Chinese opposition to entry of non-NPT countries to Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and UK’s exit (Brexit) from the European Union (EU) have set the course for changes in the prevalent US led unipolar World Order. The US wanted the UK to stay in EU as it’s “Man” and wanted India getting into the NSG as full member while keeping Pakistan out, despite latter’s better credentials. In both cases, otherwise has happened indicated meltdown of post-cold war world order.
As regards stance over expansion of the NSG, China had an easy way out—staying indifferent to applications of Pakistan and India. It should have been an easy course because India’s entry into NSG did not hurt Beijing in any way and opposition threatened to do fairly serious damage to its ties with India. China did not even blink and took a principled stance — either both India and Pakistan should enter the NSG or none of them. Despite overwhelming support, mobilised by the US, in favour of India’ s joining the NSG, China chose to cast its veto against even a discussion about Indian entry at the Seoul plenary on June 24. Analysts are struggling to find an answer to the question: Whether Beijing was motivated by a desire to placate its closest ally, Pakistan, or a desire to contain India’s global standing? Most analysts believe China was willing to ignore its diplomatic isolation and damage relations with India as it does not want to share major global podiums with New Delhi. Jayadev Ranade, director of the “Centre for China Analysis and Strategy” in New Delhi, opined: “the larger picture is China wants to keep us out so that they remain the dominant player in Asia. If we get into the NSG, this strengthens India’s candidature for a permanent UN Security Council seat.” Pakistan has been the surprising pace-setter in One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative. With the upcoming China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan has become more crucial to China’s strategic interests than before. However, China put up a stiff fight and made demands that ensured neither India nor Pakistan could get in. China said it would not bend the rules and allow India’s membership, as it had not signed the NPT. “Applicant countries must be signatories of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Wang Qun, the head of arms control department in China’s Foreign Ministry said in Seoul plenary. “This is a pillar, not something that China set. It is universally recognised by the international community,” Wang added.
In a damage control exercise, India is trying to maintain that only China opposed India’s NSG membership whereas six countries, including China, Brazil, Austria, New Zealand, Ireland and Turkey opposed the bid citing the fact that India has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Brazil, a member of the four-nation bloc BRICs (Brazil-Russia-India-China), opposed India’s membership stressing a non-discriminatory criteria for the membership process. China stonewalled India’s bid reiterating that all “parties are yet to see eye-to-eye on this issue”. Beijing has also made a case for Pakistan’s inclusion in the group if the NSG decides to grant an exception to India for its non-NPT status.
Pakistan’s National Security Adviser viewed American efforts to include India in the NSG as part of a ‘greater design’ to contain China on the one hand and to prevent the resurgence of Russia on the other hand. “So, it’s [part of] a greater design,” he argued, referring to the US decision to lead the campaign for an NSG membership for India.
Brexit has been the second event that is likely to impact the evolving World Order. Though the UK’s exit will not impact American military relations with the Europe, it would lessen its composite clout over the EU that may lead to more independent foreign policy by the EU as a whole, or by individual EU members. The NSG episode means China is now ready to take independent stance on important international issues and is not worried about the isolation syndrome. Neither the EU nor China ever intended to lead the second pole, however, China may be pushed, by faulty American policies, to do so.
From now on, globally, more bilateral trade deals are likely to be forged as larger, more ambitious multilateral trade agreements often run into problems. Regions blocs like SAARC which have long been idealizing the EU model for regional integration will take a pause in their pursuits. Calls for European unity belie the deep discord in the Continental bloc. Its core members have fundamentally different ideas on how to manage the Eurozone, and the discrepancies will grow starker as Eurosceptic forces in France and Germany persevere. Without the UK to balance their differences, France and Germany will become more polarized, which will gradually erode the foundation of the European Union.
Re-emergence of bipolar World Order has long been evolving slowly, akin to one step forward and two backward. Isolated incidents did give glimpses of balancing acts by Russia and China to checkmate the US unilateralism and interventionism.
This came to fore especially during Libyan crisis through exercise of multiple double veto by Russia and China, and later during the heat generated by Syrian Chemical Weapons episode. On structural side gradual evolution of Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) as a China led inter-governmental forum for enhancing cooperation towards promoting peace, security and stability in Asia; expansion of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and launching of Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) indicated the path of future trajectory.Moscow, which has long seen London as an extension of Washington’s foreign policy, had so far tempered its anti-British sentiments while Britain has been a part of the EU, however, Brexit could open the way for chillier relations between the United Kingdom and Russia.
For some time the UK shall be locked in internal and continental political turmoil. At home it will have to invest heavy political capital to placate Scotland and other societal segment that voted for “Remain”. At continental level it will need to go for painful structural substitutes to contain the impact of leaving the EU. Some EU leaders insist that to put an end to political and economic uncertainty, the UK must move quickly to invoke Article 50 and begin divorce talks.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has told the Aspen Ideas Festival that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union “is a very complicated divorce” and it might never be implemented. Asked by the panel moderator if this meant the Brexit decision could be “walked back” and if so how, Kerry said: “I think there are a number of ways.” “I don’t as secretary of state want to throw them out today.
One only wishes that transition to bipolarity happens peacefully. Of now, the US is engaged in a strenuous “contain China” campaign by enlisting about nine countries in Asia pacific region. Except for few, remaining are quite conscious about the reality that China is a rising power, while the US is a receding power; and that China is a neighbour while the US could wind up its Asia-Pacific shop on as required basis.
Long awaited bipolarity in the World Order may be at a fairly advanced stage. Keeping in view Pakistan’s close relations with China, the evolving situation would expose Pakistan to challenges as well as opportunities, for which it needs to brace up. Pakistan would feel incremental squeeze from American side, it needs to make a bold course correction to come out of the trap of its critical dependencies on the US—especially direct budgetary support and military hardware. Moreover, Pakistan should take robust measures for its macro-economic stability to face the bumps of politico economic changes that are on their way.