Call Of Duty: India And The New World Order, What Are Its Options?

Russia's attack on Ukraine is a direct challenge to the US-led World order. India has refused to take sides. But, change may be in the offing. Lt Gen (Retd) Philip Campose discusses the new world order & the options for India in these turbulent times.

Ever since Russia attacked Ukraine in February this year, speculation is rife that we are witnessing a tectonic change in the established West-dominated world order, which has been in existence since the successful termination of the Second World War. That US-dominated World Order was further cemented after the West’s victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War which followed. But still, there are a growing number of indications that change may be in the offing.

What has spurred this speculation of changes in the global order?
First, China’s spectacular economic rise and recent efforts to gain global influence, second, China and Russia appear to have formed a strong and growing partnership since this war started, third, a number of countries are willing to ignore the diktats of the West on not trading with Russia, fourth, Europe itself appears divided over blindly following trans-Atlantic diktats, fifth, since recently, the US appears weakened in multifarious ways, especially its preference for the moral high ground, and sixth, even the global institutions are being seen as partisan in their functioning, or non-effective.

The Russia-China summit meeting in Beijing on 4th February this year, the precursor to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine War, also formally heralded the start of the second Cold War. Most people had predicted at that time that Russia was only posturing militarily against Ukraine, and that, even if a war started, it would be short and swift, with predictable results. There were very few who predicted that Russia would actually attack Ukraine and that the war would go on endlessly thereafter, leaving immense economic, military and political turbulence in its wake.

To go back into some history, the existing global order took shape under the leadership of the United States after the Second World War. With the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan as a backdrop, international institutions like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were formed – to promote a concept of global governance, backed by economic cooperation between states. The US dollar became the currency for global transactions, especially energy sales. Capitalism became the ideology of the Free World, as the Western Alliance called itself, while socialism was promoted as the basic ideology of the communist bloc.

Further, sensing a threat from communism, being driven by the Soviet Union and Communist China, the US, along with its Western partners, also formed NATO, and subsequently the CENTO and SEATO, to deal with this perceived threat. As a counter, communist countries grouped together under the Warsaw Pact umbrella. That started the global ‘No War, No Peace’ situation, called the Cold War, now being increasingly referred to as the first Cold War, which manifested in the form of a massive build-up of conventional military capabilities, backed by large nuclear arsenals on both sides. Direct wars between the Soviet Union and NATO were successfully prevented due to nuclear deterrence but a large number of proxy wars, both inter-state and intra-state, were fought all over the world. China was earlier aligned with the Soviet Union in an anti-Western stance, but later it broke ranks with its Communist brother and started cooperating with the US and the West.

India preferred not to join either side throughout the Cold War, and instead, along with some like-minded countries, tried to forge an independent path called the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), while keeping channels open to all sides. At its peak, the Non-Aligned Movement, which started in 1955 after the end of the Korean War, consisted of some 120 members, most from the developing world. The Western bloc was largely non-supportive of this movement, though, initially, US President Kennedy was sympathetic to its motivations. On the other hand, under a flag of neutrality and sympathy for the developing nations, the Soviet Union did gain influence over many of these Asian and African countries. The Cold War ended with the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, following the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan at the hands of the CIA-trained Islamic Mujahedeen. Despite this victory, the US and its European allies did not dismantle NATO, but instead, redesigned it to undermine and prevent the future resurgence of Russia.

In the meanwhile, the experience of the global institutions was that, on one hand, the financial institutions followed the diktats of the West, whereas, on the other, the United Nations was held to ransom by the powerful permanent members of the Security Council who were wont to veto any proposal which did not suit the interests of themselves or their friends and allies. All attempts to reform the United Nations, especially the Security Council, were stonewalled by the permanent members.

The major change in the first Cold war, which ended in 1991 and the second Cold War, which appears to have just formally started, is that this time, China has not only joined Russia as part of the anti-Western alliance but has, in fact, taken a leadership position of this front. China is also economically very strong and aspires to become the new superpower – which can provide a credible alternative to the US as a leader and rule shaper at the global level. Apparent asymmetry in its nuclear arsenal vis-à-vis the US is made up of the strengths of the Russian arsenal. Furthermore, China has built up large dependencies among the developing countries of Asia and Africa through its liberal financing of infrastructure projects related to the Belt & Road Initiative connectivity.

