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The Daily Devil’s Dictionary: India “Waiver” at Risk

As India inks a deal with Russia for the S-400 missile system, the US might not grant a waiver to New Delhi.

The subtitle of an article on Al Jazeera tells us that the US has mildly threatened India, whose potential failure to obey US policy is under review: “US might not offer waiver to India if it buys S-400 missile system from Russia, Pentagon official says.”

In contrast, the Indian journal DNA quotes a “high-level official source,” informing us that “India has almost concluded the S-400 missile deal with Russia, and we are going ahead with it.” To underline the seriousness of India’s decision, the source added, “Our position on the issue will be conveyed to the US.”

Will they or won’t they (grant the waiver)?

Here is today’s 3D definition:

Waiver:

In geopolitics, the carrot to the stick of sanctions by which the United States, through a comprehensive policy of intimidation, controls or believes it controls the global economy

Contextual note

India believes it has done nothing wrong, that as an independent sovereign nation it can buy from and sell to any nation it chooses to deal with. Narendra Modi’s India may be forgetting that, as an ally of the US in the new geopolitical feudal system, India must only act in accordance with America’s interests and policies.

Last week Randall Schriver, the Pentagon’s top Asia official, reminded India of its subservient role, already strongly affirmed in the case of Iranian oil, which New Delhi reluctantly agreed to stop purchasing, though India appears to pushing back. It has now refused to “pre-commit to a certain sequence of actions,” which is its way of calling Donald Trump’s bluff, at least  for the moment. Schriver “called into question … the idea that the US would protect its relationship with India and that it will be insulated from any fallout if the purchase happens.” He added this thought: “We would still have very significant concerns if India pursued major new platforms and systems (from Russia).”

How are we expected to interpret “significant concerns”? Does this mean, “we would prefer if you didn’t” or “don’t think for a minute that you’re gonna get away with it”?

Historical note

What many refer to as the “rules-based” international order functioned for decades as a system of generally applied principles of international cooperation and respect. The rules were elaborated around the premise that US governments, having assumed leadership over the non-communist world, would seek the means to guarantee stability, even when prosecuting neocolonial wars and overthrowing disobedient regimes. The US established its leadership — generally perceived to be “benevolent” — by building a global network of military bases, using embassies as cover for a powerful global intelligence apparatus, imposing the dollar as the unique pillar of international trade, and offering economic favors to compliant governments, which might be democracies or despotic regimes, so long as they understood and played by the rules of the game.

The system worked quite well for decades. But it ended up suffering from its own contradictions, aggravated by the foreign policies and financial irresponsibility of George W. Bush. The Great Recession in 2008, following on from the quagmire in the Middle East, sowed doubt about the system’s effectiveness and eventually led to the implosion of all the dominant political parties — in the US, the UK, France and Germany, the four pillars of stability — as well as in India, paving the way for Trump’s election in 2016. He won by doubting the system and appealing to the disarray of the public.

According to one source cited by The Guardian, in his typical manner Trump expressed the idea that the World Trade Organization (WTO) is “designed by the rest of the world to screw the United States.” What he meant was that because the WTO is based on the notion of collegial decision-making by its membership, by definition, the US is impeded from using its preponderant position in the world economy to dictate policy.

Once elected, Prime Minister Modi began seeking an opportunistic realignment toward the US and away from the once hegemonic Indian National Congress party’s Russian orientation, dating back to Jawaharlal Nehru. In the rules-based world of 2014, this was a safe bet. Begging for waivers would never have been necessary or even imaginable. But in Trump’s “America First and the rest of the world be damned” approach, allies — even major ones like India — are treated like beggars at the rich man’s table, not the beneficiaries of a co-administered set of rules and regulations.

But the world has changed. And we should ask ourselves this question: When a rulebook is thrown out as a response to a degraded situation created during a period when the rules applied, is it possible to return to the old rules, most of which were unwritten anyway? Or can the multiple and increasingly conflicting interests now in place find a way of agreeing to a new set of rules?

The old ones were established following World War II. Will it require World War III to get a new rulebook?

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.