The stakes in Ukraine

In the new Great Game, America is on one side, who is on the other?

China and India — according to Oxford lecturer Mark Almond who believes that the next Great Game will be between the United States on one side, and China, India and Latin America on the other.

If Ukraine falls into the Nato orbit, Russia will lose her access to Black Sea naval bases and Russian oil and gas export routes will have to pass an American stranglehold.

Yet Russia is a bit player in this new global competition. The Pentagon is really aiming at Beijing in its grab for the old Soviet strategic space around Russia. China is booming, but energy is her Achilles heel.

If South America, south Asia and China begin to coalesce, then Washington could find itself confronted by an alternative axis not seen since before the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s. Maybe India and China are business rivals, but their old frontier disputes in the Himalayas are frozen. Latin America has nothing to fear from either superpower of the future, nor do Latin Americans nurse visceral resentments of Beijing or Delhi that are in any way comparable to their deep-dyed anti-Yankee feelings.

America’s drive to dominate the old Soviet Union represents a gamble by today’s only superpower to seize the highest-value chips on the table before China and India join the game. If China can add access to post-Soviet energy to the Chinese hand, it will be game on for a real new cold war.

Washington’s drive to seize maximum advantage before the inevitable waning of US power recalls the Kaiser’s cry 80 years ago: “Now or never!” [New Statesman/Truthout]

Oil entered China’s foreign policy calculus just over a decade ago, and India is only beginning to think about energy security in a proactive sense. In time, the two Asian giants are likely to compete with each other for natural resources, markets and influence.

Even if India and China are able to set aside political differences and resolve territorial disputes, it is unlikely that they would come together in some form of anti-American alliance. Almond is right on one point — the new Great Game will pit America against China, but India is likely to remain ‘non-aligned’ and not permanently join any camp. Values and economics will bring India closer to the United States, but at the same time sheer proximity will ensure India does not end up too much on China’s wrong side.

Almond’s analysis misses out one major player — the European Union. Ukraine’s Orange revolutionaries are already looking to the EU for inspiration; in future they may even joint its fold. In any case, the EU is likely to have a profound influence in the former-Soviet republics, and perhaps in Russia itself. If the trans-atlantic rift gets much wider, the complexion of the Great Game is likely to be very different.

7 thoughts on “The stakes in Ukraine”

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  2. A lot of the ex-Soviet countries prefer to think of themselves as a part of Europe rather than Asia. I am not referring to Belarus or Ukraine here, but even countries as far East as Armenia and Azerbaijan. They may not be wrong, but the point is that there is a natural affinity among a lot of them to be a part of a pan-European identity.

    Having said that, I must say Europe is essentially a waning power. Even after they come together (political integration too if you please) they will never have the collective proactive will-power that is required to become true superpower like the US is and the Soviet Union once was. As of today though they do have tremendous clout, but if you are looking at a time period over which American world dominance has to wane, the European clout would have whittled away by then.

  3. Kiran,

    It is a matter of both capability and intent.

    The EU is slowly acquiring the capability to be a major player — it is already a trading giant, and the euro is fast gaining in importance (especially, if as many now predict, the dollar ends up losing its position as the world’s reserve currency). The beginnings of a common defence policy are out there. Britain and France are already nuclear weapons states, and many EU countries can produce high-tech weapons that can match the United States. Acquiring former Soviet states will enhance those capabilities.

    Next, the question of intent. At this point in time, the EU does not intend to become America’s geopolitical opponent. Can this change in 50 years? Possibly.

  4. Nitin,

    ” and many EU countries can produce high-tech weapons that can match the United States”

    While this is partially true (even though no country has made a plane sophisticated as the SR-71 which was developed in the 1960’s) Europe/EU with the possible of exception of the UK has been largely unable to fund even such modest developments as the Eurofighter! Forget about deploying even large conventional forces as well. Most eastern European countries are turning to by their arms from the US and indeed Poland will soon have the most advanced and powerful military in Europe and this is largely do to its economic policies and support from the United States not the EU. Furthermore more eastern European countries such as Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria etc are actively working to get the US military to move their military bases to their countries as well as place their missile defense systems for Europe in their countries. This is not just a economic move but a realization by those Eastern European countries that the US is more interested in their success than say France, Brussels, or Germany is.

  5. Now this might be naive question over here. But do we have an administration in India which acts a think-tank for the country and irrespective of political parties in the center remains the same.


  6. Pankaj,
    The think-tank linked to govt I can think of is Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, funded by the Defence Ministry.

    The important non-government ones are Observer Research Foundation, Delhi Policy Group and Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

    But in general I think the continuity in policy is maintained by the civil service itself, which is ‘permanent’, regardless of which party actually comes to power.

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