Geopolitics for regional development
By-K B Ahmed
The Daily Sun, 23 October 2012
Napoleon's minister of foreign affairs, Talleyrand was a law-abiding person, and was in
favour of constitutional government. He supported Napoleon as the defender of
civilisation, but deserted him when he perceived that the Emperor was resolved to rule
without constitutional checks. Metternich, the Ambassador plenipotentiary of the
Austrian Empire to the Napoleonic court, with his astuteness as well as charms of
conversation and polished lifestyle developed social and diplomatic alliance with
Talleyrand. Metternich was, however, faithfully and devotedly committed to serve his
Emperor who he deemed to have the divine right to rule under the doctrine of absolutism.
These two preeminent personalities from diagonally opposite schools of their time
founded an alliance for a common cause of saving France and Europe from the tyranny of
Napoleon who they perceived as a supremely selfish man who delights only on his own
exaltation, making everything else subservient to his own glory.
Metternich had already drawn affinity with Burke, Pitt, Fox and Sheridan of England, earned an
incredible reputation for his diplomacy in Prussia and became the inevitable architect of
geopolitics in Europe which resulted in the Treaty of Fontainebleau uniting England, Prussia,
Austria and France to depose Napoleon from the throne of France.
Geopolitics and diplomacy: Geopolitics as such became an art in diplomacy essential to the
nations who are less protected by natural boundaries and less dependent on their own resources.
Geopolitics in modern times has become more relevant to distant alliances conniving access or
guaranteeing mobility for trade and military advances. During the Cold War period geopolitics
became a finer element in global diplomacy.
Aurangzeb, the great Moghal emperor, received intelligence on growing strength in
neighbouring China and moved swiftly to conquer the East and annexed the territory of Arakan
on the north-eastern corner of present-day Myanmar. He also offered the Kingdom of Bagaan
free access to trade in India thus ensuring the neutrality from the king of Bagaan. This
geopolitical move brought the Moghal emperor to closer contact with Chinese Western provinces
with which he exchanged ambassadors and established mutual respect for each other's warring
In modern times following the World War II, the western alliance led by the United States of
America got engaged in the conflicts in the Korean peninsula and Indochina. These were
necessary to check the advances of communism in South East Asia. While in the Korean
peninsula, the western alliance withdrew after installing a permanent standoff at the demilitarised
line dividing the peninsula into two separate states - the North and South Korea, in Indochina, as
geopolitically more relevant, the US dug in to defend Vietnam and to counter the spheres of
influence of the People's Republic of China. These two incidents history may judge as one of the
most significant events that evolved as the regional development for enhancing quality of living
in the history of mankind.
The manifest economic development in the whole of South East Asia was due to the engagement
of Western Alliance, and in particular, the involvement of the United States of America in the
Korean Peninsula and in Vietnam which were primarily planned for containing China and Russia
from expanding their spheres of influence. The vanquished Japan in the World War II rose from
the ashes of destruction and other states in the South East Asia ravaged by the Japanese invasion
were supported generously to establish them into thriving economies.
Paradoxically, the developments in both Korean and Vietnam conflict impacted on the People's
Republic of China and the aspiration of individuals got momentum which propelled the later-day
revision of economic management in China. Without the Korean and Vietnam conflicts, history
would have witnessed a continued repression and monolithically managed society in China
which could have prevaricate the socio-economic progress in the South East Asia. The Western
Alliance and, in particular, the USA built affiliations of partners in the South East Asia and
nearly converted China into an ally that has offered more sustainable and cohesive social order at
Geopolitics and economic development: Quintessentially, all geopolitical alliances were initiated
more for the cause of military advantage but most of such initiatives caused economic
development as building infrastructures and support services locally became necessary
precondition of success to all such alliances.
Following the Treaty of Fontainebleau, after having Napoleon banished from Europe, a growing
network of trade and road links was established which triggered the Industrial Revolution with
the merchant navy sailing out under the protection of European Crowns to source supplies and
establish colonies world wide. Modern-day Europe came into existence mainly due to raw
materials and minerals brought in from the far-away land of Africa, South America and South
East Asia.
Aurangzeb's annexation of Arakan established a bypass of trade route through the South East to
the Silk Road over the Central Asian Plain. Export from India grew exponentially and pirates
were routed out from the Bengal Delta to protect traders.
The Cold War period: During the period of Cold War the US, the more dominant of the two
super powers, set out to establish North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), RCD, and South
East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) etc., to invest in equipping the partners with advance
weapons, developing logistical support systems and providing generous USAID for supporting
socio-economic growth.
