Last month’s Sign of the Times highlighted what appear to be a series of US retreats from global leadership positions. With the geopolitical cards apparently being reshuffled across a wide range of defence, political and economic areas, America’s apparent withdrawal is creating opportunities for countries seeking to fill the resulting void, with China currently taking the most proactive steps among the potential contenders. Beijing has already made clear its intent to play a more active role in matters of globalisation, international trade and climate change, global issues that also align well with China’s domestic agenda and where it can leverage significant political and financial assets. Despite China’s head start over others and its apparent desire to lead, its efforts will likely face not only resistance from the West but also competition from a number of countries, both within Asia and abroad. Further, China’s inability to lead on a broader set of issues related to matters such as human rights or regional security acts as a counter-weight to its leadership efforts and provides opportunities for other countries to fill the gaps being left by the United States. Among potential contenders for regional and international leadership, India, as the world’s fastest growing economy, the largest democracy and (potentially ) the most populous country, clearly has critical assets to leverage across a number of spheres. Bringing these to bear though will require India to be far more bold and strategic in handling both international affairs and in making strong domestic progress, both are matters that have proved elusive to date. However, if India can achieve this, it has the potential to create a virtuous circle of domestic development and international leadership similar to the one that has underwritten US prosperity for over two generations.
The Need for Renewed Leadership
One of the most dangerous geo-political circumstances is a power vacuum and America’s actions in the last six months in particular, suggest that the execution of the Trump Administration’s ‘America First’ vision is creating vacuums across an increasingly broad range of fields. These are further being exacerbated by the accompanying weakening of (formerly US-led) international and multi-lateral institutions that have until recently underwritten the global order. This order consisted of, among other things, a shared commitment to liberal capitalism, clear rules of engagement in trade, policy and war, a high-level security architecture focused on nuclear non-proliferation, a recognition of states’ fundamental sovereignty and shared access to the earth’s global commons. A number of the key elements of this order were already under attack before America’s current retreat. In fact, the recent withdrawal by the US from what has historically been a muscular international leadership is in many ways a reaction to its own domestic challenges and the global economic, political and security issues that have built up over the past few decades. As pointed out in a previous Sign of the Times , many of these challenges are the direct consequences of the current world order, including, the lack of international and national policies to compensate for the uneven nature of growth based on globalisation which while being the key driver of the unprecedented rise in prosperity has also created increasing income divides and continued to cause massive environmental impacts from mass industrialisation. Among the challenges facing the world today are a number of issues of global scope and scale that will require coordinated international action, and that is unlikely to be achieved in the absence of clear leadership by either one country or a small group of tightly aligned countries. The issues, which require this vision and leadership, include:
- Trade Protectionism and Fairness. The continued growth of global industrial trade is being threatened by increasing protectionism (e.g. a 51% increase in G20 country trade protectionist measures from 2010-15) and major withdrawals by countries from trade frameworks (e.g. the US withdrawal from the TPP and the UK’s Brexit). While this is based on a perception of the unfairness of trade or an infringed sovereignty, it is clear that the countries that have voted for more isolationist leaders and policies have been among free trade’s biggest historic beneficiaries with their economies still reliant on its continued growth.
- Income Inequality. The gaps between the have and the have nots globally is sharpening across a number of key dimensions, with the traditional north-south divide between countries being exacerbated by growing inequality within nations, too, with the GINI coefficient, a traditional measure of inequality rising by 10% across OECD countries and the ratio of top income decile to bottom income decile reached its highest level in 30 years.
- Climate Change and Rising Pollution. The global fight against climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, which have increased by 80% since 1970, and has been damaged by the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Accord.
- Food and Water Security. 2.5bn people today lack adequate access to sanitation, and of the 3bn people projected to be added to the world’s population by 2050, most will be born in countries facing severe food and water shortages.
- Cross-Border Terrorism. Cross-border terrorism is at an all-time high today, causing nearly 40,000 deaths per year, and creating an urgent need for global co-operation on intelligence and security.
- Cyber-Crime. Cyber-crime, with over 45m+ incidents annually, is an increasingly critical threat to the global economic and political order.
