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Foreign Affairs

Welcome To Colonialism 2
By Rakesh Krishnan Simha, September 2011 [[email protected]]

Chapter :

Is  the West reviving what was once a spectacularly successful Western strategy –  colonization?

The assault on Libya  by a coalition of mostly Western nations begs the question: Is colonialism  making some sort of a comeback? While their economies are collapsing in slow  motion, it is hard to picture Western countries prospecting for real estate  across the globe, as they did 300 years ago. But as unreal as it seems, it is  happening.

Gaddafi's impetuosity  cost Libya its freedom; after 40 years the country's considerable oil wealth  has reverted to Western control. Iraqi oil too is flowing west. Iran could very  well be the next target of American and British warplanes.

Ironically, it is when  the West is weak that the emergent nations of Asia and Africa have reason to  worry. Colonialism 2.0 isn't just a catchphrase; it is simple economics: the  wealthy will always need to be vigilant against the desperate.

In the 18th and 19th  centuries when the world was being colonized by the likes of Spain, Britain,  France, Belgium, Portugal and the Dutch, India and China were the two richest  countries in the world, together accounting for over 50 per cent of world GDP.  And yet the two Asian giants ended up under colonial jackboots.

There is a popular  belief that colonization happened because the East was decadent and the West  was rising, or that India and China neglected their militaries and ignored the  foreign threats lurking at their shores. This is absolute rubbish. Both  countries had very powerful armies and naval flotillas led by able commanders.

Military edge
In the early 1700's,  India's legendary Admiral of the Fleet, Kanhoji Angre, routed the British,  Dutch and Portuguese navies on the high seas. For 33 years until his death in  1729, the leading Indian navy remained undefeated. The British were so pissed  off they called Angre a pirate.

Indian ships of that  time were so advanced in design and durability that the British inducted them into  their fleets. According to the Indian Navy's website, "This so agitated  British shipbuilders on the River Thames that they protested against the use of  Indian built ships to carry trade from England. Consequently, active measures  were adopted to cripple the Indian shipbuilding industries."

The southern Indian  kingdom of Mysore was the first in modern history to use rockets in war, and  they used it with deadly effect against the British in the Battle of Guntur in  1780. The literally shell-shocked British army was soundly routed. A few  unexploded rockets were later shipped to the Royal Arsenal in London, where  William Congreve, the British weapons expert, reverse engineered them to launch  modern rocketry in Europe.

Most Indian rulers  also possessed keen geopolitical awareness. For instance, they did not allow  European merchants to keep garrisons or conduct inland trade. When Thomas Roe,  the British monarch's emissary, landed in Surat in 1616, he was made to wait a  year before the Indian emperor granted him an audience. Three years later, Roe  despite many entreaties and considerable bowing before the grandees at Delhi,  returned without a trade treaty because the emperor saw no point in trading  with a country that had not one product or commodity to offer India.

Thin end of the wedge
However, one slip-up  by a weak emperor let in the European hordes. A hundred years after Roe's exit,  an English embassy had a stroke of luck when one of its members, William  Hamilton, a physician of questionable medical skills, managed to relieve the  figurehead emperor of severe pain in his groin. The emperor gratefully signed a  decree giving the British inland trading rights, customs duty exemptions, and  the right to keep a garrison. The rest as they say is history.

According to professor  Rajesh Kochhar, emeritus scientist at the Indian Institute of Science Education  & Research, Chandigarh, "These exemptions gave the English traders  commercial advantages not only over other European companies but also over  Indian traders. More importantly, the various official orders granting trade  concessions gave the British a cause to defend, with military strength if  needed." Does that sound familiar?

Return of the East
Today, the east is  rising once again. Economists are stunned by the unprecedented flow of  manufacturing, finance and wealth to the east. Magid Igbaria, former professor  of management information systems at Tel Aviv University, wrote in The Virtual Workplace: "For all but the last 500 years of human  history, the world's wealth measured in human capital and in goods was  concentrated in Asia. During the past five centuries, the world's wealth has  been concentrated in the West. This era is coming to an end. Today, the great  concentrations of human capital, financial power, manufacturing power, and  informated power are once again accumulating in the East."

Indeed, in 30 years  India is predicted to overtake the US, even though it is only one-fourteenth  the size of the US economy now. That is an incredible rate of wealth accretion.

