Multipolarity: China, Russia, Israel, India, and the difficult birth of a new world
Radhika Desai, Michael Hudson, and Pepe Escobar discuss the Belt and Road Forum in China, the Valdai conference in Russia, Israel's war on Gaza, and India's alignment with the US.
Political economists Radhika Desai and Michael Hudson are joined by geopolitical analyst Pepe Escobar to discuss the rapidly changing global order, from the Belt and Road Forum in China to the Valdai Club conference in Russia, from Israel's genocidal war on Gaza to India's alignment with the US.
This discussion was held on October 16.
RADHIKA DESAI: Hello and welcome to the 17th Geopolitical Economy Hour, the show that examines the fast-changing political and geopolitical economy of our time. I’m Radhika Desai.
MICHAEL HUDSON: And I’m Michael Hudson.
RADHIKA DESAI: And today, once again, we are joined by the roving reporter extraordinaire, Pepe Escobar. Welcome again, Pepe.
PEPE ESCOBAR: Thank you. Enormous pleasure.
RADHIKA DESAI: Great. Now, this show has been a little bit delayed because I, particularly, I have been traveling.
Of course, Pepe travels all the time. He’s always joining us from all sorts of extraordinary locations. Today, he’s in Bangkok. But I have particularly been traveling to conferences in China. And then I went to the Valdai Conference in Sochi, where Pepe was also there.
And of course, I have returned, as some of you may know, to a huge storm of controversy stirred up by the mainstream media around some questions that I asked President Putin about the fact that the Canadian parliament, while we were traveling, had indulged in its enormous ignorance by applauding a Nazi when President Volodymyr Zelensky was visiting and rightly became the object of ridicule and censure all around the world.
But of course, what we are going to talk about today goes far beyond my personal story. It’s really nothing more or less than the story of the birthing of a new order that we have, in any case, been talking about and to which President Putin, in his traditional speech to Valdai at the Valdai Club, alluded and which, by the way, the Valdai Club Annual Report also detailed, I thought, very ably. It’s really, the report is worth a read. So please take a look at both documents.
But really, as I say, we are talking about the birthing of a new order, the topic of, and this is the topic of discussion not only at Valdai, not only in Sochi, but in China as well, and really practically all over the world.
And of course, there’s an enormous amount of hope invested in this. And this is true, that is to say, it’s the topic of discussion and it’s invested with a lot of hope practically everywhere but in the West. And thereby hang many tales.
The topic of the Valdai Club conference, it was fair multipolarity. And in his speech and also in some of the sessions that took place at the conference, it was a four-day conference where, by the way, participants were kept busy from nine o’clock in the morning till nine in the evening.
There was also considerable discussion of the concept of civilization states. And really, it was also another major topic of discussion was, of course, development and modernization.
And in China, we attended an extremely fascinating conference on modernization. And again, between Valdai and China, what was the common theme? That development, modernization had to take place according to the choices made by the people of every country.
It could not take place on the basis of the one-size-fits-all neoliberal recipe doled out by the West, which is, of course, has historically been a recipe for subordination.
Everyone was instead talking about a new, fairer, democratic world order, which would reflect the interests of all the people of the world, of all of humanity, including what is increasingly being alluded to as the world majority, that is to say the ex-Western world.
And this is precisely the new world order that the West is trying to prevent. It’s trying to prevent the emergence of it with its wars, its sanctions, its diplomacy, precisely the measures, the wars, the sanctions, and the diplomacy, which over the past years have today culminated not only in the conflict over Ukraine, but as we have seen over the past week and more, almost 10 days into the genocide in Gaza that is ongoing.
So all of these are the direct results of what the West is doing. And of course, in all of this, the mainstream media that has been demonizing all these developments is totally party to the sorry arm pass in which the world finds itself.
So the interesting and important point here is that the West is huffing and puffing. It’s going to try as hard as it can in preventing the emergence of this new order, but I do not believe on the basis of everything I know that it can possibly succeed.
It can huff and it can puff, but it cannot blow down the structures that the global majority is building. Indeed, it’s going to find that its own structures, the so-called rules-based international order are actually built out of straw or at best wood while the global majority is building its house step-by-step, albeit slowly, but it is building it, pardon the pun, but with bricks.
So I think, Pepe and Michael, we are ready to start our discussion. And so I thought we would start off with impressions of Valdai, but I know Pepe that you in particular are eager also to talk about an event, not in the past, but an event that is about to take place, the Belt and Road Summit, which is going to take place in China, which you are following closely. So talk about that and also connect it with Valdai if you could, please.
PEPE ESCOBAR: Oh my God, how many hours do I have? 10?
RADHIKA DESAI: Only point 10.
PEPE ESCOBAR: Well, Radhika and I were at Valdai. Radhika was one of the guests and I was part of the Lumpen Proletariat because I went there as a journalist.
And obviously we are treated as Lumpen Proletariat because many of the sessions at Valdai are closed. So we don’t have access. So obviously I used maybe my footballing tactics and I dribble around it.
And I had fabulous conversations on the sidelines of these sessions, for instance, with a wonderful Pakistani specialist on nuclear weapons, on Mr. Sergei Karaganov, which I have not seen for a few years and it was great to meet him.
And basically our discussion was a sort of preamble to the question that Mr. Karaganov placed to Vladimir Putin on the plenary session, Radhika was there, which was, should we lower the nuclear threshold?
And Putin’s response was an absolute masterpiece because obviously Putin reads everything that Karaganov publishes. One of the conceptualizers of the official Kremlin doctrine of Eurasia integration called Greater Eurasia Partnership.
