Covid-19 has spread concern, anxiety and uncertainty not only in geopolitics but also in global economy. It must be admitted that we are navigating through unchartered territory? However, based on the way nations are conducting themselves, especially with reference to China, there are likely to be major changes in the world order.
It has been our experience that after any global crisis, the world has transformed rapidly.
Post World War I we saw the formation of the League of Nations to regulate the world order. World War II led to the dissolution of the League and formation of the United Nations.
Given the scale of the pandemic and the fact that the most powerful nation of the world (the USA) has been severely affected with the blame for the pandemic being apportioned on China for having mishandled the crisis in the initial stages, the world order and WHO have come under severe stress.
The US has announced its withdrawal of funding the World Health Organization, now leaving the Melinda Gates Foundation as the largest contributor. Also only four member countries find place in the top 10 contributors in WHO.
Further, it’s very much on the cards that China’s recent military and economic activities in various parts of the world might force countries to undertake a major overhaul of international rules, be it laws of the seas, world trade, environment protection, or peace keeping.
We are likely to see re-alignments both anti and pro-China. The inward focus on economic issues will be on the rise. The UN may become more and more irrelevant as in the case of WHO.
Regional and international fora may undergo changes, for example the move by the USA to expand G7 to G10 with India forming part of it to counterbalance China.
Such changes may just be harbinger to greater modifications in the world order. Further, given the uncertain nature of global arrangements in the future, terrorist organisations may grab this opportunity to intensify their activities to seek solutions to their stated goals.
More importantly, left-wing extremism might also increase manifold due to the societal imbalance caused by severe economic crisis especially job loss. ILO (International Labour Organisation) predicts around 1.6 billion job loss due to Covid-19 in the world which is around half of the global informal work force.
As per Mr Kozul-Wright of UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development), the global economy is likely to slow down drastically losing up to $ one trillion. India is not going to remain insulated from such changes. The country is reeling under a severe economic crisis, its first quarter growth touching an all-time low of 3.1 per cent. What is making matters worse is a multitude of crisis striking India. We are dealing with a belligerent China which first tried to buy shares of HDFC bank and gain indirect control forcing India to revise its FDI rules.
Subsequently it has indulged in a series of border faceoffs with the aim of projecting to the world that India is an insecure country besides seeking tactical military gains by altering the status quo especially in the Galwan Sector. It has also attempted to instigate India through Nepal by raising the Lipulekh controversy.
Pakistan continues to accuse, most likely at the behest of China, that India is going to undertake false flag operations with aggressive intentions in PoK. Interestingly, it has also started alleging that India is fuelling the Baluchistan Independence Movement, aiding and abetting terrorist activities there.
Matters have been made worse by natural calamities such as the Amphan and Nisarga cyclones and the growing COVID19 threat with daily new cases almost touching the 10000 mark.
As if this was not enough left parties and anti CAA / NPR groups are bent upon mass street demonstrations on the lines of the US mass demonstrations ~ “Black Lives Matter” ~ which turned into arson and looting. Should this happen in India it will have serious consequences for India in terms of a further spike in COVID19 cases and perception of insecurity and economic instability in the country.
So are we facing a doomsday scenario? May not be so. If we play our cards right, we may emerge from the current crisis stronger with even greater say in the comity of nations. Most of the blueprint has already been announced by our Prime Minister. His call to become a selfreliant nation is one such initiative.
But a word of caution that the call by the PM to go “vocal on local” is double-edged and needs to be managed carefully, lest we get isolated in a highly connected world. For example levy of foreign digital services taxes on US firms such as Amazon and Netflix by India and the consequent investigation ordered by the Trump administration must be handled with care. Similarly, India needs to push for alliances such as QUAD to secure its maritime interests in the Indian Ocean Region to balance China’s growing interference into our security interests.
China probably wants us to remain engaged along the land borders and prevent us from becoming a strong maritime power so as to ensure its vital interests in the Indo-Pacific. From this perspective the recent Video Summit between Australia and India conducted on 4 June may just be the forerunner to new alignments that may unfold in the future.
The Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement inked between India and Australia has further strengthened similar arrangements with the US, France, Singapore and South Korea. Addition of Japan in this initiative will truly secure the Indian interest. As regards the ongoing crisis with China along our northern borders, it is being mutually resolved through dialogue at diplomatic and military commanders levels based on various agreements on border managements including the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement of 2013 The just concluded Joint Secretary level talks through video conferencing and Lt Gen level military talks is expected to achieve a breakthrough.
The Doklam stand off on the principle of no blinking no brinkmanship to resolve the current faceoff will in all probability lead to both sides reverting to status quo ante. It goes without saying that we must play our cards well in the various world bodies where we are getting leadership roles such as WHO. We are also set to enter the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member on 17 June. The approach spelt out by our External Affairs Minister, Dr. Jaishankar,of following the “5 S” strategies (Samvad ~ dialogue, Samman ~ Respect, Sahyog ~ cooperation, Shanti ~ peace; Samridhi ~ prosperity) augurs well and may contribute to building the desired strength to seek a permanent seat in the UNSC.
India has to revive its economy. It has no choice but to emerge as a manufacturing hub by attracting the industrial chains that are likely to relocate from China. In order to avoid public unrest due to mounting job losses, we need to create avenues for employment generation.
As per a survey done in Hardoi district of UP with a sample size of 7500 migrant workers, it emerged that 54.3 per cent were unskilled labourers.
Therefore, skill development has to be a major effort and should be done in conjunction with the industry as the training conducted by ITIs and educational institutions is largely bookish and leaves a large gap in the training and industrial needs.
Unless our population is enabled to be productive through proper skilling, demography will remain a liability rather than a dividend. Finally, most of our constructive initiatives get nullified due to our inability to project India as a stable, strong and secure country because of which security issues with China, Pakistan and Nepal raise their head frequently. We need to follow the advice of APJ Kalam, former President, who had said, “Unless India stands up to the world, no one will respect us. In the world fear has no place. Only strength respects strength.”
We must develop our military capability preferably indigenously to prevent countries from threatening our national security. Another impediment in our growth is our inability to deal with internal faultlines. Fissiparous tendencies need to be managed through inclusivity without pandering to any groups. We must bring national symbols of motivation centrestage while respecting our diversities. A cohesive, united, strong, stable and secure India will not only spur economic growth but also make India a significant power at regional and global fora.
The writer, a retired Lieutenant-General (PVSM, AVSM), is former Chief of Staff, Eastern Command, former Corps Commander, former Commandant, Army War College, ex-IG Ops NSG, and former member of various National Level Emergency Response Committees.