- Displacements and Increasing Refugee Flows. Collective action is required to effectively process and integrate refugees and economic migrants around the world, which today total 65m – the highest number in human history.
As pointed out in previous Sign of the Times papers, these issues are interrelated, with the feedback loop between them accelerating the demise of the current US led world order and its governance framework underwritten by multilateral institutions. As the single most powerful nation on earth, America’s current unwillingness or inability to reinvent the rules and institutions that have failed to solve the world’s issues satisfactorily to date creates an opening for other countries to either reform and save or to reinvent these institutions based on a set of new values. China has clearly recognised the importance of the major issues facing the world and shown an interest in leading across a number of them, in particular in the areas of climate change and free trade. However, China’s willingness to lead is neither comprehensive in nature nor universally welcomed, particularly by the established participants of the current global order who fear that increases in China’s influence would come at a cost to their own positions. While unipolar world orders (such as the Pax Britannica in the 19th century or the shorter Pax Americana post the collapse of the Soviet Union) can underpin periods of peace and prosperity, most countries today lean towards preferring one led by a pre-Trump America or a multi-polar order to one dominated by China. However, where ambitious nations form the leadership of a multipolar order, their competitiveness can drive conflict and instability, whereas in a unipolar world, the rivalry is kept in check. Despite the US having built a broader armoury of hard and soft power than China, the two countries seem set up for conflict across a number of issues. So, unless a third country seeks to also enter this fray and create a three-way tug of war, new entrants to the power game will need to think differently about how to participate. It would seem though that given the diversity of global issues today there is space for multiple leaders employing multiple approaches.
In terms of who the new power players might be, while some of the world’s major western countries in theory might partially fill America’s shoes, most will likely be held back by a combination of domestic and geopolitical issues, even if they were able to overcome their fundamental and long-standing lack of willingness to lead. The EU needs more time to recover from its separation from the UK, the UK has been in increasing political and economic turmoil since the Brexit referendum, France is beginning its own domestic political revival and Germany and Japan remain mostly unwilling to be overt leaders for a combination of historic reasons. Having said that, Germany is positioning and being welcomed as a voice of reason by many in favour of salvaging the best of the current liberal world order. However, none of these countries are yet able to provide a credible alternative to China’s bids for leadership or stem its increasing influence and, in the face of American withdrawal, they may have no choice but to welcome another power player.
‘The overlap of American and Chinese interests in the Asia-Pacific region and globally has given rise to speculation that both countries might fall into the Thucydides Trap’
In the absence of credible alternatives from established economies, there are few with the positioning to play a more central role in world affairs. Among these, India stands out clearly due to its size, growth and most importantly its potential. The country has been an important part of the United States’ ‘Asia Pivot’ strategy, is growing rapidly with an increasingly outward foreign and trade policy, has embarked on an aggressive security and defence programme, has established strong relationships with major Asian countries and is committed to the principles of democracy. In the absence of a renewed American interest in world leadership, which one should certainly not rule out, India alone has the scope and scale to offer credible alternatives to China’s leadership bids across a number of fronts. Moreover, given the imbalance in power that a US withdrawal would leave in the Asia-Pacific region, India will have little choice but to play a more active role in the region and the world if it is to achieve its ambitions. However, while India’s potential to become a more important voice on the international stage is unlikely to be questioned, its actions to date are not yet in line with a country that has global leadership aspirations.
Five Pre-requisites for Positioning India for Leadership
“Essentially, India faces a growing up moment. To lead, India would need to demonstrate to the rest of the world that is has the political, economic and military maturity and sophistication to exert influence on the global. stage to help solve some of the world’s most pressing issues, much like the United States did in the post-war era.”
