Great powers have always been prominent in international relations. Their rise and fall have often led to structural transformations of international relations. International order broadly refers to the international economic institutions, bilateral and regional security organisations and political norms, as well as their ordering mechanisms. This notion has become articulate since the end of the second world war and the emergence of the United States and the Soviet Union as superpowers.
In this context, it becomes necessary to understand whether these countries reaffirm and converge on the concept of international order, what it takes to build an inclusive and sustainable international order, and steps that ought to be taken to pursue it. To understand these issues at hand, the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) hosted an online discussion on Different Views Among the Great Powers about International Order under ‘The State of International Affairs – #DiplomacyDialogue’.
The discussion was initiated by Dr Simi Mehta, CEO and Editorial Director, IMPRI, New Delhi, who stated that an informed deliberation on the questions aforementioned is necessary to develop a clearer picture of the situation.
Prof Michael B Yahuda, Professor Emeritus of International Relations, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), University of London, England, went on to state that the traditional view of great powers regards them as those that can shape the character of international relations at any given point. But to understand them better, it is necessary to look at them from their perspective itself. What they think is the order that would favour them.
According to him, only the great powers have views that are significant for international order as a whole. Thus, for our purposes, only India, China, Russia and the United States qualify as great powers who think about global development and act upon it. Understanding China’s views, Professor Yahuda said that they have a two-pronged reaction to the current order that favours the United States.
Consequently, the Chinese would prefer an order based on multilateralism, which would increase the space for China’s centrality. The US would like to recast the post-World War II settlement in which all countries would follow an international order, with the US as the leader. Russia would like to see its role enhanced as when it was the Soviet Union, they preferred the duopoly with the United States but one that is joined by China and India. India still stands for the principles of non-alignment and prefers partnerships rather than treaty-bound alliances, stated Professor Yasuda.
India also aims at becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council together with Japan, whose rising economy can shape the regional and perhaps the global economies, given that it is rebuilding the military forces for both its own defense and that of Taiwan.
The European Union, on the other hand, is divided and lacks the capacity to defend itself without calling on Washington. He went on to observe that we live at a time of transition, affecting the domestic as well as the international politics of each of the countries aforementioned. The US is double-minded about democracy in domestic politics and the international arena.
As a global leader, it seeks to change the norms and behaviours of the international system, proclaims adherence to international law and democracy. Even if one were to examine both, one would find American leadership rather questionable. As far as China is concerned, at the moment, it’s also in a period of transition. Superficially, it seems that the communist party runs everything but in fact, it has a one-man leadership.
Despite attempts, Professor stated, China will never be equivalent to the US given the structural challenges it faces. India also faced domestic problems owing to its erstwhile leaders’ attempt, in what some people call the Hinduisation of the country given its vast diversity. From that perspective, it is clear that all the great powers have deep problems within them that necessarily shape their view of the world.
Prof Siddharth Mallavarapu, Professor, Department of International Relations and Governance Studies, School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS), Shiv Nadar University, stated that great powers are those having fairly fundamental capabilities in terms of system shaping. Concurring with Professor Yahuda, he stated that China is undeniably a revisionist power focusing on multilateral order, taking over the residue that the United States has created and therefore, its aims at constructing an order spearheaded by China.
Talking about the US, Professor Mallavarpu stated that the Trump administration retreated from some forms of multilateralism and became inward-looking which poses a threat to shaping international institutions. The issue about the former Soviet Union is associated with its economy and internal authoritarianism but he mentions that there is a certain nostalgia about the former influence that the union exercised over large swaths of the world.
In terms of India, Professor Mallavarpu stated that India has its own share of ideological challenges in terms of non-alignment (which is still the fundamental fulcrum). India is acutely conscious of the deep democratic deficits when it comes to international organisations that it has been consistently fighting for, like Japan, which demands to be more fairly represented. With all the countries, we need to find elements that represent diversity and provide for a politics that celebrates that diversity in order to focus on the things that really matter in foreign policy.
Professor Mallavarpu went on to state that international relations can majorly be viewed from three or four distinct lenses: the standard realist lens that places a far greater emphasis on material power; liberal institutionalists lens argue that institutions still enjoy certain autonomy in the international system; the constructivist lens who argue that norms and culture matters.
Dr Satoru Nagao, Fellow (non-resident), Hudson Institute; Senior Research Fellow, Japan Forum for Strategic Studies, Tokyo, Japan, went on to enhance the discussion by posing questions with respect to China’s development as a serious competitor against the United States. He asked if there would be a competitor against the US and what steps would be taken by Germany, Japan and Russia in order to combat the same.
Concluding with the way forward, Dr Satoru stated that the United States will have to recover its image following the Afghanistan fallout. Japan, on the other hand, is formal and India is a great partner for the United States like Australia, thus indicating that the Quad will shape out to becoming an important alliance. Professor Mallavarpu stated that the manner in which the problems of the countries are dealt with will determine the future discourse of international order.
Professor Yahuda concluded by stating that looking ahead is difficult because of the number of large issues that transcend the particular selfish interests of particular countries. But as far as countries are concerned, he stated, opportunities exist for those who favour international society to operate. Ms Mehta concluded the session with a vote of thanks.
The article has been written by Ishika Chaudhary.