The main writer of this document was Karaganov himself. And it was very, very interesting because when that landed on Putin’s desk, this was late 2018. And then I visited Karaganov at his office at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
And he was beaming because basically the first thing that he said was, yes, our idea was approved by the president. So, you know, that tells you everything on who Karaganov is. But Putin responding about the nuclear, which was a key question because this was the subject of an article that Karaganov had written, you know, the rippling of waves all over Russia, all over the post-Soviet space and everybody who read it in the West.
Putin said, look, there are only two instances where Russia would use nuclear weapons according to our doctrine.
Number one, we suffer a nuclear attack and then our response will be immediate and it’s gonna be nuclear hypersonic. He didn’t say in these words, but basically this is what he meant.
And the second possibility is that the existence and the survivability of the Russian state is in peril because of an attack, which could even be by ordinary weapons, conventional weapons. And in this case, our response will also be exactly the same thing. They won’t even know what hit them. It will be too late.
So the clincher a la Putin was, no one in his right mind would ever think about using nuclear weapons or attacking the Russian Federation. So that was his response.
Obviously, Karaganov was a much more apocalyptic in the way he basically said, look, our red lines are being trespassed on a weekly basis, at least.
Shouldn’t we start to, you know, tell them, look, you have to understand the rules of the game and we already been explaining them to you since late, just before the start of the SMO, the Special Military Operation, and the indivisibility of security, the letters that they sent to the Pentagon and NATO, et cetera, at the end of 2021.
And Putin’s response as usual, very, very measured. So, okay, this was just to give you an idea to all of you, how the level of discussion, extremely serious, but also like Radhika mentioned in the introduction, there was, for instance, a fabulous round table on the concept of civilization, where everybody discussed the notion of civilization state, including, for instance, Pierre de Gaulle, the grandson of the iconic general, which for the first time that I recall in English, he made a presentation in English, talking about the French concept of civilization. That was immensely interesting.
And later, Pierre de Gaulle met with President Putin. And obviously Putin, in terms of General de Gaulle, of course, one of his idols, of course.
And there was another extremely interesting panel on BRICS. And the star of this panel was my friend, Paulo Nogueira Batista, economist, who was in the past for two years, Vice President of the BRICS Bank in Shanghai, the New Development Bank.
And before he worked at the IMF. And after Valdai, Paulo went to the IMF meeting in Morocco. So I still haven’t talked to him about what really happened in Morocco.
But Michael wrote an absolutely outstanding article about it. And Michael can tell us soon.
So to finish this little introduction on Valdai, it was absolutely essential in terms of all the major panels, about all the major issues in terms of Eurasia, Afro-Eurasia, and Global South, Global Majority Integration, were discussed in depth with some of the best minds all across the spectrum.
Not many Westerners, by the way. This is very, very important. Radhika was probably one of the few coming from Canada.
RADHIKA DESAI: I was perhaps, but there were people. There were people from France.
PEPE ESCOBAR: There were, but not many, Radhika. Glenn Diesen, for instance, from Norway, but very, very few. And from the West, nobody, as far as I can recall.
RADHIKA DESAI: But it’s important to remember that there were those few. This is the key thing.
PEPE ESCOBAR: Yes, I agree with you. Professor Richard Sakwa, for example, who is one of the best known- I met later at the airport. We had a wonderful conversation at the airport later. Tina Jennings, Tina Jennings, she’s Canadian and lived in Russia for a long time. Wrote a fabulous book about the early Putin years. But compared to previous Valdai meetings, of course, and just like even more than in Vladivostok, where there was virtually nobody from the West apart from Karin Kneissl, the former Austrian foreign minister, you can see the cleavage in front of you.
And as far as I can, from my experience as a roving eye, literally, the Russians don’t care because the level of discussion, and Radhika, I’m sure, would agree with me, the level of discussion was up there with the Chinese, with Pakistanis, Iranians as well.
Aragshi, you know, one of the top Iranian strategists, in fact, who actually suggests policy directly to Ayatollah Khamenei was there. Now, you remember this panel, right, Radhika?
So this means that these discussions at their highest level, you don’t even need the Westerners. Because first of all, because they already know what they’re gonna say, especially if they are of the Atlantic Council mold, right?
Second, they won’t contribute to the real debate, which, as Radhika put it in the introduction, closer and closer integration of all these multilateral organizations. So the great takeaway from Valdai is that some of the best minds of the emerging global majority, global South, were there and discussing at the highest level.
MICHAEL HUDSON: Yeah, I think it’s not simply that Westerners weren’t there, but the Western press really has sort of blacked this out.
And I understand that while Radhika was there, the Canadian government sanctioned Valdai and said no reporters or others should go to the meeting. Well, Radhika’s in a position not only of being a professor, but I think because of the show we have here, she could be considered a journalist.
And so they were trying to prevent, not only did they try to prevent her going, and I understand, she has some interesting stories about what happened on her way back, but the press here had a complete blackout.
And I had to go to either Johnson’s Russia list and then to the websites to get what actually was said at the conference in Valdai.
And you’re right, it was very interesting to read, but you could only get it online. You were not going to be reading it in the Western press where there was just a travesty of what actually happened there.
RADHIKA DESAI: Yeah, I mean, there’s so much to respond to here. So let me just try a couple of things, focus on a couple of points. First of all, I think it’s very important to remember that there are academics as well as journalists in Western countries who really care about their countries not acting as essentially spoilers in the emergence of a fairer, just new world order that want their countries to contribute to that rather than being obstacles to that.
