May 4, 2022
Good morning. In today’s either/view, we debate whether the world is witnessing a second cold war. We also look at the curious case of nature being given the status of a legal person by the Madras High Court, among other news.
📰 FEATURE STORY
Are we in the Second Cold War?
When you politely punch in words to ask Google when the Second Cold War started, the answer box that pops up on the loaded search results page says 2003. Only if things were as easy, right? Unfortunately for us, international relations is probably one of the few things too complicated for an algorithm to grasp.
As of now, experts and academicians can’t really agree on something way more fundamental than when Cold War II started. They don’t even know if it did!
On the one hand, you have a formidable China, a Russia-led war in Ukraine, and a rallying West with its allies. Obviously, crystal signs of a major power struggle. On the other hand, however, the evolved nature of the world and the rise of multilateralism simply aren’t optimal conditions for a cold war.
So who’s right? Who can stay? And which stylization of Cold War 2.0 will have to sashay away? Let’s find out together.
Let’s get a couple of things about the original Cold War straight before getting into today’s mess. The term itself had been around since the 1930s. Back then, the French version of it, i.e. guerre froide, was used to describe the tense relations between European countries. It was later co-opted by British writer George Orwell in 1945 after the atom bombs were dropped on Japan. In Orwell’s words, it best describes “peace that is no peace”.
In 1947, American journalist Walter Lippmann spread the term through his series of articles. Around this time, fresh after the end of World War II, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unhappy with the division of Europe. The US started its “policy of containment” to curb the spread of what they called “Soviet ideology” or “communism”.
The US had even adopted the Truman Doctrine in 1947, which said they would support nations threatened by communist insurrection and Soviet forces. Something the erstwhile USSR saw as the beginning of a shadow war. Soon after, NATO was formed with the US at the helm, and the Warsaw Pact came in as the USSR’s response to it. The world practically got divided into 2 opposing camps.
That’s the thing about the cold war: nobody actually fights. Countries were just watching each other prep for an eventual war that funded a massive arms race. Sure, proxy wars were fought in Korea and Vietnam, but the official statements were about ideological differences. It was the communists against the capitalists. It is also why communism gets such a bad rap in modern media.
As a freshly independent country, India remained on no man’s land through all of this. The neutral territory was something that we saw fit for both security reasons and to keep all our economic options open and intact. This might get harder if Cold War II becomes an agreed-upon reality, considering it’s in our neighbourhood. The players this time are the USA and its allies on one side and China and its allies on the other.
VIEW: All signs point to yes
Google is so quick to throw 2003 at your face with the Second Cold War because that was when the US began its invasion of Iraq. Basically, to the eastern powers, this marks the official beginning of the US meddling in their territory. The idea of the new Cold War started gaining momentum mostly during Trump’s administration. In 2017, the country’s National Security Strategy called China its gravest challenge. Their Justice Department also launched the China Initiative in 2018 to investigate espionage and a breach of intellectual property by the Chinese on US soil.
But this very obvious contention wasn’t really planned by the West. For decades, China’s development was lauded by the US. So much so that the authoritarianism of Deng Xiaoping and his substitutes was easily ignored by the pro-democracy eagles. China started becoming a problem for them after Xi Jinping, its current leader, came to power. The West likes to publicise the Chinese government’s overbearing control over its people, i.e. the alternative internet, labour camps for Uighurs, no data privacy, etc. Yet, it must be noted that the actual tension between the two is about China’s growing economic position in the world.
Despite the current “trade war” with China, it still remains high in the ranks when it comes to the US trade partners. While in 2019, it was the US’ largest trade partner, it is now at the number 3 spot after Mexico and Canada. This steady fall in dependency has prompted the two countries to opt for more divergent policy paths. China’s decision to keep the US out of its Belt and Road Initiative, expected to enhance its economic influence through a global framework, makes its stance clear. The alternative international institutions like the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank also feel like deja vu.
Finally, we come to territory. In the 1950s, the USSR and USA’s row was focused on Europe. Now, the USA is locking horns with China in the Pacific. With various alliances like the Quad, AUKUS and independent tie-ups with Japan and South Korea, the US is busy trying to “encircle China”. China’s expansionist behaviour in the Pacific Ocean, especially the South China Sea, has made it seem like a hostile state to several smaller nations in the region. The US even regularly deploys its navy in disputed sea lanes to keep China’s reach in check. Again, all while never really fighting at all.
COUNTERVIEW: Think about it practically
Before getting into the specifics, some people simply find an issue with the semantics of it all. While sure, it’s easy to pick two powerful nations and pit them against each other, it isn’t the most advisable thing to do. According to Orwell, “if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” The Cold War was very much a creation of its time. The tensions literally stemmed from the aftermath of the Second World War. It was the fear of nuclear war, the race to the moon and the misconceptions around communism which ran the show. The various newly independent nations were also trying to find their legs.
Things have changed a lot since then. For starters, globalisation has made way for a truly multilateral world. Gaslighting countries on ideological grounds is no longer a viable option to sustain this “new world order”. Several academicians have described the binaries of the Cold War as “reductive”. As much as we would like to believe that China and the US have opposing ideologies, with them being the “land of the free” and all that, it just isn’t true. Since the only way to win at capitalism is to be a part of it, even China has restructured its economy to fit the bill.