The two sides this time round comprise the US, Canada, Europe, Japan and Australia on one side, as in the previous Cold War, while the anti-Western alliance is led by China and Russia, and includes some of their allies in Eastern Europe, Africa, South America, West Asia and Central Asia, including Pakistan and Iran. They would woo the erstwhile non-aligned nations to ensure that they do not join the other side.

Of special interest to both sides are the emerging powers, the higher strata among the developing nations, which have economic potential and better military capabilities, like India, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Indonesia and Vietnam.

India is of special interest to both sides of the Cold War divide. It has immense economic and human resource potential and also has the substantial military capability. It is called a ‘swing state’ in global power equations, on the presumption that whichever side India joins, the balance of power will swing in that direction. For the Western side, of special interest also is the fact that India shares Western values like democracy, human rights, freedom and pluralism, which are anathema to countries of the anti-Western alliance. On the other hand, keeping in view the large numbers of its poor, India cannot blindly follow the capitalistic route and thus has socialism still ingrained in its psyche. More importantly, India has a strong time-tested relationship with Russia and is dependent on the latter for 70% of its military equipment needs.

So, what are India’s options?
Option 1: Should India join the US-led Western alliance?
Undoubtedly, India shares its core constitutional values of human freedom and dignity with the US and Western countries. This is an important moral component, which distinguishes India from countries like China and Russia, where such values are non-existent or have been put under serious constraints. Democracy and pluralism are Indian values that serve as a beacon for emulation by other countries. To that extent, the Indian people are much more comfortable working and living in the West than in Communist or ex-Communist countries, where human freedoms and privacy are always under challenge. This is the primary reason that has made the developed countries of the West support India in the past and will make them do so in the future. Moreover, the countries of the West are economically developed and hence can serve as models for India’s human and economic development. Thus, there are more chances of India achieving its future goals of becoming a developed nation and a global power if it shares common ground with Western countries.

But does that mean that India blindly follows Western diktats, even if it is at the cost of its national interests? Definitely not. After 75 years of dealing with India, these countries are well aware that even when India was at its poorest and weakest, it did not succumb to any pressures or enticements which would compromise India’s values and interests. Moreover, India does not agree with the practice of military aggression that is sometimes practised so blatantly by these countries in pursuit of their commercial interests, as happened in the case of Iraq. Hence, even if India decides on a pro-Western stance, it would have to lay down red lines, which it should not allow others to cross.

Option 2: Should India Join the China-Russia led Anti-Western alliance?
While cooperation in the fields of energy, defence and space technology may serve as common ground in the case of India-Russia equations, the history of military hostilities and tensions with China will always be a factor that dictates against such a relationship, despite geographical proximity and commercial interests. China has always treated India as an adversary and has been forcibly intruding into Indian territory. Despite two years having passed since the last set of border intrusions in 2020 and the numerous rounds of military and diplomatic talks subsequently to resolve tensions, Chinese troops have not withdrawn to status quo ante positions. It is also important to note the lack of important values relating to human dignity, privacy and freedom, in these countries. The very fact that Russia chose to attack Ukraine in terms of a full-fledged war rather than continue with negotiations is not in conformity with India’s policy and views on territorial sovereignty and the importance of the non-violent route for the resolution of problems. Thus, the lack of common ground detracts from India becoming part of any such alliance.

Option 3: Should India Follow the Route of Non-Alignment Version 2.0?
The basic problem with joining any military-oriented alliance with other countries is that you can get drawn into their conflicts even if you have no direct interest in the issues concerned. On the other hand, past experience has shown that while Non-Alignment Version 1.0 did serve India well at a point time in the post-colonial context when India’s priorities were less defined, such a concept of neutrality lost value over the years till it has almost become almost redundant now. To that extent, should India take on the leadership now of the third set of countries – all ‘emerging powers’ on account of their economic development – in the nature of a Non-Alignment 2.0, with a common aim to achieve developed country status? This too will not be easy, considering the historical, cultural and other baggage each country would bring with it, but it appears a practicable proposal.

In sum, the global order is undergoing a churn on account of the second Cold War which appears to have taken formal shape as a result of the Russia-Ukraine war and its related dynamics. India needs to make sure that it makes the right choices so that it does not get diverted into other people’s wars but instead remains steady on its stated aim of becoming a developed country and a global power by 2047.