Inderjeet Parmar is a professor of international politics at City, University of London and visiting professor at the London School of Economics (2019-22). He is also a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences.
Parmar’s latest book, Foundations of the American Century: Ford, Carnegie, and Rockefeller Foundations in the Rise of American Power, was published in 2012; a Chinese translation was published in 2018, and in Farsi in 2021.
His current book project is titled Presidents and Prime Minister at War: Race, Elitism and Empire in Anglo-American Wars from Korea to the Wars on Terror.
He is a columnist at The Wire in New Delhi, and a regular commentator on CNN, TRT, the British Broadcasting Corporation and other news outlets.
He is a past president of the British International Studies Association. Excerpts of an interview with Professor Parmar follow.
Adriel Kasonta: When we look at Ukraine today, do you believe that the current situation could be perceived as a result of geopolitical incompetence on the side of the US and its allies, or should that argument be dismissed as President Vladimir Putin’s pretext to invade Russia’s neighbor?
Inderjeet Parmar: I think that overall it is largely … NATO expansion that lies at the root of the current war in Ukraine. Had that expansion not happened, I doubt that the military intervention and war in Ukraine by Russia would have occurred.
However, the Russian invasion also has other sources than just NATO expansion, especially as Ukrainian membership of the Western military alliance remained many years off, it was hardly imminent. Hence the Russian aggression also has other sources.
The most significant lies I think in American energy independence due to the shale revolution and fracking technology. The geopolitical consequences are very significant. US LNG [liquefied natural gas] exports to Europe now exceed Russia’s, reducing EU dependence on Putin’s Russia. Russia is therefore weakened by this development and sees it as a major threat to its strategic position, including in Ukraine, which has its own energy resources and plans to export to the rest of Europe.
Ukraine, we must remember, has the largest energy resources in Europe. This gives the US greater strategic autonomy from oil and gas price increases should it embargo other countries. US power increased, Russian decreased. This might explain why the Russian invasion [occurred] when it did, and it does not only have to do with NATO expansion.
AK: What are the implications of what is happening in Ukraine for the world order?
IP: The crisis of the US-led liberal international order has been ongoing since at least the Iraq war, exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis and the war in Libya, and in the shadow of emerging competitor economies, especially China’s. The energy power shifts in the world, and the global pandemic, have both shaken that order further.
The Ukraine crisis comes on top of those trends. Its geopolitical repercussions are difficult to predict but some trends are becoming interesting.
Russian collaborations with Saudi Arabia and the UAE and Qatar in OPEC+ agreements, and the latter Gulf states’ increased sovereign wealth fund investments in Russia (and elsewhere) mean that the link with the US is less strong than previously. Hence the Saudis are not backing US sanctions etc against Russia, nor condemning Russia so vigorously.
[President Joe] Biden and the US overall have been critical of the Saudis in various ways including [the killing of Jamal Khashoggi], [their] role in Yemen, etc. China has not joined the sanctions chorus, nor has India, or Indonesia and most other Global South states.
The war in Ukraine then has unified NATO states, and [the Group of Seven], and Europeans, due to security fears. How long will this last? We don’t know. The larger trajectory remains as before: the Western/Global North still seeing a massive power shift to east and south. Messy multipolarity, turbulent transition, hybrid disorder – these are the terms that seem to describe where the world is at the moment.
AK: Does the North Atlantic Treaty Organization pose a threat to peace and stability in Asia, bearing in mind that it perceives China as “the new Russia”?
IP: Yes, the repercussions are global, and NATO is global too. It has partners and associated powers across the world, including Asia. There is certainly an encirclement of Russia and China in progress, especially in security terms. Just look at the firepower located all around Russia and China.
Will the US-China rivalry become a source of direct military conflict? I’m not sure. I don’t think it will. China and its leadership have shown greater skill and mastery at managing change and development since the 1970s, avoided “shock therapy” and sudden transformative change. As they say, we “cross the river by feeling for the stones.” Hence there will be turbulence and tension, for example over Taiwan, but the sheer quantity of US military muscle in Asia is far too great for China to risk an invasion.
