Event Reports

India needs to develop grand strategy


India needs to develop a long term strategic vision and a grand strategy for what kind of a global power it would like to become and for what purpose it would use that power, said Dr. T.V.Paul, Professor of International Relations, McGill University, Canada, during a talk at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi.

He said India should seriously ponder over the purpose and the use of power in the global system, as power without purpose could be a wasted opportunity.

Dr. Paul said India should also not shy away from promoting its soft power and advancing its democratic values in the emerging world order.

The talk on ‘Accommodating Rising Powers in World Politics’ and the subsequent discussion was chaired by Mr. HHS Viswanathan, Distinguished Fellow, ORF and a former diplomat. He said current great powers would have to accommodate the rise of countries like China and India. Without accommodating rising powers, the institutions that enabled the old world order would be rendered ineffective. The existing world order is outdated as it is essentially an outcome of the institutions that were created by the victors of World War II.

The talk covered issues like ‘can rising powers like China and India be accommodated into the emerging international order? Can power transitions happen peacefully without the outbreak of war? Does India have a Grand Strategy?’.

Dr. Paul began his talk by stating that the process of globalisation, the rise of the BRICS and the need to solve collective action problems like climate change and free trade are the driving forces behind the need for accommodating rising powers. In the context of a rising China and its current tensions with the U.S., he cited the concept of the ‘Thucydides Trap’ as a useful trope in examining the current state of U.S.-China relations. He then went on to elaborate how newly rising powers could be accommodated into the global order and cited case studies of how other powers have been accommodated in the past. Accommodation involves the ‘mutual adaptation and acceptance by established and rising powers and the elimination or substantial reduction of hostility between them’. It involves four key components: Adjustments to the status of rising powers, sharing of leadership roles through institutional privileges, establishment of a ‘warm peace’, not just absence of war and playing by a set of mutually accepted norms and values.  There are several forms of accommodation that are possible within the context of global power politics.

Varieties of accommodation

Dr. Paul enumerated different forms of accommodation and cautioned that in the past non-violent accommodation was a rare event. The Indo-U.S. nuclear deal of 2005 was a clear case of ‘symbolic accommodation’ which assigned some semblance of status to a rising power like India. The accommodation of the U.S. as a great power by the U.K. in the late 19th and early 20th century involved ‘full accommodation’ of a newly rising power into the existing world order. The case of Brazil and South Africa illustrates ‘Region specific Accommodation’. Dr. Paul gave the examples of the U.S.-USSR (post-1945) and that of U.S -China in the 1970s as the two cases of ‘partial accommodation’. The world has also witnessed the non-accommodation of defeated powers as was the case with Japan and Germany after World War 11. The U.S. failure to accommodate Russia and the NATO expansion strategy that followed the cold war has essentially led to the geopolitical belligerence of Russia under Putin.

Grand strategies for peaceful change

Dr. Paul warned that international relations theories have been notoriously weak in explaining power transitions in world politics. He posed the question as to whether peaceful change was even possible. Therefore, the challenge before the international community and the current great powers is to figure out how to foster habits of coexistence among the different types of powers, reduce points of tension and enable mutual recognition of power and status aspirations of the various powers.

He proposed five grand strategies for peaceful accommodation of rising powers. First, ‘Economic Accommodation’ involves inculcating deep interdependence between the status quo power and the rising powers. Such a strategy would render conflict unthinkable given the costs involved in the outbreak of conflict. Second, ‘Institutional Accommodation’ involves effective participation by rising powers in global institutions. ‘Ideological/Normative Accommodation’ is possible when the challenger accepts some of the core norms and frameworks that have been instituted by the dominant power and when regional states also accept the transition as legitimate. ‘Territorial Accommodation’ in the new world order is not about territorial expansion per se and aggrandizement of power that comes with it, but enlarging a state’s ‘sphere of influence’ outside its borders. When is Accommodation viewed as appeasement?  Unilateral territorial accommodation could be viewed as a form of appeasement.

Strategies of rising powers

The fundamental challenges in today’s world include the acceleration of economic globalisation and the interdependence it entails, safeguarding the norms of territorial integrity, rapid advancements in the field of military technology and the curtailment of intense nationalism and expansionist ideologies that could derail any moves towards peaceful transition. Countries like India and China have harboured a deep sense of historical hurt and injustice and a desire for revanchism. In some ways, the ability to navigate the contours of internal political order in their societies would determine their rise.

China faces several problems as a rising power. First, China’s conflictual relationship with its neighbours and other Asian states is unlikely to go away. If China becomes too assertive in its claims over the South China sea, such a strategy could backfire. China has little in common with other democratic Asian states and too much assertiveness and any miscalculation or misperception about U.S. intentions could thwart its peaceful accommodation.

India is well positioned to take advantage of the trends shaping the emerging world order. India has bright chances for peaceful accommodation as it shares many of the goals of the existing ideological and normative order. However, he wondered if India was ready to assume a leadership role in shaping the new world order. Any signs of creeping intolerance in domestic politics could derail its chances and so India’s role in shaping the global order is very much a work in progress.

As the ‘Warrior State’ with an army that continues to be emboldened by outsized ambitions and achieving ‘parity’ with India, Dr. Paul noted that Pakistan could play the role of the spoiler in obstructing India’s rise as a regional and global power. Pakistan will continue to use ‘Jihad’ as an asymmetric strategy to threaten Indian interests because sponsorship of terrorism has proven to be a relatively cost effective strategy in confronting a bigger power like India.

In conclusion, he said that avoiding major wars is in everyone’s interest as otherwise even winners will be crippled and small states could end up losing their sovereignty.

(This report is prepared by Ramesh Balakrishnan, Research Intern, Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)