And those were the sorts of people from Western countries who were there. That’s why I mentioned professors like Richard Sakwa. I think he is a leading, even more than me. I mean, my own scholarship on Russia related matters is about a decade or a little over a decade old.
In his case, he spent a whole lifetime studying Russia and he was very happy to be there. He intervened, he has been a regular member. I’ve met him there before.
So I think it’s important to stress that because I think otherwise it’s important not to tar everyone in the West with the same brush. Yes, our leaders seem to have lost their minds.
And of course, it’s precisely this collective madness of our political class that was revealed in Canada when just a little before the Valdai Club conference on September the 22nd, the whole of parliament stood up and applauded a Nazi calling him a hero for having fought the Russians.
And this country completely forgot the fact that during the second world war, it was an ally of Russia, that no one or that anyone who was fighting the Russians was highly likely to have been fighting for Hitler, which indeed in this case, this man turned out to be.
And this of course relates back to the whole history that Canada has of encouraging the immigration of Nazis in Canada, which has happened in a whole number of quite different instances.
And indeed, some of us are even talking about a holding a people’s inquiry into how Canada got here. So that’s one thing I wanted to say.
The second thing I just wanted to say is that, one of the other topics that fair multi-polarity and you pointed to particularly the discussion by Mr. Batista, who was there from Brazil. He was really very good.
He has been working with the IMF and they of course, emphasize some of the difficulties of the emergence of the multi-polar order. And there is no doubt that the birthing of a new order is never going to be easy. No birth is easy as I’m sure any woman will tell you.
So the fact of the matter is that there are going to be all sorts of birth banks. And one of the more interesting birth banks that we are witnessing is the tendency, particularly of India to side more, to sort of the tendency particularly of Prime Minister Modi to come out unequivocally on the side of the US.
But what’s really interesting is that the tide of history is pushing the world in a very different direction. And this is marked by the fact that even in this case, when for example, Prime Minister Modi came out in favor of Israel completely unequivocally without clarification, he came out in favor of Israel in the recent war.
Within a couple of days, he had to backtrack and make some kind of balanced assessment because the fact of the matter is that world opinion is no longer willing to accept the idea that Israel can do whatever it likes.
It can conduct genocide in Gaza. It can keep pounding Palestinians with bombs, with white phosphorus and what have you as it likes. This is not the defense of Israel. And some sort of negotiated solution is way past overdue.
So even in this case, so I think that there will always be leaders. There was Bolsonaro in Brazil. There will always be leaders who in third world countries themselves, in the BRICS, in the global majority themselves, who will try to pull in the other direction.
But quite frankly, there is so little to gain from the West. And this also, by the way, came out in Putin’s speech.
And I also want to come back, Pepe, to the point you made about civilization state. I really wonder.
So no, two points actually. First, before I come to civilization state, I want to say one other thing.
I read Karaganov’s article about lowering the nuclear threshold when it came out. And I have to say, I was quite alarmed. Like, what is this guy talking about?
But now I think it seems to me after thinking about it, after talking to people at Valdai, and also particularly after listening to Vladimir Putin’s response to him, I would say that probably the function of this article, or whether it was intended to or not for this article, has functioned as a sort of foil.
It has functioned as a provocation against which Vladimir Putin can, I think, very plausibly argue that Russia has absolutely not changed its nuclear policy. It is not going to lower the nuclear threshold no matter how much the West is provoking it, no matter how much the West is implying that he’s going to start a nuclear war.
He’s simply saying, look, we will only do this in retaliation and we will only do this if Russia is existentially challenged.
Now, Russia is so big, the West would have to do a heck of a lot to challenge it existentially. We have already had more than a month, a year and a half of the Ukraine war. There is absolutely no nuclear saber-rattling on the part of the Russians.
And I think that it allowed, I think, the Russian position to be made clear because the West seemed to be essentially implying that such a change has taken place. It allowed it to be established definitively that no such change has taken place.
And then I want to say something about civilization state. I’ve thought about it as well. Like, what is the point of invoking the idea of civilization state? And I would say that it really goes back to the roots of colonialism.
What has been fascinating about President Putin’s speeches at this year’s Valdai, last year’s Valdai, and more generally at speeches he has made in a number of occasions in different venues, is the extent to which his understanding of imperialism has really sharpened to the point where it is practically like, I mean, coming from me, this is a compliment, it’s practically as good as a good solid Marxist understanding of imperialism.
But in any case, it is very factually based and so on. Now, what is imperialism? The imperialism has always been imposed on the world on the grounds that Western civilization is superior and that the West is bearing the burden, the white man’s burden of bringing, of carrying out the civilizing mission.
You all know these words and expressions.
So to call Russia civilization state, China civilization state, India civilization state, and other, Africa has a civilization, et cetera. To call all these, to recall these civilizations is precisely to say Western civilization is one part, one among many of the world’s civilization.
It’s going to have to learn to live on an equal basis with other civilizations, that other people have peoples have their ways of conducting themselves in the world, which must be respected.
Other peoples have come up with ways of living with and cultivating diversity and multiculturalism and multi-religious societies and so on. And that the West should learn from it because the West is trying to impose homogeneity.
And very cleverly, President Putin also pointed out that the West is actually forgetting its own civilizational values. That is to say this imperial aggression is not in keeping with the highest values of Western civilization.
I think it’s a reminder that the West could do this. Michael.
MICHAEL HUDSON: Yeah, here’s the problem with the way in which this idea of different civilizations was formulated.
