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Paper No. 826                                                            31/10/2003

 Guest Column-by Gaurang Bhatt

Is it the judgment seat on the throne of Vikramaditya or a berth on the underwater deck of the Titanic? The permanent seats were allocated after the Second World War by the victors to the most powerful nations of the allied coalition.  This is why America, Britain,

France, Soviet Union and China got the privileged plums.  When Chiang’s Nationalist forces lost the mainland and retreated to Taiwan, the latter was assigned the seat by America, the then sole superpower with nuclear weapons.  The relative frequency of use of the veto is a clear indication that the Magna Carta or the Round Table principles are not operative in the sanctum of the Security Council. America, sitting at the head of the table was the first amongst equals with all other subsidiary lesser barons far removed at the foot of the table. A few years later the Soviet Union became a nuclear power and the table geometry in the Security Council became bipolar, but the force-field still constrained the iron filings of which the remaining three veto holders were made, to be clustered around the American pole.  

It was the retrospectively consistent penchant for foolish policies and its obsessive fear and hatred for Communism that led to Nixon’s China card strategy and the seating of Red China to its place at the table.  America due to its paranoia and its shortsighted policies repeated the mistakes in Korea, CENTO (Turkey and Pakistan) and SEATO  Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia) in fifties, sixties and seventies. Similar policies were pursued by supporting dictators, suppressing democracies and the legitimate aspirations of the populations of the Caribbean, Central and South America with alienation of all those areas in the present times. This is not meant to be a litany of condemnation of America but the craven silence, acquiescence and impotence of the UN Security Council in being an accessory to these unjust, illegal, deeds. The  irrelevance of the Security Council are presently evident in its failure to condemn the recent American invasion of Iraq. What is even more pathetic is its giving America its imprimatur by legitimizing the American occupation of Iraq and appealing to its member nations to donate generously for the reconstruction of Iraq, whose destruction it failed to condemn. Saddam was a despicable rogue, but one previously supported by America when it suited their convenience.   The Soviet Union was also an offender by its dastardly deeds behind the Iron Curtain and though it received the censure of the Council for Hungary and Czechoslovakia, it weathered the storm by its veto.  It could do so because of its military might, in spite of the lack of matching economic power.  

The moral is that unless a country has overwhelming military and or economic strength, a permanent seat is just an empty honor, which compels one to orbit as a satellite of the dominant star. China in spite of its permanent seat has rarely used the veto. It gets better treatment like a first class passenger in a commercial flight, but reaches its destination at the same time as the economy class passengers, who are the children of lesser gods.  To further emphasize and delineate this argument, even large but not overwhelming economic might which Japan and Germany have now acquired, does not get them a permanent seat or even if they get one, to relegate them to the planetary orbit like Britain and Germany.  The problem that the occasional assertion of independent power can cause is shown by the consequences of the recent opposition and threat of veto use by France. It led to minor perturbations in the American Sun, but dangerous destructive economic tides in France’s commerce. 

The unthinking and instant gratification policies of the United States led to their support of corrupt monarchies and the blind connivance of wrong Israeli policies in the Middle East and the rise of anti-Americanism. The foolish midwifery in the birth and nurture of fanatic Islam to defeat its bete-noire the Soviet Darth Vader, led to ignoring the development of nuclear weapons by the unstable failed state of Pakistan. The terrible specter of Radical Islam like the proverbial serpent has stung the same American breast that fed it. And yet America once again supports the illegitimate power structures of Pakistan and the newly constituted Central Asian States. It even nurtures China, thus marching to its doom relentlessly to transform and fulfill, Krushchev’s falsely prophetic statement of capitalists selling the Communists the rope to hang them with, into reality and truth. 

This obsession to defeat Communism led to the profligate military spending by Reagan, which led to the demise of the Soviet Union and making America the largest debtor nation on the path to ultimate bankruptcy.  Yet it is important to note that the demise of the Soviet Union and resultant economic castration of Russia restored the unipolar world of the immediate post- WW2 era and the geometry of the Security Council table.  Once again the detestable but true words of Mao-that power grows out of the barrel of the gun, are vindicated. The American decline of economic might does not diminish its hegemony in the short run because of overwhelming military superiority. In the long run we are all dead is what Keynes said and America believes. The Rise and Fall of Great Powers, a book by Paul Kennedy which espouses the thesis that the mismatch between the rising ambitions and military might of great powers, unmatched by economic strength and growth is what leads to the demise of their hegemony and status, is not given much credence or thought by the American power elite. They do not wish to learn from the lessons of history and perhaps as per Santayana, those who do not profit by historical experience are condemned to repeat it. 

The Chinese leadership has learnt this lesson well and are developing economic power and using it to proportionately increase their military power. Their failure to learn the lessons of history is the faulty despotic strain of the Chinese rulers that leads to subsequent disintegration into lawless chaos due to the suppression of dissent by the tyranny of the rulers. Thus the New Kingdom may yet repeat the tragedy of the Middle and earlier kingdoms. India needs to understand that having riches is not enough.

There must be relatively wide and uniform distribution of wealth. The marked uneven distribution leads to an apathetic public and makes them indifferent to regime change, plunder and colonization, as our history of subjugation and rule by Muslims (Arabs, Turks, Afghans and Mongols) and Europeans (Portuguese, French and British) has shown. Even more importantly a cohesive national unity is necessary, so that we may not become passive bystanders, collaborating mercenaries, self-destroying puppets or fifth columnists, as the indifferent general population, British Indian Sepoys, the various Communist parties and some Pakistan loving Muslims have at different times. 

The key points are cohesive national unity, economic strength capable of weathering the ire of a few trading partners, self-reliance in technology to develop and enhance military strength. Until these are achieved, the headlines of becoming the third largest economy fifty years hence and getting a permanent seat in the Security Council are mere props and jingoistic delusions of grandeur. As the philosophical cartoon character Snoopy said, it is like peeing in your pants while wearing a dark suit. You get a warm feeling, but nobody notices. My worry is that far from being a dreamed of coronet, the seat could become a crown of thorns, if it leads the natural tendency of our exaggerated sense of Indian self-importance to take stances on the world stage, which are not commensurate with our economic and military capabilities and result in alienation of or retaliation by those who have the power and resent the posturing by a new upstart! 

(The author is a retired neuro physician and an occasional writer. Email-  SAAG would like responses to be posted in the forum.)