World Order that Confronts India

Prof. Chintamani Mahapatra
April 14, 2019


The world order has never been static. And even now the world order is undergoing noticeable changes. More significantly, there has never been a single world order. The world order has always consisted of multiple mini-orders or regional orders that have generally not been reflected in the discourses on world order.

The Western scholars have often spoken and written about a Liberal World Order constructed by the United States after the Second World War. The United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, General Agreement of Trade and Tariffs (GATT) that subsequently was replaced by the World Trade Organisations (WTO) are referred as the principal pillars of the Liberal World Orders.

The International Relations courses in various countries have been replete with theories of world order, challenges to the Liberal World Order and limitations of that world order. But after the Second World War, three different orders constituted the world order. One, of course, was the Western Liberal World Order, the second one was the Communist World Order led by the former Soviet Union and the third one was a Non-Aligned World Order principally led by India.

Western Europe and Japan belonged to the first, China belonged to none of the world orders and all three world orders were evolving under a bipolar power structure and Cold war processes. Once the Soviet Union disintegrated, the mega global structure and the complex political processes came to an end and with that two other world orders, namely Communist and Non-aligned ones also crumbled. Francis Fukuyama wrote an article in the National Interest in 1989, about two years before the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and wrongly proclaimed “End of History”, and Charles Krauthammer, the noted American columnist declared the arrival of ‘unipolar moment”, in a memorial lecture he delivered, more than a year before the Soviet collapse in 1990. Both of them were in a hurry to declare victory of a type of world order (Liberal World Order) and birth of a new world order (Unipolar World Order) respectively.

Those who believed in the emergence of a multipolar world order or a polycentric world order also found to their dismay that the unipolar world order dealt a blow to their notions of world order. Importantly, the “End of History”, the “Unipolar World Order” and even the notion of a multipolar/polycentric world order were very short-lived. The law of change made their lives very short, indeed. Richard Haas soon came out with his article on “The Age of Nonpolarity” in Foreign Affairs in 2008.

The relative decline of the United States, the rise of China as an assertive global power, crises in the European Union, assertion of Russia as a powerful actor, the emergence of India as a global player, rise and fall of international terrorist groups, power of the cyber experts, uncertain growth of Artificial Intelligence, the new phenomena like post-truth and truth-decay, WMD capabilities in risky countries, political upheavals in West Asia and North Africa, and many more changes occurring in the world present a very complex picture to attempt any theoretical structure to explain the present day world order.

New mini-orders/regional structures, functional innovations, newer challenges are in the forefront before the international community to shape order/s in the present-day world. Indian IR pundits and policy makers must seize the moment to be an active part of the current flux to understand the dynamics, prepare for the fallouts, and take active interest in shaping norms, practices, and organisations to protect and promote the country’s interests.

The present global scene presents India with the following challenges: First, the complex cold confrontation between the United States and China. China wants to replace the US as the number one superpower and the US wants to prevent rise of China as a critical challenger. Second, India faces enormous challenge to national security coming from the energy sector. Energy independence of the US, frantic search for secured energy resources by China, instability in the region replete with hydrocarbon resources and fast rising demands by enlarging middle class and growing economy India make it imperative that India elevates energy sector as a national security issue.

Third, technological and scientific illiteracy in India in the midst of a spreading knowledge economy threatens to make India’s growth story a temporary interregnum. Education must be factored as an area that needs focus of the country and treated as national security need to tackle the challenges of the 21st Century. Fourth, global social media that transcends all political borders with impunity is a double-edged sword. It is more of a threat to multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, multi-ethnic societies that are simultaneously democratic polities. Security can be breached in a very severe way without exploding bombs or firing missiles.

In India’s comprehensive worldview and national security doctrines, all these factors will play crucial role in coming years.