitution and passing the abomination called 18A which hit the last nail on the country’s last vestige of democracy. The climax of Rajapaksha illegitimacy and kleptocracy reached when he illegally impeached and removed the SB, the country’s legitimate CJ proper and planted a rogue for the post who must be behind bars in real world scenario. The destruction, defamation and blasphemy of Buddhism and Buddha by creating BBS et al balu sena, criminal connivance in drug, ethanol and gambling business, protecting and giving impunity to criminals, murderers, rapists etc. are all acts which have already rendered the current president illegitimate. And then blowing the country’s ethnic issue into international scale, plunging the country into an international trap by giving uncalled for promises to Ban Ki Moon to investigate War Crimes, failing to manage and deal with the international bodies, HR organizations and the UN in a prudent and diplomatic savvy way and allowing 3 crippling resolutions against the country, making all the progressive and civilized countries in the world the enemies of Sri Lanka, shoving towards and identifying the country with autocratic, dictatorial, kleptocritic and rogue states, stealing the country’s wealth and making the country together with its people living and inborn bankrupt…..(the list may go on endlessly)-all these things make the regime and MR illegitimate and a candidate for an international probe and guilty verdict.

        This Legalist buffalo is thinking Sri Lanka is part of Ukraine and attaches same value as of Cremia! Get your empty and hollow brain checked by a vet surgeon as the BBS Gnanasaraya Gonthadiya told referring to Dilan shemale. Who will care at least a dumb fart even if Sri Lanka is invaded or its regime changed by external means like India or US. When US acts it is not alone but many powerful countries are with it. On the other hand it is not directly US but through India that US is more likely to effect regime change. That Rajive fucker dropped dhal on to Sinhala monkeys but nobody raised an eyebrow! This is the real face value of Sri Lanka when it comes to international politics. China, Russia, Pakis or regimes new poverty stricken friends in African countries will not come to rescue MARA or his country like Russia did in Crimea! Sri Lanka is like a spacecraft which is not able to escape from its orbit and gravity. The moment it tries to surpass that force it gets inducted with overwhelming importance of power politics of the world and get burned down-shot down by India/US power politics. So long as the country called India is located where it is today, and whether or not US remains its strategic ally, it is only a dream that Sri Lanka can escape and drift towards other power centers. It is only a matter of when US wants to effect the regime change. Through 3 resolutions and as expected through Rajapakshas’ moronic pigheadedness US has prepared the baseline for the assault. By postponing and waiting for pointless legitimacy space when the brainwashed and moronic masses of the country will really understand the Rajapaksha fallacy, the suffering, degradation, abject poverty despair and hopelessness of the suppressed and oppressed masses in the country will only prolong and indefinitely continue in the meantime. Therefore sooner the better is the motto. The aspiration of Mother Sri Lanka right now is the change of regime right now, not tomorrow or when legitimacy arrives at the end of the doomsday. After all his legitimacy will never arrive because the kleptocrat never holds free and fair elections! And this adds to my earlier list of illegitimate issues above. Revolution is part of evolution and democracy. When democracy fails revolution must take place-and homegrown or imperialist, diaspora, US, UN or West, East, North, South, above or under assisted is not relevant. Rather die today than live under the rogue king like a dog drives and incite the idea of revolution. In revolution devils are our friends, ironically which Mahinda said when he went to Geneva to defend Human Rights against UNP government! Lost and dim witted entities like Legitimate are hell afraid of the idea of revolution, regime change, UN, US, diaspora etc. We fervently request and require all people in the country to rally around UNP under RW and be proud protagonists to be champions of change and builders of your own future and destiny where the posterity, yours and mine, will have a country free from the clutches of Rajapaksha illegitimate familial rule and hegemony.

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        Pingonas of your kind are the majority to make all the way boorish men to get elected for the future of this country.
        Looking back to the manner that oppsition MPs were attacked in their fact finding mission made to Hambantota lately, I mylsef raise the question, whethere there exist a law and order in this country today, under the guidance of Mahinda Raja pakshe buruwa.
        People with sanity would never ever give him a chance again. The man should meet with the same destiny as the Premadasa senior was met. That is for sure, days are just numbered.

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    It appears the GoSL has planned to take the TNA for a ride once again (they have done that before a number of times) thereby hood winking even the international community’s efforts to call for accountability of the Rajapakse regime. Let us hope that the TNA will play its cards cautiously this time, making progress step by step on the basis of results. The first and foremost step should be extensive demilitarisation and a full stop to land grab. If that does not happen, there is no point in talking with or without South African initiative!

    Sengodan. M

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      No doubt this comment was intended for some other piece in CT!
      Or Sengodan, like most CT commentators, has absolutely no capacity understand anything except the Sinhala-Tamil fight.