The question is will  the US and Europe simply watch the world go past? On the contrary, there is a  concerted effort by a US-led coalition to stop this trend. Here are a few ways  the West is trying to stay on top:

Base instincts: Today the US-led coalition has over 750 military  bases across the globe. Despite the huge costs, this extension of military  power is essential to their hegemony. A slew of European nationalities have  followed the American military in its misadventures around the world. No empire  in history has attempted such sweeping control. In Pliny's days the Roman,  Indian and Chinese empires co-existed in their spheres of influence and never  attempted to destabilise each other. The good old days.

Divide and rule: The Americans are playing up India as a  major "regional" power allied with the West. This is not only  insulting to the Indians (why should India only be a regional power?); it also  scares the hell out of the Chinese. The communists in Beijing, therefore, come  out with kneejerk statements calling for India's breakup, which in turn makes  the Indians consider China a natural enemy. Amazingly, in the past 2500 years,  China and India never had even a skirmish, until the British arrived on the  scene and planted the seeds of border problems.

Climate bogey: After polluting the environment for more than a  century, the West now wants India and China to reduce emissions. It's a thinly disguised  attempt to slow these rapidly growing economies. India's Environment Minister  Jairam Ramesh has done an about turn and now his views seem to align with  Western interests, which led to key Indian negotiators quitting in disgust. Newsweek, the Pentagon mouthpiece masquerading as journalism,  was sufficiently pleased with Ramesh to label him the "global rock star of  climate change".

Dollar gambit: Wouldn't you feel almighty if you obtained a licence to print US dollars  off your home printer? While the rest of the world has to earn a living the  hard way, the Americans just print dollars to pay their bills. Need a few  hundred billion dollars to pay for the war in Iraq? Want to buy Venezuelan oil?  Russian titanium? No problem. The US mint cranks the lever and billions of  dollars start rolling off the presses. In fact, in recent years even that  pretence has been given the heave-ho – now trillions of dollars are generated  electronically in the accounts of the US Federal  Reserves. It's as simple as that.

There is another way  the dollar trade works against the interests of non-Western countries.  Countries like China and Russia invest their earnings in US treasury bonds;  these dollars are used by the Americans to maintain their global military  supremacy, build increasingly modern weapons, and reward their allies with  cash, weapons, and security umbrellas.

WTO: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin  has called it "archaic, undemocratic and inflexible" and dominated by  a small group of developed countries which indulge in protectionism. One of its  aims is to pry open the agricultural markets of Asia, including India.  Incidentally, India has the highest number of farmer suicides in the world.

Nixing nuclear tech: The 11th commandment: Thou shall not  acquire nuclear technology. Indian and Japanese nuclear scientists perfected  the fast breeder reactor (which generates more nuclear fuel than it uses) so  they never have to look outside for hard-to-get uranium). However, most likely  under US pressure, both nations have quietly shelved their technologies.

Space crunch: America's space ambitions are currently  grounded because of deep cuts. India has the world's largest number (177) of  satellites in space. NASA is aware of it; it is looking at joint ventures with  the Indian Space Research Organisation which has reliable rockets and something  like 20,000 engineers and scientists. Few are aware that during the 1990s,  India requested the Russians for a role in the International Space Station, but  the Americans said no. Now NASA wants a free ride on Indian rockets, and  India's feckless politicians are happy to oblige.

General Manuel Noriega  was once upon a time in Panama, the CIA’s most valuable asset. But when the  Americans found their stooge wasn’t cooperating enough, they overthrew him. Later,  languishing in an American prison he wrote his memoirs in which he wrote this  memorable line: “If there is someone willing to buy a country, there is someone  willing to sell it." For many countries in the East, the biggest worrying  factor is that like Noriega there are plenty of collaborators in high places  willing to sell their country for a few million dollars wired into a Swiss bank  account, along with green cards for their families. Senior R&AW agent Rabinder  Singh who defected to the US with his family is one such example.

In the first era of  colonialism, the then dominant Eastern nations opened up their economies and  territories to the comparatively backward Western nations over a span of  several decades, finally ending up as their colonies. Under the guise of  globalization and 'free' trade, Colonialism 2.0 could happen in much the same  way.

(About  the author: Rakesh Krishnan Simha is a New Zealand-based writer. He has previously  worked with Businessworld, India Today and Hindustan Times, and was news editor  with the Financial Express.)

Editor – When you allow others to define  who you are, your core identity then they first rule your mind, then economy  and lastly country. Key is to think freely without bias. National interest and  global welfare should be key drivers.

Having said that India must borrow from  what is good in the West. It must consistently build up its own capabilities  singly or in joint ventures with partners. Fruits of this work must be shared  with others for hard cash or strategic gains for India.

Also  read:
Blast from Past
For a few rupees more
Decolonising the Indian Mind
Why did the Portuguese want to discover  India

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