For the majority of its post-independence history, India has stuck to a policy of international non-alignment, limiting its global interventions to situations where it has been directly impacted. Clearly, if India has global leadership aspirations, this needs to change quickly and this will be challenging given the depth to which this belief has been driven through the Indian policy and bureaucratic apparatus. To put the challenge into context, simply building out its own economy to be the fastest growing in the world or developing its military capabilities in order to secure its borders will not suffice if India is to be a positive force in the region, much less the world. Essentially, India faces a growing up moment. To lead, India would need to demonstrate to the rest of the world that is has the political, economic and military maturity and sophistication to exert influence on the global stage to help solve some of the world’s most pressing issues, much like the United States did in the post-war era. And in doing so, India will need to leverage its democratic traditions to secure a significant soft power advantage over competing governments, including China and Russia whose authoritarian leadership models lend themselves to tougher and quicker decisions but also create an aversion among the world’s more liberal nations. Clearly, executing on such a strategy requires a significant degree of stability and alignment at home. A country preoccupied with overwhelming issues domestically has neither the bandwidth nor the will-power to lead abroad, as America’s own current withdrawal from leadership is demonstrating.
The combination of external and internal factors point to a set of pre-requisites if India is to lead in global affairs, namely:
- Economic Power and Leverage. Arguably, the most important pre-requisite to being an influential voice in the world order is a strong economy with global trade an investment clout. China’s own increasing influence in the world during the past decade has been based almost exclusively on economic power, combining trade infrastructure, investment loans and aid into a compelling package that many countries have found hard to resist. In this regard, India appears to be moving in the right direction, despite unprecedented global volatility, India’s GDP growth has averaged 7% over the last three years, and has gained itself the position of the world’s fastest growing economy.
In addition to core economic growth India will also need to build out its investment and trade linkages. With regards to investment, India, already growing to become an attractive destination for international capital will need to become an active overseas investor as well. Given that the US$1trillion infrastructure spending requirement at home already significantly exceeds the availability of public funds, India’s overseas capital push will need to be largely driven in partnership with other nations through multi-lateral institutions or by the private sector, particularly in the two or three industries where it can more readily establish global leadership positions. Similarly, in trade, India will need to leverage its strengthening global trade position (where it is currently ranked 13th) to become a rule shaper, if not setter. Doing so will require India to pick up the pace on the execution of free trade agreements, where it lags behind other major economies. Multilateral agreements with the EU, the GCC countries, Central Asian countries and/or the Asia Pac region would all have the potential to serve as the basis for a comprehensive superregional trade partnership, like the one envisaged by the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is now floundering in the absence of US support and leadership.
- Political Power and Influence. While economic power may buy a country at seat at the tablet its ability to get things done there though depends on the country’s capacity to exercise political power and influence. This requires both credibility and respect, driven by the nature of its international engagement. India’s ambitions in this regard is a recent phenomenon, having spent much of its independent existence in the Non-Aligned Movement. More recently though, India is an increasingly active participant in international institutions, e.g. while it has long sought to secure a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council it has only recently become the third largest contributor to UN peacekeeping troops around the world. Mr. Modi has actively sought to raise India’s international profile since taking office, hosting 76 visits by international leaders in India and taking 64 trips abroad in just three years, promoting deeper ties with potential partners particularly on economic matters. However, on the key issues facing the world such as trade, climate change, immigration and security, India is still perceived as a follower, rather than a leader.
To change the perception of reluctant international participant, India will need to engage much more actively across a wide range of fronts. In particular, it will need to expand from a bilateral to a multi-lateral mode of engagement to demonstrate a capacity to lead, rather than just negotiate win-win outcomes. Further, it will need to move from simple to multi-dimensional and from transactional to strategic arrangements, e.g. bilateral trade agreements need to be converted into multi-lateral regional (or global) partnerships, and initiatives such as one-off military exercises should form the basis for more comprehensive regional security frameworks.