We’re talking about economic interdependence instead of military alliances, which is what the Cold War really got stuck on. When we bring up arms, China seems to be playing it smart. It knows that they simply cannot take on the US on the battlefield, so why bother? Instead, China has been working on its economic ties. Its relations with Russia and Central Asia put it in a comfortable spot to completely ignore the West. And, smaller nations actually look towards it for support, often ignoring the security issues. India, too, has a healthy trade partnership with China despite the territorial disputes.
The world’s simply different now. Gone are the days of hot-headed jocks and going through human resources on the battlefield. Now it’s all about the numbers. This actually makes it harder for countries to close up and fully dedicate themselves to one power bloc as they could have done in the past. Even when Russia invaded Ukraine, the major form of retaliation was economic sanctions, not a proxy war. Even then, the US sees India’s relations with Russia and chooses to stay out of it to keep its own ties intact. All the term Cold War II does is meddle with a policy maker’s perception of the time.
What’s your opinion on this?
(Only subscribers can participate in polls)
a) The Second Cold War is definitely upon us.
b) The Second Cold War is not upon us.
🕵️ BEYOND ECHO CHAMBERS
For the Right:
The ‘Othering’ of Muslims in Karnataka: Is this the last page of our history?
For the Left:
Left and liberals have crafted a delusory narrative of inevitable Muslim genocide in India
🏴 STATE OF THE STATES
History books ban (Punjab) – The Punjab School Education Board (PSEB) banned three history books based on reports that found distorted facts. The Class XII books contained inaccurate facts about Sikh history. The ban came after directions from the Chief Minister. Activists objected to some alleged false information about some Sikh gurus. Education minister Pargat Singh then ordered an inquiry. A report was submitted to the PSEB on the information in the books.
Why it matters: Based on the report, the department has ordered follow-up actions by the state government. The AAP also called for an inquiry. In February, the party demanded the withdrawal of a controversial Class XII history textbook that allegedly tampered with Sikh history. The PSEB is also looking into another book titled, ‘History of Punjab’ written by AC Arora, and three other books on the same topic.
Nature’s legal rights (Tamil Nadu) – The Madras High Court has officially declared nature as a living being that has the status of a legal person. This means that nature legally has all the rights, duties, and liabilities of a person. The court did this to better “preserve and conserve” nature by protecting its rights. It also made the state its “legal guardian” which means that any negligence will cost the state loads.
Why it matters: The High Court invoked the “parens patriae jurisdiction” to give nature the rights of a legal person. Parens patriae, meaning “parent of the nation”, refers to the public policy power of the state to intervene in cases of a negligent parent or guardian to protect a child’s rights. This came up during the hearing of a petition from an ex-Tahsildar official to quash the proceedings against him for his mistreatment of government land.
New courts (Odisha) – The state government will establish 34 new courts in the state. The decision was taken following a committee meeting, according to state Law Minister Pratap Jena. The committee gave in-principal approval to establish a special vigilance court, and seven additional district and session judge courts. Five civil judge courts will also be set up with eleven junior division civil judge courts. The government said ₹21.26 crores has been allocated for this endeavour.
Why it matters: Since July 2020, more than 15 lakh cases are pending in different subordinate courts in the state. The increase comes even as the disposal rate has increased to more than 84%. These courts face an uphill task with the number of cases administered higher than the disposal rate. In 2018, Odisha high court justice S.K. Sahoo called for a 30-minute increase in working time for the working hours of the court to help clear the backlog of cases due to a shortage of courts and judges.
Plastic ban plan (Goa) – The state has proposed a three-part action plan in light of it banning single-use plastic items from July 1. It involves supply and demand-side interventions and phasing out single-use plastic items. An awareness campaign will be conducted by the state’s pollution control board and the Goa Waste Management Corporation. The government will conduct random inspections of plastic waste raw materials suppliers. An app will also be developed to check on the stocking and sale of banned items.
Why it matters: Former Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar announced the state’s plan to ban single-use plastic items in 2017. In October 2019, the state notified the ban in all its offices. The ban will come under the 4 (2) of Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, to reduce the accumulation of waste. The state generates 60g of waste per capita, seven times higher than the national average.
Load limit on trucks (Meghalaya) – The Meghalaya High Court has directed the state government to revamp the system that’s used to monitor overloaded vehicles. It wants the state to ensure all transport vehicles comply with the prescribed weight limits. For trucks carrying mined coal, the court said, other than weight checks, illegally mined coal should not be transported. The next hearing will be on May 20 and the state will have to provide its plan on how it will monitor the weight of goods on vehicles.
Why it matters: Overloading of the trucks leads to wear and tear on the roads and degrades them. Ideally, the weight of the load and the tare weight should be limited so that the roads can bear the weight. This goes for not just coal trucks. In 2019, the Anti-Corruption and Human Development Organisation (ACHDO) urged the West Garo Hills deputy commissioner to ban overloaded trucks from Bhutan from plying on the Agia-Medhipara-Phulbari-Tura (AMPT) road. It connects Assam with Meghalaya and has been damaged due to the trucks.
🔢 KEY NUMBER
7.83% – India’s unemployment rate for April. It’s an increase from 7.60% in March with Haryana recording the highest unemployment at 34.5%.