There’s one civilization that has declared war on all of the rest, and that’s the US and NATO.
Now, the other civilizations have a choice. They really can’t go it together. The only way that they can resist this war against the United States and them is for them to be them.
They need to be, there needs to be an umbrella and a common denominator over what is their policy of their civilization going to be. And I think Pepe’s going to be talking about where this seems to be going this weekend.
But I think the common denominator has to be a full-fledged alternative, not only the de-dollarization we’ve spoken about, but a whole set of institutions that are not mere images of, but will pick up what the West pretended to do in creating the United Nations in 1945 and didn’t do.
We do need an international court for crimes against humanity.
It can’t be in the Hague. It’s got to be somewhere else.
We do need an alternative to the World Bank. It can’t be in Washington. It’s got to be somewhere else along different lines, and we see already that China lending and on the Belt and Road has already exceeded the World Bank.
We need an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and money creation. It can’t be in Washington. It has to be somewhere else.
And we need probably a new United Nations where the United States cannot veto and paralyze the creation of the defense of these collective civilizations.
And then when it comes to these collective civilizations, to what extent will they be based on mutual aid instead of self-interest?
Of course, they’re different civilizations, and in the American press while you were there, there were all these articles saying, well, they can’t possibly get together because India is different from Islam, from China. How can they ever get together?
Well, the problem is initially they get together by saying, we need to agree on a common basis for a full-fledged alternative to the NATO civilization that is trying to divide us and conquer one by one.
Of course, they’d like to pick off one civilization after another, first Russia, then Iran, then you can go down the line. So we’re talking about the overall start of this.
And I think China, Russia, Iran, and others see that this has to start with an economic foundation that people can agree upon as a balance of interests between these civilizations. And I understand from Pepe that there’s about to be a meeting on just this topic.
PEPE ESCOBAR: Yes, on a practical, to go straight to the point ... cutting to the chase in journalistic terms, this is what the Russians, the Chinese and the Iranians especially are doing. Let’s look at the latest preamble to a genocide situation where we are, we have been dragged to it now.
The Russians introduced a very serious draft resolution at the UN Security Council, which should be approved, if I’m not mistaken, in the next few hours after our conversation.
It basically calls for a ceasefire, basically says that this announced, a chronicle of an announced genocide, to quote García Márquez, by the Israeli Minister of Defense, the IAF and the Prime Minister simply cannot happen.
And of course, the now the ball, you know, throwing the ball away, the respect the rights of the Palestinian people, which everybody knows what it means.
And the problem is that what it means nowadays is not a two state solution. It would have to be a one. Everybody knows that the two state solution is basically dead, you have to be a one state solution, but they are not spelling it out yet.
This, this draft resolution was discussed via the channels that we know, relatively secretly, the Chinese. Everything that the Russians and the Chinese do on the international relations now is discussed between them.
For instance, Lavrov and Wang Yi met yesterday before the arrival of Putin for the Belt and Road Summit in Beijing.
So when Putin is going to meet Xi again in person during the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, we can imagine that there’s going to be the famous three or four hour discussion between both of them because the terrain has already been prepared by Lavrov and Wang Yi.
And the main point at the moment is not only the constitution of the Eurasia, Afro-Eurasia and Global South integration, which is the main theme of the Belt and Road Forum, based on a connectivity corridor trade strategy, which also happens to be the overarching foreign policy concept of China for the next decades, at least, at least until 2049 and beyond.
So this is one, just one vector.
The other vector is how we are trying to defuse the situation that if we are extremely cynic, we could put it this way.
Just when the Americans thought that they were able to change the narrative about their incoming massive humiliation in the steppes of Novorossiya by the Russians, and the humiliation is not only the U.S., but NATO as a whole.
Just when they thought that they changed the narrative and they could talk about something else. Ah, there’s a new war coming and there’s a war in the Middle East. Forget about Ukraine.
You all saw how Ukraine simply disappeared from mainstream media absolutely everywhere with the flip of a switch.
They fall prey to a Zionist genocidal maniac.
So this tells us everything we need to know about Western intelligence. They would know that this would happen. In fact, they already knew that this might happen because now we know there were serious signs that something was afoot in Gaza, that Hamas was preparing something.
Egyptian intel, which has sources on the ground in Gaza, picked up the phone, called the Israelis and said, look, something big is going to happen. Nobody paid attention. IDF, Shin Bet, Mossad, cabinet of the prime minister, you name it, nobody. And this is what happened.
So, of course, we don’t have a smoking gun, but this points to what? Let’s have our Pearl Harbor moment. Let’s have our 9-11 moment. And then we go for the final solution.
And this was always, I’m very sorry to go really hardcore on this, but this is this Zionist gang final solution. Let’s get rid of Gaza. Let’s level Gaza to the ground. Let’s provoke an exodus. Send them to Egypt. And this is where we are now.
So can you imagine Russian-China diplomacy? How are we going to turn this thing around in a manner that doesn’t lead these psychos in Washington, even crazier than they are, not to mention their psychotic vassal in Tel Aviv?
At the same time, the Iranians on another vector, very politely, very diplomatically say, look, we don’t want war with anybody. If there is a ground invasion of Gaza, we will be forced to enter this war.
And everybody [knows] what Iran entering this war is going to cause to the Zionist entity. And not to mention Hezbollah, Iraqi militias, Yemeni militias, the Chechens, you name it, the whole of Islam.
Because the whole Al-Aqsa situation was the mother of all red lines for the Islamic world.
So now we have on one side this maniac in Tel Aviv, supported by the Americans, simply fighting all the lands of Islam simultaneously.