China is also increasingly powerful as an economy and technological power, while Russia is too reliant on oil and gas for its GDP and government revenues – which are going down due to the energy power shifts I have already mentioned. This has further meant that the US and China are no longer competing for oil on the world stage. Indeed, China even exports oil to the US.
AK: As we know, the US won the Cold War by concentrating on one enemy – Soviet Russia. Today, on the other hand, there are more and more voices advocating for challenging or, to say it bluntly, going to war both with Russia and China – the approach seemingly having its roots in the Wolfowitz Doctrine. How sustainable is this approach in practice? Will it affect Washington’s Indo-Pacific ambitions and strategy directed at China?
IP: This approach has been driving the Democratic Party – face two strategic rivals simultaneously by forcing NATO partners to spend 2% [of their] GDP on defense; and via record US military spending.
How sustainable is it? It is causing great domestic discontent as inequality increases, jobs become more precarious, health-care and education systems suffer, graduate indebtedness is a major problem, the public do not trust the political leadership of both parties, and the American dream slips away.
Both candidates in the 2020 [US presidential] election ran on a platform to end “forever wars.” The greatest political problem of our time is domestic instability and disorder. Remember January 6, 2021?
AK: Most recently, the US has been considering sanctioning India for abstaining from voting on Russia at the UN and pulled out the China card at the Quad meeting to put pressure on New Delhi regarding Moscow. What are the chances of the Anglosphere getting India on its side against Russia and China in the long run? Do New Delhi’s foreign-policy objectives align with those of a “liberal international order” where the US underwrites most of the rules, or should it desire a different kind of order?
IP: Tough question, but I think India is between rocks and hard places. It has long-term agreements and collaborations with Russia, including arms sales. It needs Russia. India fears China’s growth and therefore moves towards the US and the Quad. India has great-power ambitions of its own and does not want to be irrevocably tied to either side.
There are echoes here of its quietly veiled great-power ambitions under cover of the Non-Aligned Movement. So I think India will not want to be too strongly identified with any one side and play a sort of non-aligned self-interested role.
AK: It looks that the current sanctions imposed by the West on Moscow will bring Russia and China closer together economically, which would translate into the weakening of the US dollar’s dominance in the global financial system. India itself is looking for alternatives to continue its trade relations with Russia. Knowing that the mentioned countries are members of the BRICS, can we argue that the current events in Ukraine will accelerate the process of decolonization?
IP: I think that process has been ongoing, has accelerated recently, and will likely continue, with multiple currencies and payments systems alongside with one another. The financial version of messy multipolarity.
AK: Following the late Susan Strange, we can readily admit that the Westphalian system has resulted in a significant failure. Since we are noticing a global economic shift from the West to Asia, can we assume that the Eastphalian system would be better suited to serve peace and security in the world?
IP: Possibly, hard to tell. But we need to look at the character and power of each state and the groupings that emerge.
A greater voice for the East in world affairs would help balance and reduce Western power – in the UN for example. This has been a trend of many decades, now accelerating further. The groupings of states and the orders they establish will likely remain economically interdependent – across economies the world over. That ties them together at that level even if they have security and ethno-racial differences.
So that globalization process, if maintained, may well continue to drive greater precarity and inequality within each state and society, which I remain persuaded is the greatest source of political instability. Those domestic crises may provoke nationalist responses that lead to international tensions and conflicts.
AK: What are the lessons for the Global South from the Global North’s geopolitical and geoeconomic failures to be drawn?
IP: That’s too big a question for me! I would however urge the peoples of the Global South to slow and manage their leaders’ and economies’ relentless globalization drives; to develop states that look after their people’s needs; and remember what colonialism and imperialism did to their countries, and to not do that to anyone else as Global South states grow stronger.