The inherent character of political power is vying for control over
resources. In the pursuit of control over more resources, rulers seek to
centralise power and expand control in the larger range of territory.
This is how empires are built. When the central authority weakens, the
empire begins to crumble in a way Benjamin Franklin said ‘empire
diminishes like a cake from the edges’. In this phenomenon of history,
several empires came into being and eventually turned into footnotes of
In the words of Colombia University professor Jeffrey Sachs, ‘an empire is a state that uses force to impose rulers on another country’. The empire building started with the dawn of civilization. Until the mid-20th century, empires were built by means of force, war, coercion and sabotage. Roman, Ottoman, Byzantine, Egyptian, Chinese, Russian, British and several other empires were built and vanished. The empire is the manifestation of centrality of international power. The empire building is a perpetual proposition which continues even today. But the modus operandi has changed -- from the use of hard power to the use of soft and smart powers. Now the American empire is at work, which too is beginning to decline, thanks to phenomenal rise of China.
The international power is constantly shifting with the rise and fall of nations. The 19th century was European century in which Britain was the imperial leader and Europe was the epicentre of world power. There used to be saying that ‘sun never sets in the British empire’ referring to Britain’s colonies in all continents. However, Word War II bled British prowess so badly that it could no longer sustain control over colonies in the face of liberation movements. The loss of colonies marked a sharp decline in its global presence and power. Another European power France itself had to be rescued while Germany was not only defeated but also divided into different occupation zones.
The genesis of the Cold War goes to the Potsdam Conference in November 1945 in which Allies powers charted out the map of Europe. However, some are of the opinion that the US’ act of dropping the atomic bomb in Hiroshima of Japan on August 6, 1945 without informing its wartime allies, in reality, sowed the seed of the Cold War. After the World War II, the world was divided on ideological basis with the United States leading the Western liberal camp and Soviet Union the communist bloc. However, the 20th century remained fundamentally American century. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States again emerged as the sole superpower dictating the world as the international rule maker.
With the dawn of new millennia, the world order has started to change. The Europe-America centric international power is shifting to Asia. Asia is rising fast both economically and militarily. Predictions have it that the 21st century is going to be the Asian century. There are 48 countries in Asia of which some have already become world powers and some are in the making. China has risen as a global power in terms of economic strength, military might and technological advancement capable to challenge the sole superpower USA. India is the fifth largest economy and has the potential and ambition to rise as a global power. Japan is the third largest economy. Israel is another Asian country having superior military and technological prowess. Turkey is a transcontinental military giant in West Asia. Indonesia is also a potential power of Asia.
Many are of the view that the Cold War ended with the fall of Berlin Wall in November 1989. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, US remained, as Professor Danny Quah of the Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said a sole ‘benevolent hegemon’ and there was no other power to challenge its dominant role. In the unipolar world, USA dictated whereas the rest of the world took notes. However, the Cold War did not end but remained in dormant state for some decades since 1989 which has recently resurfaced with the rise of China. Only the form of the Cold War and actors changed as the Cold War earlier was ideological and now it is economic.
Asia has come to be a new theatre of geopolitical rivalry. The big power rivalry in Asia is of quadrangular nature: 1. between the USA and China, 2. between China and India, 3.between US-India and China, 4. between China-Russia and USA. These countries are recalibrating their power projection and building their own strength in Asia. The central feature of geopolitical war is the containment of rival powers. From 1950s till 1991, the US and Soviet Union sought to contain one another for which they built alliances, unleashed espionage and propaganda wars. The NATO is the relics of 20th century’s cold war rivalry, which still remains whereas the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet bloc’s creation, ceased to exist after the collapse of the communist empire.
In the new Cold War, the United States and China are the principal competitors and their strategic goal is to contain one another for which they have devised different strategic initiatives and alliances. Washington has created a number of Asia-focused alliances. The Indo-Pacific Strategy, Australia-UK-US alliance, Tran-Pacific Partnership and the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue of the United States, India, Japan and Australia are some Asia-focused alliances and initiatives undertaken by the United States, while Washington has entered into bilateral security and strategic arrangements with a number of countries in Asia and the Pacific region. India’s Act East Policy is guided by the motive of playing active role and building greater collaboration with countries in the Indo-Pacific region.
China, too, is building counter strategy to its strategic benefit. The Belt and Road Initiative is China’s strategic project apparently under the façade of economic cooperation seeking to enlarge its power projection in Asia and beyond, although Beijing denies it and says the BRI is an economic initiative for the shared benefits for all countries.
Similarly, China has built strategic partnership with a number of countries and also with some regional groupings. The new scenario in the international arena in which Asia is emerging as the centre of gravity, Nepal’s strategic and geopolitical position demands more strategic culture and pragmatic approach in the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy. It is said that foreign policy is an assertion of sovereign power in the international arena and we, accordingly, need to reorient our foreign policy conduct and diplomacy.
Published in The Rising Nepal on Jan 26, 2022