Jun 22, 2018 Dr. Niaz Murtaza Comments Off on Defiant states
Since the end of the Cold War, most states globally have accepted the world order run by the US and the Western alliance. The number of states daring to defy western wishes regularly has steadily dwindled as the cost of defiance has increased hugely.
Some defiant states are reclusive states largely cut off from the world. Bhutan among them is exceptional in being peaceful and in escaping western wrath. But other reclusive states keep their people isolated only via huge internal repression, which incurs them the West’s wrath even if they don’t harm its interests directly. The reason they incur western wrath isn’t simply their autocracy but since their autocracy doesn’t serve any strategic western aim. So, there are many autocratic states (e.g., Ethiopia and Saudia) whose autocracy the West tolerates since it serves its strategic aims.
Mono-ethnic reclusive states (e.g., North Korea and Cuba now and China earlier) usually get away with repression sans much internal backlash. But ethnically diverse ones like Myanmar and Sudan face bloody civil wars which force them to reduce repression and open up. Reclusive states generally do poorly economically due to their bad policies and western sanctions. So, eventually most reclusive states find isolation unsustainable and move towards opening up, China being the biggest such case. Even their earlier success in being reclusive started decades ago when the world wasn’t so integrated. Today, if an integrated state tried to be reclusive, its people would not comply.
Other states, branded rogue states by western analysts, replicate the autocracy and hostility with the West of reclusive states but differ in also having aggressive external ambitions. Russia and Iran form the nucleus of this club today while Syria and Sudan have oscillated between the two sets of states over time. Again the reason they incur western wrath is not simply their aggressive external ambitions but since these ambitions negate strategic western aim. There are several aggressive states (e.g., Saudia and Israel) whose external aggression the West tolerates since they are its strategic partners. “Rogue” states do poorly economically too due to bad policies and crippling sanctions. Only those having large natural wealth, like Russia and Iran, can withstand sanctions while others usually give in quickly, e.g., Serbia and Iraq. Clearly rogue behavior is costly and smart states avoid being branded a rogue state by the West unnecessarily.
China’s case is instructive. It sees discretion as the better part of valor. As an autocratic reclusive state opening up fast and with major political conflicts with the West, e.g., on Taiwan and Hong Kong, it could have adopted aggressive strategies in resolving these issues, in the process running the risk of being branded a rogue state. However, it chose to adopt patience on these issues and focused instead on integrating and developing economically, thus avoiding the economic troubles Iran and others have faced. Based on its acquired economic strength, it is now slowly starting to flex its political muscles. But it is not easy now for the West to impose sanctions on it since such action on a large and integrated economic power could cause global depression.
But Pakistan’s case is more educative than instructive. The difference between the two for me is that the latter carries positive lessons for others but the former negatives ones. It has regional ambitions which no longer find favor with the West. As a multi-ethnic state, Pakistan cannot easily adopt an autocratic system for long sans serious internal strife. It also lacks natural wealth. So, it is not a strong candidate to adopt aggressive external strategies to achieve its regional ambitions. Yet it has done so and has thus developed frayed relations with the West, particularly the US.
But so far it has avoided being branded a rogue state yet due to several reasons. Its history as a key ally and its status as a strategically-placed, nuclear-armed and large Muslim state give it some negotiating space. There are also strong voices among civilians who favor better relations regionally and the West. It has also calibrated its defiance carefully, meeting some western demands, and pretending it is trying to meet others. Thus, it has escaped a rogue state status and sanctions, unlike Iran and Russia.
But Iran and Russia have pursued their external ambitions while keeping their home turf largely free from violence. Pakistan has failed miserably here and has incurred huge casualties and economic costs while also failing on its regional ambitions. Thus, even its calibrated defiance has been a failed strategy.
But despite its close alliance with China, it hasn’t adopted China’s sensible strategy. Despite being autocratic, China is still ruled by civilians who can envision non-military options too. Unfortunately, this is not true in Pakistan.
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