Can they get away with it? No. Do the Chinese and the Russians want this to happen? No. Is there a possible diplomatic solution? Only if the Americans call the maniac and said, pull the plug now.
They are the only ones who can actually do that. And what do we hear from the American side? We see their mega-out-of-his-depth Secretary of State going to Israel and say, look, I am here as a Jew. My God. So this person was never a diplomat and he’ll never be.
And with just this sentence, he inflamed the whole thing beyond any possible limit. And there’s no backtracking now.
And obviously, there’s no talk of ceasefire. And now we know that there are directives straight to American diplomats that don’t talk about ceasefire with anybody.
The pressure over the Russians and the Chinese is, look, the whole planet depends on you to find a diplomatic solution to this mess.
And the way [Russian ambassador Vasily] Nebenzya at the UN framed it, he was, I’ve never seen him so somber because he knows that this thing can, you know, spiral out of control in a matter of hours.
So this is where we are at the moment. So I would say that this seamless transition from one war to another and the way it was articulated and the way now that we have two vectors of the same global war hovering over us and to quote Bob Dylan, if you allow me, the long black cloud is coming down over all of us, you know, and we depend on basically Wang Yi, and Lavrov, and Putin, and Xi tomorrow in Beijing to say, how are we going to defuse all that?
MICHAEL HUDSON: I think there’s been a whole change of consciousness throughout the rest of the world outside of the United States in the last week.
And I think what’s happened has broken American foreign policy and the influence and the rest of the world.
The whole you just pointed out correctly, maybe the whole rest of the world is so shocked they’re consolidated. They’re seeing the U.S. reaction and the resistance.
And this points out a point you’d mentioned that President Putin had said no country in their right mind would do something. Well, that’s the kicker.
The assumption is that other countries are going to act in their own self-interest. America has acted against itself, or rather, the Biden administration has sacrificed American self-interest and said we are going to give up America’s influence on the Near East, on Asia, of all of this, because we are tying American policy and Netanyahu.
We are going to oppose what the majority of Jewish Democrats in the United States have been told over the weekend. They’re against Netanyahu.
America has said it’s not simply that we’re for Netanyahu, we’re for Likud, we’re for the right wing, we’re for the fundamentalists there, because they’re saying exactly what our allies in Ukraine are saying.
They’re saying you have to treat our enemies like cockroaches and subhumans. That’s how you mobilize their mentality.
This is what America has said to the world, as if to the golden billion in the NATO, they’re treating the rest of the world like the Ukrainians are treating the Russian speakers as cockroaches, like Netanyahu is characterizing the Arabs and the Palestinians there.
All of a sudden, this has led to force the world to make a choice. And you can see the effect of this on India, for instance.
America had been trying to get India to oppose the Belt and Road Initiative by saying we have another plan and it can go over the sea and on the railroad. It can go via, it will avoid going through any of the Russian allies and avoid Central Asia. It’ll avoid the Arab, the Muslim countries. It’ll avoid, it’ll go from India and end up going through Israel.
Well, you can imagine what this is. This has completely smashed India’s commitment to back the United States in all of this because Modi’s religious policy there is sort of in many ways are similar to the US and the Israeli policy there.
So all of a sudden the gauntlet has been thrown down. What is civilization? Is this civilization or is this civilization versus the threat to civilization? That’s really what it’s come down to.
RADHIKA DESAI: Well, I mean, Michael, what you’re saying is, is this civilization or is this barbarism? Because that’s what the West is promoting. It is promoting barbarism.
But, you know, again, so many points I’d like to come back to because this is all very thought-provoking, Pepe. You did a great analysis, I think, of exactly where the West finds itself. And then, Michael, you’ve added excellent points about public opinion and so on.
But let me just take, first of all, India in no particular order. You know, this government, the party that it represents, I mean, we’d have to do a whole other show. I mean, I’m going to talk about this in other ways.
But the fact of the matter is that the current government in New Delhi is a government that that is of a party that was created in the 1920s and in the 30s in order directly inspired by fascism.
It is as close to fascism that we have in India. And I would say that recently the similarities have only been multiplying. So I’ll leave it at that for now.
It is the party that has always been uniformly pro-American, much more so than the general mainstream of Indian thinking.
So, for example, when this party was in government between 1998 and 2004, although at that time it relied on a whole bunch of coalition partners, so it moderated its policy a little bit. And now the party is in power since 2014 on its own.
But nevertheless, in 1998, what was one of the first acts of that government in office? It was to initiate the Pokhran explosions, the nuclear tests that were successfully conducted and directly hot upon the heels of the declaration of success of these nuclear tests. What does Prime Minister Bajpai do? He writes to Clinton and he says, President Clinton, we are there for you if you want to, if you want any help with China. This has always been the BJP’s position.
And by the way, you know, earlier I was referring to bad governments in third world countries gumming up the works of the BRICS. This is a prime example.
India’s the fact of the matter is before May 2024, we must have elections in India in order to win those elections, even though Mr. Modi has the backing of the corporate capitalist class to the hilt. He will be bankrolled like no prime minister, no world leader, I would say even more than the United States leaders have been bankrolled. And so he will have all that beside behind him.
But still, he needs to whip up anti-China hysteria, anti-Pakistan hysteria. And now we will see, I’m sure that the recent spat between Canada and India will also play an important role in the elections where there will be a certain type of anti-Sikh rhetoric and they will try to establish that the Sikhs are working with and Sikhs are part of India.
