CRINK in Peace Time

Partha Chakraborty-

Partha Chakraborty

In 2023, I talked about USINIS – the US, India & Israel – a triumphant triumvirate of the democratic aspirations for the free world. I would end the year talking about a resurgent coalition on the opposite side. Torchbearers of autocracy, theocracy, and dynastic rule as they are, this foursome does not intend to stop before they, together, make the four walls collapse on the house of peace, free will, free speech, and religion, and most importantly, agency to control one’s destiny in a free democratic process.

I am talking about a CRINK – China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea – in the fabric of peace that we have woven for decades now.

For years I have been on record calling for a strategy of containment of China – a country led by the Communist Party – as much as I laud their success in lifting hundreds of millions of their people from abject poverty. I acknowledged their success was financed by, and came at a significant cost to, the people of the free world, especially the US. Four decades of unprecedented growth showed signs of slowing down of late, no surprise there. For the Party, however, this attains a prominence far more than elsewhere – their rule of terror and denial survives solely on the promise of better economics; a structural slowdown is a sign of failure of those chosen, not elected, to be at the helm.

Just as autocrats do in a situation like this, the Party looked for scapegoats inside and outside and lured agents of sabotage everywhere. Stories abound of Chinese agents active in the Free World taking advantage of the freedom. China routinely spies on US technology companies, especially in AI, recruits prospective students in US universities, flies balloons over our country while utilizing our infrastructure to communicate, recruits American students both in the US and in Asia, tails US corporate execs and government officials with all-pervasive monitoring that China’s own citizens are already subject to – the list goes on.  In one instance an incoming student in a US university signed up for the US military reserve so that he gets security clearances needed for his targets, NASA, CIA and the like. In another incident they set up overseas ‘police stations’ in US cities to monitor, threaten and possibly kidnap US residents. Now that CIA itself has set up a dedicated monitoring center for China affairs, every week a new story of flagrant Chinese behavior comes to light, including a spy base in Cuba, ninety miles from US shores.

Just like China, Russia is in an economic soup of her own. What could have been a model story of reincarnation post-decades under Communism ended up being a textbook example of favoritism, failure, and inevitable despotic rule under a series of those who did not try for the good of the country. The current all-but-in-name Tsar has been intent on pulling the pendulum as close to the era he grew up in behind the Iron Curtain. Just like China and Russia, the theocratic leadership of Iran is acutely aware of an existential threat from free thoughts coupled with economic malaise that is bound to happen in a sworn enemy of the West. North Korea, to me, represents the worst of the lot – a family rule under Communist hell in a country still scarred from wars decades ago. A paranoid incompetent leader with nothing to keep his flock in check other than chains and a shared hatred will take his people as low as they can go – and then lower – just to ensure he stays in power.

No surprise then that China and Russia have signed on to a friendship “without limits,” lubricated by oil and cash. No surprise then that Russia seeks out armament from North Korea in its own war of aggression, in exchange of nuclear know-how. No surprise then that Iran and Russia signed a de-dollarization pact in the last few days, in effect setting up a non-SWIFT messaging platform, on top of very cordial visits by leaders of each to the other.

Yes, CRINK is starting to form, for real. They are all prepping.

CRINK is already in conflict on multiple fronts against the Free World. I am on record in saying that Oct 7 terrorist attacks were not about Palestinian people, or even about their ‘freedom.’ In three months since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, new localized fronts are about to materialize. Houthi rebels have made commercial freight traffic on the Red Sea at least fifty times more expensive with attacks using Iranian missiles, aided by Iranian espionage capabilities. A sizeable US naval presence in Red Sea and The Mediterranean Sea, on top of existing US presence in the region, keeps the US-led coalition busy. Russia’s war against Ukraine is coming to its third year, sapping up the resilience of the free world, while Russia is newly emboldened with the North Korean arsenal, as well as her legendary capacity to persevere through hell and high winter.

What if, North Korea resumes its strife against South Korea at the same time China invades Taiwan? You will say that I am hallucinating. But really, what if?

What stops the CRINK from opening multiple low-intensity fronts, all at the same time? In contrast to WWII, they may not engage in a blitzkrieg for Fatherland and Lebensraum. Each member of CRINK may snipe away at the edges just enough to keep the US busy and fritter away its munitions, and (wo)men. Busy the US shall be, because other members of the Free World, barring few, are so married to their pacifist ethos that they have lost the will to fight to survive. On the surface CRINK may not even present a single scourge – like Nazism or Holocaust – that could get people riled up a coalition of the willing is formed. Over time, the US will get tired and walk away from some fights and fronts leaving the field open, especially in the Global South.

It is not news that these countries, individually and collectively, desire to bring about a change in a rules-based world order the US championed, and chaperoned, post-WWII. It was no coincidence that, in their current avatar, they are on the opposite side of human progress and peace. It was a matter of time, and opportunity before they came together under a banner. One can argue that we have not seen the flag yet, and I agree, because it is not in their interest. Yet.

I will argue that what we may happen is more insidious – a barrage of (relatively) low-intensity sniping attacks on fronts that are geographically apart, but done in concert, if without a single chaperone to rile up a righteous opposition. You cannot really muster everything you got against this kind of guerilla-esque war of attrition. In many ways they may borrow from the rules of Al Qaeda where silos operate under relative tactical freedom but all tattooed with the same hatred for the ‘Satan.’ Worse, CRINK may fight against different enemies, e.g., Ukraine, Taiwan; win against any one of them is considered win against all.

CRINK members are engaged, even today, in a war of ideals that they know they already lost. In no world, a person can willingly inhale their noxious fumes if not already generating the same; people either are at the zenith with all the benefits thereof, or they are under the boots of those who are at the top. For CRINK this is always, repeat always, an existential dilemma, implying they are ready, willing and able to bet everything. First in their line of fire are their own people, cannon fodder to their canards even today.  Ceding inches to CRINK today will mean newer, and potentially more deadly, offsprings are to spawn for tomorrow’s fights.

CRINK in Peace-Time is distortion, just as a wrinkle in space-time is. CRINK tells us stories of civilizational collisions, past and future. The least we can do is to recognize them as forces of the ‘anti’ as they truly are.  We must recognize the reality as is – that is the first step and an order of the day.

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