Month: July 2018

India’s future as a world power depends on 4 key relationships

World Economic Forum

Original article here 

China's President Xi Jinping and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in June 2018

In the 2040s, India is expected to surpass the United States (in PPP terms) and become the world’s second largest economy, behind China. Alongside this Indian emergence, the international order is undergoing significant change as well, with power increasingly diffused among states as a new, multipolar geostrategic landscape begins to emerge with fresh layers of complexities.

These developments have the potential to position India as the world’s most influential democracy in the second half of the 21st century, giving it the ability to shape the Indo-Pacific region and the dynamically evolving global order.

From the Indo-Pacific region to the world

At the Shangri-La Dialogue earlier this year, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a speech in which he argued that the “destiny of the world will be deeply influenced by the course of developments in the Indo-Pacific region”. This bold claim has come within the context of both growing economic opportunity and expanding strategic challenges for the region.

Sheer numbers alone elevate the importance of the Indo-Pacific and its influence across the world. It is now home to more than 65% of the world’s population who collectively produce more than 60% of global GDP. Over half the world’s trade passes through this region, and it hosts the fastest-growing armada of naval fleets along with seven nuclear powers. This region will also have a disproportionately high contribution to global growth in the decades ahead and will therefore ink the pen that scripts the new terms of trade, financial flows and investments, growth, humanitarian assistance, and peace and security.

 

Even as this redistribution of wealth and power propels this region to the global high table, a position it long enjoyed up to the 15th century, the multiplicity of old and emerging actors, and their varied interests within the region and beyond are spurring greater unpredictability and new anxieties. There are simply no reliable 20th-century templates to manage such a simultaneous rise of multiple actors and interests in a region. China, which was the first mover, now finds itself having to deal with the pushback to its own expansive plans, as well as with propositions from other initiatives such as the “Quad” (comprising of India, the US, Japan and Australia) that seek to steer the region’s future. There is little doubt that new pathways to a new order need to be discovered soon.

Modi’s speech at Shangri-La signalled New Delhi’s acceptance of this reality, and its willingness to embrace greater responsibility in anchoring a “rules-based democratic order” in the region. Indeed, as a rising economic power with favourable demographic conditions – in 2020, the average age in India will be 29 years old (compared to 37 in China) – India is well positioned to shape the future of the Indo-Pacific.

India’s vision for the region

India’s geostrategic vision for the Indo-Pacific is unique. It rejects pitting China against the Quadrilateral Initiative in a zero-sum competition “between free and repressive visions of world order”, as the American vision postulates. It also rejects the Chinese proposition, which creates perverse dependencies through economic statecraft and military coercion in a manner better suited to the Cold War era.

Instead, India is positioning itself to take a different path – one that does not see the world in binaries, bifurcated between partners and allies on one side, and competitors and adversaries on the other. India offers an opportunity for engagement and dialogue to all states, big and small, democratic and authoritarian, advanced or developing.

The new vision moves away from conceptions of non-alignment or strategic autonomy, tools of foreign policy that may have outlived their corresponding geopolitical utility. When Prime Minister Modi stated that “the Indo-Pacific region is not a limited club of members”, he signalled New Delhi’s intention to lead a new configuration of states, guided by communities that yearn for development, markets that require connectivity and nations that seek security.

The strategy calls for India to lead by example and show that as its capabilities rise over the coming decades, it will not abandon certain norms that reflect uniquely Asian democratic tendencies, open and transparent economic governance, and non-interventionist security paradigms.

Four steps for India to take

To put in place a vision that shapes the region and attracts others, India needs to script its own expectations from four key relationships.

First, New Delhi should define its ‘China policy’. It needs to determine what it is looking for from Beijing and make clear what it will refuse to put on the negotiating table. At Shangri-La, Modi made clear that no nation can unilaterally “shape and secure” an Indo-Pacific order. Delhi must be prepared to enforce this statement of fact as a baseline norm. An Asian ethic cannot be scripted by China alone, whether it is on infrastructure connectivity or managing security disputes. The economic prosperity of the region will be implicated by the strength of the India-China partnership.

 

Second, New Delhi should develop a clear policy toward the US. Thus far, New Delhi has essentially muddled through, deferring to Washington regarding policy in the region. India must answer whether it is ready, willing and able to play a larger role in defining a vision for the concert of democracies in the region and beyond. If, as Prime Modi recently indicated, the answer to all these is “yes”, New Delhi needs to put forth a more confident proposition for Washington to support. Is it now time to hand the baton over to India?

Third, New Delhi must rethink its engagement with its neighbours, particularly around two existing regional architectures. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), an eight-member union meant to advance economic and regional integration, is in tatters. The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), a seven-member organization meant to promote economic cooperation and trade, has turned into a forum for talk rather than action. Unless India presents a clear, enticing proposition to its neighbours, it will be hard-pressed to shepherd a new strategic vision in the larger region.

 

Finally, Delhi must engage more vigorously with the global institutional framework. At the World Economic Forum in January, Modi warned of a “gap between the old systems of [international] institutions and the needs of many developing countries”, echoing Delhi’s age-old grievance with the Atlantic institutions and a new sense that India must help close this ‘gap’. India’s pivotal role in the Indo-Pacific will be bolstered through its co-ownership of the institutions created by the developed world and in making them work in coherence with the new institutions such as the New Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank, in which India has significant stakes.

India’s Indo-Pacific vision exemplifies its ambition of being a “leading power”. Even so, it is merely the beginning of a decadal journey, which will see India shoulder the expectations that befit the world’s largest democratic economy. To do this, Delhi must constantly reassess the dimensions of change underway, visualize the possibilities that are on offer, anticipate the attendant risks and author the new order arising out of Asia.

