The Broad Mind | Realpolitik of Regime Change

By Prateek Bhatia

Irrespective of the type of polity, no individual in any country of the world deserves bad governance, coercion, intervention in socio-cultural spheres and physical abuse. However, what becomes difficult to quantify is the extent to which such bad governance, physical abuse, coercion and intervention is bearable and when does it reach the tipping point beyond which it will lead to revolt in a society/country. Various factors affect the rising of people in revolt against the system. Citizens’ conduct in various countries differs due to difference in social upbringing and socio-cultural & religious environment. The demography, type of polity, class structure in a society and external situation also has direct impact on citizen behaviour.

The ongoing movement in various Arab countries against oppressive regimes can be explained by analysing these factors. However, it will be naive to ignore the role of external interventions and the threat of external interventions in the success or failure of such movements. The power play of the major powers has led to regime changes in various countries before. The vagueness of international conduct rules and the limitations of their enforceability gives enough space for major powers to shift sides, effect regime changes, mobilise world support and even use direct force to serve strategic purposes. The absence of sovereignty in international arena leads ‘Might is right’ rule to prevail. This leverage of more and more independent and ‘realism inspired’ action by the powerful players lures the smaller powers into increasing their power position. The consortium of major powers in globalized world does not want new comers to emerge and make claims to the world resources and markets. Hence, power play amongst major powers not only has tendencies of competition but also the tendencies of exclusion. Russia is not being allowed to join WTO, India was denied entry in civilian nuclear sector. This scenario enforces that those who are advantaged remain in ‘advantageous position’ and hence, the world power pecking order does not change.

However, the globalization of the world and recognition of certain principles means that even the major powers have to mould and colour their actions in order to make them appear justified as per the mutually agreed rules. And any unilateral and complete benefit becomes difficult for major powers. The emergence of large number of countries with sovereignty prevents reckless race for power and resources as was the case in ‘imperial era’. This gives the scope for even lesser powerful countries to improve their positions. In today’s world, where technology, human resources and raw materials determine key to economic and hence overall power, the ‘lesser’ powers have chance of climbing up the ladder by playing safe-good governance, avoiding direct conflict with major powers, using world system to their advantage, building capabilities through development of technology and investing in human resources. This is what India, China have been trying to achieve. The world power pecking order is changing. The former colonies are betting on their low cost manufacturing, skilled labour, young population, rising middle class and technology driven economies to create wealth. This shift in economic activity is also driving the shift in power balance across the world. Superpower of the world USA is dependent on China. The ‘factory’ and the ‘office’ of the world have shifted to Asia. These growing powers are also claiming space and share in world resources, market and industry.

When the current international scenario is seen through the ‘realist’ prism, the changes occurring become more explicable. Iraq, Central Asia, Afghanistan, South China sea, African countries (resource rich ones) have become sort of ‘new colonies’ which are being fought for in a new sort of ‘a more humane looking realism’. France had signed several deals with the same dictatorial Gaddafi whom it has tried to remove. Nation states will continue to act selfishly-there is no doubt about it, and there will always be scramble for power. It is difficult to predict how the international politics be affected by the emergence of ‘transnational communities’ connected through ‘social networking sites’; ‘globalization of capital, market and labour’; response of major powers towards their declining relative positions and climate change. These four primary factors will determine the course of world politics in future.

The internationalisation of ‘Arab Spring’ is attributable largely due to concentration of oil and gas resources. No major power will take interest in fighting a war for the people. It’s only the self-interest which is served by waging wars, supporting dictators and ousting them when need arises. The protest movements have generated support from western countries because they want friendlier regimes to attain power so that the western countries always have a strategic leverage by becoming part of ‘historic shift’ in Arab polity. Had the same movement arisen in a Saharan country with no resources, the response of western world would be largely to underplay its significance.

Though I firmly support the demand of effective and sensitive governments and I support the demand that dictators should be dethroned even by use of force. But ‘regime change’ cannot be used as pretext for effecting ‘power projection’ and serving ‘strategic goals’. Hence, external interventions should not be promoted. Only as the last resort and under maximum surveillance and member participation (of UN) should the external intervention be carried out.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.