America’s uphill road to relentless diplomacy -Express Tribune

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Addressing the UN General Assembly, US President Joe Biden said, “We’ve ended 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan, and as we close this period of relentless war, we’re opening a new era of relentless diplomacy of using the power of our development aid to invest in new ways of lifting people up around the world.”

In the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, many questions have arisen with specific regard to US foreign policy. Biden’s administration appears to have shifted towards soft power. However, the growing Sino-US wedge is alarming because of the impact it can have on the global order and the possibility of a rift in Sino-Russian relations. Today’s emerging realities require readjustments, which negate what President Biden narrated in his speech. If security arrangements under the framework of Australia, UK, US (AUKUS) is a new initiative to deal with growing Chinese engagements in the Indo-Pacific region, the four-member understanding among Australia, India, Japan and the US known as QUAD is another manifestation of what Beijing termed ‘cold war mentality’. The first in-person summit of QUAD held in Washington on 24th September is a mature effort to further consolidate the security alliance aimed at containing China. The US signed yet another arrangement in the form of AUKUS targeting China. Both QUAD and AUKUS can be termed as an eastern NATO that focuses on the Indo-Pacific region.

After spending more than 2 trillion dollars during its 20 years of futile war in Afghanistan, the US strategic and security mindset has shifted its focus on two major threats to its age-old sphere of influence in Europe and the Asia-Pacific — Russia and China. The US spent 12 trillion dollars in overseas wars — from the Korean war in the 1950s till the cessation of Afghan military engagement on August 15, 2021. In economic and military power, China was far behind the US but now it is almost on a par with the US in the economic arena. It has also tried to bridge the gap in military and technological power. Even Russia has recovered from the fall of the USSR and is now able to challenge the US’ so-called invincible power.

Biden’s diplomatic offensive against the two-pronged threat of Russia and China is based on three major objectives.

First, to isolate and contain China in the Asia-Pacific region by utilising AUKUS and QUAD along with South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam. Exploiting grey areas like unrest in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong is America’s foremost strategic priority. Washington is mindful of Beijing’s growing aggressive and offensive posture against Taiwan and terms it a major flashpoint in the Asia-Pacific region. But, over the years, China has consolidated its soft power by diplomacy, aid, trade and investments under its Belt and Road Initiative. The US may call China a ‘dragon’ and augment the sense of insecurity among countries in its neighbourhood. However, Beijing has made full use of soft and smart power. We have yet to see how President Biden will transform the claims he made in his speech into a reality. The US confidence amid its humiliation in Afghanistan must also be understood by those who overestimated China’s power while undermining its fault lines. As a pioneer in the realm of science, technology and research, the US along with Australia, Britain and Japan is confident that it can contain China. It can also deprive China of its growing power muscle in the Asia-Pacific region by exploiting its internal issues and tightening containment in its neighbourhood.

Second, since the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August, the US and India have been looking for the opportunity to hurt and damage Pakistan. Despite serious human rights violations by the Indian security forces in Occupied Jammu & Kashmir and violence against minorities particularly Muslims in Assam, President Biden warmly welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the White House. Biden’s message to Pakistan was loud and clear that India will remain a priority despite BJP’s communal persecution and grave violation of human rights. Biden-Modi duo will shape things to contain China and Pakistan. Certainly, the US has larger economic, trade, strategic and security interests with India as compared to Pakistan. After withdrawing from Afghanistan, the US is in no need of any assistance and support from Pakistan. It will now use its advantageous position to reformulate a new strategy aiming at Beijing and Islamabad. The US will use diplomacy to tame Pakistan by using its clout in IMF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other multilateral financial institutions to exert maximum pressure on Islamabad. At present, it is difficult to determine how Pakistan will cope with the Indo-US nexus in the aftermath of the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul.

Third, the US and India will employ diplomatic tactics to create a wedge in Sino-Russian relations. In the last 30 years, Russia and China have strengthened relations through their fundamental role in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which led to a deepening of strategic, security, economic and political ties between them. We have yet to see how India and the US will cause a rift in Sino-Russian relations. So far, both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping are firm on maintaining their deep-rooted ties. However, one can expect rupture in their relations if China takes an aggressive and offensive stance against AUKUS and QUAD. Russia also wants to maintain its age-old friendship with India. All three countries are in BRICS, which means that a loose agreement over tolerance and cooperation is likely. Certainly, the famous dictum of international relations that “there are no permanent enemies and no permanent allies but only interests” will matter in Sino-Russian relations and Pak-US ties.

Following its humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US is confronted with several foreign policy challenges. The primary focus should be on the use of soft power like cultural diplomacy, aid, trade, investment, education and development. The US should avoid the use of hard power in the form of military intervention and maintain its cogent leadership role.