Hard Power and Security. Sustained economic development and global integration require a stable security environment, which has often been underwritten by military power. In an increasingly global and networked world, security implies not just the identification and elimination of proximate physical threats but also ensuring free access to and the orderly use of ‘global commons’, including cyberspace. Since Independence, India’s security priorities have focused largely on the protection of its borders from threats in its immediate surroundings, primarily from Pakistan and to a lesser degree from China. India’s military capabilities today reflect these priorities. Other than in terms of nuclear capabilities, where India exerts global deterrence capabilities despite having one of the world’s smallest arsenals, Indian military power projection is regional at best. While India has the world’s 5th largest naval fleet with theoretical blue-water and multi-theatre capabilities, its quality is well ‘Sustained economic development and global integration require a stable security environment, which at the last resort is underwritten by military power’ below global standards. In 2016, the government estimated that US$8.5bn per annum would be required to be spent to modernise India’s navy by 2027. However, less than a year into this plan, the Indian Navy is already facing a funding shortfall of US$5bn annually that will see ‘Sustained economic development and global integration require a stable security environment, which at the last resort is underwritten by military power’ capabilities falling even further behind. On land, India possesses the world’s 3rd largest military force (by personnel), but its military equipment, tanks, fighter jets, assault rifles and armour, are also not up to modern standards. If India is to underpin its ability to exert international influence, it will need to rectify this quality gap and significantly increase its ability to project power beyond its borders. In order to underpin leadership and its commitment to protecting the global commons, India will need to demonstrate global military capabilities, including joint military exercises with other large nations, participation in global peacekeeping and anti-piracy operations, and the creation of rapid response forces that can be deployed throughout the South Asia region and further afield.
Soft Power. Soft power, the ability to attract and co-opt others as a means of persuasion, has been one of America’s greatest intangible assets of the past 70 years. Although hard cash and hard (military) power will form important parts of any global leader’s policy arsenal, the propagation and spreading of cultural and political values is equally important in securing influence around the world. India holds a tremendous potential reservoir of soft power stemming from a number of sources. Politically, its decades of leadership in the non-aligned movement “What is soft power? It is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion or payments. It arises from the attractiveness of a country’s culture, political ideals, and policies.”
Joseph S Nye have created an image of India as a non-violent, pluralistic and generally tolerant country, while its values as a democracy are perceived as positive, making India a strong candidate to hedge against more “hard” powers such as China or Russia. Culturally, India also has the ability to appeal with its tradition of spiritualism and yoga, its rich history, the increasing global reach of Bollywood movies and even its cuisine and these characteristics make for a unique culture that attracts people the world over. However, India has only exploited this soft power systematically in a limited manner to date, e.g. in the ‘Look East’ Policy towards Southeast Asia, the government consciously sought to emphasize the centuries old trade, cultural and religious links with the region. If India is really to leverage its soft power potential to support a leadership role in the world it will need to promote its appeal more proactively. Further, India will need to leverage the worldwide recognition of its cultural exports in the service of promoting its own value and development, much as the US did with its own cultural exports during the Cold War, where Hollywood and Coca-Cola came to represent the American ‘way of life’ including freedom, capitalism and prosperity.
Domestic Stability and Alignment. Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, leadership and decisive action abroad requires stability and alignment at home. During the last century, the combination of political stability, economic growth and a general improvement in standards of living provided American leaders with a sound platform to exert economic, political and military influence beyond its borders. In a similar manner, India will need to enhance domestic stability to free up the resources required to act internationally, effectively wield soft and hard power, and to win the general credibility required to lead on complex and global issues. Key elements of this stability include a peaceful and prosperous society (typically with a strong middle class), a vigorous civil society, strong independent institutions free of corruption, and a high-level consensus on shared values and actions. India’s performance in this regard is mixed: while the BJP’s wave of reforms since 2014 have significantly improved India’s economic position, this has yet to translate into significant improvements in the quality of life for many citizens. Further, civil society remains weak relative to where it could be; India remains stubbornly stuck at China’s level with regards to corruption perceptions, tied for 79th place. and India today is ranked a lowly 136th in the world for press freedom, behind dictatorships such as Zimbabwe and Myanmar. As an example, the recent enforcement of the beef ban and the associated violence does much to undermine the nation abroad and creates the impression of a government encouraging aggressive fundamentalists. An India that is confident to not only continue but strengthen its tradition of pluralism and open dissent at home will demonstrate the strength of its values to those who are losing them in favour of a strongman approach.
