The next world order needs to be defined through an Indo-Pacific charter. It has to be put into place by an Indian Prime Minister and a US President.
“When we reflect on the fame of Thebes and Argos, of Sparta and Athens, we can scarcely persuade ourselves that so many immortal republics of ancient Greece were lost in a single province of the Roman Empire”, wrote Edward Gibbon in the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It was a reminder to the world of the scale of the domination of Rome.
The ancient world was more globalised than perhaps our imagination allows us to comprehend. Caesar’s lover Cleopatra was the last of the Ptolemies. The Pharaonic dynasty was begun by a companion of Alexander of Macedon, Ptolemy Soter, the same Alexander who made it all the way to the banks of the Jhelum river.
What these histories gloss over is that by the time “Sikandra” made it to Taxila, housed in the city were two men unforgettable to Indian history, Kautilya and his pupil Chandragupta Maurya. The empire Chandragupta founded, by the time of his grandson Ashoka, would be one of the greatest of the world. Its iron pillars stamped its authority from Kabul to the Bay of Bengal.
As Gibbon published the first volume of his great work in 1776, world structures were changing. Clive, the “Baron of Plassey”, had just committed suicide. British India was sputtering to maturity. The colonies of America had just dumped the East India Company’s tea into Boston harbour and declared independence. The man who handed over his sword of surrender to George Washington at Yorktown, would promptly become Governor-General of India. Cornwallis died in India, buried in Bihar. The Dutch, French and British were now racing for colonies in Africa and Asia. A young British officer who fought the Battle of Seringipatnam against Tipu in 1799, would in a few years become the General who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo.
Industrial Britain would then be the global superpower, the treasures of the world from the Kohinoor to the marble relief of the Parthenon in Athens would be deposited in vaults in London.
The two thousand years of civilisation in India before Alexander fought Porus, were left out of the histories Lord Macaulay ensured we were taught. We were to be to the British what the helots were to Sparta. The remnants of the bricks of the Harappans were used as ballast for the Multan railway.
Like all empires built on war and conquest, they ended in war and decline. By the time a Germany jealous of British and French colonies began slugging it out at the first battle of the Marne in 1914, industrial total war would be killing thousands-a-day. With the end of the First World War, Tsarist Russia was now Marxist Leninist Socialist and Woodrow Wilson was dictating his 14 points. After all, America had just saved the “old world” from ruin. Clear global policy was needed, America had to be dictating it.
E.H. Carr’s twenty years of crisis followed. If World War I was driven by greed, Nazi Germany was sown by ruthless reparations that foisted demagoguery amid the worst calamity of the capitalist global system, the economic collapse of 1929. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the polio crippled nephew by marriage to Theodore, saved America and the capitalist world with his “New Deal”.
As Hitler led Europe into its second great war, America was the globe’s economic powerhouse determined to sit this one out. And like King Pyrrhus fighting the Romans in Sicily twenty-two hundred years before, Great Britain would be ruined in victory. There would be no victory if America did not come in on Britain’s side. FDR, the only four-time US President, knew it. Having revived his country from economic chaos, the ordinary American was in no mood to save Europe’s skin again. So, Churchill all but agreed to give up his beloved Empire to save Britain.
The makings of the new world order were decided on board two ships in Placentia Bay in Newfoundland. Churchill steamed in on the “Prince of Wales”, the ironic representation of English control over the Welsh. Roosevelt came on board the USS Augusta. They agreed on eight broad principles amalgamating war aims with the principles of the new world order. Firstly, that they would seek no territorial gains (to prove their ideological anti-thesis to Hitler’s Lebensraum—Living Space). Secondly, territorial adjustments would be made according to the wishes of the “people concerned”. That would return Poland to the Polish and so on. Thirdly, that “all people had the right to self-determination”. Points 4, 5 and 6 dealt with lowering trade barriers, promoting economic globalisation and social welfare. Point 7 on the “freedom of the navigation of the seas” was based the American need to be able to ply their trade across the seven seas. And point 8 dealt with the disarmament of the aggressors.
