I was talking intensely over a week with a European friend, who is also a friend of India with commendable knowledge of India’s politics and business. The intriguing conclusion that emerged is that the world is running on the ‘inescapable’ principle of pragmatism while orating rhetoric on a rule-based international order etc. No wonder, the United Nations is rendered infructuous. It is time to assess the role and perspective of each power, mainly Europe, in the title of this article in terms of their response to the inhuman and intractable war in Ukraine, and their respective foreign policies with each other.
Throwing a caveat,a word on the UNO – The United Nations Organisation is in order. The UNO is run by the five countries mentioned above except India, although it is a non-permanent member in the UNSC. The nomenclature of this world body itself is problematic. Having a fetish on the meaning of the words and concepts, I must say they have three kinds of meaning – actual, contextual and deeper. In all the three, the United Nations fails the test. UNO is not constituted by nations but by countries which are political structures. Nations are an idea, or an emotion manifested in cultures with multiple attributes – language, race, ethnicity, religions, castes (in India and Nepal or in other Hindu Diaspora), food and clothing habits, festivities and so on. Each of these attributes could constitute a nation. Is that the case in UNO? Definitely not. Consequently, when countries present themselves as nations, contradictions surface.
The above premise has partly caused the war in Ukraine. Note that Ukraine split from USSR as an independent country. But Russia considers Ukraine as a part of the same race (nation) hence wants to reclaim it. Ukraine becoming a security threat for Russia at the behest of NATO is another story. But fight over nationalities is more complex than any other issues. Note the status of Kurds, Balochs in Pakistan, Basques in Spain, Uighurs in China, Rohingyas in Myanmar and the list goes on.
Now on the countries in question which have been a world power seem to be caught in a bind. It is a classic example adhering to pragmatism. Europe has been the cradle of democracy, but in practice, at least in their external relations. They have sacrificed human rights and democratic values at the drop of a hat. They will like to do brisk business with Beijing as a matter of national economic interest and will go with USA as their history, culture and security are unbreakably linked. The European countries, the big ones like Germany and France may not warm up to either China or USA, but they carry on with both.
The German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in China immediately after coming to power. At the time of writing, the French President, Emmanuel Macron is in Beijing. Europe does not have direct enmity with Russia, yet it has to go with USA in isolating Russia for their affinity with the former for the reasons mentioned above. In fact, they are in quite an uncomfortable position. In view of the sanctions, Europe could not buy oil and gas from Russia and is compelled to buy at a much higher rate from USA. My friend asserted that USA is benefitting considerably from the Ukrainian war through their sales of weaponry to Ukraine and fuel to Europe. USA too is pragmatic!
The Scandinavian countries have a bigger problem now. Dealing with an autocratic regime in Russia is a nightmare. Soviet Union made a blunder in 1979. Putin is doing it in the neighbourhood – Chechnya, Georgia and now Ukraine. Putin believes that break-up of Soviet Union was the biggest mistake to have happened in his lifetime. If he had his way, he would restore the Union by force. At any rate, browbeating the Ukraine is a nationalistic issue. Countries like Finland and Sweden geographically close to Russia, cannot risk living beside an autocratic regime. So, they are joining NATO if they like it or not.
Europe is thrown into an existential dilemma with China. Following USA, they have had booming trade and commerce with Beijing to exploit the captive labour force, strict labour laws and so on. China has become too powerful now, a Frankenstein as I said before in this column. Europeans realise and admit that Beijing is posing a systemic threat to the world seeking to change the world political system beyond what Europeans have lived with for centuries, so said my friend. Second, China is challenging the supremacy of USA. On the other hand, USA is trying to curtail China. Europe will have to follow suit.
Although Europe is dithering at the moment on China, they will have no more room to manoeuvre, if Beijing took any militarily aggressive step in Japan, Taiwan, Australia or any of US’s formal allies. China is belligerent on India but since New Delhi is a hybrid ally of USA and perhaps of Europe, Indian predicament may not spur Europe to action against China.
This is precisely the strategic point I wish to underline for Europe and India to consider. I have long argued that European Union and the Union of India are natural partners, and it is high time they grasped and embraced this reality. Both are diverse, federal democratic politics. The trajectory of their union-building is contrasting but the nature and the purpose are the same. India began as a Union of Sates and is maintaining it. Europe constructed the Union and is seeking to profile it.
There are two elements missing on both sides. Europe needs to defocus on economic growth at the expense of human rights (like dealing with China). Europe is economically and politically advanced enough; it needs to maintain then the changing mindsets on consumption etc. India on the other hand needs to build its economyand society in material terms and maintain its federal and democratic polity. Instead of falling for China’s economic bubble, the so-called miraculous growth, Europe needs to refocus on its political richness and social modernism.
Europe should be patient with India for its slower but steadier growth. India is going to be the biggest country and the largest market in the world with greater diversity and stability. Likewise, New Delhi should reach out to Europe, not Russia, which is fading, nor China which hangs as a ‘Damocles sword’ over the world, and not USA which feeds its own interests rather than any one else’s. It is time for Union of India and the European Union to draw closer. —INFA