It is clear that the next 25 years will be a period of transition as the current world order gives way to something new. In the absence of a break in the current trajectory, the end of hyperpower status for the US, with increasing power flowing to China, (and potentially Russia) seem near-certainties India’s position in this new world order, however, is less clear. While Mr. Modi clearly believes that India deserves a seat at the table of global powers, this will require addressing all five of the prerequisites above in a targeted and coordinated fashion. This is clearly a significant challenge: addressing India’s economic challenges alone has taken up nearly the entirety of Mr Modi’s bandwidth as ‘For the majority of its post-independence history, India has stuck to a policy of international non-alignment … if India has global leadership aspirations, this needs to change quickly’ Prime Minister as well as significant political capital. Adding to this an integrated security, foreign policy and political dimension will be no mean feat. Without widening the inner circle working with Mr Modi, these endeavours will indeed prove impossible to address. In addition, and most importantly, the government will need to build a level of consensus on India’s expanding role and ambition within its own ranks, with the opposition in regional and national government and within society as a whole. Achieving this consensus may well be the biggest challenge; the country’s long-established policy of non-alignment has become a core part of the national identity, creating resistance against deviations from the country’s passive and neutral status quo. This is the case among ordinary Indians, who are evenly split on whether India should play a more active role in the Asia-Pacific region as well as among the three million bureaucrats effectively running the country.
Finally, India will need to execute its bid for leadership in a way that manages its relationship with China, who is in the midst of its own leadership bid across a range of issues. The overlap of American and Chinese interests in the Asia-Pacific region and globally has given rise to speculation that both countries might fall into the Thucydides Trap, when a rising power causes fear in an established power which escalates toward war. With China several steps ahead of India in staking out leadership positions, India, should it not execute carefully, risks being the rising power that triggers a reaction from the more established China that takes energy to resolve and diverts it from its domestic agenda.
The Contours of the Path to Power
The Modi government finds itself on the brink of an interesting prize in three parts: firstly, the potential to become a counter-weight to China in matters of trade and industry, secondly, the preferred partner for security in Asia, and thirdly, a global leader on key multi-lateral initiatives and influential voice on critical global issues. A glance at the numbers however shows that in many ways China has stronger cards than India to become a global leader. Its GDP is 4x the size of India’s and (officially at least) expanding only at a marginally slower rate, its military is the largest in the world and its defence budget is 3x the size of India’s, and it has a head start in the creation of new international organisations and initiatives such as the AIIB and the New Silk Road strategy. In addition, China’s leadership have also formulated a vision of the country’s longer term goals, Xi Jinping’s ‘China Dream’ of national rejuvenation, sustainable development and prosperity, and national glory. Perhaps the biggest difference between China’s and India’s positions today though lies in their ability to maintain domestic stability and alignment in the period ahead as they both rise as powers. In China, the communist party has sought to impose alignment from above, with stability underwritten by the party’s control of the key levers of power, political, military, societal and to a lessening degree economic. Since assuming office in 2013, Xi Jinping has cracked down on corrupt officials, political rivals, the press and freedom of speech, civil rights activists, the rule of law and most recently appears to have set his sights on the captains of private industry, too. With Xi holding an increasingly firm grip on all of the organs of power, alignment within society on China’s international leadership, at least to date, is not an issue. India by contrast is noisy, messy and diverse, and the level of alignment achievable in China will likely forever elude it. However, India has withstood massive dislocations - including wars and border disputes, famines, government mis-management of the economy, poverty while others rise, economic disparities – and continued to be politically stable and resolute in defence of its democratic political systems. Importantly, as the world goes through the next phase in the evolution towards more open participatory societies fuelled by an abundance of information, China’s model stands to be challenged. Given the series of major dislocations already experienced by the Middle East in the Arab Spring, the EU through Brexit and by the US in the last national election, the voice of the people will no doubt be heard in China at some stage too, at which point in time China’s internal alignment will also be severely tested.
So, India’s pluralism is clearly one of its greatest strength and a source of producing significant resources. India produces resilient entrepreneurs who seem to create world class companies that succeed in spite of, rather than due to government involvement. Half of India’s top ten corporations are privately founded non-state owned enterprises, compared to only one in China. Its creativity has won its citizens as many Nobel Prizes (8) and in a broader field of disciplines (7 vs 5) than China’s have, and India (unlike China) does not incarcerate its winners . And its global English speaking diaspora (the world’s largest at 16m citizens abroad, increasing to c.30m when including people of Indian origin holding different passports ) has the ability to connect other countries and find common ground between societies. In other words, India’s ability to seduce, rather than coerce, others is significant. Moreover, India’s pluralism, “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”
Mahatma Gandhi adherence to democratic principles and general tolerance mean that its leadership role and global contributions will likely be welcomed by the international community (as they have been to date). India, much more so than China, can position itself as a fair and neutral arbiter in international disputes, for the simple reason that it is more likely to be trusted by the disputants. This same trust can allow it to lead in questions of regional security, human rights, global governance and other areas where China still faces a credibility deficit. India’s path to power therefore can take one that China cannot (or will not travel down), thereby also minimising the potential for conflict between the two. Moreover, it has the chance to do this as a peaceful democracy, which in itself has tremendous soft power given that the previous decade had led the world to question whether China’s rise meant that democracy could not deliver prosperity to the poor.
