The middle path for India in the new world disorder

Source– The post is based on the article “The middle path for India in the new world disorder” published in The Hindu on 1st March 2023.

Syllabus: GS2- International relations

Relevance: India foreign policy choices in changing global order

News- International politics is undergoing major changes. A new world order is emerging.

What is the shape of current world order?

The U.S. still remains the world’s most powerful military power. But the U.S.’s ability to shape geopolitical outcomes is clearly in decline. It was seen in its withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of war or the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

These changes actually leave the world in a flux. There’s a lack of clarity on which direction the world is headed. It makes policy making harder for middle powers like India.

Even if a new cold war breaks out between the U.S. and China, the global order is unlikely to be bipolar.

During the Cold War, the world was divided into two ideologies and two systems. Today’s world is much more diverse ideologically and integrated economically.

What are the foreign policy challenges faced by India in recent times?

India faces an entirely new set of challenges in the new global disorder. The arena of the looming U.S.­China great power contest is Asia. It is unfolding right in India’s neighbourhood.

During the Cold War, India didn’t have hostile relations with any of the opposing superpowers. Today, India would be tempted to join the American bloc as it faces the China problem. There is a convergence of interests between India and the U.S. when it comes to China.

The power imbalance between India and China has widened in recent years. China has also developed a strategic partnership with Pakistan. It is raising its influence in other South Asian and Indian Ocean countries. Besides, the border situation is hostile after the Glawan incident.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has complicated India’s options further.

Russia is a traditional partner with which India has deep defence ties. India is under huge pressure from its partners to take a more critical position on Russia’s actions.

Besides, India also worries that the West’s move to isolate Russia in Europe would push the country further into the Chinese embrace. Any policy decisions should factor in these delicate changes under way in global politics.

What is the way forward for Indian foreign policy establishment?

India should prepare itself for a prolonged strategic competition with China. India could perhaps learn a lesson from what China did in the 1970s.

The Soviet Union was China’s ideological brother and neighbour.  It broke away from the Soviet communist fold and built a quasi alliance with the U.S. It helped the ‘imperialist bloc’ to defeat the Soviet communists.

Once it acquired enough economic and military power, China started gradually challenging the U.S.

India’s primary focus should be on transforming itself economically and militarily. It should stay focussed on its rise and bridging the gap with China. It should present itself as a natural stabilising power in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region.

However, China is not the only problem India faces. In continental Asia, India sees a different set of challenges, especially after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s return to power.

India has to address its continental security challenges and manage its inroads into Central Asia. For this, India has to work with Eurasian powers such as Russia and Iran. Both of which are at odds with the U.S.

So, abandoning its strategic autonomy and joining a U.S.­led bloc would limit India’s options in the new world. It will also provoke China. An open conflict with China doesn’t serve India’s strategic interests.

There could be many power centres in the new world order. India should opt for multi­engagement not multi­alignment as some experts have suggested for a multipolar world.

It should aim to create new pillars of the new order by engagement and partnership with middle powers.

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