Archive for May 29th, 2012

The Emerging “Contra-Polar” World

By  C.  Uday  Bhaskar

The emerging international global order to my mind is better described as a polycentric heptagon – an uneven seven-sided polygon  comprising the United States, Russia, China, the EU, India, Japan and Brazil. The USA, EU and Japan represent one strategic entity with shared security interests; Russia and China are conscious of their non-Western orientation; and India and Brazil  are the equivalent of swing states  that  have the potential  to acquire greater relevance in the heptagon.

The rise of the “rest” would imply the four non-Western members viz: Russia, China, India and Brazil – which also form the BRIC group. Collectively the cumulative comprehensive power index of the US-led grouping will be  of a higher order for the next two decades.  The re-ordering will occur as and when China overtakes the USA as the world’s most prosperous nation by way of overall GDP — and how Japan / East Asia responds to this change.

The US-led international order, and the selective interpretation of what constitutes “liberal” as well as the exigencies under which certain values are to be protected, will be either resisted or challenged by the “rest” – but in an uneven, issue-based manner. To that extent, it may be in order to qualify the emerging global ambiance as a “contra-polar” world, where contradictory policy pursuits and contrarian impulses are the norm.

This would be a sharp contrast to the black-and-white binary division of the Cold War.  A heptagon  covered by a gray sheen may be the more valid characterization of the emerging global environment consequent to the “rise of the rest.”

Asian geopolitics will be critical for the texture of the emerging contra-polar world in which the China-Japan-India triangle will subsume these complexities and contradictions. Will the imperative of globalization as manifest in trade, commerce and investment be the principal consideration for bilateral relations — or will emotive nationalism roil the triangle?  Will the United States be a quiet spectator as China seeks to create a unipolar Asia?  Will the rise of China be as peaceful as Beijing would like the world to believe, or is there a revisionist agenda that will be progressively unveiled?  The contestation in the South China Sea could well be the bellwether for the posture that China will adopt in the future.

Thus China’s profile (by way of comprehensive national power) and the manner in which it orients itself — as supporting the existing status quo, or pursuing a revisionist  path to maximize Chinese interests — will define the degree to which the international order is under threat, or being challenged.  Path dependency will be an important determinant and here the “swing” stance adopted by Russia, India, and Brazil apropos China’s posture will be of considerable salience.

While the BRIC nations have a correspondence by way  of being more in the “developing nation” category than in the  G-7 / high per-capita grouping, their strategic interests are often at variance and exude latent adversarial traits.  The Russia-China-India relationship is illustrative.

Within Asia, the deeper tussle is whether authoritarianism as represented by China is the more viable model for the future – or whether democratic dissonance and disorder as manifest in India will be the proverbial tortoise that will finally prevail.

Managing contradictory compulsions is the challenge for the heptagon and invoking the principle of quantum computing may not be invalid.  The Western world is undergoing a process of transmutation – and certain rhythms and  practices will  have to change since they are unsustainable.  Lifestyle rhythms and consumption practices are already under strain and the changes that are on the anvil are being driven from within.

On the external front, the revisionist impulse that will challenge the existing international order is more likely to come from China, which has chosen a very different value system and where the concept of being “liberal” has negative connotations. The strategic culture associated with China is indicative of a deep-rooted conviction (certitude?) that the post-1949, Mao-derived  model is the more successful – and is to be deified, defended and propagated when the time is opportune.

India, on the other hand, may be a resistant power – in the sense that it can resist change or stricture if  applied to it – and these are traits associated with the pachyderm.  But its distinctive strategic culture is more reactive and empathetic with the status quo that in principle supports the liberal, democratic order.

C. Uday Bhaskar is a Fellow at the National Maritime Foundation, Delhi and Adviser, South Asia Monitor.

From the draft Global Trends 2030 report:

Will the United States be able to work with new partners to reinvent the international system, carving out new roles in an expanded world order? How the US evolves over the next 15-20 years—a big uncertainty—will be among the most important variables in shaping the  international order.

The United States’ relative economic decline vis-a-vis the rising states is inevitable and already occurring, but Washington’s future role in the international system is much harder to assess. An economically restored US—the likeliest scenario—would be a “plus” in terms of the capability of the international system to deal with major global challenges during the long transitional period to a fully multipolar world, although a strong US would not alone guarantee that the growing global challenges were met. A weak and defensive US, on the other hand, would increase the chances of a dysfunctional international system.

