MOMENTOUS developments spearheaded by China’s dramatic rise, growing Sino-US rivalry, an assertive Russia, and the emergence of new centres of power in Asia, Africa and Latin America are reshaping the global geopolitical chessboard. These developments portend the advent of a multipolar world in place of the bipolar world marked by US-USSR rivalry during the Cold War and the relatively brief period of US unipolarity after the disintegration of the Soviet Union.
It is evident that as China and other emerging economies in Asia catch up with the Western world in terms of economic and technological strength and military power, the centre of gravity of global geopolitics will shift to Asia. The next two to three decades would witness this transition. A study by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2017 forecast that by 2050 China at a predicted $49,853 billion will account for 20 per cent of the world GDP. Both China and India ($28,021bn) will be the first and the third largest economies in the world with the US relegated to second position. Out of the 32 largest economies in the world, it is predicted that 12 will be from Asia with a cumulative GDP accounting for 44pc of the world GDP. The share of the GDP of the US and EU in world GDP will be reduced.
With the increase in economic strength, Asian countries’ military power is also likely to witness rapid growth. It is expected, for instance, that China’s military expenditure would exceed that of the US by 2035, posing a serious challenge to American supremacy in both the economic and military spheres. Other countries such as India are likely to follow suit, thus fuelling regional disputes. It follows therefore that the Indo-Pacific region will be the main arena for competition for global supremacy and regional hegemony, leading to growing tensions and localised conflicts in the area, especially in the East China and South China Seas.
The convergence of the interests of the US and India in containing the expansion of China’s power and influence will strengthen their strategic partnership pushing Pakistan closer to China to maintain a strategic balance in South Asia. One can therefore anticipate growing tensions between China and India, on the one hand, and between India and Pakistan, on the other. US-China rivalry will also lead to growing competition between the two countries for influence in Africa and Latin America.
Policymakers here often misread the foreign landscape.
As the Ukraine conflict shows, an assertive Russia will flex its muscles in the years to come to block Nato’s eastward expansion and to strengthen its security in its near abroad, especially the Caucasus. Growing tensions between the West and Russia have already strengthened strategic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing and the process is likely to continue in the foreseeable future.
Geopolitics is a brutal game played by nations for power and influence in pursuit of their perceived national interests. This power play is cloaked in moral and legal arguments wherever possible to make it palatable to domestic and foreign audiences. In the modern world, economic strength and scientific and technological advancement are the most important ingredients of national power and provide the base for the development of military power.
Unfortunately, Pakistan’s policymakers have often misunderstood the play of geopolitical forces at the global and regional levels and ignored the dictates of realpolitik to the detriment of national security and economic interests. We have overemphasised the military dimension of security at the expense of the economic one instead of pursuing a comprehensive approach to national security with due emphasis on its political, economic, military and diplomatic aspects.
The pursuit of overly ambitious foreign policy goals and the preponderant role of the security establishment in our polity have impoverished us economically, endangered our national security, and led us to the present stage of strategic exhaustion marked by slow economic growth, widespread poverty, political instability, and overdependence on foreign doles for economic survival. Our India and Kashmir policies, in particular, lack realism and suffer from strategic confusion.
It is imperative that we anchor our foreign and security policies in sound strategic realities at the global and regional levels. Further, we need to reorient our external policies gradually towards Asian countries in view of their growing importance. Above all, we must build up our national power, especially economic and technological strength, instead of relying on foreign crutches or merely on legal and moral arguments.
The writer is a retired ambassador and author of Pakistan and a World in Disorder — A Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century.
Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2022