Which country will become a proxy in US-China rivalry for dominance?

China USA

A very unfortunate but at the same time undeniable fact of recent history has been that in the global order which emerged after the Second World War, the rivalry between the USA and the Soviet Union played out in the form of several very destructive proxy wars. The two main rivals were heavily armed with thousands of nuclear weapons capable of entirely destroying both countries (and much of the remaining world as well) several times over and so they confined their direct conflict to a cold war. However this spilled over to several very hot wars in proxy countries, resulting in loss of millions of lives of innocent people, serious, very painful injuries and harm to many more and devastation of environment. Some proxy wars were related to US-China rivalry as well. All this continued right up to the break-up of the Soviet Union around 1990.

Commenting on this period, this is what the Human Development Report noted in 1991,“ There have been over 120 conflicts in the Third World since 1945, with 20 million deaths, more than in the second world war. In many cases– from Korea to Afghanistan—these have been cold war struggles between the superpowers carried out by proxy on Third World soil.”

After the break-up of the Soviet Union there was a temporary break in such proxy wars as the USA and its close allies sought to gain control over Russia using collusion of local elites. This was particularly true of Yeltsin years when the biggest plunder of Russia took place by western countries acting in collusion with local elites, while at the same time the ordinary Russians suffered so much that their life expectancy was reduced in unprecedented ways. Besides, the dignity and self-respect of Russia and its people suffered a lot.

This led to determined efforts to revive Russia economically, militarily and politically. Now, when Russia started becoming a strong force again, the proxy wars also started again.

The most destructive of these has been the ongoing one in Ukraine. While reliable fatality estimates are not yet available, the very fact that nearly 15 million people have been externally displaced (although some have returned too) indicates the huge distress and destruction suffered by the people of Ukraine. This is in line with the record of proxy wars.

Costly lessons of Ukraine and other proxy wars must be learnt by all countries. Henceforth all countries should take particular care to avoid becoming battleground for destructive proxy wars, and to avoid those local leaders and forces which take them on the path of proxy wars. The lure of superpowers claiming to help should be resisted. Anyone can see how the USA led certain Ukraine leaders on a path of destruction while claiming all the time to be helping ‘Ukraine’. Ukraine’s people have never suffered so much during the last 50 years as during this 8 year period 2014-22 of exceptional, special ‘help’ and ‘solidarity’ by the USA and its close allies, leading Ukraine first towards avoidable civil war conditions and then towards equally avoidable invasion by a much bigger power.

While all efforts to use them as proxy battle-grounds in super-power rivalries should be resisted by various countries, a particularly relevant question just now is—which country is more likely to be used as the leading proxy in the looming rivalry between the USA and China? While just now it is the USA-Russia conflict which is the center of attention, many learned observers have pointed out that the ultimate rivalry to be resolved is between the USA and China, as both are aggressive contestants for world dominance. While the USA has been the biggest bully of recent years on the international scene, China too has repeatedly shown how aggressive it can be in its economic, political and military objectives, and that it is only biding its time before it has the capacity to be fully assertive and even more aggressive.

Of course the entire idea of one country—whether the USA or China or anyone else—trying to dominate a unipolar world is extremely stupid and can only bring even more terrible destruction to a world which is already on the brink of a survival crisis. So the best way forward is to entirely give up this idea of dominance. But as both the USA and China appear to be obsessed by this, other countries also have to think of how to protect themselves and their interests in the emerging likely situation of a rivalry for global dominance between the USA and China.

It is in this context that neighboring countries of China should start taking particular care to ensure that they are not led along a path of becoming a proxy battleground in the name of help and solidarity. Learning from the highly tragic experience of Ukraine and other heavily destroyed proxy battlegrounds, they should very carefully avoid such a destructive path.

The writer is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, A Day in 2071 and Earth without Borders.     


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