Friday, October 1, 2010

Has The Bee Has Lost Its Sting?

They say that the bee can sting only once. Once the bee does sting its victim, the barbed sting lodges itself in the victim's skin, tearing loose the bee's abdomen and it is condemned to a slow and painful death.

This perhaps holds true in geopolitics and statecraft as well.

History has shown us that whenever a civilisation thinks it has grown too powerful for the rest of the world and sets out to dominate others, it suffers a slow painful decay, if not death thereafter.

The ancient Roman, Greek and Persian empires prove that hypothesis, so does the Mongol empire. In the middle ages, the Spaniards and the Dutch dominated the high seas and set out to plunder the world but ultimately met with ignominy of decay.

More recently, we have seen the decay of the high and mighty British Empire (as indicated in the animated map of the British Empire) in the last century, though the proud British did claim that the Sun never set on their Empire! (Undoubtedly, the British weren't as cruel as the medieval Spaniards, Dutch or Portuguese!)

The decay of the British Empire started in the 1930s, when Canada, South Africa, Australia and Ireland moved towards free rule. Also the hub of technological innovation shifted from Europe (and Britain) to the United States, which also developed the expertise for advanced weaponry.

The American military might was fully supported by their technology in World War II.

Then began the decay of the mighty British Empire. The Americans orchestrated the victory of the Allies. The Marshall Plan concocted by the Americans for the economic renewal of Europe and the iron-clad military alliance, NATO, ensured the Americans dominated the post-World War II stage in Europe, overshadowing the British.

That was coupled with a rapid rise of nationalistic fervour in Britain's Asian, African and Caribbean colonies, which slowly led to a decline of Britain political influence around the globe. Independence in these countries led to nationalisation of British companies in these countries, constricting their supply of natural resources. This clubbed with lack of technological innovation in Britain led to their ultimate economic decay, that we have seen recently.

Arrogance can be the undoing of nation. The British example shows that.

Can America go that way?

Certainly, America will not go the way Igor Nikolaevich Panarin had suggested - a possible Yugoslav-type disintegration. But it could end up considerably weakened, unable to stand up to the evolving world order.

America under Obama seems to be doing exactly what he should not. America thrived because there was a free flow of capital and intellect, or rather it acted as a magnet for both. But his concept of protectionism ignores realities of a new world order and all that America historically stood for.

By insulating the United States economy, the effect would be the exact opposite of the desired. Innovation would be strangled. Protectionism would bring about ineffectiveness and render American products and services uncompetitive. The effective nationalisation of American corporates and Wall Street firms would only accentuate the problem.

Effectively, we are seeing America, where Britain was in the 1950s.

India and China, historically, did not sting. That is why they held on for ages, while other civilisations came and went.

China's rise (in just about 20 years, as compared to 100 years for America or 150 for Britain) has been too rapid and that is a danger because a rapid raise can only be accompanied by a swifter "decompression"!

We can only wait and watch to see when and how that happens.

Some suggest the rising disparity between interior China and the "developed China" as evidenced by the worrying Gini coefficient or changing demographic patterns or simmering ethnic unrest could precipitate that.

If that does happen, we would face a chaotic world. America would the way Britain is today. India would be a good 2-3 decades from attaining superpower status, then. There would no rational power rendering stability to the world.

At that time, we will miss America's superpower status. And now, we can only guess whether the American bee has lost its sting or not.....

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