Churchill, who a few years later would coin the term “Iron Curtain”, also coined the name “Atlantic Charter” in his speech to British Parliament on August 24, 1941. No one actually signed anything, but it was released in their name. The genesis of the new world order had begun. NATO and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) would follow and become the future WTO.
The British Empire would dissolve. India would be independent in six years. In 1944, at a conference in Bretton Woods in New Hampshire, 44 allied nations would charter the new world economic order, the John Maynard Keynes architecture was imprinted. The IMF would be created, the World Bank would follow. Till this day, the system is structured that almost all these bodies cannot make final decisions without a favourable US or European vote.
In February 1945 Yalta set the stage for the UN and the UNSC in October of the same year. They moved quickly. At US insistence, India and other British colonies did get an independent seat at the UN as founding members in 1945. Historians tell us that history should be seen as incremental change. But, as at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, incremental change at times can lead to a complete new order. The moment has to be recognised, embraced, imbibed and gripped. This defined the 1940s. The same moment has now arrived.
The Romans simply called the Mediterranean “Mare Nostrum”, Our Sea. The Atlantic defined the new world order of the “pond” connecting America to Europe. The Indo-Pacific is the future. The time for a new Indo-Pacific Charter is here.
The UNSC system is broken. It has been prevented from evolving to embrace the new reality of India and a rising Africa. Stuck in 1945. Whether Nehru missed the opportunity by showing exceeding generosity in declining an offer to take China’s seat on the UNSC after the communist revolution, is another wistful and woeful debate, but as reality stands, China has no memory of the grace. It is and will keep the door on India firmly shut. China’s mission is clear. It is building a new world order centred on itself. A new “silk route”, recentring the trade maps with OBOR, building islands where none existed to dominate sea lanes. It’s dumping its reserve dollars and conning the world into handing over ports and territories. It eyes making its currency the Renminbi as the new global foreign exchange reserve. It seeks to dismantle the US weighted Bretton Woods system with its own Asian Infrastructure Bank and more.
We hope the economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic will be short-lived,for Atlas has shrugged. We have a clear option, either sit at the helm of the creation of the next world order where we belong or once again as in 1945 watch from the sidelines and once again hope for grace. The last time we chose to be rulers of our own fate, we achieved great things. 73 years of painstaking labour later, we have earned our place in the leadership of a new world.
The next world order needs to be defined through an Indo-Pacific charter. It has to be put into place by an Indian Prime Minister and a US President, ideally on board INS Vikrant, at anchor in Pearl Harbour, the home of the US Indo-Pacific Command. Other “Quad” powers like Japan and Australia are sure to adopt it and rope in other Asian countries.
The Indo-Pacific Charter should refurbish and reform the 8-points of the Atlantic Charter; including
1: No territorial gains to be sought by any major power
2: No creation of artificial territories in the open seas
3: No acquisitions by force or lease new territories within sovereign nations
4: Re-formation of a new global security council
5: Participants will work towards freedom and sovereignty of data
6: Participants will work towards a unified approach to using Artificial Intelligence for the good of humanity
7: Formation of a Space and Biosphere Security Council
8: Participants to work together to promote democracy and participatory government
Point 2 would deal with the new phenomenon of simply creating man-made islands in the open sea and then claiming territory, an engineering fact today, which was an impossibility in 1941. Points 1 and 8 restate principles from the original Atlantic Charter. Point 3 deals with the creation of new “Hong Kongs” in places like Hambantota and Gwadar. Points 5 and 6 must embrace the impacts of the 5th Industrial Revolution on the new world order. Point 7 must enshrine the outlook of humanity as a sentient being looking to preserve its planet and inhabit extra-terrestrial bodies. Point 4 should seed the creation of a new world body that reflects today’s power balance including India, Japan, Australia and representation from Africa and South America.
The next 80 years and our descendants who will inhabit them seek our service. We seek not war or conquest, we seek a new satyagraha. Covid-19 and the way it will transform the world are the final act to the curtain that must come down on an order last settled in 1941. Cometh the hour.
Rishabh Gulati is the Managing Editor of NewsX.