Anyone that pays attention to world affairs knows that it has not been business as usual over the past few years. Revelations about the Five Eyes’ (USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand) global mass surveillance systems, Russia’s actions in Crimea and subsequent expulsion from the G8, the election of Donald Trump in the USA, UK’s impending exit from the EU, USA’s trade war with China and a new geo-strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific are a few indicators of current state.
The world is unbalanced, undoubtedly.
Brief Historical Perspective
As a matter of fact, the world has been unbalanced since the advent of the colonial model in the 16th century. There were serious social evils in all civilizations then and they still are, though to a lesser extent, in the 21st century. However, major civilizations had preeminence in their neighbourhoods with no significant pressures from outside civilizations. By major civilizations, we roughly mean Chinese (Oriental), Central Asian, Indian (South Asian), African, Arabic, Persian, Slavic/East European, West European and indigenous Americas. This balance was disrupted when a few European countries took a lead in naval and weapons systems. These colonial powers “distributed” the entire world amongst themselves and since then, have been playing strategic games about which power owns or influences what regions/countries – at the expense of unwitting populations of the world.
Anglo countries presented new governance and human paradigms to the world starting in the 17th century. Inspired by the best that human history and world religions had to offer, these paradigms promoted aspirations of the common man by idealizing concepts like freedom, liberty and equality, and pushed humankind forward in a positive manner. While the ideals were laudable, the actions did not match the rhetoric due to the expansionist, exploitative and repressive nature of the colonial era, much to the dismay of the colonized populations.
As the colonial era winded down in the 20th century, there were at least two extraordinary opportunities – first at the end of WWII and second when communism perished in the early 1990’s – to build a world order where, pivoted by the core ideals of freedom, liberty and equality, all nations could play by the same set of rules and where each nation’s destiny could truly be tied to the efforts of its people. However, on both occasions the opportunities were squandered because the Anglo countries never got over their fixation with a hierarchical West-led world order with them being at the top.
Luckily, mature leaders from India and China have evolved just in time to push the human story forward through their vision of a more natural multipolar world order, win-win outcomes for all countries and for all humanity. This vision combined with individual freedoms previously articulated by the West is what all humans on the planet deserve.
Status Quo Dynamics
In the information age, more and more details are emerging about the behaviour of the Five Eyes’ Anglo countries since the end of WWII. For example, in matters such as regime change, subversion of governments that don’t bow to them, conducting biological and other experiments on various populations, use of sanctions, and so on. It has become clear to the world that the Anglo countries’ primary driving force is self-preservation and status quo domination over all other countries. All other idealistic concepts, like freedom and democracy, through which these countries gained moral leadership over the world are mere tools to achieve self-serving goals, or are low priority secondary goals. They would have populations of entire countries suffer rather than allow other kinds of governance systems to succeed, lose domination over any part of the globe or give up economic benefits that were often gained by devious means.
Concepts and phrases like “American Exceptionalism”, “shared liberal values of the western world” and “rules-based international order” have been used to condition domestic audiences into believing that others countries/civilizations and non-Western governance systems are inferior, and any attempts by other countries to level the playing field are essentially evil and subversive.
The highest priority for the Anglo countries is to retain power but having power is not enough, apparently. This is complemented by an insatiable appetite for control and economic dominance. Several colonial best practices are in vogue even to this day:
- Divide and rule
- Play both sides, create competing sides if they don’t exist
- Control top talent
- Control financial systems
- Control information systems
- Ensure Western superiority in technology by using any and all means
- Weaponize anything that can be weaponized
- Use one-off examples to demonstrate superior ideals, ignore overall metrics
- Use Fear, Uncertainty & Doubt (FUD) to maintain status quo
- Leverage subversive elements in non-Western and non-OECD countries
Arenas for Rebalancing
The 21st version of civilizations or the anchor poles in a multipolar world may be roughly categorized as China, ASEAN, India, Russia, European Union (EU), Anglo (USA/UK) and perhaps to a lesser extent West Asia, Latin America and African Union. Our view is that rebalancing across all poles is imperative in order to have a fair, stable and sustainable planet. This implies working towards parity on trade, environment, technology and standard of living across all civilizations.
Rebalancing of Security Two aspects are noteworthy. First, the USA has maintained and expanded the logistics operational structures that they put in place during WWII. While the USA has several hundreds of overseas military bases, the number for all of the other countries combined is in double digits. Parity with the number of bases across various poles will be an important metric to watch as we move forward. The other aspect is the logistic and strategic synergy between the component countries of each pole.
Rebalancing of Finance The boom-bust cycle that has been exacerbated over the past few decades, the dependence of world economies on USA’s Federal Reserve decision making, crony capitalism, the perverse impact that the IMF has on any economy that it engages with, the ever-expanding gap between the few hyper rich and the poor with the middle class being hollowed out in Western countries, and rent-seeking economic models that don’t account for broader societal costs are all major issues that need to be addressed. A move away from the USA Dollar as the world’s reserve currency will be a good first step to alleviating some of these issues.
Rebalancing of Technology The centralized data model which was a terrific enabler for USA’s social and e-commerce companies has proven itself to be a major disaster for citizen privacy, an elementary democratic and human right, for all citizens of all countries. Distributed data with enhanced encryption and data monetization models that benefit individuals and their countries of residence should be the crux of rebalancing efforts.