So I can go on. But Modi will be a great spoiler. And that’s one thing I wanted to say. But also this brings me to another small point that I wish to make. You know, there’s a general point I want to make.
We are in a very dangerous moment. Pepe, you emphasize this. Michael, you emphasize this. I don’t think we have been this close to nuclear war ever before. We’ve got two active wars going on. The West is on the wrong side of both of them.
And you know what? In this scenario, the West is the most irresponsible and reckless actor. It is the irresponsibility and recklessness of the West that have brought us this far. And it is the same irresponsibility and recklessness that might tip us over into something like a nuclear conflagration.
I hope, obviously, I’m scared stiff of that happening. I hope, obviously, that that doesn’t happen.
But we have to understand that because you see, there are two elements of this.
Number one, domestically, these countries are essentially the politics of these countries are spinning out of the control of the established elites. That is why they finger, allegedly, the populism of the left and the populism of the right. And they are both wrong. And only we are the sane option.
But you call yourself the sane option when, in fact, it is your activities, your actions, your policies that have brought Western countries to where they are at this level of sociopolitical division and political impasse.
And by the way, the situation is the same in Israel. So in Israel, what you have is a Trump like figure in charge with the liberal establishment up in arms against him. But both of them have the same policy vis-a-vis Gaza and Palestine, which has been encouraged for decades by, I think, President Putin and President Xi are absolutely right to say that the United States has tried to monopolize the so-called negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
And although they claim to take a sort of neutral attitude, in reality, what that attitude has been about is one sidedly favoring Israel in all of these negotiations.
So domestically, things are spinning out of control in the capitals of all Western countries. And this is manifesting, which creates a very dangerous situation.
There are no rational grounds on which these people can act within their universe. Basically, they are pulled and pushed in every direction.
But then the second part of it is that their efforts to dominate the rest of the world, which they have done for 200 odd years, which is a mere blip in the history of human civilization. Those efforts are no longer working. The rest of the world, the world majority is absolutely not pliable.
So what you have is a world order that is spinning out of the control of the sorcerer, of the sorcerer’s apprentice. And this is the danger that we are looking at.
So maybe I’ll rest there, but I have a couple of other points to make. But I’ll give you guys a chance to say something if you want to at this point.
PEPE ESCOBAR: Michael, you want to go?
MICHAEL HUDSON: No, I want to hear what’s going to happen. How are we going to get out of this mess?
PEPE ESCOBAR: Well, look, let me try to introduce a relatively optimistic note to the doom and gloom.
Our conversation is taking place a few hours before the start of the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing, which is immensely important for several reasons.
First one I would say is that the Chinese leadership itself, Xi Jinping and the Politburo and the State Council, with all the guests that they’re going to have, they have guests from 130 nations at least.
Some of them, did you know, for instance, all of you, our audience, the Taliban sent a high level delegation to the Belt and Road Forum.
Compare that to two years ago when they were trying to, OK, what are we going to do now that we’re not occupied anymore?
It’s very, very simple because the Chinese at the time and the Russians via the excellent Russian ambassador in Kabul, they say, look, it’s simple. We’re going to teach you a few things. You can learn from us. You can share our experience, how you’re going to be normalized in international relations. This doesn’t mean necessarily the West, but you’re going to be normalized with us and we’re going to help you to rebuild Afghanistan.
So something that very few people know around the world, there are lots of mega infrastructure projects going on in Afghanistan as we speak.
That’s something that we could not even imagine two years ago or during the whole American occupation. Roads that they are being built from northeast to northwest, the largest man-made canal in the world, you know, in the north of Afghanistan as well.
Roads that are being repaved, the Salang Tunnel that is being upgraded. You name it. You don’t see one word about this on Western media, nothing.
But Afghanistan under the Taliban already and with, I would say, guidance from Russia, China, Iran as well, and on a much smaller scale, India. India, the only thing that interests India is roads that can go through their corridor where they can build the so-called Indian Silk Road, which will use Afghanistan. To do trade with Central Asia.
But Russia, China and Iran are much more advanced in terms of helping Afghanistan and much more straightforward.
RADHIKA DESAI: Meanwhile, the United States is helping Afghanistan by keeping its money.
PEPE ESCOBAR: It’s an excellent point, Radhika. It’s at six billion, if I’m not mistaken. All right. OK. And obviously, they did not give it back. We all know how it works.
Well, the three targets of the Taliban delegation is absolutely fascinating.
Number one, attract foreign investment to the Afghan economy. It’s fabulous because they’re going to have all their Central Asian neighbors over there. They’re going to sit at the same table and discuss projects, including projects that are already ongoing, especially in terms of highways, but also railways as well.
And the Chinese are very much interested in building a highway connecting Afghanistan directly with Xinjiang.
RADHIKA DESAI: They border anyway, there’s a tiny neck of land.
PEPE ESCOBAR: Yes, the Wakhan Corridor, which is one of my fetishes, Radhika. I always wanted to go there, but it’s for us foreigners, obviously, it’s off limits. So I bordered the Wakhan Corridor when I was traveling in Afghanistan. At least I could see it.
RADHIKA DESAI: And by the way, the reserves are $9.5 billion.
PEPE ESCOBAR: And the other point, very, very important, they are going to discuss copper. Because the Chinese are already there, the copper mines, and obviously this is going to expand.
So what does that tell you in practice? That the New Silk Roads are getting Afghanistan back, just like 2,000 years ago. This is going to be integrated with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. So this is going to be the China-Pakistan-Afghan Economic Corridor.