Author: Samir Saran, President of Observer Research Foundation.

India-US relationship: Is the top-down structure sustainable?

Samir Saran

How will the US establishment come to terms with the fact that for the better part of the 21st century, India will be the larger economic partner? Has Delhi realised the potential and consequences of this shift?

 India, United States, India-US, 21st century, Washington, New Delhi, Russia, China, Trump, Modi, Narendra Modi, Donald Trump, Samir Saran
Photos: US Embassy New Delhi — Flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0

The postponement of the high level ‘2+2 dialogue’ between India and the US yet again has resulted in a flurry of commentaries, with some even suggesting a crisis in the bilateral.

The public differences on key issues, ranging from trade, to work visas and the Iran sanctions, coupled with questions around the personal chemistry between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump have left many speculating on the future of this relationship. While this may be an over-reaction, we must use this opportunity to reflect and analyse the state of the bilateral and assess if we are indeed heading into choppy waters.

It is worth reiterating some characteristics and realities that have shaped the India-US partnership in recent decades. The transformational changes in world politics through the 1990s were important and sparked a realisation in both capitals that investing in each other was a priority. Overtime, top-level political leadership in both countries have translated this into a sustained partnership with great potential to shape regional and global affairs.


It is worth reiterating some characteristics and realities that have shaped the India-US partnership in recent decades. The transformational changes in world politics through the 1990s were important and sparked a realisation in both capitals that investing in each other was a priority.


China’s rise only accelerated this strategic partnership, especially in the Western Pacific and the Eastern Indian Ocean, leading to the conceptualisation of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region — its importance reinforced by the rechristening of the US (Indo) Pacific Command.

Throughout this, American ambivalence to the India-Russia relationship, and a willingness by both countries to temporarily set aside differences on Pakistan, Iran and economic policy allowed them to strengthen the bilateral agenda.

Today, the assessments in Delhi and Washington DC are visibly changing — in terms of the how the world is ordered, what the new covenants must be, and indeed, in their expectations of each other. It is, therefore, necessary to consider what has changed, what remains unchanged, and what is needed now.

For one thing, there is little evidence that would suggest any dilution in the investments that both PM Modi and President Trump have made in this relationship. While enthusiasm at the political leadership level is welcome, recent events suggest that the perception of ambivalence at the top may well give bureaucracies in both countries the opportunity to revert to the old policies of the 1970s and 1980s.

Which is why Washington and New Delhi must now interrogate if such a top-down structure for this important relationship is sustainable and if the relationship needs more champions. While both countries have done well to institutionalise their relationship over the past two decades, the economic and political demands on this partnership are going to grow manifold — and it is now necessary to strengthen and expand these structures in order to sustain continuity irrespective of the prevailing political mood.


Today the assessments in Delhi and Washington DC are visibly changing — in terms of the how the world is ordered, what the new covenants must be, and indeed, in their expectations of each other. It is, therefore, necessary to consider what has changed, what remains unchanged, and what is needed now.


Second, the Russia question continues to vex the foreign policy establishment in both countries. While India’s dependence on Russia for defence products reduces, the fact is that it will remain a key security partner for many years to come. At the same time, Moscow will increasingly become an important actor for India’s political, connectivity and energy projects in Eurasia. To sustain a long-term India-US partnership, it is now time for both countries to adopt a mutually accommodative position on Russia.

The US, for its part, must be flexible and account for the important role Russia plays in India’s security objectives. New Delhi, on the other hand, must invest diplomatic energy in convincing Washington to shed its cold war mentality towards Moscow and embrace an ‘entente cordiale’ with this superpower, especially as both countries begin to recalibrate their approach to China.

President Trump’s impending summit with President Putin this July is a welcome thaw in America’s orthodox approach to Moscow — a necessary move in the long-term, considering that neither India nor the US would benefit from Russia being in the Chinese corner.

Finally, and most importantly, it is time to enquire if the US can continue to unilaterally set the priorities for this relationship — and strong-arm India into accommodating its preferred posture on key issues such as Pakistan and Iran. The fact is that India’s economic growth will see its GDP surpass the US before the middle of this century on real terms and well before in PPP terms. This reality implies that New Delhi will increasingly set its own priorities and will retain independent beneficial relationships with countries like Iran and chart its own course with its neighbours.

How will the US establishment come to terms with the fact that for the better part of the 21st century, India will be the larger economic partner? More importantly, has Delhi realised the potential and consequences of this shift?


India and the US must embrace their roles as the most consequential democracies of the 21st century. However, their current differences may well stem from adjusting to this reality.


Already at the Shangri-La Dialogue, PM Modi outlined a vision for the Indo-Pacific that was distinct from Washington’s conceptualisation. With time, India will, and must, do the same on geo-economics, trade and in its pursuit of strategic partnerships.

In the end, India and the US must embrace their roles as the most consequential democracies of the 21st century. However, their current differences may well stem from adjusting to this reality and some others. Allowing such differences to snowball will be a very expensive mistake — especially as China wastes no time in executing its own agenda for the international order.

Indeed, now more than ever, Washington will need New Delhi to balance China’s rise, given the coterminous nature of India’s rise and its own relative decline.

Capitalising on the opportunity presented by the India-US partnership will require both countries to institutionalise dialogue and identify differences capable of derailing the relationship in the long-term. Elites in Washington and Delhi must realise that a partnership of equals will require a more finely tuned calibration of their foreign policy priorities.


This commentary originally appeared on News18.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).