Saturday 15 April 2017

Trump’s personnel picks will set his policy course (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

US’ Atlanticist establishment will not surrender without a fight.
Given that three of the top four economic powers of the world (US, China, Japan and India) are in Asia, it ought to have been a given that the only non-Asian power in this list smell the coffee and re-calibrate its policies to reflect geopolitical reality, rather than cling on to the myth that the immediate post-1945 global order is still a valid construct. Certainly the United Nations, which was born out of the 1939-45 war, continues the architecture of 1945, with India and Brazil, for example, still being excluded from the permanent membership of the UN Security Council, while the UK and France still retain their membership, despite being overtaken in most metrics that count in global influence by Japan and Germany. Given the lack of unanimity about exactly which country should be given the privilege of joining with the present five UNSC permanent members (P-5), it is unlikely that there will be any change in its composition for quite some time, the exertions of wannabe powers such as India, Japan, Brazil and Germany notwithstanding. As has been pointed out by this columnist, India’s chances would have been higher were it to have acted solo, rather than along with the other three powers. Given that the four have presented themselves as a package, it is difficult to see the US push for India separately from its longer-term allies, Germany and Japan. As for Tokyo, while there may be some situations in which China would accept India as a non-veto wielding permanent member of the UNSC, there is zero chance of Beijing agreeing to a similar boost for Japan. As for Brazil, despite its size making it the most deserving candidate in South America for membership in the UNSC, this is not a view shared by Argentina or Chile, both of whom believe themselves to be at least as deserving as their bigger neighbour. And it is unfair should Africa be entirely left out of an expanded permanent membership of the UNSC, and in the continent, South Africa is the lead candidate, although this will be disputed by Nigeria.

The only way the permanent membership of the UNSC will get expanded will be if the existing P-5 unanimously recommend a short table of names to the General Assembly, which would then vote its preferences. Should deft diplomacy get carried out with China, India would be among that list, given that the other four members back its bid. However, should Delhi insist on moving in tandem with Brazil, Japan and Germany, our wait will be long. Each year that goes by without expansion of the permanent membership of the UNSC lessens the credibility of that group as representative of the international community. Of course, the P-5 largely meets NATO’s definition of the “international community”, given that the organisation sees only its own membership as worthy of that title. The United Nations and affiliates such as the World Bank and the IMF cannot for long avoid the reforms that would make it as representative of global realities as the three were in 1945, without getting replaced by more representative organisations. The Atlantic era is the past, while the Indo-Pacific age is the present. However, this would mean the US replacing Europe with Asia as its global pivot. It would also mean the switching of Moscow with Beijing as the main challenge to US primacy, and in that case, it would not be Germany and France that are the core US allies (apart from the UK, which seems permanently linked to the US, irrespective of which continent’s century it is), but Japan and India. During his months of campaigning, it was clear that Donald Trump understood this new reality, and the need for the US to focus on Asia, a continent with which it already had three times the trade carried out with Europe. He was particularly clear about the need to work together with Russia, rather than cast it in the role of permanent foe. However, the Atlanticist establishment will not surrender its predominance in the policy calculus of the US without a fight, and for this, the weapon of choice has been the “Russia smear” on Trump. The allegation that the New York businessman was prepared to sell out his own country to Vladimir Putin in Moscow is laughable, but unfortunately, has been taken seriously by both politicians and the media. Rather than any assessment of the reliability of the charge against President Trump, it seems clear that personal pique and hatred of the man is still giving the “Russian agent” falsehood wings, despite the fact that from Reince Priebus to James Mattis, from H.R. McMaster to Nikki Haley, most of his high-level picks are wholly Atlanticist in their thinking. However, the 45th President walked into the oft-repeated chemical weapons trap of the Ankara-backed rebels, and believed that it was Assad who was responsible for the Khan Sheikoun deaths. The subsequent launching of cruise missiles at an Assad air base has shown the falsity of the Russia smear against Trump. Atlanticists will now be hoping that President Trump will forget his campaign promise to lead the US out of an outdated policy matrix into a formulation better suited to present-day realities. However, whether such an expectation gets fulfilled or not will depend on the administrative picks of President Trump. If these continue to be dominated by unapologetic Atlanticists, expectations of the Indo-Pacific replacing the Altantic as the main US sphere of interest will fade. However, and despite a Clinton-Bush belief that Beijing will save the US from the North Korean missile and bomb threat, facts on the ground are likely to ensure a set of policies that accepts the realities of the 21st Indo-Pacific century. Even the Atlanticists in his Cabinet are of a calibre such that they are likely, within a few months, to make their policy peace with Indo-Pacific reality, rather than Atlanticist romance. However, this is only if staff selection at the assistant secretary, under-secretary and director level places into position mostly those free of the intellectual chains of a policy matrix grounded in the 1939-45 World War and its immediate aftermath.

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