Dr Huma Baqai

24th Jul, 2022. 10:28 am

New Cold War

Most pundits of international relations are convinced that the new Cold War is here and that it will be fought on the sea lanes.


It is a strategic concept that acquired formality with the issuance of a communique in 2022 post the NATO Summit, which warned for the first time against China. With NATO expanding and its focus squarely on China, new battle-lines are being drawn. NATO leaders gathered in Madrid, Spain from 29-30th June 2022 to discuss critical issues facing the Alliance. Transformative decisions were taken that set the Alliance’s strategic direction for the future, ensuring that the Alliance will continue to adapt to a changing world. The new security reality is distinctive in form from the previous Strategic Concept agreed upon in 2010. The 2022 Strategic Concept identifies Russia as the most significant to Allied security, addresses China for the first time and includes other challenges like climate change, terrorism, cyber and hybrid. Russian aggression is seen as the root cause of the European continent’s mega-militarization, termed by President Biden as the ‘NATO-ization of Europe’.

The ever-expanding naval exercises and basing locations over the sea lanes represent the emergence of a new ‘Great Game’ at sea, where rising navalism threatens to further destabilize the broader Indo-Pacific and beyond.

The Indo-Pacific is the geopolitical centre of the world, combining the Asia Pacific and Indian Ocean into a single region; it captures the interest of global powers like the United States, China, Australia, India, Japan, and the UK. Quest for the domination of the seas has remained a prerequisite for acquisition of power in inter-state relations. The so-called new Cold War brings both patterns of conflict and cooperation into play.

Craig Jeffrey, Director and CEO Australia – India Institute, pointed out that “in terms of global political significance, the Atlantic Ocean can be viewed as the ocean of our grandparents and parents; the Pacific Ocean as the ocean of us and our children; and the Indian Ocean is the ocean of our children and grandchildren”. The shift of the world’s economic centre of gravity towards the Asian continent and the link between geo-economics and the ocean realm has made Indo-Pacific a  integrated geopolitical construct wherein lie tremendous geopolitical opportunities as well as security challenges.

An essential underpinning of the Indo-Pacific idea is the growing eminence of India. Even though the Indo in Indo-Pacific represents the Indian Ocean and not India; the global community especially the United States is projecting India as a major player.

Gurpreet S. Khurana, a maritime strategist and executive director of the National Maritime Foundation in India in 2008, is credited with the first use of the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ in the context of strategic and geopolitical discourse. He elaborated it further in an article, where he said that the term has changed the new strategic mind map since China’s reforms and opening up in the 1980s. The Indo-Pacific Region is broadly understood as ‘the interconnected space between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.’


Stretching from the West Coast of the United States to the West Coast of India, the Indo-Pacific is a 24 nations regional framework comprising the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia. As a framework, the Indo-Pacific seeks to create a connected multipolar region that must be governed by commonly agreed international norms, rules, and practices. However, it is often seen through a highly securitized lens. Washington had previously referred to the region as the Asia-Pacific, but the ‘strategic lexicon’ shifted under Trump.

Asia-Pacific had shaped the image of the community of interest linking the United States and East Asia. On the other hand, ‘Indo-Pacific’ used by Trump means that India, the United States, and other major Asian democracies especially Japan and Australia will join in curbing China in the new framework of growing Cold War influence. The Biden administration also continues to define the region as Indo-Pacific, in line with the US foreign policy response to China’s growing influence.

The region continues to be defined by the competition between Beijing and Washington. Biden characterizes the rivalry between the US and China as ‘the competition of the future’. The US administration has also called the rivalry with China the biggest geopolitical test of the century, largely while expressing concerns about the growing challenges posed by Beijing and threats to US interests in the Indo-Pacific region. Kamala Harris encapsulated it by saying, “I believe that when the history of the 21st century is written, much of it will be centred right here in the Indo-Pacific”.

Biden was of the view that the whole-of-government effort, bipartisan cooperation in Congress, strong alliances and partnerships are required to counter the Chinese challenge. He wants to use the hardline approach to handle relations with China, by building a multilateral front in contrast to Trump’s unilateral approach to counter China.

Interestingly, in the US which is now tackling a 40-year high inflation of 8.6% as food, gas and shelter costs rise, there seems to be a rethink. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the removal of some tariffs on China. Janet Yellen, the U.S. Treasury Secretary, said tariffs on China inherited from the administration of former President Donald Trump served ‘no strategic purpose and added that Biden was considering removing them as a way to bring down inflation.

China is poised to outcompete the US in the Indian and Pacific Oceans in the next two decades due to its strong military and economic presence in the Indo-Pacific Region and even the United States can’t afford to disengage from China. The supply chains and the crisscross of geo-economics and geopolitics is far too integrated to reverse. Beijing, Washington and New Delhi, should cooperate or compete; acute confrontation is not an option.


Pakistan is the theatre of the so-called tri polar great game amongst Beijing, Washington, and New Delhi and perhaps also of the new Cold War. However, the strategic competition is not in the military realm, but in areas like economics, global governance, and technology. The United States largely excludes Pakistan, the Arabian Peninsula, Iran, and the African littoral from its conception of the Indo-Pacific region. For almost two decades, the United States has actively sought to de-hyphenate India from Pakistan as a part of an effort to build ties with New Delhi. China sees Pakistan as a pillar of its South Asian policy, whereas the United States sees Pakistan as a part of its South Asia policy, which is only focused on counter-terrorism and selective engagement. Escaping camp politics for Pakistan is a tall order.  Pakistan must not repeat mistakes of the past; it should draw its own red lines and make sure that it remains committed to its twenty-first century foreign policy response mechanisms.


The writer is Rector MiTE