The dawn of the new decade is witnessing a steady decline in the economic, political and military strength of the world’s sole superpower, while simultaneously seeing the rise of several emerging powers, notably Brazil, South Africa, India and China (the so-called BASIC countries). In the coming years, Indonesia and Turkey are likely to augment the ranks of the BASIC countries even as the gap between emerging and established powers continues to widen.
As India reasserts itself on the world economic stage for the first time since the 1500s, it will also exercise greater global political and military influence. While it has been a key international actor since its independence in 1947, New Delhi has practised, according to one astute observer, “universalism of the weak”. This was evident in its leadership of the non-aligned movement (NAM), the G-77 and in New Delhi championing the cause of the decolonized in Asia and Africa, which reflected a principled and ideological approach to multilateralism. It also meant that India often sacrificed its own real national interest for the sake of high-minded but unrealistic principles.
However, since the end of the Cold War (which coincided with dramatic economic and political changes in India) New Delhi has reflected, according to the same observer, “internationalism of the strong”, which is apparent in its membership of the G-20, its quest for permanent membership of the United Nations (UN) Security Council and the key role it has been playing in trade and climate negotiations, often at odds with its membership of the G-77 and NAM. Post-Cold War India has reflected a more pragmatic and realpolitik approach to multilateralism. If India’s economic growth continues, as is likely, then this new approach and India’s rising role in international politics will be critical not only for its future, but also for managing the emerging global order.
What would be the primary drivers for India’s foreign and security policy—internal security, regional security, economic and resource security, or domestic politics; or all of them? What kind of role will India play in the articulation of the emerging world order? Will its rise reflect a desire towards exceptionalism at the cost of a values-and rules-based international order? Will it be a rule maker (establishing new multilateral norms and institutions); a rule taker (following existing norms and working within the current world order); or a rule breaker (challenging existing norms and institutions to justify its exceptionalism without necessarily contributing to the creation of new norms or institutions)? Or will India practise all three approaches?
Over the past few years, India has shown greater propensity as a rule taker and rule breaker than as a rule maker. The first is most apparent in its support of the peacekeeping and peace-building operations of the UN, where it has adhered to established norms, notably in Africa, even though they have been found to be wanting. Will New Delhi be willing to push more effective and alternative norms for peacekeeping and peace-building?
The second has been most evident in nuclear non-proliferation, where it has sought to establish its exceptionalism by challenging the norm of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Recently, however, India has also sought to become a rule taker in the same sphere by seeking membership of the NSG, the Wassenaar arrangement, the Australia group and the Missile Technology Control regime, even though it had previously dismissed them as “technology cartels”.
In the coming years, India will also have to establish its credentials as a rule maker if it is to play a significant role in managing the global order. The UN Security Council membership provides a useful opportunity to achieve this. Whether New Delhi will realize its potential to do so remains to be seen.
W Pal Sidhu is vice-president of programmes at the East West Institute, New York. He writes on strategic affairs every fortnight.
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