Realism and Liberalism are two schools of thought that seek to explain relations between nations. While the former lays emphasis on the anarchic nature of international system and assert that just like individuals are governed by self interests nations too prioritize national interests over considerations of international cooperation, the latter believes that with greater economic interdependence and development, the likelihood of conflict minimizes and chances of cooperation increases. However, the history of humankind is testimony to the realist assertion that there exists a cycle of war and peace, one following the other, again and again.
In this light, the subject matter of this article is to understand the changing geopolitical realities of the world as manifested in new international dynamics and how India should re-calibrate its foreign policy to attain maximum benefit.
Modern history begins with the colonization of Asian, African and Latin American countries by the imperial powers of Western Europe. Major European powers like Britain, France, Portugal and later Germany and Asian imperialist power, Japan, dominated world politics till the first World War, post which USA emerged as the major superpower, replacing traditional powers. World War 1 also brought the end to the age of empires as the mighty Ottoman empire collapsed. Subsequently, in the period between the two great wars, USSR also emerged as a great power after the Russian Revolution of 1917. The end of Second World War marked the beginning of Bipolarity or a Bipolar world as USSR and USA emerged as the two blocs, fighting with each other at the level of ideology. Also, with the end of Second World War, European dominance on world politics ended completely as the process of decolonization began. Many newly formed nations either joined the Western Bloc (led by the US) or the Eastern Bloc(led by USSR), while many others chose to remain non-aligned, a movement whose leader India emerged as. After coming into being of People’s Republic of China in 1949, it chose to tread a communist path of its own under Mao, who for a long time kept China aloof from world politics. His communism was different than Lenin’s or Stalin’s communism in USSR. However, under Deng Xiaoping from late 1970s, China began to open up as it chose the path of ‘Socialism with Chinese Characteristics’ wherein market forces were combined or made compatible with a communist state apparatus. Coming to beginning of what many scholars describe as the contemporary era in world politics, in 1991,with the disintegration of USSR world plunged into unipolarity as USA remained the only superpower in the world. For the entire 1990s world seemed to enter a phase of American hegemony as US power in all spheres, military, economy or technology remained unchallenged and unparalleled.
Changes in the world order
However, today in 2017 the world seems quite different than what many people imagined it to be, at the end of Cold war. Although US is still the most powerful country in the world but its power has declined relatively as new powers have emerged. Under President Trump especially US’s foreign policy has gone through remarkable changes as he has chosen to detach US foreign policy from its historical legacies. His transactionist approach and utter disregard for multi-lateral forums like the UN has only receded America’s credibility. Decisions like opting out of Paris Agreement or the Trans-Pacific Partnership have been shocking. On the other hand, the miraculous rise of China especially in the economic sphere which it is now translating into military realm, along with the reassertion of Russia under Putin has challenged the US supremacy. Similarly, in the economic and technological sphere, Japan has also emerged as a major power while India’s growth especially in the field of IT sector coupled with its demographic dividend making it a future contender of great power status. Along with these changes, new security challenge have also emerged in the form of rising Islamic fundamentalism represented by Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The decentralized nature of terrorism is a major challenge for the world. Europe, which grew tremendously under EU, is now facing the threat of Balkanization as nationalistic sentiments and anti-semitism is on rise. Extreme-Right wing parties have ascended throughout Europe.
Implications for India
In the current scenario, India can play a crucial role in this emerging multi-polar world. The choice that India will make will determine the course of events not only in India but also in the world. It is clear that US and China will compete with each other, while the former will try to retain its supremacy the latter will continue to assert its rising dominance strongly. For India, what is crucial is that it shouldn’t let itself become an instrument of some other country’s grand strategy, rather it must itself invent something along the lines of NAM so that it itself emerges as a bloc or a pole in this multi-polar world. India has to take the role of being a leader, and must strike a balance between historical idealism and realism. It cannot merely rely on historical moralism. As of today, China undoubtedly poses imminent security and foreign policy challenge to India, which it must handle with caution.
-Contributed by Kunwar Suryansh
Picture Credits: youtube.com