Col Ajay K Raina
History is a captivating subject. It holds lessons that are significant and can only be discounted at our own peril. It is so because history tends to replicate itself, and if we choose to ignore the past in its entirety, we may not be picking the best option for ourselves. A cyclic pattern can be discerned from stock markets to politics to economy and even plagues even though different cycles have varied frequencies and spans. Geo-politics and international power dynamics also follow a similar pattern despite much longer inter-cycle time intervals. Can we, then, look back to predict the future of the world we live in? It is a million-dollar question that is as tricky as it is hazardous to collar. Nevertheless, let’s give it a try.
Till about the middle of the 18th Century, communities across the globe, more or less, led lives that followed centuries-old ways, closely allied to nature. Population growth was far less owing to lower average life spans. Natural resources, despite human limitations, thus seldom got stressed. Then towards the latter half of that century, machines began to replace human hands as the Industrial Revolution came calling. With that development, exploitation of natural resources increased manifolds. At the same time, the world began to shrink as colonial powers began hauling out raw materials from the colonies to flood the latter with finished products produced in their factories. Power struggles, earlier limited to local regions, now became intercontinental and even global in some cases.
It all ended in an important man getting shot in Sarajevo and the First World War getting triggered in July 1914. Four years later, as the guns fell silent, the Spanish Flu made its appearance, and it started a global crisis that ultimately led to a decade-long Great Depression in 1929. As the world reeled under successive shocks, a German Chancellor-turned-Dictator began to challenge the world order itself. A look at the commentaries of that era would substantiate that many observers worldwide had begun to predict Germany to be the next most considerable power under Hitler.
Thanks to the never-ending human greed for power, World War II then followed. And by 1945, Great Britain had lost its grip on worldly affairs. Though not really vanquished, the most prominent colonial power had definitely been relegated; the world was never the same again. Germany, however, was reduced to a sad state courtesy of a significant mismatch between Hitler’s bite and his capacity to chew.
Fast forward to the last quarter of the 20th Century, and the computers showed up in public life. After typewriters and pens, these intelligent machines began replacing processes, procedures and decision-making as they got smarter and wiser. With every gram of reduction in their masses, they started gaining a few GB of processing ability, and today, dumb humanity is simply bowing in front of Artificial Intelligence or AI. Meanwhile, despite the USA putting its fingers in various trouble spots around the globe, no world war has happened since 1945 though the USSR got balkanized and China began to rise as the Cold War ended. And most importantly, humans have left no stone unturned in destroying nature. Nature has never been so stressed, and it may not be able to sustain us for long.
As we were crossing the point of no return in dealing with nature, a manufactured virus appeared at the end of 2019/beginning 2020. It soon turned pandemic, thereby causing unmatched human sufferings. Eyebrows were raised, and fingers were pointed towards China, but that was the end of it. With a weak leadership gaining a majority in the USA, many observers are now predicting China to be the next superpower in the foreseeable future. What next?
If we count on the trend of the previous century, we may be staring at another huge, if not global, war. Will explosives dominate it, or will it be fought using technology and cyberspace-such questions remain, but the destruction of massive proportions can’t be ruled out. The reason for such a depressing prediction is prevailing stress on nature. If we don’t kill one another, nature will. And if the former is what we are destined for, the trigger may lie somewhere in or around Iran for many reasons that readers will be aware of. The USA, already walking on a plateau and with its economy in the doldrums, could then be what Great Britain was in the 20th Century!
That leaves us with Germany comparable to our north, i.e., China. Do we see similarities between Adolf Hitler and Xi Jinping? Many of us do! An impulsive expansionist, he, too, appears to be biting more than he can chew. While his tussles with most of his neighbours remain alive, the internal issues brewing as of date may actually spell his downfall. His persistent campaign against some of the most prominent capitalists inside China-Ali Baba, Evergrande, various media and entertainment houses-has already triggered a massive outflow of capital from China. Over the past few months, many smart capitalists have used cryptocurrencies to ensure a safe exit of their wealth that remains prone to strict forex norms in China. So much has been the outflow that last week itself, PBOC (People’s Bank of China) banned cryptocurrencies altogether.
Xi’s antics also have upset Australia, the biggest supplier of low-sulphide coal to China. As a result, Australia has stopped exporting coal to Bejing. 75% of electricity in China is produced by burning coal, and the Chinese coal is high in sulphides but poor in octane efficiency. With Australian supplies plugged, Xi has issued orders to its industrial hubs to observe two to three days off every week. The manufacturing hub of the world is now under enormoushassle. The use of high sulphide coal is already creating enough pollution for the climate change activists to take note of, and China can ill-afford to be seen as the global leader in causing pollution at this stage. As this article goes to press, many towns and cities in China are witnessing long load shedding spells after the most prominent power supplier, State Grid Corporation, cut production given the increasing production costs. With winters knocking at their doors, the poor Chinese citizens are headed for big trouble.
The problem with China is peculiar. While 90% of its populace supports Xi for his socialistic-communist approach, 200 million rich who have risen through the past three decades of a comparatively free economy, are against Xi Jinping. As per some observers, the very fact that Xi Jinping has not travelled outside China for the past eight months is due to his fear that once out of the country, he may not be able to return; a threat to his life outside China is an unambiguous reality now. CIA-China Deep State nexus, too, is no longer stuff of some fiction, nor are some hot-heads who see Xi Jinping as the father of Covid-19.
Time is running out on humans, and humankind is now left with no option but to return to tradition-based living sooner than later. Whether it is a war or a natural disaster on a global scale, the chances of the USA actually getting relegated in the power hierarchy of the world and China getting reduced to a sad state (conceivably through an implosion) are possibly the highest now and like never before.
(The author is a military historian and is the founding-trustee of military history Research Foundation ®, India)
History repeats itself
Col Ajay K Raina