Harvard Professor Graham Alison’s ‘Thucydides Trap’ and Geneva School of Economics Professor Richard Baldwin’s ‘Great Convergence’ are two dominant geopolitical perspectives today that guide and capture current global geopolitical transitions and turbulence of our times. Thucydides Trap and Great Convergence are recent propositions. There is, however, a very interesting third perspective too that was prophesied back in 1940s by former Director of London School of Economics, Sir Halford John Mackinder.
Mackinder’s perspective centred around the imagination and theoretical construct of China and India rising to world centre stage. Back in 1943, Mackinder, writing the last article of his life, prophesied that “the Monsoon Lands of India and China holding a thousand million people of ancient oriental civilisation will grow to prosperity and balance the remaining great geographical regions.” Mackinder further added, “They will then balance the other thousand million who live between the Missouri (River in the USA) and the Yenisei (Russian River). A balanced globe of human beings, and happy, because balanced and thus free.” In the midst of the World War II, Mackinder wrote this piece at the request of Foreign Policy magazine and imagined a great geopolitical turning point emerging from the Asian highlands where China and India shall hold and define the thread of international geopolitical balance.
After over 75 years of Mackinder’s hypothesis, while China’s rise has greatly ruptured the global power balance and distorted world order today, the rise of India into the world stage offers an alternative narrative. Away from the communist jingoism and carefully balanced from Western political prescriptions, India, as Mackinder imagined, has indeed emerged as the largest democratic polity in the world with a world view that is entirely native of India and flows from the civilisational values of the subcontinent while being organic in character and symbiotic with larger aspirations of the world.
RISING MULTIPLEX WORLD ORDER
Bretton Woods system is under great stress today symbolising a visible decline of American eminence in international affairs. The United Nations — the largest organ of Bretton Woods — is unable to respond to conflict situations in Syria, Afghanistan, Crimea, South China Sea dispute, terrorism, and radicalism issues. Demand for UN reform is quite rightfully growing. Indo-Pacific Region (IPR) emerging as new frontiers of conflict, newer security alignments and counter alignments like QUAD, joint military exercises like Malabar and MILAN, Sea Guardian et al are new strategic security experimentations. Given Chinese infrastructure investments in several Island Chain countries, long-neglected Island nations have suddenly emerged as critical investment destinations and phenomena of Island shopping by big powers.
Bretton Woods financial architecture is also under stress. BRICS Bank and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) are seen as alternatives to World Bank. While the dollarised world economy is threatened by the Eurozone, cryptocurrencies, and the Chinese digital Yuan, the international trade regime is vacillating between trade liberalism and aspiration for protectionism. New players and economic clusters demanding and competing for power and influence, it’s new world order of pluralism and multipolarity which Professor Amitav Acharya captures as phenomena of multiplex world order. While the political analysts from Robert Keohane to Joseph Nye, and Kishore Mahbubani et al are largely in agreement with the multiplex world order hypothesis, economists have far too matured explanations of this change and the change drivers.
GREAT CONVERGENCE HYPOTHESIS
‘Thucydides Trap’ sensitises all of us of a visible war. Baldwin’s ‘Great Convergence’ hypothesis on the other hand squarely simplifies this puzzle. Baldwin argues that a fundamental shift in the world’s mode of production has occurred leading to the emergence of wealth in many parts of the world — a critical structural shift. Baldwin calls it as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ where North American and Western European capital has integrated with cheap labour in China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, and Vietnam et al. The net result — the erstwhile capitalist block is rendered de-industrialised and at their cost and expense, several countries of the world have become wealthier and correspondingly aspirational too. Knowledge economy and its critical arsenals like AI, algorithm, big data, digital currency, and decision tree et al have become new factors of production.
While China took great advantage of this shifting mode of production to build the Chinese economic power and its corresponding geopolitical influence and ambition, several other countries like India, East Asian countries, Brazil, and Mexico et al also prospered as growing economic powers. Goldman Sachs former Chairman Jim O’Neill spotted this transition and coined the BRIC acronym in 2001. Baldwin called this a phenomenon of ‘Great Convergence’ that led to the pluralisation of the wealth of the world which was earlier limited to industrialised G-7 countries only. Several cluster economies like BRICS, ASEAN, and EU et al also emerged as sovereign country clubs to share the benefit of this change and better negotiate their fortune and influence.
INDIA AS A SWING STATE
Meanwhile, Richard Fontaine and Daniel Kliman’s hypothesis of ‘Global Swing States’ is yet another explanation that captures countries like India, Brazil, Indonesia, and Turkey as the possible Swing States of the world and its transition. Global Swing States, as Fontaine and Kliman would see, are those nations that possess large and growing economies, occupy central positions in a region or stand at the hinge or gateways of multiple regions, and embrace democratic governments at home. They are increasingly active, aspirational, and desire changes in the existing international order. They greatly represent the aspirations of the developing countries that were systematically marginalised in the Bretton Woods arrangement.
DOES INDIA OFFER THE WAY?
India, in many ways, offers a very proactive and positive way forward towards a smooth transition of international order. In spite of being a nuclear power, India traditionally has downplayed military adventurism or musclemanship in foreign policy practice and choices. As a country of civilisational value order, India champions participatory and inclusive international governance order. While India’s democratic polity is an assured global value, as a critical representative of developing countries’ aspirations, India symbolises consensus than conflict. Since 1947, India has always advocated respect for territorial sovereignty for all nations and demanded strategic autonomy for itself in foreign policy choices. As the second-largest global market, India boasts of a huge labour force and attracts much more global interest than all other Swing States put together. In the Indo-Pacific Sea lanes, India talks of rule-based governance and ‘security and growth for all’ — a cooperative development module than predatory hegemony. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, India acted as a benevolent vaccines supplier than monopolising or profiting out of the crisis.
India characteristically holds a ‘goodwill value’ which is beneficial to the world at large. While Mackinder imaginatively predicted the rise of China, he was equally apprehensive of the rise of ‘Yellow Barbarian’ and anticipated that the rise of India shall beneficially balance the world order. Standing as a gateway between Western hegemony and Chinese authoritarianism, India, undoubtedly, holds a global promise that is much more sustainable, inclusive, peaceful, and economic growth-centric.
Image Courtesy: The Daily Guardian
This article was first published in The Daily Guardian.
Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research.