A new world order?

The second decade of the 21st century is about to dawn. Since the end of the Cold War, nearly two decades ago, India’s policymakers have deftly managed to cope with the significant changes in the global order. They crossed the nuclear Rubicon, ably dealt with its subsequent (and inevitable) fallout, opened the hidebound economy to

foreign investment and improved relations with a host of countries ranging from the United States to Israel. These achievements were far from trivial and are indeed worthy of commendation.
That said, India’s foreign policy is again at a turning point and its policymakers can ill-afford to rest on their laurels. The country is in dire need of a grand strategy but thus far no policymaker, regardless of political persuasion, has managed to sketch out the outlines thereof. In this context, it might be useful to recall that during much of the Cold War, India did have a grand strategy, namely, non-alignment. It is possible to argue that the strategy may have ill-served India after a particular moment or that it took on a chimerical quality after India’s forging of a strategic partnership with the then Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the doctrine did provide India’s policymakers an intellectual lodestar. Today, the most that India’s policymakers can proffer is a foreign policy based on “enlightened self-interest”.
Such a principle may be useful as a tactical guide but is hardly a substitute for a grand strategy. The challenges that India faces both in its immediate neighbourhood and beyond cannot be dealt with through a reliance on this concept that really does not rise beyond the level of a shibboleth. Instead the country’s political and diplomatic leadership now needs to think of a wider and deeper set of guidelines and precepts to fashion India’s foreign policy.
To that end they need to think of what kind of world order might India envisage that could best secure and enhance its national interests. Mere slogans will not serve as a substitute for political vision. For example, since the Cold War’s end, on a number of occasions, key Indian policymakers have expressed a desire for a multi-polar world order. In effect, this plea has been little more than a euphemism for a world where the US does not emerge and remain as the sole, surviving superpower. The sources of the aversion to American dominance are well known. They stem, in most part, from India’s fractious relationship with the US during much of the Cold War.
Yet this unease with American global pre-eminence is misplaced. Would a multi-polar world order, with a number of powerful states which are either indifferent to or implacably hostile toward India’s key national security interests, be necessarily preferable to American dominance? Obviously, there is no easy answer to this question. Nevertheless, it is precisely one that India’s policymakers must confront and address.
What then might be the outlines of a new Indian grand strategy? Obviously, it must be aimed at preserving what India deems to be its core national values and interests. Given its multi-religious and poly-ethnic status, the country must preserve its commitment to secularism and cultural pluralism. Simultaneously, despite myriad challenges from both within and without, it needs to preserve its liberal democratic dispensation. An illiberal India is simply not a sustainable political order. Protecting democracy at home will also require maintaining a well-prepared but limited military capability. Finally, it must be able to sustain its path of economic growth while ensuring that it also succeeds in lifting untold numbers of its populace who remain mired in dire and abject poverty. If these four issues constitute India’s critical interests it must accordingly seek to fashion a global order that best protects them.
To that end, the country needs to stand up to the myriad challenges to secular and liberal democratic regimes the world over from atavistic and obscurantist social forces which both states and non-state actors have nurtured and unleashed. This will require forging closer bonds with states that share these fundamental values while maintaining little more than transactional links with others that do not but are crucial to addressing various material concerns. For example, there is little need to extol India’s putative “civilisational ties” to Iran when pursuing a relationship that is mostly based on the exigent need for cheap hydrocarbon resources. Nor, for that matter, should it be necessary to fete Burma/Myanmar’s scrofulous rulers to ensure that their country does not become a People’s Republic of China satellite.
Given India’s troubled neighbourhood and the many uncertainties associated with the seemingly inexorable rise of India’s behemoth neighbour, the PRC, the country will also need to maintain requisite military forces to ensure that its territorial integrity and its maritime resources are not at risk now or in the foreseeable future. Simultaneously, its policymakers will need to confront the prospect of using India’s forces beyond its shores as the country’s global profile continues to rise.
Finally, sustaining India’s domestic economic growth path, which has made possible much-needed military modernisation, will also require it to play a greater and more imaginative role in the higher realms of international trade and finance. Accordingly, India needs to become a more assertive player in the G20 and speak up about under-valued currencies, structural trade barriers and the reliance upon dubious financial instruments.
This outline of a grand strategy is hardly a panacea for the challenges that a rising India faces. However, they do provide the rudiments of a grand strategy as the country enters a new and potentially exciting decade but one fraught with multiple challenges.

Sumit Ganguly is director of research at the Center on American and Global Security, Indiana University, Bloomington

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