And all of that, of course, means more integration with the Central Asian neighbors. So you see the change in discussions compared to a few years ago, where people in the West only referred to Afghanistan in terms of a security threat or terrorism.
Now they are discussing economic corridors, sustainable development, and integrating Afghanistan in this crossroads between South Asia and Central Asia. And, of course, turning Afghanistan into a key node of Eurasia integration in this part of Eurasia. It’s absolutely extraordinary. And it’s great that they are going to discuss this now in Beijing with all the neighbors all together.
Viktor Orbán, for instance, he got a reception of a rock star in Beijing, and he’s obviously thinking, well, this is not exactly what I get when I deal with the European Union. You see?
And, of course, we’re going to have Africans, Latin Americans, etc. discussing, let’s say, Belt and Road Initiative 2.0 from now on.
So there was a perception that maybe the Chinese, because the economy is not growing as much as it should be growing at the moment, but it’s still growing, they would accelerate new BRI projects.
No, not at all. And there will be streamlined and there will be more little projects compared to big projects like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
No. So this is why we’re going to have this. Of course, we need to wait for the end of the summit to see if they’re going to announce big projects in Latin America, for instance, in Africa and across Central Asia and West Asia.
But when you compare what the West is proposing at the moment, which is basically two wars, two fronts of the same war, with what the Chinese are doing the exact same week proposing, OK, Global South, come here, let’s discuss the second stage of our great integration project.
I think it’s clear to anybody, especially to the Global South, right?
RADHIKA DESAI: I mean, so well said, you know, Pepe, because you know what this means. Obviously, between war and development, it’s a no-brainer.
You know, if you are a responsible policymaker of your country, you’re going to choose development.
But there’s something bigger involved. You know, think about the fact that since at least the 19th century, since Halford Mackinder was writing his stuff about Eurasia and everything, the whole point was who was going to control this nodal area, which allows them to control essentially all of Eurasia.
Well, the West’s approach, which has always been about domination, war and exploitation, is manifestly failing.
And what’s emerging now is the fact that it is the Russians and the Chinese in cooperation with one another. And I hope and pray that we will have a government in India that can also take part in this, which will see the sense of cooperating with the Russians and the Chinese.
Because imagine a world in which the Russians, the Chinese and the Indians could get together and work collectively. I mean, that would simply transform the world into something else. So that’s the first thing I wanted to say.
And maybe I’ll sort of make a few winding up statements and then I’ll give you both a chance to add something and then we’ll stop.
Well, the first thing I want to say is that, you know, Michael mentioned the UN and, you know, how the United States has always been undermining it. And of course, he’s absolutely right.
And I just want to add one little thing. If you think about it, the creation of NATO within a few short years of the creation of the United Nations was itself a signal by essentially the imperialist countries that they wished to create an alternative agency that would essentially try to control the world.
And we saw NATO come into its own after the Soviet Union disintegrated. Because, of course, as long as the Soviet Union existed, there was nothing NATO could, not much NATO could get up to.
And as I like to say to my class, you know, although NATO is always portrayed as a Cold War entity, it actually should be understood as an imperialist entity.
What was the thing about the Cold War is that the existence of the Soviet Union kept NATO in check. I say to them, guess how many operations did NATO engage in during the Cold War? Exactly zero.
And since then, it has been continuously at war all the time. So it shows you what the character of NATO is. So that has always been.
And the further accoutrements of, you know, rules based international order and democracy promotion and human rights and all that claptrap has simply been the modern version of the white man’s burden and the civilizing mission and so on.
Just further lingo with which to justify essentially an exploitative relationship.
The second point I want to make, and this is very important because there’s a lot of chat, you know, a lot of progressive people are getting getting inveigled with this chat that, you know, the BRICS countries are so diverse. They were five. They were already too different. Now there are 11. Tomorrow there will be more. How will they ever come up to any agreement?
There will always be disagreement, etc. But this is where I think one of the key, shall we say, flaws of mainstream international relations lies because mainstream international relations never discusses imperialism.
It tends to imagine that conflicts of interest are natural in the world. But if you take away the desire to dominate, diversity in itself has never been an obstacle to agreement.
So really, you have to think about diversity versus domination. Diversity in itself is not the problem. Domination is always the problem.
Diversity may give rise to small agreements, disagreements, which are easily resolved. You can make little adjustments, tweaks and so on to accommodate diversity.
But you cannot accommodate domination. If the parties concerned who are being dominated refuse to accept domination, you are always going to have disagreement.
So in that sense, I would say that, you know, this is a false problem. I think that the BRICS countries, particularly provided they are not governed by the likes of Bolsonaro or for that matter, Modi, they will find a way because there is a will to find a way and there is already going back to the group of 77, the new international economic order.
There are traditions within the third world of essentially creating cooperation, creating international relations based on mutual respect and non-aggression and so on and so forth.
And then finally, I just want to say one big thing that I did intervene and lots of people at the Valdai Club.
I made this point in one of the first meetings and a lot of people came to me afterwards and said, this is a really important point. Today, the world is ensnared in a set of problems created essentially by one part of it.
That is to say, the Atlantic world. They are the source of most of the problems. The rest of the world is ensnared in it, but it is slowly making its way out of it. But you see, I earlier referred to the level of dysfunction within Western societies, which is rising, political dysfunction is rising.
And I feel that one of the dangers could very likely be is very likely that what we are going to see is advanced stages of political dysfunction and decay.
The ungovernability of these societies will go to such a point and we will see some of this in the run up to the 2024 US elections.
It will be such a stage where the dysfunction of these societies will itself create a problem for the rest of the world.
