Distinguished Lectures Distinguished Lectures

Challenges for India in the emerging International order

  • Distinguished Lectures Detail

    By: Amb (Retd) Suresh Kumar Goel
    Venue: Jadavpur University, Kolkata.
    Date: April 10, 2018

Thank Dr Kakuli Sengupta, Head of the Department of International Relations (IR), Dr Lahiri, Associate Professor in the Department, but most of all the third year students in the Undergraduate programme of IR who are organising this eighth International Relations Scholsitic Conference as an annual event.

Study of IR is acquiring increasing significance in the era of growing globalisation which is taking place despite the trend of increasing clamour for nationalistic and rightist policies in developed world including US and a large part of Europe. Countries calling for globalisation are also often those who have global aspirations, and some of them also become hegemonistic global power like the UK before WW II, the USA after WW II and till now, and China now trying to displace the USA.

References have been made to transition from Westphilian world to a global system led by international and regional organisations like the UN, EU, AU etc.

Westphilia was the European response to the intra Europe contests by defining territorial integrity as the criterion for sovereignty. Global hegemony however requires sovereign influences beyond territorial limits. Even in Asia where civilizational, cultural and customary influences were the elements of sovereignty, and in Africa where tribal affinities transcended territorial boundaries, the Westiphilian Model is actually in contradiction with the norms of political power.

Rapid globalisation of national powers could be the nail in the coffin for Westphilia.

The 21st century International order had witnessed several significant shifts in power equations. It may be too early to label these shifts as cataclysmic. The current decade has seen rapid acceleration in these changes leading to uncertainties in foreign policy outlook even in areas considered the stable core of the international order even during the first decade of the current millennium.

One of the most important shift is from globalization to more nationalistic policies of major powers. USA, even before Trump had begun to turn inwards because of challenges it faced in domestic economic growth, rise of nationalist rightist trends in western world, the challenges faced from instability and terrorism in Afghanistan, the sectarian conflicts in middle east, the Syrian war and tendency from its traditional partners like Turkey to develop new linkages with Russia, Iran and China which would have been considered unlikely just a few years ago.

Election of Trump as President of the USA on the slogan of ‘America first’ solidified these new fault lines. His statements often of a transactional nature have slowly eroded the international stature of the US. Trump’s statement calling for Japan and Korea to take greater responsibility for security in East Asia, compelling Europe to dedicate greater resources to the security structures including NATO and almost a hands off approach to South East Asia has resulted in a kind of vacuum which presents an open invitation to emerging powers to displace USA role internationally. The military, economic and technological might of the USA is unlikely to be challenged for about a decade, the rapidly rising capacity of China in these areas creates little comfort for countries in the region.

It was not more than five years ago that the world had begun to look at China as a country which could challenge the USA as a world power. However, that was more of great admiration for economic and technological accomplishments of China, and just a little wariness about the time when the dragon would actually begun to spew fire. Incidents in the last five years have demonstrated the earlier estimates of at least about two decades that China would take to challenge the USA militarily and technologically have been now telescoped into a decade and perhaps another five years as of the date.

China is now an acknowledged power in cyber technology and artificial intelligence. Its military reach has now gone beyond south China seas and Western Pacific to Indian Ocean sharpening the focus of littoral countries on Indo-Pacific as region of considerable strategic importance. We will talk more about this later.

The recent developments in Korean peninsula have moved at astonishing speed in unexpected directions, creating a mirage of possible peace, stability and reasonably good relations between the two Koreans.While the denuclearization may be chimera, possibilities of the USA accepting North Korea with Nuclear weapons in the region and working on security architecture for East Asia on that premise would not but create uncertain peace for Japan which has always looked at North Korea as a security threat. The recent visit by North Korean President, Kim Jong-un to China which most likely was to keep China closely involved in the Korean dialogue and the future possible summit with Trump, will only compound the Japanese fears of China which could possibly lead to a review of the Japanese defence policies.

India faces unique challenges amidst these complexities.

Growing rapidly, economically and finally acquiring role commensurate with its potential in the region and globally, the foreign policy structure now faces new challenges in its immediate and extended neighborhood.

The main elements of the Indian strategic behavior over the last two decades can be defined as strategic autonomy, Look East Policy which has now change to Act East Policy, immediate neighborhood in South Asia as the area of Indian influence, Indian Ocean extending up-to East Asia and the Eastern Africa as the strategic reach for Indian Power and relations with the USA and the West to provide the heft needed to accomplish these strategic objectives. All of this is now being challenged by the emerging Chinese power and the behavior of its proxies such as Pakistan and Maldives in defying the critical Indian security interests in the regions.

The first indication of China assuming an assertive posture in International relations came when the Chinese President Xi Jinping speaking at Davos immediately after Trump’s election as President on the inner looking America first Policy, announced the willingness of China to work for increasing globalization. This economic globalization has slowly turn into a hegemonistic approach of China to Indo-Pacific region.

One Belt One Road (OBOR) is a clear manifestation of these hegemonistic tendencies. OBOR is essentially an aggregator of bilateral projects which China has with several countries along the belt and the road to strengthen infrastructure projects including roads, railway networks, ports, bases, gas pipelines, transmission lines which would connect China with Europe through surface route or the belt passing through North West of China, Central Asia and on to Europe. Simultaneously, it develops maritime navigational architecture passing through South East Asia, Sri Lanka, Gwadar port in Pakistan and on to Djibouti through Indian Ocean ports in Maldives and Seychelles.

These connectivity related developments would possibly have dual use including the military use and have the potential of blocking maritime access to vital Indian trade routes.

China Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC) which is part of the OBOR or BRI initiative of China not only passes through the Indian Territory occupied by China in Gilgit-Baltistan but it also connects with Gwadar port causing a security threat to India.

The incidents in Doklam illustrated that the countries which have been traditionally depended on the Indian influence for security assurances, may no longer be able to repulse the Chinese aggression. Maldives has clearly illustrated that the Indian Ocean can no longer be considered only Indian and South Asia is no longer the area of Indian reserve.

ASEAN and South East Asia look at India as the security rebalance to China but are afraidto take a lead in challenging an aggressive Chinese behavior in the region. It therefore remains for India to find ways to maintain and strengthen its influence, political, economical and military in the region.

The asymmetry between India and China in almost all areas including economy, technology, infrastructure and military demands a careful and calculative approach by India which must accommodate the Chinese objectives and promote long term Indian interests.

The recent initiatives like QUAD, Asia-Africa growth corridor, our developing links with the African countries, our strengthening relations with USA as the pivot in Indo-Pacific and our Act East policy needs to be seen as a part of Indian efforts to work around this asymmetrical relation with China for long term interests.

I hope to deal with these bilateral issues in Q&A.