In the Buddhist tradition, plotting the “Middle Path” provides the road to salvation. India’s path to power too must follow this “Middle Path” that is based on its own unique history and characteristics, if it is to be successful. This ‘Middle Path’ would chart a course between India’s historical passive non-alignment and China’s current ‘hard power’ leadership mode, drawing upon elements of the former to deliver results more often associated with the latter. Doing so will require India to leverage its goodwill and credibility to primarily drive ‘soft(-er)’ power initiatives, often in collaboration with strong partners with whom it shares core values, using the success of these to pursue ‘hard power’ financial and security initiatives in a highly selective and restricted manner. on regional efforts that directly benefit India domestically. India’s path to power therefore could include the following:
- Masterminding the Super-regional Free Trade Agreement. As the US walks away from TPP, Asia has to step up to find its own solution. India is well-placed to take this initiative either for the commonwealth as a whole or for a super-regional group. India already has a free trade agreement with ASEAN and is in discussions with a number of countries in the Persian Gulf on bilateral trade ties. There is an opportunity to tie these negotiations together into a broader framework governing trade in Asia, transparently drawing in Central and East Asian as well as Asia-Pacific countries. These efforts would allow India to be one of the rules setters for trade in Asia and a founding member of what could become the world’s largest free trade zone.
- Securing the Indian Ocean Maritime Order. With its dominant position in the Indian Ocean, which surrounds it on three sides, India is the natural leader to ensure a regional maritime order in the broader sense. India has already formed the 35-member Indian Ocean Naval Symposium as a forum to discuss naval and security matters and collaboration. But leadership also implies tackling challenges such as the freedom of navigation, natural resource management, anti-piracy operations, coordinating disaster relief and enacting environmental protections. Constructive leadership across a broad range of maritime matters will enhance India’s stature and open the door to leading on higher impact security and economic collaborations in a region that encompasses most of South Asia, the Persian Gulf, East Africa, Australia and parts of Southeast Asia.
- Leading in Peacekeeping and Conflict Mediation. India has started to seize the opportunity to play a more active role in peacekeeping and conflict mediation and this can be extended based on leveraging its reputation as a neutral party to expand global influence. Multiple countries including the US, Russia and Turkey who have offered to mediate the current dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours have been turned down due to perceptions of their vested interests in the region and doubts about their absolute neutrality. India on the other hand should generally be seen as impartial by the parties and could be trusted accordingly. India could also offer its services to other conflicts, such as the promised renegotiation of the US-Iran nuclear deal or the civil war in Yemen. Further, India could help underwrite the peace deals it helps secure through peacekeeping missions, either through the UN or directly as mandated by the terms of the deal.
- Taking up the Climate Change and Alternative Energy Cause. The US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord has left a serious gap in climate change leadership that has yet to be filled. While the rest of the world has vowed to continue without the US and China has signalled its willingness to play a greater role in the process, the size of the challenge facing the world exceeds any one country’s ability to lead alone on the matter. India, as the world’s fifth largest producer of energy has a strong position to be one of a small number of countries to lead the way in fighting climate change. India is targeting to grow renewable energy production fourfold within five years, and with its low-cost base can become a core source of mass-produced cost effective renewable solutions for the rest of the world.
