The Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) hosted a webinar on the theme ‘Changing Global Order’ with Dr TV Paul, Erudite Distinguished Senior Fellow, CPPR, as the keynote speaker and Dr Lawrence Prabhakar Williams, Advisor, CPPR, as the moderator of the session. The discussion presented critical views looking at the bigger picture of power play and a multipolar world.

Dr Lawrence started the discussion by putting forth the question of the current global order and its evolution trajectory. Dr Paul responded to this by distinguishing between International Order and World Order. While the International Order in the past laid down the norms, principles and governance structures, he said, the World Order is the contemporaneous definition that encompasses progressive ideals of justice, equality and peace for the betterment of humankind.

Tracing the history of the current order, Dr Paul threw light on the chain of events from the end of the Cold War up to that of globalisation and the establishment of the American hegemony further acknowledging that ‘no order is static’. He noted how China, followed by India, is perhaps the biggest beneficiary in the context of the globalised world, with rapid advancements occurring internally.

The argument was furthered to the unequal distribution of wealth and how the division between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ continues to deepen; the situation being unique with an unorganised proletariat, unlike the times before.

According to him, the ‘tripod of peace’—held up by democracy, institutions and economic interdependence—does not stand so steady with the advent of many factors like populism and the decline of leadership by the US. Amongst this, COVID-19 comes as a catalyst in determining the path of the evolving global order.

Touching upon the state of the Liberal international order and its relevance, Dr Paul brought out the critical contradictions ranging from racism and social Darwinism emanating from the upheld liberal origins, leaving the virtual audience with some food for thought. But turning to the other side of the coin, he also highlighted why the liberal order prevails and will continue to do so, even after the post pandemic turbulence as the competing orders do not offer freedom, prosperity and economic support in one package.

Moving on to the notion of Balancing, he acknowledged how permanent peace is not possible with the growth of new states and stressed that the essence of peace lies in equality. Regarding the question of the world turning to a space of hard balancing, the case of China’s ‘asymmetric balancing’, which focuses on capitalising on the vulnerabilities of others, was taken up. The example of ASEAN states highlights their sheer economic dependence on China.

Through the influence of the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta, Dr Paul explained the strategic importance of the Thucydides Trap, where the subordinate powers try to contain emerging powers from the fear of power imbalance. This was to bring forth the dynamics surrounding the Indo-Pacific region and the Chinese strategy by Sun Tzu — striking when the enemy is weak.

He went on to discuss how the European era was different when the leaders were in pursuit of land. He said, “Conquest doesn’t make you rich, sometimes it makes you poor.” Globalisation is also drastically different now from how it was back in 1990 due to multiple channels of migration, trade and investments. A lot also depends on the Chinese economy because if it goes down, it could potentially bring down many other economies along with itself. He also made a point about prudence in decision making by smart world leaders, and how it is essential to prevent wars. However, it seems that for China, becoming a global power seems very attractive and Xi Jinping wishes to replace the US for that status.

The discussion also touched on the ‘global commons’ and regarding its management through international institutions. Dr Paul stressed on the importance of global governance and maintained that international surveillance should exist. He said, in contrast to this, populist leaders do not believe in the importance of global governance.

In response to a question about China’s effect on India, Dr Paul stated that India did not make the best use of globalisation. Indian infrastructure lacks focus, whereas the Chinese excelled at it. He said that a lack of proper access to education, failure to eradicate poverty and social issues such as class and gender discriminations are India’s self-inflicted wounds.

He went on to compare the development of Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology of India and China, and pointed out that while China is aggressively investing in such research, India also should accelerate its efforts to excel in this field.

He elaborated on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and how the involved countries are becoming vassals of China. India can have something more to offer than China and that is ‘Respect’ as diplomacy with smaller countries is important too. India can attract more countries globally if it is able to establish better internal and external connectivity.

The session also touched on the transient and ever changing nature of geopolitical strategies, as a result of which when one economy goes up another comes down. Dr Paul’s concluding remarks focused on the importance of deterrence and strategic planning and the need for India to focus on human development and strategic decision-making.

The report is prepared by Ashwati Madhavan and Jessica Pruthi, Research Interns CPPR-Centre for Strategic Studies.

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