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Don't ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee...

Last updated on: June 07, 2007 18:53 IST
What catches the eye as the G-8 summit meeting, which commences on Wednesday in Germany, will be the heavy clouds gathering on the horizon east of the Danube and the Vistula, the two great rivers that mutely witnessed much of the tortuous course of Europe's blood-soaked history.

For the economist in Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, the G-8 summit in Germany will provide an invaluable occasion to update India's strategic 'vision', built during the 1990s largely around a perceived 'unipolar predicament' that the country would face in the 21st century following the unilateral disbandment of the Soviet Union by Boris Yeltsin.

He is bound to wonder how much the world changed since he last saw a G-8 summit in St Petersburg, seemingly light years ago.

Simply put, the world order increasingly doesn't seem to fit into the neat flawless paradigm that the Acharyas of the Indian strategic community had visualised up until very recently.

Also read: What the G-8 summit will do

There is no need to be particularly anxious at the G-8 summit about George W Bush's volte face on climate change. It may even do good for humanity, for my grandchildren and yours, to have the topic taken out of the present impasse and move it on to a more focused plane of discourse.

Almost all the protagonists have by now voiced their self-centred thinking on climate change. The time may be ripe to discuss a consensual global approach.

Actually, there is no dearth of pressing global issues on the G-8 agenda -- free trade, terrorism, energy security, AIDS, Africa's development. The G-8 can be expected to speak on all these issues.

And, there are of course the multiplying regional security issues -- Iran, Kosovo, North Korea, Darfur, the Middle East.

But no breakthroughs are to be expected. No big documents are likely to emerge out of the G-8.

G-8 is just not 'action-oriented'. It traditionally has a benign agenda of evaluating global trends and risks, and of mapping out a common strategy. The key words are interdependence, transparency, and partnership.

All the same, what stands out at this year's G-8 summit is that it is taking place against the strategic backdrop of the great probability of a recrudescence of tensions between Russia and its Euro-Atlantic partners after a hiatus of hardly two decades of indivisible peace. Can the G-8 tent contain such ancient passions?

Hardly so, it seems. One immediate fallout is that, unsurprisingly, the talk of an expansion of the G-8 to include at the high table countries like China or India in the resolution of the global issues is fading out.

The host country, Germany, in any case, believes that an expansion of G-8 would be bad for it, and for the rest of the world.

Thus, the formula of G-8+ will stay, as it suits everyone.

So, for Prime Minister Singh, has the G-8 become irrelevant?

Certainly not. The G-8 summit will still provide an occasion to calmly exchange opinions with US President George W Bush when no detractors are around.

This is an invaluable opportunity for the two leaders to ensure that the nuclear deal, on which they both have such high political stakes, is willy-nilly carried to fruition.

What with the preoccupations of the hardcore Indian politicians with the power play over the forthcoming Presidential election (or the million caste mutinies unfolding), and with the Indian officials negotiating the nuclear deal last week having managed to peg the bar of expectations so low in the public perception, a splendid opportunity is at hand for the two statesmen meeting on the sidelines of G-8

later this week for some confidential exchanges on somehow closing the deal by September, when they may meet again.

Thereupon, Bush will certainly lionise India as a hot economy. He will proceed to insist on his firm conviction that India should share with him the collective responsibility of global leadership.

But Manmohan Sigh will do well to catch breath at this point. It is a dizzying thought that Bush is beckoning India to such spectacular political opportunities in setting right the increasingly disjointed world order.

The Indian diplomats accompanying Singh could observe at close quarters China's pragmatic, restrained, and very successful strategy. Indeed, Europe itself has become more inward-looking, lost in thoughts, even as a change of generations is taking place in its echelons of leadership.

There is no doubt that a new Cold War is building up. The US Congress's House Committee on International Affairs thoughtfully titled its hearing on May 17 as 'Russia: Rebuilding the Iron Curtain'. The rhetoric on US-Russian relations has become distinctly sharp and acerbic in the recent weeks.

There is enormous anger and frustration building up in Washington that its bipartisan agenda of a unipolar world order is proving to be increasingly sustainable. A determined effort is on by Washington to eliminate Russia's strategic parity with the US as a first essential step toward getting unipolarity going.

Moscow is firmly resisting, no matter what it takes. The struggle is bound to gather as the centrepiece of world politics in the coming period. No major country, including India, can hope to pretend not to see it.

But it is also a complicated struggle. Despite Washington's attempts to portray it as a morality play, the heart of the matter is that it is through the impending struggle that the US hopes to perpetuate its trans-Atlantic leadership over Europe.

And without the trans-Atlantic leadership continuing to provide the anchor sheet of its global strategy, the US cannot establish a viable global dominance in the 21st century.

The G-8 in Germany provides a useful window seat for the Indian prime minister to assess at first hand the intensity of the passions building up in the 'new Cold War'. Certainly, unlike the Cold War of the last century, this time around, there is unlikely to be military blocs or set alliances.

There is, of course, no ideology involved in the 'new Cold War' -- ideology was a veneer even during the Cold war. In plain terms, the new Cold War is about defining military power -– how absolute power can be, yet, how impotent it can be.

It is also about national sovereignty in a globalised world. It is about how global consensus must evolve for finding enduring solutions to global challenges.

Its outcome will determine the way the international system works for the better part of the 21st century. The choice, broadly, lies between a unipolar world under US dominance and a multipolar or 'multilateral' world order.

It is a high stakes game. This is where Washington will strive to make the Indo-US nuclear deal a point of no return for the Indian foreign policy options in the highly turbulent period that lies ahead.

The deal can 'lock in' India just as colonial India was to the textile mills in Birmingham and Lancashire.

As far as the Indian public is concerned, therefore, how Manmohan Singh withstands Bush's entreaties to swiftly close the deal will be the historic significance of this year's G-8 summit meeting, tucked away in the remote German resort town of Heilegendamm.

M K Bhadrakumar