- Championing Human Rights and Governance. Finally, India can play a leadership role in the promotion of democracy, human rights and good governance (the last of these would require it to first improve its own standing here first, of course.) These issues today generally fall under developed countries’ foreign aid budgets or are addressed as secondary priorities by international institutions such as the World Bank. In both cases, they tend to play a subsidiary role to the countries or organisations’ bigger agendas. India has the potential to lead in the creation of a new multi-lateral institution focused exclusively on human rights and governance that can coordinate and bundle at scale the disparate activities being undertaken in this regard across the world today, reducing the cost and increasing the effectiveness of current efforts.
Conclusion: India's Big Opportunity
In these turbulent and revolutionary times, many will have the opportunity to fill the void of leadership that arises. Mr Modi has positioned India well in a very short space of time to be a contender and will have many opportunities to leave his mark. While there is so much to do domestically, it would seem a mistake for India to not seize the opportunity to be a positive force in international affairs. The exercise of hard power would go against the nature of India. The Middle Path to Power, while ambitious and difficult to tread in a world that has once again become used to escalating tensions and conflicts, is achievable, and leverages many of India’s strengths. It is a path that largely avoids unnecessary competition with other countries seeking to increase their global power position, and builds a sustainable and differentiated position as India’s own, enhancing India’s reputation as a peaceful, constructive and most importantly ‘In the Buddhist tradition, plotting the “Middle Path” provides the road to salvation. India’s path to power too must follow this “Middle Path” that is based on its own unique history and characteristics, if it is to be successful.’ effective partner for the region and the world. The Middle Path both builds on India’s strengths and while seeking to minimise conflict with other aspiring wielders of power. China can spend money freely along the New Silk Route and in Africa, because it has the capital to do and it suits its current strategic priorities. And the importance and impact of this should not be under-estimated, “money talks” as the saying goes. The US, given its pre-eminent military capability and resources, can choose to continue to police the world or not, depending on its, or Mr Trump’s, priorities. India’s leadership initiatives need not interfere with these, thereby avoiding unnecessary conflicts and maximising the chances of its own success. Moreover, initiatives in the influencing and mediation vein, if executed well, will likely meet with widespread support in the international community, increasing India’s standing, deepening bilateral and multi-lateral relationships and opening opportunities to develop further leadership initiatives. In other words, the Middle Path to Power creates the potential for a virtuous cycle of engagement and growing leadership for India. An India that achieves this would not only assure its own continued and sustainable development, but through its global contributions and engagements, also help significantly shape the new world order that is set to form in the coming decades. With America’s return to geopolitical leadership in doubt, at least over the near term, China for all its efforts continuing to face a trust deficit and Europe paralysed by domestic matters, India has a reason to step up and the window of opportunity is open for it to chart and execute a course to global leadership and influence. It should not let this window close.
1. With China’s calculations having recently been challenged as potentially overestimating its population by 90m, as reported in the New York Times
2. Please refer to GPC’s January 2017 Sign of the Times, “The Shape of the World to Come – Part II: Key Challenges Facing the World”, and GPC’s March 2017 Sign of the Times, “The Path to a New World Order”
3. In the US for example, NAFTA adds an estimated $127 billion to GDP each year thanks to “extra” trade growth, a pure economic payoff of US$400 per person, while the nearly 200,000 export-related jobs created annually by NAFTA pay an average salary of 15% to 20% more than the jobs that were lost, according to 2014 report by the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE)
4. Source: OECD
5. While the term ‘political influence’ can be defined in countless ways, for the purposes of this analysis it is the weight accorded to a country’s voice internationally on a given topic.
6. A lesson often forgotten by the West after 70 years of continuous peace and prosperity following World War II.
7. 2017 Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders
8. Please refer to GPC’s March 2017 Sign of the Times, “The Path to a New World Order”
9. Source: The Asian Research Network: Survey on America’s role in the Indo-Pacific.
10. The Greek historian Thucydides, most famous for his “History of the Peloponnesian War” observed that: “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.”
11. Source: Fortune; China’s sole privately held top ten company is Hong Kong based commodities trader Noble Group
12. Source: The Nobel Foundation
13. Source: United Nations
14. See the April 2013 Sign of the Times China’s Potential Green Future and the April 2015 Sign of the Times India Has to Create Big Waves to Succeed
15. See the November 2016 – March 2017 Sign of the Times Series on the ‘Shape of the World to Come’ and ‘We Live in Revolutionary Times’
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