"An action once committed is irrevocable, and its effect, coinciding in time with millions of actions of the people, acquires historical significance"
—Leo Tolstoy in War and Peace
As the US president reached out to Poland reassuring Europe of his country’s commitment to defend against Russian aggression, the photos emerging out of the Presidential Palace in Warsaw strike a sharp contrast to the setting of another meeting over 40 years ago.
It was in the summer of 1971 that then US national security advisor Henry Kissinger made a secret visit to China in an effort to secure an ally. Forty years later, the enemy remains the same. But, Nixon’s America sought an upper hand during the Cold War to cement its already established superpower status, while Biden’s America is desperately seeking to hold on to it. Not to miss the irony of China’s role, as Russia presses on with its military aggression and the war enters its second month.
We watch in horror as innocent people in Ukraine are hurled into war, the largest military attack on any European country since the Second World War, but for most in India, beyond the fuel price hikes and the headlines on TV channels and newspapers, this continues to be a distant event playing out in a faraway land.
But, like Tolstoy’s Natasha, we will soon be swept up by the changing world order, where the US has slowly and gradually, in some parts, lost and, in some, given up its global dominance, and China and Russia are attempting to rewrite a new global pecking order.
Blame it on the ills of globalisation or the US folly of looking away while China’s ambitions grew at the cost of the US and Putin saw opportunity in America’s misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. But, the shifting map of international arms transfers since the turn of the first decade of the 21st century also holds clues to Putin’s desperation to rewrite the world order. A March 2021 factsheet by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute shows how the US arms exports spiked since 2011 but Russia’s decreased. The story is the same for China. A look at the arms exporters and their main importers and the contours of Cold War 2.0 slowly unfolds before your eyes. But, in this new international order of cloak and dagger statecraft, is America ready to take the lead to wage another Cold War? Does Biden’s America bruised by the Trump years and still recovering from the shocks of GFC have the appetite to mount another long "twilight struggle" against autocracies? As the chief economic advisor says in his interview to Outlook Business: it is easier to predict once it has happened.
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