In any war, there are winners and losers, winners and losers. Prima facie, the winners are the United States, China and India and the losers are Russia, the European Union and Ukraine
The war in Ukraine continues. No expert or leader can predict when this will end. Since this is a proxy war for all we know between Russia and the United States and its allies, one can pontificate about the attitudes of the countries at war. International political realists argue that, nowadays, wars between great powers do not simply become wars – they turn out to be matters of prestige. The Ukrainian war seems to have entered this prestige phase.
Russian President Putin wants the annexation of Ukraine, or parts of the country, at all costs. The Western powers, led by America, have argued that a protracted conflict gives them the opportunity to entangle and weaken Russia economically and militarily. Ukraine is desperately fighting for its independence and sovereignty. None of these countries seem to care about the human costs.
In any war, there are winners and losers, winners and losers. At first glance, the winners are the United States, China and India and the losers are Russia, the European Union and Ukraine. According to Marc Saxer, a German political, economic and strategic analyst with the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, a Social Democratic Party think tank, the United States could fight its geopolitical rival, Russia, to the last Ukrainian stand. Washington succeeded in exhausting Russian aggressive power and deflecting pressure against NATO’s eastern flank. NATO has come back to life after the hesitations of the Trump years. Germany has accepted responsibility for ensuring security from the Baltic to the Sahel. Opposition to a 2% GDP gave way to a massive rearmament program. Saxer suggests that in the medium term, Germany’s change in position could ease the American burden in Western Eurasia, so that Washington can turn its attention to the hegemonic struggle with China in East Asia.
China is winning as Russia is emaciated. Beijing gets Moscow as junior partner. Russian gas companies will supply China at a rate below market prices. China becomes the only rival of the United States. China replaces Russia as the second superpower, the status so desired by Beijing. Beijing will want to be the number one country in the world. That is another topic of discussion, whether this ambition of China is achievable. Academics and observers have begun to think about it.
The third winner is India. He continues to support both the Western bloc and Russia. New Delhi buys Russian oil at gold prices. India’s position in long-term international geopolitics is unclear. For now, India’s foreign policy makers are congratulating themselves on taking a neutral stance on the war in Ukraine. I have discussed in this column more than once if this has been a good position.
The European Union has not read Moscow’s mind and has been troubled by Russian aggression in Eastern Europe. The EU had to fall back on the United States to prevent Russia from disrupting the Eastern European order. Germany and France need to dramatically increase their spending on hard power. They will have to find alternative sources of gas supply. Europe found itself wedged between the USA for its security and Russia for its energy supply. The European Union’s foreign and defense policy deficit was exposed following the Ukrainian war.
Ukraine is of course the big loser. It has become a pawn like Afghanistan between two great powers, the United States and Russia. He suffered heavy losses of women and materiel in addition to territory. Ukraine may have had no choice but to fight for its independence when Russian forces entered. But the question is whether she could have avoided the war by refusing Western overtures! It shouldn’t be. Ukraine must fight to the end or find a way to a ceasefire and then end the war.
That said, let’s explore the scope of New Delhi’s intervention as a peace broker that could catapult India onto the world stage. New Delhi has conducted its international affairs on a platform of neutrality ideologically and strategically called non-alignment. I have always maintained that this policy was neither desirable nor feasible. A discussion of the effectiveness of non-alignment is beyond the scope of the current wording. India has participated in military operations abroad, sending troops to UN peacekeeping missions in countries like Sudan, Kosovo and Congo. New Delhi also stayed away from the Gulf War in the 1990s or the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq after 9/11. India remained neutral in Ukraine.
India’s neutrality did not pay off anyway, rather it harmed India’s interests. New Delhi did not learn of this failure after China’s annexation of Tibet in the 1950s and later during the Chinese aggression against the country and the annexation of Indian territories. Western powers expected India to join their bloc as China blew down India’s neck. The situation after so many years remains the same. China is on the border with India.
India could perhaps take two diplomatic steps – one, inwards, and another to help resolve the Ukrainian crisis. New Delhi must rethink its neutrality and make strategic partners. The obvious partner is the Western bloc for two reasons. One is to increase its GDP to 10 trillion dollars from less than 3 trillion dollars currently. To do this, New Delhi must engage with G-7 economies. It is expected to complete FTA negotiations with the European Union and Britain. The second reason to go to the West is to protect against Chinese incursions into Indian territory. Some experts suggest Quad could be turned into some sort of military alliance. India could push Quad to take this route. On the contrary, New Delhi seems the most reluctant to militarize Quad.
India’s smart and strategic military alliances will protect it from Chinese threats and possible aggression, minimize huge military expenditures and reduce its dependence on Russia. According to SIPRI’s estimate in the International Arms Transfers Fact Sheet (2021), “India was the world’s largest importer of major arms in 2017-21 and accounted for 11% of total global imports weapons during the period”. Is this military strategy sustainable or desirable for a developing country with a $2.7 trillion economy? Is it realistic to engage in an arms race with China, whose economy is close to 14 trillion dollars? Disarmament experts show that the cost of a fighter jet can run primary schools across the country for twenty years and likewise the cost of a submarine will run nursing homes for a similar period. The estimate may not be exact, but the principle holds.
Today, India is attracting more respect and attention from the global community. It is a democracy that respects the rules-based global order, freedom and human rights around the world. Can India use this goodwill to mediate the war and end it? I have argued before that India should bring about a rapprochement between Russia and the United States, since the main threat to the global system comes from China. India should therefore dissociate Russia from China and make Western powers see the real danger to global politics and security. It’s a tall order, but not impossible. India has a history of doing such mediation in the Korean crisis in 1953. Its impartiality and diplomatic dexterity were appreciated by world leaders. Great statesmen are known for innovating. Our Prime Minister is well placed to fulfill this difficult role and it is certainly worth it.