By Curwen Ares Rolinson – You know, it is a curious thing. When Pakistan made moves about potentially acquiring Russian-made S-400 anti-missile/anti-air system … there was, largely, silence. Yet when India goes to actualize acquisition of S-400 systems as part of a deal with Russia that was negotiated in 2016 – United States moves to impose sanctions on India.
There are two ways to view this. The first is the straight-forward defence-industry perspective. The S-400 is a pretty good system. Indeed, I would contend that it appears to be a *better* system than the US-made Patriot ABM/SAM system. Not least because I am yet to encounter any reports of an S-400 employment demolishing city-blocks in urban areas it is supposed to be defending – as reportedly happened both during Israel’s usage of same during the first Gulf War against Iraqi SCUDs, and more recently in Saudi Arabia during Houthi missile attacks.
Just as we saw with the alleged pressure put on NATO members to acquire wildly expensive US-made F-35 hangar-queens instead of more sensible or proven aircraft … the American defence industry appears to increasingly survive not on providing ‘cutting edge’ hardware to clients (partially, to be fair, due to software issues…) – but rather, through having the “strong arm” of US geopolitical pressure endeavour to apply some form of ‘cutting edge’ to the jugular veins of (non-military) trade-flows between potential customers and the American market.
However, while it would be tempting to simply consider this another bout of American “please-don’t-buy-their-gunboats” “diplomacy”, to do so would be to decontextualize this instance from its place in the broader (and increasingly troubled) Indian relationship with the United States.
In the last few months, we have seen repeated “warnings” from America to India that the US will not tolerate ongoing Indian strengthening of diplomatic and other ties with Iran.
Indeed, the most recent round of these effectively issued India with a straight-up ultimatum to almost immediately abandon its importation of five hundred thousand barrels per day of Iranian oil (this represents Iran’s largest petroleum export market)
Now, while it is again possible to view the above as yet another manifestation of American domestic-producer protection (i.e. the Trump Administration is fairly keen to continue to support expansions in US oil production – something largely made possible through the effects American efforts against both Iran and Venezuela, as well as Russia, have had on price and supply in the global energy market) , this misses the geopolitical realities at play here – as well as, come to think of it, the historic precedence for same.
By pursuing positive relations with Iran, maintaining its strong relations with Russia, and also continuing to build upon the last decade or so’s perhaps striking relationship-building with America … all at the same time … India is demonstrating a sound application of the principle of “Multipolarity” in practice.
And as it happens, this is not a new ‘stance’ nor situation for India, either – once upon a time, She was the leading state of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Yet however much sense it might make for India (and, indeed, the world at large) to embrace Multipolarity in geopolitical affairs, the Americans have never been particularly keen on the idea. Not since they started to realize they were a true global (super)power, at any rate.
As we will recall from the Cold War – the American position tended to be that you either ‘picked’ them or the Soviets; with endeavours at ‘doing business’ with both ‘sides’ strongly discouraged. A situation which, I would argue, actually *cost* them a considerable number of potential amicable diplomatic relationships for basically no reason other than pride and pedantry.
And while this would be bad and limiting enough for the ‘client states’ in question, what has invariably made it worse is the American insistence upon ‘paternalism’ in these relationships.
That is to say, point-blank refusing to countenance their dealings with other sovereign states in the course of such arrangements as anything like a ‘conversation’ of even notional equals, or actual ‘partners’ who each bring to the table valid points of view.
Instead, as we are seeing with the recent threats against India – a far more ‘unilateral’ approach is taken, perhaps as befits an ‘Imperial Center’ who’ve come to view themselves as some horrendous combination of “Hyperpower” and “Chakravartin”.
A unipolar hegemon who, it would appear, has all but forgotten what it is to have “friends” on the international stage, in avowed preference of viewing its associates as something altogether more akin to “satrapies”.
And to be fair here – both to the US in general, as well as to the Trump Administration in particular – this is not entirely a new phenomenon. If one were to look not at all that far back in the annals of history, something like the unjust demands made of Japan by America at the Plaza Accords in 1985 stands out as an emblematic example. Or, for that matter, the US’s straight-up diktat-orial refusal to compromise with New Zealand over the issue of their nuclear ships in our waters which was occurring roughly contemporaneously.
Going back further, and further-afield, we can find any number of Imperial powers carrying out similar conduct with regard to smaller or otherwise less ‘potent’ polities, and for avowedly similar reason.
Although the funny thing about that is – this kind of arrogant and aggressive conduct not infrequently occurs toward the *end* of a given Power’s tenure as ‘giant in the playground’.
How long, for instance, did it take Athens to go from purporting to uphold (Greek) Freedom against a tyrannous “evil empire” … through to the much-changed rhetoric of the Melian Dialogue (wherein the Athenians abandoned the high-minded pretenses the Delian League was nominally founded under, and proceeded to offer terms to the previously neutral state of Melos which literally amounted to “Join (and pay exorbitant tribute) Or Die” ) … and from thence to escalating rebellion among its previous ‘allies’ in response to increasingly brutal Athenian conduct, followed not long after by Spartan triumph and Athenian geopolitical and political collapse.
With all of that in mind, the Americans would perhaps be advised to ponder whether this ongoing campaign of attempted-intimidation against a rising Great Power in pursuit of very much *temporary* gains against a regional adversary or for their less-competitive domestic industries … is actually likely to be “worth it” in the longer run.
We have all heard the aphorism “Don’t Poke The Bear”, in deference to Russia.
Perhaps, as applies the American interaction with India, the US would be wise to recall another maxim – “Don’t Tread On” the Cobra.
PS – I have no idea how/why i keep accidentally producing extended discursive analysis at odd hours of the morning; or, for that matter, why it winds up doing thing like jumping around in time by about two and a half thousand years
Curwen Ares Rolinson has endured almost a decade’s worth of experience at the highest levels of New Zealand Politics; serving as a prominent public face of left-nationalism in his home country before making the transition to political journalism and work in the PR field. His writing has been published in a wide array of outlets – ranging from his award-winning “Sex, Drugs & Electoral Rolls” magazine column, as well as the Official Gazette of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, and of course the radically dangerous Fort Russ News