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        My comment has some relevance in relation to what is stated in the second para under the sub-title ‘Ukraine’s plight’ where the author speaks of settling minority conflicts expeditiously…..etc.

        That is not going to happen at all. Once again the TNA will be taken for a ride!

        Sengodan. M

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    If Srilanka wants genuine peace and reconciliation along with return to its former glory as a country that respects rule of law,Internationally agreed human rights and accept multiculturalism,the national question must be resolved amicably and to the satisfaction Minorities without jeopardizing the unitary status with devolution of powers to the fullest extent ie Federal State.

    Just like LTTE was the biggest obstacle for winning the fair and reasonable rights and demands of the Tamils,The brothers are the biggest obstacle for peace and meaningful reconciliation with dignity and honor.

    After LTTE’S Demise its time for the Brothers to be shown the door.
    This can only be done by the Sinhala Majority.
    If they fail in this through democratic means,The Tamils have no choice but to seek Self Determination through UN mandated referendum.

    No room for non democratic means for both Tamils and Sinhalese.

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    Superpower politics of reordering of world map having two bottoms line protects of hegemony vital vested interest by two ways.
    One change from top of regime is one alterative path; Two is change by bottom line of Votes by people’s mandate. The tools used by power of hegemony depended on circustamnace of strong and weakness of each country, and nation and people political class and balance of forces in terms strong and weak positions of democracies.
    What ever the methods used by Hegemony of superpower says that is DEMOCRACY. That was USA and allies position of ‘Hegemonic-Democracy’.
    When Soviet Union was Power of Hegemony (1956 to 1991) that invade Afgantain 1979 said by USSR that they Bring ‘Socialisms’ to that nation. Which we called ‘Hegemonic-Socialism’.
    This politics has gone to dustbin of history.’
    New issue of global politics are different in nature of recently growth and development emerging economy and politics are concern. Realignments of Global competition of politics are NOT fully dominations of world. Is basically to regain NATION CAPITALIM BY OWEN TERROIITORY and EXPAND MARKET SEGMANT TO OTHER PART OF GLOABE.
    The nation seek power of domination has scale back his social and nation protection FIRST.
    Reading of Dr Kumar David of International politics are in wrong footing that direction goes roots of his mindset of political methodology. Its seems to be more metaphysis meticulous rather than dialectics.

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    Kumar David,

    Congratulations for your superb analysis of the state of the art of the Geopolitics today.

    Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat history.

    Sri Lankan rulers fall in this category.

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      Thiru, with your comments on the CT it looks like you never learn from the past (of bending down and licking your own backside) and are you doomed to repeat history also?

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        Readers, please do not confuse the pseudonym ‘David Kumar’ with me, Kumar David. I would never use such foul abusive language in articles or comments.

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        David Kumar

        “of bending down and licking your own backside”

        How was it like when you did it for the first time? It seems you are addicted to it and grown accustom to judging others by your own experience based on your own bog standard.

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    Philosophy of politics and Outlook of International politics are inter-connected, that is reflection by geo-politics of big-power of each country and nation vested interest.
    We are still not reading or out of touch with Big-power immediately challenges by economics financial ,political and social and environment crisis there are more insecurities from violence in home-bred domestics variety of Terrorism or that of terrorist from oversees. More into the future lie at the risks posed by climate changes of effect of natural disasters.
    While developing World this gradation of risk operates the other way round. The threats of violence of challenge ongoing ruling class power of politic and climate changes are experienced at risk and danger of NATION STATES EXISTANCE.
    In emerging democracies and developing hundred of nations of insecurity, people are killed, raped, robbed, expelled from their home lands, kidnapped or taken hostage. Democracy & civilian liberties’ has totally paralyzed.
    Needless to say beyond these immediate danger, people of many of major part of Global are often extremely poor, living on less than DOLLAR A DAY,WITHOUT ACCESS TO CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION, HELATH CARE ,EDUCATION,JOBS AND HOMES.
    Is living example is our next door neighbor of Republic of India; claim by ‘largest Democracy’ in World by ongoing to Election for 840 millions registers votes to be elected Represtaitaive of ‘DEMOCRACY’ ruling another term of life of 1300 millions of People of India.
    The victims of billions of people by political-economic order of mishandling of capitalist miss-management that in environmentally vulnerable areas, they are the victims of excessive flooding, droughts rising sea level and famine are on a increasing in massive scale.
    There were always unpredictable risks of earthquakes, cyclones hurricanes droughts, and avalanches.
    Since 2008 Global financial crisis export of many countries fell by more than 30%, and many nations youngers unemployment has reached 50%.
    In such ground reality of Global politics of Great power conflicts has change and demand by People of Democratizes movement has been out of control by Big-power hegemony.

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