Rebalancing of Diplomacy Institutions such as the UN and the IMF have been used by the few enforcers as tools to impose their will on others rather than wise decision-making platforms. Ironically, the rule-makers often don’t follow the rules of such bodies.
Adjusting to the New Reality
It will be a challenge for all countries to adjust to the new reality.
The Anglo countries are slowly realizing the actual costs of their double standards, ulterior hegemonic motives and global mass surveillance systems. The scope of the mass surveillance systems was so extensive that even leaders of NATO countries like Germany were spied upon for over a decade. Such poor decision-making driven by the urge for further domination at all levels, short term perspective with no regard for other civilizations and a lack of respect for the privacy of the world’s citizens has resulted in a silent backlash across all quarters.
The loss of trust in the Anglo countries could take at least a few decades to recover from. Further, the populations of these countries have also suffered from a lack of proper context and information about world affairs, and the insular nature of popular domestic discourse has bred generations of folks that take the rest of the world for granted even though their economic well-being is highly dependent on selling products/services to foreign markets and their lead in scientific areas is highly dependent on the import of top talent from other countries. Entrenched business and political interests who control the mainstream media and hence the popular discourse will not give up their status quo benefits easily.
This is a blessing in disguise for both the Anglo countries and all others. The former can start breathing easy because the rebalancing will relieve them of the burden of stewardship of the world’s financial and military systems. For the other countries, this opens the opportunity to design systems that are fair to all countries from the ground up. Re-orienting the mindsets of populations to a new world order is also a non-trivial task.
Actionable Recommendations for India
Here are our short to midterm recommendations for the Indian system. It is noteworthy that Indian administrators are already acting on some of the items listed here.
Wean away gradually from foreign built technology components, platforms and apps, particularly the data hungry kind. Diversifying the sourcing to countries from across the various poles is a good short term solution. The end goal of this exercise is to have legitimate indigenous competitors across the entire technology spectrum for both commercial reasons as well as for national security reasons through lesser exposure to foreign technology and surveillance systems.
Indian administrators are ahead of the curve on this topic. We advocate balanced amounts of trade across all poles. India must continue to diversify away from Anglo countries, particularly in the areas of technology and services.
Influential and/or loud voices in the public domain, industry associations and standards bodies for instance, should have a clear demarcation between foreign companies (including subsidiaries) and domestic companies. The dialogue, discourse, role models should be from domestic companies that are owned and operated by Indian entities with their headquarters in India. Not foreign companies and their subsidiaries who have questionable or divergent motivations and not Indian interests at their core.
The Indian mindset had been conditioned to look up to foreign brands and to look down upon Indian brands. Both startup and established Indian companies must start a crusade to change this perception through actual product quality improvements as well as through investments in branding in both the domestic and overseas ecosystems.
There are several schemes that foreign companies and their subsidiaries are using in order to gain market leadership in the Indian market. Regulatory authorities complemented by the legal, economics and finance communities have started paying attention. By offering free services, and seemingly endless promotions and advertising – some MNCs are doing what they did in overseas markets. They spent billions of dollars over several years, over a decade in some instances, before they became profitable and high market value companies. They are now using this capital to repeat the same approach in the Indian market. No domestic company will ever be able to compete against this unfair competition. All they can hope for is to gain enough customer traction so that they can one day be acquired by a much larger foreign firm.
Cross-functional teams of Indian policymakers and domestic industry should tackle this problem. We believe the following core principles are appropriate:
- No single foreign country should own, directly or indirectly, more than half of the market in any product/services category – for ex: online retail, search and email systems
- Access to market must be tied to technology transfer to domestic companies. No Technology Transfer = No Market Access
- Periodic audits must be done across the landscape to ensure that above rules are conformed to in new product/services categories
Currently, the proportion of Indian students that venture overseas for education is severely skewed in favour of USA and other Anglo countries. This creates an obvious imbalance that has downstream ramifications. We recommend:
- Number of students going to these countries should be less than a third of the overall number
- Offer and/or expand student exchange programmes with China, ASEAN, Latin America and Russia lead by policy and acted upon by private/public academic institutions
- Mandarin, Spanish and Russian courses should be offered in high school/10+2/Intermediate, other languages can follow based on trading and synergistic trends
Rallying Overseas Indians
Regardless of their citizenship status, Persons of Indian Origin (POI) are viewed first as Indians in any country outside the subcontinent. The more time that they spend outside India, the more they realize that their values and culture are tied to Indian roots. Resident Indians and policymakers should take advantage of this phenomenon and give the confidence to all POIs that regardless of whether he/she is an Indian Citizen or not, India will always be their home. This is similar to how Israel treats all Jewish persons from anywhere in the world. POIs have deep subject matter expertise in all advanced technology areas and this asset has to be tapped to serve India’s core interests. To demonstrate this attitude, Indian Policymakers should change the laws to allow for granting of Dual Citizenship to POIs.
As India embarks on the process of becoming a legitimate global power, any continued skew towards the Anglo countries only delays the process. Regardless of any historical baggage such as border disputes, the multipolar global powers will continue to move towards a coopetition (competition or co-operation) mode of engagement depending on the topic and context. Hence, rebalancing must proceed rapidly invigorated by a broader sense of historical and geopolitical awareness at all levels of the Indian citizenry.
By Vamsi T Mohun, Analyst at IFIT Research Forum, 1 Oct 2019.