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India: A Promising New Power in the Global Arena

The decline of US hegemony and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic have created a strained, more competitive world. India seeks to draw nations together, avoid the building of competing power blocs, and foster healthy dialogue between powers great and small.
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Planet Earth with detailed relief is covered with a complex luminous network of air routes based on real data. India. South-east Asia. 3D rendering. Elements of this image furnished by NASA © Anton Balazh / shutterstock.com

December 08, 2023 01:50 EDT
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India became independent from the British Empire 76 years ago on August 15, 1947. The world has changed since then. US dominance is waning, and the international community is in a volatile state as it shifts to multipolarity. This creates opportunities for a prospective global player like India.

Yet it also creates dangers. The road to global spotlight for New Delhi may be difficult. The Russia–Ukraine War, the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the growing impoverishment of India’s South Asian neighbours, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, all hinder India’s place in international affairs.  

These adversities demonstrate the lack of consensus and the sheer neglect of dialogue and diplomacy in the international community. In the words of Samir Saran, the President of the renowned Observer Research Foundation (ORF), “When the pandemic first broke out there was a rise in protectionist sentiments and countries scrambled to protect their citizens and close off borders.”

India’s foreign policy may be characterized as realpolitik, but it is also a blend of both pragmatism and morality. Its job in this decade is to navigate the now post-COVID environment both to pursue its own interests and also foster a lacking collegiality among nations.

Strategic multilateralism in the Indo-Pacific 

Writing for the think tank Gateway House, Indian Ambassador Rajiv Bhatia raised a fundamental question: Is India a middle power, a great power or an in-between power? That is a question that is currently still being decided as India finds its place in the world. But the uncertainty means that India, committed to multilateralism, will have to balance its focus on its neighbors with its focus on the great powers.

India seeks to tie regional and global partners together by participating in organizations like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (India, Australia, Japan and the US), BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, (which includes China, Russia, Iran and most of Central Asia), or SCO, and, of course, the G20. Through these organizations, India tries to lead by example and encourage partnership between all nations on equal terms, opposing China’s attempts to exclude the West and establish hegemony in the East.

In a similar vein, India has revived and expanded its “Look East Policy,” strengthening trade ties with its neighbors in Southeast Asia. Leaders from India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) declared 2022 the “ASEAN-India Friendship Year,” marking 30 years of relations.

Central to the Indian foreign policy has been a larger focus on developmental and economic issues. Writing for The Diplomat, Raymond E. Vickery, Jr. points out that India’s priorities at the SCO were three “pillars of cooperation,” viz., startups, science and technology, and traditional medicine.

India’s domestic circumstances have given impetus to its leadership initiatives. However, this has also imposed additional responsibility to work actively with the international community in line with her larger objectives of “One Earth, One Family, One Future,” or Vasudeva Kutumbakam (The World is one Family). This can be done through a consensus on both political and apolitical issues, as seen in initiatives of vaccine diplomacy during the COVID-19 pandemic.  In supporting faster, sustainable and inclusive growth by highlighting international support for diverse social and economic sectors, India can impact the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

As the world’s largest democracy, the third-largest economy in purchasing power parity terms and the second most populous country, India will undeniably be a central pole as the international community continues to develop.

Challenges, Solutions and the Way Forward

Despite the strategic positioning of India, the exercise of international leadership won’t be easy. The actions of India’s long-standing ally Russia and its regional competitor, China, in the context of the Russia–Ukraine War marked a return to Cold War politics. As gaps continue to open between the East and the West, India will struggle as it tries to draw the two worlds together.

As the nation embarks upon a new journey, the global challenges do not seem to lessen; neither must India’s commitment to dialogue, international consensus and harmony slacken.It falls upon India to assert her demands more vocally as a key international player and potential global superpower, for its own sake and for the sake of the broader developing world.

[Cheyenne Torres edited this piece.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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