Whispering Thoughts – On This and That (No: 1)

April 2023                                                                                                                



The world is in turmoil as I write this. The so-called ‘Third World’, arrogantly named so by the Western countries, are not passive observers anymore, having transformed themselves into positive players with definitive voices in world affairs. The USA, self-proclaimed ‘force for good’, is being exposed almost daily for misdeeds of commission and omission, is steeped in debt, is a country divided by partisan politics and narcissist politicians. Yet, the United States continues to believe that it is the only Super Power in the world, ordering other countries to do their bidding as the nation itself continues its downward trajectory into socio-political and economic chaos.

The hubris that the USA exudes was openly visible a few weeks back when the US Secretary of State ‘warned’ the Chinese President Xi Jinping of ‘consequences’ if he visited Russia. I believe that this was diplomacy at its nadir and arrogance at its peak. Leave alone China being a Super Power in its own right, such language cannot, and must not, be used when dealing with a sovereign nation, however big or small. In trying to control its own domestic contortions, the US has often stepped across intangible red lines in diplomacy time and again, especially in the past decade.

Any socio-political discussion of the United States cannot be complete without its track record of international military interventions being mentioned. Ever since the end of World War II, every military intervention spearheaded by the US has resulted either in clear defeat for them or in utter chaos. The nations that have been ‘invaded’ have been left as demolished States, while the US walks away claiming victory. It is indeed true that the Marshal Plan successfully rebuilt Germany after the devastation of World War II. However, in the conflicts of the past several decades, no such plans have been incorporated or even envisaged in the original invasion plans. In the past decade uncomfortable questions regarding the US-led Western world’s absence of a reconstruction plan has started to be asked—will the West put together a plan only if the affected country is also Western, where white Caucasian populations are affected? The silence in answers is deafening.

Hind-sight makes it clear that after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the US anticipated being the sole Super Power in a uni-polar world, with all nations ‘obeying’ their dictates. To its surprise, the balkanisation spawned a multi-polar world of shifting balances of power with no permanence or predictability regarding its future trajectory. As a counter to the unpredictability of the future, one could perhaps indicate the current conflict in Ukraine—in the making for more than a decade. Russia had warned the Western nations, years ago, not to expand NATO to its doorsteps. Under the urging of the US, they did just that with absolute predictable reactions from President Putin. In a lopsided manner this conflict calls into question my earlier statement regarding the unpredictability of future trends.

The world is today mired in scepticism, bordering on despair. There is destruction and decay everywhere, which negates the prospect of any further advances by the human race. Admittedly, this view is elitist, created by ‘intellectuals’, whose ideas normally masquerade as the ideas of the entire society, since they are the most vocal. In the 21st century no group, even the elitists, are homogenous—there are always dissidents; an aberration more pronounced in the elitist groups, by virtue of their intellectual background.

Moving slightly off the mark from the narrative, in the past two decades or so, the world has definitively travelled politically towards the right, best example being the divided US in the past five years. The trend in democracies, is the general population clamouring for ‘strong’ leaders who are not afraid to make even unpopular decisions. At the same time, they mandate that democratic principles be embedded in the ethos of the nation. The two demands are dichotomous—demonstrably strong-handed treatment of the populace is not compatible with democratic principles of governance.

Combine this visible trend to move to the right with the dissidence that has cropped up across the world, including in authoritarian states; the results are predictable. In democracies, dissidence is tolerated as long as it is confined to a handful of people, mainly because the numbers are insignificant and therefore not influential enough to threaten the regime. When the numbers increase beyond a critical point, strong leaders clamp down on them while weak leaders are swept away. This is a signal lesson from history. In either case, the main casualty will invariably be the cherished ideal of democracy.

To return to the title of this short missive, ‘the state of the world’, a question, in the third decade of the 21st century, where has the world reached? The answer comes in two different perspectives—global and national. Globally, the developed and developing nations have grown apart, the catalysts being overtly demonstrated racism and discrimination based on unacceptable—at least in the so-called liberal democracies—factors such as religion, caste, creed, and myriad others. The changes within nations are the ones that will impact with greater repercussions. Within nations, the gap between the haves and the have-nots is visibly increasing on a daily basis. The result has been the squeezing out of the middle-class that has been the mainstay of an orderly democratic society.

In the current socio-economic imbroglio, the lower part of the middle-class have slipped into the have-nots and the top percentage joined the haves. The result is a numerically diminishing middle-class with limited influence. When the strength of the dwindling middle-class falls to a certain percentage of the total population, the nation will reach a tipping point when a revolution, not necessarily violent but with a high probability of it being so, will engulf the State. The interesting point is that the tipping point will be different in different societies and nations, and even in the same nation may not be the same under different circumstances. The variation is dependent on many disparate factors.

The undisputable fact is that each society and nation has a tipping point. A democracy will do well to monitor the continuing reduction in the middle-class, the tensions between the haves and the have-nots, and track socio-economic developments to ensure that the nation is not near its tipping point. Unfortunately, several nations without their realising it, are far nearer their tipping points than can be visualised from the outside.

Returning to conclude with a mention of the ‘greatest’ democracy in the world, the United States; if the trajectory of socio-economic developments in the past few years and political events of the past few months are any indication, the nation is far closer to the tipping point than many pundits believe, or the leadership realises. So, what next? A rhetorical question, but important for the world to find an answer since, even in its current confusion, what happens in the ‘divided’ United States creates a ripple effect in the global pond—no one will be left unaffected.

© [Sanu Kainikara] [2023]
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About Sanu Kainikara

Sainik School Kazhakuttam (Kerala), National Defence Academy 39/A, 108 Pilot's Course IAF, fighter pilot, QFI, FCL, psc, HACC, Voluntary Retirement as Wing Commander. Canberra-based Political and Defence Analyst specialising in military strategy, national security, and international politics. PhD in International Politics from University of Adelaide Executive Masters in Public Adminsitration (ANZSOG) Adjunct Professor, University of New South Wales, Distinguished Fellow Institute For Regional Security (IFRS) Distinguished Fellow Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS)

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