By Lt Gen VK Chaturvedi (Retd)
“This decade is a very important one, just like the decade after the Second World War, unlike earlier, we are not going to be a mute spectator. We will rise to the occasion based on our traditions and ideals of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”
– Narendra Modi
The world in general and India in specific seems to be at an inflection point. While addressing the meeting of NDA leaders, PM Narendra Modi had said that after the pandemic, a new world order is about to take shape and India will have a big role to play in the emerging order.
Covid-19 seems to be a catalyst of trends that were precipitating pre-Covid, rather than being a ‘turning point’. The trends which were building up pre-Covid period have only been speeded up to bring about an effective world order.
Illusion of Bipolarity and Multipolarity
After great leaps taken by countries like China in the economic and military fields, there seems to be an end of the US-led unipolar world. The other competing alternatives such as Russia have not come up to the expectations and Japan also seems to have faltered in the opportunity to be a power centre.
While China may have seemed to be trying to compete with the US to emerge as a world leader, recent trends with regards to their involvement in the Covid spread portends that it might be losing its credibility and hence, the confidence of the major countries of the world in accepting China as a reliable and trustworthy nation in world comity of nations. Thus, at present, it seems that China’s chances of emerging as a pole of bipolarity seems to be less likely.
In a multi-polar world, India has been looked at with admiration and as a champion of humanitarian values. Presently, India is emerging as a big player in the Indo-Pacific and the Asian region. But, we have a long way to go before we are accepted as a global world power.
The UN Security Council structure of five permanent members does not represent the world barring two regions (North America and Europe). Other regions are either underrepresented (like Asia) or not represented at all (Africa, Latin America and the small island developing states).
There are no regulatory mechanisms for global common issues like the Internet, space, high seas (beyond the EEZ-exclusive economic zone) and no unanimity on how to deal with some of most important criticalities like terrorism, climate change, cyber-security, and public health (as is evident from the current pandemic).
The misuse of the veto power by the permanent five member countries to serve their strategic interest and the interests of their allies is not hidden from anyone. India being the largest democracy of the world and a shining example of harmony in Asia must be part of the ‘Big Five’ or the extended Security Council.
The potential of India has still not dawned upon us. The elephant that we are, we are still to come of age and realise our full potential. Thus, multi-polarity in the true sense is still some time away.
Inadequacies of Legacy leverages
The world order is required to be managed and guided through organizations such as the UN. However, it has fallen much below the expectations in influencing the turn of events in the world. The role of UN and institutions like WHO, who should have been leading from the front in tackling the most severe crisis that the world has faced since the World War II has come under serious scrutiny.
There seem to be a realisation of large inadequacies in their effectiveness. The felt need of re-structuring, review, and even to go in for a major surgery of these organizations are being seriously considered.
Another important issue which emerged and has been accelerated with recent experiences of Doklam, Galwan and happenings in Eastern Ladakh is the fact that, for the first time India finds itself dealing with a major superpower at its borders.
The Indian national defence policy has in the past catered to dealing with a distant superpower and never in its immediate vicinity. For the first time after the 1962 war, we are being tested at such a scale at our borders.
The way India has reacted with maturity, firmness, decisiveness while at the same time ensuring that it preserves and safeguards its territorial integrity and sovereignty has been commendable and has been appreciated the world over. India’s image of a peace-loving country, while at the same time, not willing to compromise its national interests has taken a big leap. The geopolitical situation in the region has changed in India’s favour.
Breakout from Neighbourhood
India seemed to be fettered with the neighbourhood much to the liking of the rising superpowers. Regional dynamics are changing and our relationship with our neighbourhood and our role as a major power in the region need a review about Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.
Pakistan: Undeniably, despite whatever happens in the world, Pakistan remains to be a major factor for our foreign and national security concerns. External and internal interference by Pakistan drains precious security and economic resources. This is the unfinished agenda of Partition which has continued to play negatively in our national security discourse daily for the last 70 years.
Pakistan will be an irritant until some maturity comes in their political and military system. We may like to ignore Pakistan but it’s a thorn which will continue to prick. Therefore, we need to constantly monitor the happenings on this front.
The approach with Pakistan must be from direct to indirect. We must convey a direct message but using indirect means. Internal turmoil, China-Pakistan disenchantment, economic bankruptcy, breakaway from Islamic ‘ummah’, raising issues of Baluchistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and Sindh at every forum, are some of the fissures available. Pakistan policy should focus on the ‘pre-empting-preventing-deterring-and finally compelling’.
Nepal and Bhutan: Nepal and Bhutan are nations which have ethnic and cultural relations and even family roots with India. However, the relations have been somewhat frozen and overtly unidirectional. China has been attempting for long and seems to have succeeded in creating a crack in the strong relations that India cherishes with both these nations.
