Russian-NATO military confrontation: Who lost it?

Opinion

Have Biden, NATO or Western leaders really lost the plot and is a new world order yet to emerge in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis?

Ukraine disaster. Pic – Times of India

By Jan Arden

In what must have been a very uncomfortable read for Western academics and high-street moralisers, the Singaporean scholar, author and ex-diplomat Kishore Mahbubani published in 2018 one of his more biting essays as a small book titled provocatively ‘Has the West Lost It?’.In it he argued passionately that the Western constructs of democracy and reason, remain essential to enduring world peace and stability but these can no longer be an imposed ideology on the world. The shift in global geo-economics towards the Asian powerhouses demanded adjustment and reassessment from the West for continued stability in the world order.

“It would be a great tragedy,” he concluded “if the West were to be the world’s primary instigator of turbulence and uncertainty at the hour of humanity’s greatest promise.” Little did he know how prescient his concluding words would be, as emerging from a planetary pandemic with unbounded hopes, a totally unnecessary and diplomatically avoidable Russian-NATO military confrontation over proxy Ukraine, dashes these aground and takes its dramatic toll.

Beyond the deaths and casualties, the trade, energy, economic and food security repercussions are worldwide and unfortunately it is the mostly the African and Asian subcontinent that have to bear those costs, while some Western leaders have the galling cheek to pressure them to “take sides”. Fortunately, most of these nations, exposed to but geographically removed from such a ghastly war, have naturally condemned the Russian military invasion of a sovereign state but, more importantly, called for an early cease-fire and resumption of direct diplomatic talks to provide long-term European security with a guaranteed Ukraine neutrality on Russia’s strategic frontiers. Several countries including Turkey (a key neighbour to both) and India have deployed efforts to push for such an early resolution of a conflict where Vladimir Putin, Ukraine’s president Zelensky and the West, as represented by Biden-NATO, each have a distinct responsibility in this massive eruption.

As a small island state, like many of our African and Asian friends, we can only be bemused that the remnants of the former Soviet bloc, in particular Russia, that had become less of a strategic threat than in NATO days of the Cold War, and more inclined to trade and good neighbourly relations with Western Europe, had been continuously pressured by an aggressive pursuance of NATO expansion in Ukraine to the point of no-return, when war became the only possible reaction of Vladimir Putin. Who failed the rest of the world in this derisive and costly saga which cannot be written in simplistic black or white tones with the moral high ground on one side, the West? Which industries stand to make dozens of billions if most European nations including Germany are fear-forced into buying costly defensive armaments, radar and sophisticated anti-missiles systems?

We are told Big Pharma, and the two US giants (Pfizer and Moderna) have raked in dozens of billions of profits in vaccines and medical, drug expenses. It seems catastrophes — natural, man-made or engineered on any front — have only one outcome: huge profits on one side and massive burdens on the other. For we can be certain that fossil fuel, energy, food grains, oil, feedstock and numerous other essentials in Africa and Asia will continue to pressure and push back their development horizons for decades to come.

Who is to blame? The Biden administration, which incidentally faces a rout and risks losing control of both Senate and House in upcoming November US elections? Do we have any reason to thank the West in that domino game of superpower rivalries whose costs will and are already being passed back to smaller nations? Have Biden, NATO or Western leaders really lost the plot and is a new world order yet to emerge in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis?

Can the US afford to manage a two-front situation, with an upset Russia on the one hand and its greatest challenger, China, on the other? Will the US currency continue to be the standard flag-bearer of international exchanges? Are the sanctions pushing Russia, China, India and even the middleEast to explore new, less dollar-dependent, avenues of payments and trade? Will Israel and its troublesome Middle East neighbours find ways to peaceful co-existence and development without heavy external influences?

It may be wishful thinking at this stage to expound on the collapse or a fundamental review of the Western-led world order that emerged from the Second World War, notably the diplomatic and geo-political institutions, like the UN Security Council, the World Bank or the IMF, but these are certainly a few of the many questions that will haunt think-tanks around the world.

* * *

Cut Our Suit according to Our Cloth

While the global questions and answers and their timescales may be beyond our reach, there are some certainties we should reckon with as a nation, and many predate either the pandemic or the current Ukraine crisis.

The first is that of the currency weakness and the limited capacity of the Central Bank to stave off the depreciation of the Rupee, which has compounded the rise in price of imported goods, already suffering from the pandemic and now, the Ukraine crisis. There is some urgency to halt the depletion of national reserves for untoward and unnecessary expenses, to limit the handouts made through its subsidiary – the Mauritius Investment Corporation (MIC) without properly evaluated counter contributions from recipients.

The situation strongly suggests a general necessity to cut our suit according to our cloth in terms of reining in capital expenditure in drains, roads, tramway extensions, canals when the situation calls for greater financial prudence. The annual expenditure on drains was raised in the last budget from Rs 1Bn to a mega Rs 11Bn without any evaluation of how and where these were spent to prevent widespread localized flooding during February-March. As for the public debt situation both in central government, public owned companies and tucked away in the variety of special purpose vehicles, the IMF and Moody’s would have made their feelings clear through their latest reports and ratings, which the authorities should study closely. The gap between our exports and imports keeps widening and if we only depend on tourism and one or two sectors, our macro-economic situation will remain shaky particularly as we prepare to face the stormy seas ahead for the population.

Austerity and “serre-ceintures” is an unenviable last resort; but both the political leadership and our top administrators need greater vigilance to trim down lavish lifestyles of those in office when the population feels hard pressed. The authorities need to understand the popular exasperation as manifested about the recent Dubai forays of some Ministers on public funds or the proposal of pharmacists unilaterally deciding on a prescription or counselling fee or again, by the supernumerary taxes, duties and “contributions” exacted at petrol pumps. Feeling fleeced in shops, supermarkets, pharmacies, at the petrol pump and even in bazaars, there is no reason for the population to be forgiving at gallivanting wastes from public funds.

The current Audit Report has been out this week while there are little indications that the recommendations included in last year’s Audit Report, if any, have been attended to or the whole thing just tossed into a drawer. If prudential finance management and good governance are indeed matters of concern for our elites, we expect more rather than less.


* Published in ePaper 1 April 2022

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