Even as the United States’ economic weight is overtaken by China—perhaps as early as the 2020s based on several forecasts—the US most likely will remain primus inter pares among the other great powers in 2030 because of its preeminence across a range of power dimensions and legacies of its leadership role. Nevertheless, with the rapid rise of multiple other powers, the “unipolar moment” is over and Pax Americana—the era of unrivalled American ascendancy in international politics that began in 1945—is fast winding down.

By Pramit Pal Chaudhuri

All geopolitics is local. India’s long-term foreign policy vision will ultimately reflect its domestic political system. And the political choice the country has made is to be a democratic polity, even if it still has a lot of warts. How then do we explain India’s reticence to be a promoter of liberal values and position itself as a democratic nation?

I argue this reflects a combination of factors.

  • One, India’s poverty has made its populace see democracy as a functional choice rather than an ideological one. Until economic reforms took place, there was a sense democracy was a necessary burden. There is evidence this attitude is changing among a younger generation.
  • Two, India’s relative weakness militarily and limited capacity in other areas meant it was willing to compromise on democracy and values if security interests were at stake. This pattern can be discerned in its Burma policy, dealings with neighbors like Sri Lanka and, most obviously, in its relations with Russia and China.
  • Three, India’s political leadership is conscious that it is forging a nation – and that it is roughly at the stage of a 19th -century Western nation. Again, these local motivations can override its better instincts overseas, as seen in its tentative response to the Arab spring.

Otherwise, the Indian establishment is clear in its support for liberal international institutions. India wants to modify the present world order but never to overthrow it.

Pramit Pal Chaudhuri is Foreign Editor of the Hindustan Times.

By Stephen Szabo

The rise of the rest has to be to more clearly classified as that part of the non-West which is democratic and that which is not.  India and Brazil fall into the first category with China and Russia clearly in the second. This distinction is an important one as values matter in foreign policy.  The West is not simply a geopolitical alliance based on interests, for if it was it would have disintegrated with the end of the Soviet threat. The fact is that the West does exist and continues to do so based on its shared values in open political systems and its shared vision of a broader liberal international order.

As Vaclav Havel reminded the West during the Cold War, the nature of the domestic political system of a state has important consequences for its foreign policy; the prospect of the replacement of a democratic hegemon by one based on state capitalism and authoritarianism has important international consequences.  The hegemony of the West which characterized the Cold War and immediate Cold War period is now over.  The West is facing a serious challenge to its economic and political predominance and it is possible the Western moment in human history will come to an end in this century.

The growing role of China is clearly the most significant challenge to the liberal international order to emerge since the shaping of the Bretton Woods institutions. China is a deeper and more serious challenge to the liberal order than was the Soviet Union. The West cannot contain the PRC as easily as it did the USSR, because the military dimension is not the only dimension of Chinese power and its economic success has enveloped and divided the West. As its economic power grows (it is growing more rapidly than the NIC in its earlier studies anticipated), its political and soft power will grow with it. It stands a good chance of offering an alternative to the liberal international model of the West.

It is a mistake to view the China threat as predominantly a military one; if the United States does so it will risk exacerbating its military and fiscal overstretch.  That the rise of China is occurring during a period of crisis and relative decline of the West only makes the consequences more serious and imminent. The fragmentation of Europe, which will be the consequence of the Eurozone financial crisis, allows China the option of playing off Europeans against each other and further fragmenting the EU as an international actor and partner of the United States.

Chinese policies toward Syria in the UN Security Council are a sign of what is to come and how major liberal international institutions will be marginalized.  This applies not only to the UN but also to the IMF and the World Bank, as the money China will have to offer for financial bailouts and development aid will dwarf those of these international institutions.

India remains the only other major contender for emerging power status that can reshape the world system.  While it will not see itself as part of the West, its democratic system and open society makes it a potential partner of the West.  This will combine with its security interests as it seeks to balance a rising China — a country with which it has longstanding territorial disputes which could intensify as the competition for natural resources and the leadership of Asia grows.

Whether India will see its values and interests in the expansion of the international liberal order to include itself, or whether it will be tempted by the legacy of Third World neutralism, will be one of the fundamental questions of this century.  Yet the prospects of India joining the West are real, while the possibility of China taking this view are much more remote.

What is clear is that the West must reconstitute and revitalize itself in order to remain at the core of the liberal international order and to slowly expand that core out. The fact that this remains an era of democracies and democratization offers hope for the western model and its prospects for enlargement. The West must regain a sense of self-confidence and unity if it is to offer a model for the emerging new international order.

Stephen F. Szabo is Executive Director of the Transatlantic Academy at the German Marshall Fund of the United States