Nepal with ‘map diplomacy’ has been upping the ante, presumably at the behest of China. Bhutan, however, is much more inclined to India and has been aligned with Indian foreign policy guidelines. However, during Doklam, 2017, the deafening silence of the Bhutanese government was indicative of something missing in the Indo-Bhutanese discourse. This may have been as part of the overall design of the two countries.
Despite the counter logic, the lack of popular opinion being articulated unambiguously created some doubts. There has been speculation of secretive understanding between Bhutan and China. Indian security policy in respect of Bhutan and Nepal must be re-set as the ties with both these countries are extremely strong and cannot be broken.
Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar: Myanmar holds the key in opening our gates to the East and South-East Asia. However, the recent military coup seems to have dampened the engagements. Myanmar is critical and India must play a constructive role. India has cultural and social linkages with Myanmar and most of the regional countries like Cambodia. Large Buddhist presence in South Asia and Sri Lanka are some of the important converging aspects which must harnessed and built upon.
Bangladesh was borne out of blood and pain of its Indian ‘bandhus’. The Bangladesh people were misled away from India through treacherous propaganda. However, the present government of Sheikh Hasina, the courageous daughter of ‘Banga Bandhu’ Mujibur Rehman, has been instrumental in ‘proactive and positive’ re-engagements with India.
Celebrating ‘Vijay Diwas’ exchange programme between war veterans, etc are some of the symbolisms whose relevance cannot be missed. Ethnically and socially, there is a large connect between both the countries. Regional cooperation or alignments such as SAARC are frozen in time and are unlikely to deliver.
The relations with Sri Lanka also have ethnic, religious and cultural links. We have in the past made some glaring mistakes which have resulted in China making its entry in our neighborhood. The control of China in Hambantota is going to remain an irritant in the future. However, Sri Lanka is realising that China is very cunningly driving them into the debt trap. India must take advantage of the situation and play a positive role to win the trust, faith, and confidence of people of Sri Lanka.
Assertive National Resolve
India’s foreign policy and security policy seems to be coming of age. After recent incidents such as Balakot, abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A in J&K, ‘national security’ and ‘nationalism’ seem to be currently our guiding principles. It can also be seen that India is proactively pursuing and very effectively tackling its national security threats. Thus, it can easily be summarised that there is a shift in our national security execution.
This is the new normal with US and China leading the pack. Cyber, digital and space are some of the areas of immense development. Covid has accelerated cyber security challenges. The future will be guided by powers that will be leading technological developments.
Covid also leaves space for “beneath the skin surveillance” for the first time. We are in the arena of ‘hyper surveillance’ data management apps. Across the world, for the first time these apps are providing access to our inner feelings and emotions. Therefore the age of national security overpowering individual security is now a possibility. There were apps already available to identify ‘where you are’, ‘what you are interested in’ and now we have for the first time an app on ‘how you feel’. Technology will be a major player in the emerging world order. India because of a very large pool of trained population in this field has a tremendous advantage.
Our pride like Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella and many more are today calling the shots and influencing the decisions at the highest levels in many important and influential countries of the world. We need to showcase and tap the potential of such Indians and continue to lay more importance in developing ‘centres of excellence’ in technology to include science, cyber space, aerospace, and nano technology etc.
Dealing with the Emerging World Order
First of all, let us understand the present impact in the geopolitical landscape in particular reference to India. Does India maintain the status of being a swing state? Though to a limited extent, India does seem to matter to the global powers, but in the larger context, the issue is still debatable, basically for two reasons. First the economic strength of China, and second, despite the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ call, given by our Prime Minister, the reality remains that import substitution from China is not possible in the near or immediate future.
Militarily, there is no alternative to being strong, self-reliant, and assertive in dealing with security challenges. The only way one can preserve the sanctity and sovereignty of its borders and make meaningful contribution in the affairs of the world is to be strong militarily and economically. ‘Make in India’ must be the way ahead.
The execution of ‘Make in India’ should be with great sincerity and intelligence. It is important to identify, what and how the defence industry would be energised. What could be produced indigenously and what can be produced in India through TOT (Transfer of Technology). Both are okay and must be implemented in a very coordinated manner. Large-scale and niche technology are the two pillars on which industry should be based over the next few years. Corporatized ammunition factories for cutting down foreign dependence must be undertaken with industries that are most reliable and trustworthy.
QUAD (Quadrilateral Strategic and Security Dialogue): Non-Alignment in the current context is not a very viable option. It was pertinent to adopt the non-alignment policy when the nation was in the nascent stage and we were still to identify our friends. But in today’s context, we must review the policy and align with countries who are willing to stand with us, trust us and whose geopolitical landscape favours our national interests. Therefore, alliances like QUAD are critical military and strategic alliances and are in our national interest.