Not all alliances had desired results. Perceived "national interest" of the US did not always
provide rational justification for geopolitical alliances nor did it serve the purpose for which the
US took the initiative. Although the founding fathers of America enshrined liberty, freedom and
protection of life and property in the declaration of independence of the new republic, exigencies
of unfolding the very complex conflict of the Cold War compelled the US to support and
patronise despotic and autocratic rulers alienating public support. This was primarily because it
had been difficult at times to get a popular representative government to act or react to overt and
covert initiatives undertaken by the communist protagonists and their support from the
benefactors, mainly the USSR.
In the Middle East, however, the US "national interest" was more complex than stalling the
advancement by the communists. The Middle East was then the only known source of energy
which could meet the incessant and insatiable demand for it in the US and its allies in Europe.
Creation of a Jewish state, Israel, in the Arab land caused widespread discontent among the
Arabs and among non-Arab Muslims. After the World War II, it was inevitable that a secure land
for the Jews needed to be established. Jews from the Eastern Europe and Russia opted to move
out after the war and began descending on their holy land in Jerusalem. Although several options
were considered at that time, Palestine being the land of Abraham and the land where the Jews
originated from, the western alliance took this opportunity to create the State of Israel in the
Arab land. The Western Alliance was confident that the Jewish state will remain their ally and
support to protect the western interest against the vacillating and often unreliable Arab-Muslim
states. Little did any one realise that the theocratic state of Israel with a facade of democratic
institutions will be the cause of unbridled rise of terrorism around the world which will one day
break through the impregnable defences of the United States of America.
This gave the opportunity to the USSR to patronise rebellions and to discredit the rulers who
were committed to Western cause. In Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Syria rulers were meted with brutal
reprisals and replaced by so-called socialist national heroes under the influence of USSR. Saudis
and the surrounding Emirs, fearful of the brutality totally surrendered to the US for protection.
The ongoing confusion and conflict gave the Jewish State to fortify its defences and ventured
into annexing territories for this purpose dislodging the Arab population of Palestine with silent
support from the Saudis and the Emirs and under watchful protection from the West. The West
and the USA, in particular, committed financial support to the Jewish State and strategic support
to the Saudis and Emirs of the Gulf Region.
Persia, later known as Iran under the Shah Pahlavi, already had become a strategic ally of the
West now prepared to defend the Strait of Hormuz to ensure smooth supply of oil to the US and
Fabricated conflict in the Subcontinent: Cold War began in earnest with all "pieces" strategically
placed between the US and the USSR for a face-to-face showdown. India chose to go against the
Western alliance and its leaders, enlightened by the Fabian values, bet against liberty and private
entrepreneurship and sought to ensure elitist control for egalitarian purposes. India is a divided
land by religion, caste, ethnicity, language and culture increasingly creating threats to its own
integrity internally as the land owners of the northern plane who were the descendants of the
invaders from the Central Asia since the Vedic time, never wanted to lose control over the subcontinent. Till to date the conflict of this dichotomy continues under the thin layer of plural
governance and superficial common identity of being the Indians, a mythical expression of an
Aryan perception of divinity making others subservient to it.
India continued to proceed with colonial bureaucratic system and adopted quasi-regimentation
purportedly to ensure socialism as an expressed vision and to build a monolith of governance
with centralised planning, controlled private sector and distributive system. India, however,
remained internally insecure due to discontent of the masses, varied cultural and regional
ethnicity and conflicting religious interests. India's rival neighbour, Pakistan, created by an
unplanned political initiative and reliant mostly on emotional allegiance of its population, offered
an opportunity to fabricate a conflict with India which to date remains the only cause for division
among the peoples that had enjoyed living under a common identity since the Vedic times.
Connivance of these two nations caused wastage of enormous amount of resources to sustain this
conflict which otherwise could have been used to mitigate the predicaments of poverty and
deprivation of the population.
India for this self-defeating sense of insecurity failed to maintain workable cordial relationship
with all its neighbours. Nepal, a Hindu kingdom until it became a republic in 2007 and with
natural affinity of its people with Indian population, suffers from unwarranted dominance, while
Bangladesh, whose war of liberation was assisted by India in 1971, never could be assured of
normal bilateral relationship. With Sri Lanka, India raised a proxy war for over 20 years which
tore apart the social and religious harmony in the island nation. Smaller nations like Nagaland
and Bhutan just succumbed to Indian domination. This created destruction of monarchy in
Nepal, sustained division among the population in Bangladesh, and created a sense of distrust
among the nations in the region. All regional alliances and initiatives were subverted by Indian
bureaucratic hegemony.
A different dynamics in China: But in China a different dynamics came into play. After the
normalisation of relationship with the West and in particular with the USA following the
Vietnam War, China needed economic growth to compete with Japan, Korea and India. China
also wanted to best utilise its regimented population to be engaged in production to overcome its
financial weakness. Following the demise of the Soviet Empire, China had to look for new
markets and new sources of supply. China began establishing friendly relationship with its
neighbours in the South East Asia and began capacity-building by adopting intermediate
technology from its neighbours. It then began offering cheap and skilled labour to Japan first and
later to European manufacturers. China then moved to the USA and offered the same to US
manufacturers. China amassed US$600 billion within a short period of three and half years.
