UPSC Courses

DNA banner


  • 09 May, 2020

  • 10 Min Read

Shaping India’s response in a global hinge moment

Shaping India’s response in a global hinge moment

By, Shivshankar Menon is a former National Security Adviser. A longer version of this argument appeared in “India’s Foreign Affairs Strategy”, Brookings India Impact Series, May 2020

New Geopolitical situation in Asai Pacific

India finds itself in an increasingly dangerous world, one that is fragmenting and slowing down economically.

We are today in a new geopolitical situation, caused primarily by the rise of China, India and other powers — Indonesia, South Korea, Iran, Vietnam — in a crowded Asia-Pacific, which is the new economic and political centre of gravity of the world.

Rapid shifts in the balance of power in the region have led to arms races and to rising uncertainty, also fuelled by the unpredictability, disengagement and the transactional “America First” attitude of United States President Donald Trump.

China-U.S. strategic contention is growing, uninhibited so far by their economic co-dependence.

The World faces a destabilising power transition which may or may not be completed. It is a hinge moment in the international system.

Strategic autonomy

What should India’s response be to the new situation? Fear leads some to suggest alliances. Some Indians are so worried by what they see as an unstoppable China that they advocate that India enter into an alliance with the U.S.

India is much greater and more resilient than these people think.

There is a common thread running through the foreign and security policies of successive governments of India has been the pursuit of strategic autonomy for India.

This is a world that calls for creative diplomacy and flexibility, adjusting to the fast-changing balance of power and correlation of forces around us. An alliance seems to be exactly the wrong answer.

The Doklam crisis of 2017 is only the most recent example that shows that no one else is ready to deal with India’s greatest strategic challenge — China. It saw a tepid reaction from the rest of the world. To expect anything else is unreasonable.

The China question

China’s rise is the foremost challenge and also an opportunity for India. The big question, of course, is how to handle China.

One possibility is to engage China bilaterally to see whether the two countries can evolve a new modus vivendi(peaceful coexistence), to replace the one that was formalised in the 1988 Rajiv Gandhi visit.

That framework is no longer working and the signs of stress in the relationship are everywhere.

The more India rises, the more it must expect Chinese opposition, and it will have to also work with other powers to ensure that its interests are protected in the neighbourhood, the region and the world.

The balance will keep shifting between cooperation and competition with China, both of which characterise that relationship.

The important thing is the need to rapidly accumulate usable and effective power, even while the macro balance will take time to right itself.

The new modus vivendi between India-China would require a high-level strategic dialogue between the two sides about their core interests, red lines, differences and areas of convergence.

The U.S. is an essential partner for India’s transformation.

But it is withdrawing from the world, less certain as to how it will choose to deal with China. Certainly, U.S. will no longer be the upholder of international order, economic or political, and seems to have tired of that role.

India must work with other powers to ensure that its region stays multi-polar and that China behaves responsibly.

Double opportunity awaits

We are living in a time when there is a deep sense of strategic confusion.

In India’s case, that confusion extends to it being not just about the ultimate goal India’s foreign policy should pursue but also over the best means to achieve them.

Indians seem to mistake controlling the narrative with creating outcomes, which is the real task of foreign policy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared a goal of India to be a ‘Vishwa guru’, or world teacher, which is still a long way away when it is an importer of knowledge and technology.

Nor is it clear that this status will actually contribute to transforming the lives of India’s citizens, though it might satisfy the ego.

Double oppurtunity

Inida also has a moment of double opportunity if it changes its ways. Tactically, China-U.S. contention — which is structural and, therefore, likely to continue for some time with a paradigm shift away from cooperation to increasing contention, despite temporary deals and “victories” declared by one or both — opens up opportunities and space for other powers.

Both China and the U.S. will look to put other conflicts and tensions on the back burner while they deal with their primary concern, the other. This effect is already perceptible in the Wuhan meeting between China’s President Xi Jinping and Mr. Modi in early 2018, and the apparent truce and dialling back of rhetoric by both India and China, even though this does not extend to a new strategic framework or understanding or to a settlement of outstanding issues.

Today, India is more dependent on the outside world than ever before. It relies on the world for energy, technology, essential goods like fertilizer and coal, commodities, access to markets, and capital.

Way Ahead

India risks missing the bus to becoming a developed country if it continues business and politics as usual, or tries to imitate China’s experience in the last 40 years, does not adapt, and does not manage its internal social and political churn better.

The most important improvement that India needs to make concerns its national security structures and their work — introducing flexibility into India’s thinking and India’s structures.

For change is the only certainty in life.

Source: TH

Great Barrier Reef’s Recovery and Vulnerability

Great Barrier Reef’s Recovery and Vulnerability An annual long-term monitoring report on the Great Barrier Reef's recovery and susceptibility to climate threats was just made public by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). In-water and airborne methods are used to survey the reefs. Key finding   &n

Council of Scientific and Industrial Research

Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Nallathamby Kalaiselvi, a senior electrochemical scientist, has been named the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research's first female Director General. Her appointment is for a period of two years with effect from the date of assumption of charge of the post or until further orders, w

Significance OF Tribes

Significance OF Tribes Every year on August 9th, there is a celebration known as World Tribal Day or International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. Its objectives are to advance and defend the rights of all indigenous peoples worldwide and to recognize their contributions to global issues like environmental preservation. Back

Pharmacopoeia Commission for Indian Medicine

Pharmacopoeia Commission for Indian Medicine The Pharmacopoeia Commission for Indian Medicine & Homoeopathy (PCIM&H) has been formed by the Indian government as a subsidiary office under the Ministry of Ayush.  The Pharmacopoeia Commission of Indian Medicine & Homoeopathy (PCIM&H) and the two central laboratories, Homoeo

Governing Telecommunication in India

Governing Telecommunication in India The Ministry of Communication, Department of Telecommunications (DoT) recently issued an invitation for comments regarding the requirement to update the legal framework governing the telecom sector. It also published a consultation document in which it advocated for the creation of a new legal framework th


Search By Date

Newsletter Subscription
SMS Alerts