BY M. R. JOSSE
TAMPA, FL: A flurry of sticky domestic issues in America has overshadowed strategic concerns, while in our neck of the woods, it is dawning on many the K.P. Sharma Oli-led government could be the precursor to a grim tussle between India and China.
The tragic death of 17 students in a south Florida school shooting has resulted in such an explosion of public emotions that it is difficult to summarize it. While it has renewed general calls for stricter gun-control laws and re-ignited the mental health debate, it has even led President Donald Trump to call for changes to gun laws.
Though Trump’s statements have tended to ignite controversy, there has been a groundswell of proposals, including increasing the age to buy a gun, raising money for school security, and restrictions on the mentally ill.
Significantly, school students have launched a movement seeking protection from such violence; Florida’s GOP leaders now support raising the age for gun purchases; and some corporations have announced ending their partnership with the powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association.
Perhaps most disturbing is that although a caller had, weeks earlier, provided FBI with information on the shooter’s “gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior and disturbing social media posts, as well as his potential of conducting a school shooting” this valuable tip wasn’t forwarded to the FBI’s concerned field office.
Not a few commentators have, pertinently, asked questions about what the responsibilities and capabilities technology companies and law-enforcement authorities have for detecting threats among billions of words and images online.
A grim statistic to focus the mind: As per Wall Street Journal, in three decades, 150 children and adults have been killed in more than 70 school shootings.
Though myriad other domestic questions such as those pivoting around the Russia interference debate, and the role of sundry White House or Trump campaign officials in a variety of controversies, have contributed to submerging basic issues of foreign policy and national security, the North Korean case still manages to snag some attention.
What helped in expanding the North Korean profile was that the Pyongyang regime’s delegation to the concluding ceremony of the Winter Olympics was headed by Kim Yong-chol, a former general, who “commanded North Korea’s extensive espionage and special operation assets and has been accused of deadly attacks on South Korea.”
That made for a startling contrast with the leader of the U.S. delegation – none other than Ivanka Trump, the American president’s daughter and advisor!
In any case, America’s North Korean stance acquired a keener edge as the Trump administration levied its largest-even sanctions package – with UN Security Council backing – timed during the thawing in relations between North and South Korea, capped by Pyongyang’s participation in the now-concluded Winter Olympics in South Korea.
Trump averred: “If the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go for phase two”, warning that the alternative “may be a very rough thing, it may be very, very unfortunate for the world.” This brings us to the subject of American foreign/security policy – and the recent 2018 Munich Security Conference.
There, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz opined that, “the power centres are shifting. The U.S. is still a strong state, but they are moving away from international politics”, while “China is filling this political vacuum.”
Equally striking are concerns voiced by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at Munich, thus: “We no longer recognise our America”, adding that, “just pursuing individual national interests” is not appropriate.
Notable, too, is the view of Elsa B. Kania of NewAmerican Society, a think-tank in Washington, D.C., who told NBC News: “The U.S. no longer possesses clear military dominance, and China is rapidly emerging as the would-be super-power in science and technology.”
Where our region is concerned, as the Oli government begins to settle down – amid roseate expectations in some quarters and gnawing apprehension in others – there is a steady drum-beat of exaggerated anxiety that India’s security interests will be compromised.
Two commentaries, among several, merit our attention. One is a report in the South China Morning Post by Debashis Roy Chowdhury which predicts that, as the new government takes charge in Kathmandu, “the geopolitics of the Himalayas may change, the same way it did in the Indian Ocean.”
In Chowdhury’s write-up there is a tendency to suggest dark, hidden designs in Chinese development assistance to Nepal and growing areas of Sino-Nepalese interaction.
His reference to “India’s limited capacity and poor track record” vis-à-vis development assistance is brave, as is the fact that the earlier Oli government was toppled just before Xi Jinping’s Nepal visit. However, one cannot accept his convenient, sweeping if implied contention that the Indian Ocean is India’s exclusive sphere of influence.
The Indian Ocean is not an Indian lake; its nomenclature is totally misleading, as its waters wash the shores of dozens of other states, including east African.
In any case, desire must be matched by capability: if anything, New Delhi’s paralysis over the latest crisis in the Maldives – also in the ‘Indian Ocean’ – is revealing and embeds important geopolitical instruction for Nepal.
China’s intensifying military prowess and affluence and American foreign policy’s perceived retreat/hesitation/uncertainties were – I’d wager – crucial factors in explaining India’s inaction vis-à-vis the Maldives.
Finally, there is Mani Shankar Aiyer’s write-up, wherein he takes swipes at the Modi government for having turned “friends into foes and failed to convert foes into friends” depending more “on RAW than on good sense.” Though one can understand the angst of this former Congress MP at what he sees as the ‘loss’ of Nepal, to China’s advantage, his argument that the Himalayas constitute a strategic barrier between China and South Asia is vintage Neanderthal.
In the 21st Century, in the age of ICBMs, globalization and cyber warfare, that is hogwash. Else, why would India feel ‘threatened’ if Nepal’s ties with China, grow from strength to strength?