Countering ‘Useful Instabilities’: Making Sense Of The Current Global Flux

Venu Gopal Narayanan

Mar 23, 2023, 05:16 PM | Updated 05:16 PM IST

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
  • A burning issue which hinders the natural progression of geopolitics today:
  • One side, stand those nations who find strategic utility in tensions simmering profitably for a select few, while on the other side, stand those who seek to bring an end to such instabilities.
  • Analysts everywhere are trying to make sense of a furious diplomatic whirl which has developed in the past month.

    As Swarajya explained in a recent piece, it is a luckless task because the underlying dynamics and linkages are too multivariate, intricate, and contradictory for the derivation of a simple, neat, unified theory which explains the nature and direction of this change.

    Matters are also progressing at such a Sehwag-esque pace that it is getting difficult to stay abreast of them.

    Indeed, even as this writer’s last piece on surprising diplomatic developments was going to the press, senior editor Arush Tandon sent him a taunting message, that the piece might need re-editing if a late-night flight took off from Tel Aviv to Tehran.

    As it transpired, a flight did take off that night — from New Delhi to Poland. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida truncated his two-day visit to India, to make an unannounced visit to Kiev, in Ukraine.

    Obviously, the Indians knew about Kishida’s travel plans in advance, and it is a given that confidential conversations on the Russa-Ukraine issue took place at the very highest levels, since Kishida’s surprise visit to Kiev coincided with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow.

    Yet the point of relevance to this article is not the modalities of Kishida’s travels, but the stark contrast between his statements in Delhi and in Kiev.

    Speaking at the Indian Council of World Affairs, Kishida made an eloquent policy argument for a stable, free, and open Indo-Pacific region ‘together with India as an indispensable partner’.

    In Kiev, though, Kishida avoided the merits of stability he enunciated so well in Delhi, to toe an American line and promise Ukraine unwavering Japanese support in its war against Russia.

    Kishida’s contrasting statements made in the span of a day, define, in one sense, a burning issue which hinders the natural progression of geopolitics today.

    One side, stand those nations who find strategic utility in the propagation of ‘useful instabilities’, while on the other side, stand those who seek to bring an end to such instabilities.

    Pound to a penny, therefore, Syria’s momentous outreach to the United Arab Emirates will attract impediments. Similarly, Turkey and Egypt’s recent decision to re-establish normal diplomatic relations after a decade will not progress without pain.

    This utter absurdity will unfortunately raise its ugly head because the old world order had gotten used to the profit it found, for so long, in patronizing these many diverse instabilities.

    However, while we can categorize the two sides into those who want to promote ‘useful insecurities’, and those who want to stop them, we see that these classifications also overlap at times. The best example is China.

    Even as Beijing graciously mediates a stable détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia, it also shamelessly propagates dangerous, disruptive instability on two edges of Asia by using Pakistan and North Korea as their nuclear-powered tools.

    It is very much in China’s interest to keep the Indian subcontinent and the East China Sea off balance.

    This approach has worked well for them for decades, and would have remained their preferred policy du jour but for a paradigmatic shift in the global power balance, following the Indian general elections of 2014.

    Another example is America. Mediation is ostensibly one pillar of its foreign policy. Yet it contradicts itself every time it prevents the resolution by another country of a conflict (usually one which America triggered, like in Ukraine).

    Already, moans of impending doom have begun emanating from America, well before the contours of a possible peace in the Middle East become clear.

    As a result, no matter how hard Vladimir Putin wishes for a peaceful multipolar world, and no matter how hard he tries, this will not come to pass unless China stops using Pakistan as a destabilizing prop in the subcontinent, or India makes Pakistan irrelevant to global affairs.

    It is the same situation in the West: the only way peace and stability can return is if, as French president Macron has said, Russia’s security concerns are addressed, and if America permits the integration of Russia into the European security architecture.

    Unfortunately, as on date, the possibility of either eventuality seeing the light of day is extremely remote.

    To make matters worse, many of those countries who are today seeking stability, have been notorious members of the instability camp.

    France’s continuous interventionism in Africa, Iran’s funding of Hezbollah, and even Qatar’s cosy bonhomie with the Taliban, are but more egregious examples of the same.

    This is the institutional hypocrisy which countries like India and Russia have had to deal with, and it is something which countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia will have to confront, contest and overcome, if they are to be successful in their quest for regional stability.

    Yet again, unfortunately, the probability of is success is remote under the current circumstances.

    Thankfully, though, and in spite of their dubious track records, it appears that some of the countries most affected by ‘useful instabilities’, have woken up.

    They appear to have finally realized that unless they act collectively to break out of this vortex, they will be gravely affected both economically and politically.

    This will not be easy, because the old world order is still too deeply entrenched at the pinnacles of the global power structure, and it will, therefore, continue to be able to impose tremendous pressure on such efforts.

    Nonetheless, it is a self-evident truth that a push has commenced, against immoral equivalences which kept tensions simmering profitably for a select few, for simply far too long, in far too many corners of the world.

    It will be a vicious contest, and at some point of time, India will be forced to act as it sees fit, to tip the balance in favour of stability.

    Yet, in the end, this era of ‘useful instabilities’ must, and will, draw to a close.

    Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.

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