How are they going to manage? We are not prepared for these dysfunctions to reach a critical point, possibly a catastrophic point.
And I think that this is something that we should talk about, because the fact of the matter is new political forces are needed in all these Western countries to essentially take hold of political power and steer it in more stable, less unequal, more productive, more egalitarian and just directions.
Because if this does not happen, I think the whole of humanity is in a lot of deep doo doo. So I just want to end with that. And I will give both of you a chance to say something and then we’ll wind up.
MICHAEL HUDSON: I want to say one thing about being very careful about talking about nations as the building blocks. You said that America has always backed Israel.
The Biden administration is not backing Israel. It’s backing the Netanyahu administration, while the majority of Israelis want to put him in jail through the Supreme Court.
America says it’s a friend of Ukraine, but it’s not a friend of Ukraine. It overthrew the Ukrainian government in a coup. It’s a friend of the Nazis in Ukraine.
The U.S. said it was a friend, a supporter of Chile, but not when Allende was elected. All of us, it’s the friend of Pinochet.
The U.S. said, finally, we’re friends with Russia in the 1990s. But it wasn’t. It was. They were friends of Yeltsin and the neoliberals, not Russia.
So what appears at first glance to be groups of nations with their national interests and maybe civilization, the fact is in every nation, as you were getting to at the end of your remarks, Radhika, in every nation there’s a conflict.
Are we going to be financialized and neoliberal and as such as arms of client oligarchies of the United States? Or are we going to be a socialism instead of barbarism?
You could say the same for every single country. The United States now is still trying in Central Asia to have color revolutions. There has to be a means of blocking this.
So you don’t think of this as Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan have national interests. There’s a divergence with the United States backing the neoliberal, let’s just say, Nazi groups, the Pinochet groups, the Zelensky groups, the Netanyahu group in each of these nations that it’s trying to have a color revolution.
RADHIKA DESAI: Absolutely, Michael. Pepe, please.
PEPE ESCOBAR: Yes, but the meeting this week between Putin and the president of Kyrgyzstan, very, very important. And he recently met Tokayev from Kazakhstan as well. Russia is basically warning the Central Asians, the heartland, look, we know what the Americans are up to. You know, they try in the Caucasus, they will try in Central Asia.
You are all targets. We got your back. But you have to do your homework as well. So Kyrgyzstan understands this perfectly. Kyrgyzstan is very fragile. Kazakhstan is much more complicated because there are a lot of Atlanticists in positions of power in Kazakhstan.
I’m going to Kazakhstan next month. So I’m going to, no, December. So I’m going to learn on the spot what’s really going on. It’s a very murky situation. Nobody can tell you exactly what the Tokayev administration is up to.
They are not the Nazarbayev clan, which was trying to do multi-vector policy according to themselves. Tokayev tries multi-vector policy as well, but he’s in favor of keeping sanctions against Russia.
And everybody in Moscow knows that Russia, for a great deal of what they are importing, they depend on Kazakhstan.
The fact that you go to Moscow and you find everything is basically because of two places, Turkey and Kazakhstan.
So the Kazakhs have their own economic interests, geoeconomic interests, and the fact that they are not only part of the New Silk Roads, of Belt and Road, BRI. They are also part of the Eurasian Economic Union, and they are part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.
So you cannot treat the big brother in all these organizations with playing this double game. So we can assume that this is more or less what Putin very diplomatically told Tokayev.
So there are efforts to more or less control the near abroad from the Russians.
From the Chinese, it’s very, very simple. Chinese investments all over. And this is what they are going to discuss with the Central Asians at the Belt and Road Forum.
So Russia and China, in terms of the heartland, the heartland is theirs. But they are very much aware that the Americans are going to try everything in the book, outside the book, or beyond the book, to provoke color revolutions all over again.
RADHIKA DESAI: Absolutely. So I think we’ve gone for a very long time. I just wanted to say one very quick thing before we end, but it’s been a fantastic conversation, Pepe. Thanks for your insights, Michael, as always.
But let me just say one quick thing. I couldn’t agree more with what you said, Michael. You know, the fact of the matter is we always, for shorthand, refer to Israel and India and what have you.
But you always have to talk about the nature of the state or, for that matter, the United States. You know, it’s so easy to say down with the United States.
I was in a demonstration the other day, just yesterday, about Gaza. And, of course, people were saying shame on the United States, etc. But it is not the ordinary people of the United States that want this. It is the elites who want this.
And the point is, indeed, the ordinary people of all of these countries will be instrumental in finding the solution that all these countries need.
But I would say the best example of this whole issue of, you know, countries and their people.
Everyone in the West, and I’ve said this before, but I just want to say this again because it’s so important. Everyone in the West who says we stand with Ukraine, they are party to the destruction of that entity. They are party to the misery that has been inflicted on that people.
They are party to the arrangement in which, as John Mearsheimer said, the United States and the West wants to fight Russia till the last Ukrainian. This is what they are sanctioning by saying that they are standing up for Ukraine. They’re doing no such thing.
But, unfortunately, our media is simply not bringing this out. They are busy creating news stories out of government press releases. So that’s where we are.
That’s why programs like ours, I think, are important. And the reportage that you are doing, the scholarship that Michael and I are trying to do, is really so critically important.
So thanks, everyone, for joining us. Thanks again to Pepe. We hope to have you again soon. We hope also Michael and I have been discussing some of the topics of the next programs.
And we definitely want to do one on sanctions and other such things besides. So please continue to watch out for our shows and see you next time. Thank you and goodbye.