China then offered to invest with high-tech value products to Japanese, US and European
manufacturers. The US and European manufacturers found a new partner who is willing to invest
jointly and produce goods more competitive than ever before. They all came to do business in
By 1990 all major investors and business houses of the Western World descended on China.
China in turn began investing in the US and sourcing raw material from all over the World. This
completely changed the equation of geopolitics. By the year 2000 China became a dominant
economic player and by 2011 became the second largest economy bypassing Japan.
Fearing China's ever increasing economic dominance and abdication by Russia of geopolitical
leadership, India began opening up its vast and potential consumer market to foreign investors
and initiated liberalisation of its fiscal policies for the benefit of its own private entrepreneurs.
India began moving to free market economy.
Beneath the veneer of success: The concept of globalisation took hold and economic priority
compelled industrial nations (G-20) to draw a common growth plan to adopt common fiscal
policies, to ensure common standard and to secure mobility of capital and intellectual property.
An era was ushered in with worldwide economic growth and no end to prosperity.
But a different dynamics was at play beneath the veneer of success. Soviet Union rolled up
unable to meet the financial cost of keeping territorial integrity, for supporting the client states,
for the billion dollar space programme and finally for making a sham in occupying Afghanistan.
Reinventing capitalism: The West, assured of no threat from the communists, embarked on
global financial management without reinforcing regulation to protect institutions upon which
the basic confidence of free market mechanism rested. In addition, long-term funding to protect
strategic interests in Israel and in the Middle East that catapulted invasion of Iraq and
Afghanistan, caused substantial drying up of Western resources. Western welfare services could
not be sustained any more. Fiscal deficits in the USA and in Europe shot down the doctrine of
capitalism on its tract. A new initiative is now needed to reinvent capitalism and perhaps to find
a commonality with socialist ideas to sustain the World Economic Order.
To achieve this, geopolitically sensitive issues need to be resolved first as a precondition to adopt
a common recovery plan which will include all nations in a new global perspective. It may sound
naive, but having about five billion people in poverty and pushing about one billion people in
Europe, America, Japan and elsewhere to near poverty, the planet has no prospect to survive in
this eroding and corrosive environment. No one nation can survive on its own now and no
technology can provide any edge over others any more.
Against this background, in a narrow perspective, the South Asian region and its neighbours are
facing different prospects. South Asia, situated between India and China, the two giants, is
dominated by India which is trying to keep under its fold countries such as Nepal, Bangladesh,
Bhutan, Myanmar.
China needs access to the Bay of Bengal to secure shorter and cost-effective supply line for her
imports and for her trade with the international market for which it had been using much longer
and expensive route through the Strait of Malacca till now. China for this purpose is
demonstrating its intention to become a generous neighbour to Bangladesh and Myanmar
without whom it cannot get access to the Bay Bengal. The Bay of Bengal is also known to be
rich with hydrocarbon resources and attracts investment from both China and India. Bangladesh
and Myanmar, on the other hand, to avoid any tension between these two giant nations and to get
appropriate value for the access and resources in Bay Bengal need investment from neutral
Nepal and Bhutan being land-locked countries need India's acquiescence to transit through
Bangladesh. Historically, India in geopolitical perspective is known to be less accommodative to
its neighbours, and in recent times visualising the threat of competition from China, has taken
initiatives to underwrite special terms for trade with its neighbours.
Domestic demands in India and in the region are ever increasing due to the surge in population in
the region. India also fears incursion from expansion of population in Nepal and Bangladesh.
Regional initiatives like SAARC and BIMSTEC have not produced desired cooperation as they
lacked resources and commitment from member nations, in particular, from India and Pakistan
as they continue to nurture conflict of outstanding claims of supremacy over each other.
Pakistan seems to be playing as a spoiler in this scenario and Indian bureaucratic hegemony has
failed to offer any comfort to its neighbours, rather succeeded in causing divisiveness among the
population of the region.
The region is gradually becoming a minefield for geopolitics. As investments and resources are
becoming scarce worldwide, the natural inclination to protect domestic economy for sustaining
the level of productivity, employment and prosperity already made, both in India and in China,
the champions of protectionism are raising their heads and political challenges are threatening to
undo measures for convergence with global economic cooperation. Political leaderships in the
region have made little attempt to appreciate these predicaments as no one has yet shown any
sagacity to mitigate the impending crisis which very well compounds the sufferings of the
common people.
Writer, an Economist and business consultant, is President of the Bangladesh Myanmar Chamber
of Commerce & Industry, (BMCCI).