The growth versus security debate must be suitably refined and accordingly balanced to tilt towards the security and strategic balance. The formation of QUAD alliance, though presently it is in the evolving phase, has a charter beyond security considerations. Thus, India must develop muscle both militarily and economically to ensure that it matters in the world.
World Opinion Operations (WOO), HADR (Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief), vaccine development and its provisioning to the needy and economic growth are threads for wooing the world at this critical stage. The present pandemic has brought to fore the pharmaceutical prowess of India. We are today termed as the ‘pharmacy of the world’. India has further reinforced its ‘Vasudeva kutumbakam’ nature by extending a helping hand to all the nations in this hour of Covid crisis.
The world has been praising the positive role of India in helping the many countries in this hour of crisis. Many important countries of the world today are discussing the origin of the corona virus and attributing it to the ill-intentions of China. This is the New India which matters to the world. India through its selfless ‘vaccine diplomacy’ has won many hearts.
The World Seeks India
Covid is emerging to be an opportunity to make a whole new beginning—the great Reset. We can draw analogies from Germany and Japan which had a miraculous rebuilding after WW II. Manufacturing should be the pivotal parameter. It is an inflection point, hard decisions must be taken, options are either to follow the world and become a back office/ancillary factory or to take a leap of faith and embark on groundbreaking technology.
India will have to lead the regional economic engagements and the countries of the world today seek to be associated with India. The trust, faith, and confidence that every country has in India are unparalleled and amazing. We must assume the leadership role wherever it is offered as we will only do the best. We need to select best minds to lead the policy formulation and most importantly its execution.
Increase our reach in developing nations: Regional economic alliances are important since not only they give us economic strength but also harmonise their interests with ours in the longer run. Diversify into niche technology. Invite dual-use technology and give priority to the fields of space and cyber as these are the emerging new areas of technology. Further, we need to invest in defence production in a big way to give boost to the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’.
World after Covid: It is being appreciated that Europe will emerge as most adversely affected after the Covid. China and the US are re-aligning themselves presently. Europe has realised its shortcomings, such as overindulgence in JIT (Just in Time) supply chain approach which has failed, and secondly, its technological progress is misguided. India provides a huge potential in the consumer market and resource rich countries. There exists a large potential for India to collaborate in science, technology, and education. India should collaborate with France and Germany in a big way. Britain will take a long time to stabilise itself because of democratic compulsions and simmering unchecked radicalism.
Oil Energy Compulsions: The oil economy is undergoing change and fossil fuels are facing stiff challenges from alternate energy resources. Green energy is one of the sustainable goals of the UN. With leadership changes in the US, there is going to be review of some of the policies especially in the fields of ‘Climate Change’ and engagement with the Middle-East.
Oil is likely to re-emerge as an important tool of leverage of US dominance. Russia is also likely to benefit from the arrangement. Interestingly, revisionist powers such as China, India etc. will try to invest heavily in green energy. Further, the review of Middle-East policies by the US will indirectly affect these powers in the region.
The world order has been further fragmented by Covid-19. Both China and the US are unlikely to emerge from Covid-19 as “winners” to give them the pedestal they would like to be in, to dramatically shift the balance of world power in their favour.
The economic effects of Covid-19 will increase downward pressure on countries which could affect the pace of force of the modernization. Interestingly defence spending was forecast by experts to go down in India. However, it seems unlikely to follow the trend due to Chinese adventurism across our northern borders. Indian leaders seem to leverage the situation to kick-start defence production-related economic activity with ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ as the operating condition. It has simultaneously led to gravitation of strong alliances such as QUAD in the Indo-Pacific region.
In the new geopolitical environment, it is increasingly difficult for any single country to exercise its will. Therefore, multiple poles are likely to compete and cooperate. India sits at an inflection point where the global health challenge intersects with unprecedented security challenges—such as weak institutions of the world, lack of trust between countries and getting too exposed as a tool to leverage in the China-US powerplay. Minor adjustments and alignments at this crucial juncture will surely have long-lasting effect. The relationship between major players in the world will remain fluid for quite some time.
India with its wide acceptance in the world is emerging as a major player in the world. The largest democracy of the world, with approximately 17 percent of the world population, India needs to find its due place in the Security Council as a permanent member. The day is not far when India will be a very important pole in the multi-polar world of the future playing its dominant role in the major decisions of the globe.
– The writer is a veteran who served the Indian Army for 40 years in various Command and Staff Appointments. His last appointment was Director General Manpower Planning and Personal Services at Army HQ. He is a gallantry award winner of 1971 Indo-Pak War and has tremendous experience about the modernisation of the Artillery, and is also a recipient of PVSM AVSM SM. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda