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Ukraine: The end of global illusions

Contextual autism is an essential instrument in the practice of hypocrisy.

Published: 20th March 2022 06:25 AM  |   Last Updated: 20th March 2022 11:59 AM   |  A+A-

Firefighters extinguish fires in an apartment building after being hit by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine. ( Photo | AP)

Firefighters extinguish fires in an apartment building after being hit by shelling in Kyiv, Ukraine. ( Photo | AP)

American matinee idol Marilyn Monroe said, rather memorably, “If you’re gonna be two-faced at least make one of them pretty.” 

Earlier this week India bought oil from Russia at a discount — and is designing a mechanism to pay in rupees. The transaction has triggered froth and found space in a White House briefing. It didn’t seem to matter that Europe continues to buy gas and oil from Russia even as neighbouring Ukraine is bombed by the hour. The Press Secretary chose to lecture India and said, “Think where you want to stand when history books are written in this moment in time.” Now, that is rich even by American standards.

Factoids serve a purpose. Nearly a decade before Jen Psaki was born the United States hugged Yahya Khan, Pakistan’s military dictator, to befriend totalitarian tyrant Mao. Richard Nixon argued “we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbours”. Well, China is now part of the family of nations and yet continues to nurture fantasies and threaten neighbours. Democracy is dead in Hong Kong and the ‘reunification of Taiwan’ looms large. That the hectoring should arrive in the run-up to the crucial Quad meeting is revealing and worth the attention of folks at the MEA. 

Contextual autism is an essential instrument in the practice of hypocrisy. History is replete with instances of America haunted by its own policies Given that the median age of the world is around 30, let us look at just the past three decades.

In 2022 Vladimir Putin is called a ‘war criminal’ but his rise has been fostered by the mushy approach of successive regimes. Bill Clinton felt Russia could partner the US; George W Bush looked into his soul and found him ‘trustworthy’; Barack Obama presented a ‘hot-mic-moment’ of truth, and Trump admires Putin. The US (and the West) chose to blink at events – flattening of Grozny, invasion of Georgia, annexation of Crimea, the bombing of Ukraine and more.

The brazen invasion (unleashed unilaterally by a super power) has triggered the end of global illusions. Most stark is the unravelling of the faith in the United Nations to intervene, to prevent war — neither major nor minor conflicts.

The UN’s preamble promises “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…” The promise has mocked generations of peoples across geographies. On display outside the UN building is Carl Reuterward’s sculpture, the knotted muzzle of a Colt Magnum symbolising non-violence. Ironically the Knotted Gun now symbolises powerlessness — a UN tied in knots by its archaic structure, reduced into a podium for sermons, often a spectator of death and destruction. 

In May 1956, Dag Hammarskjold, a pioneering peace-maker and second Secretary General of the UN, observed presciently, “It is when we all play safe that we create a world of the utmost insecurity. It is when we all play safe that fatality will lead us to our doom.

It is in the dark shade of courage alone, that the spell can be broken.” The penchant for playing safe is visible in the rejection of pleas for aircraft, for a no-fly zone as Russia pommels Ukraine. The hope for courage is conspicuously corralled by the real-politics of expediency, by trillion Dollar costs, by domestic politics and by surging ambitions of totalitarian regimes. 

Reluctance and reticence have implications. The sustainability of the existing rule-based world order and of supply chains impacting family budgets is being split wide open. The spectre of de-dollarization of globalisation is real. The domination of the US Dollar is being challenged. This column outlined the potential risks – of deglobalisation and the emerging narrative of competing systems (https://bit.ly/36DeGlo).

China is buying and paying for Russian oil and gas in Yuan. Saudi Arabia is considering denominating oil exports in Yuan. It is not just about energy trade. Russia is formulating a mechanism for Rouble-based trade. On Friday speculations were rife that the Eurasian Economic Union which includes Russia entered into an agreement with China to design an independent international monetary and financial system.

These are early days but there is no disputing the risk of a world order, which promised and promoted prosperity, being upended by events and the aspirations of a rising China. Friday’s two hour tele-détente between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping has scarcely moved the needle – yes, there was the homily about war “not being in anyone’s interest” but strategic ambiguity rules the day.

It is true that China has gained from globalisation. Equally, its $2.5 trillion-plus exports are critical for global growth and tamping down inflation. So the question is as much about what China can afford to lose as it is about what the world cannot afford. 

The price of unattended issues has come to haunt the global economy as uncertainty looms over a world that is poised at the brink of Cold War II. 



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