How to win over neighbours & influence a Multiplex World

Times of India | Jan 25, 2015, 06.15 AM IST

The Cold War which marked much of the second half of the 20th century was an era of bipolarity. Its end was followed by a “unipolar moment” dominated by the United States. Now that the unipolar moment is rapidly fading, many pundits see the emer gence of a multipolar world. I would rather call it a Multiplex World.

A Multiplex World is a decentred world, where power and leadership are not monopolized by one or two powers. A Multiplex World is like a multiplex cinema, which presents a variety of shows featuring different plots (ideas), actors, producers and directors.The offerings may include Hollywood thrillers and westerns, Bollywood song and dance, Chinese kung fu, European realism, and many others.

More importantly, a Multiplex World is not a multipolar world. There are three key differences. First, unlike Europe’s multipolarity before the Second World War, so nostalgically celebrated by Henry Kissinger in his new book World Order as the foundation of the modern world, a Multiplex World is shaped not just by a handful of Great Powers and their alliances. It is also shaped by newer and regional powers, global and regional organizations, corporations, social movements and shape-shifting terrorist networks.

Second, economic interdependence in a Multiplex World is more multi-faceted and complex. It covers not just trade, but also investment, financial flows, production networks and a shared vulnerability to transnational challenges like climate change, terrorism, pandemics, etc.

Third, a Multiplex World has multiple layers of governance. Regional powers and institutions enjoy a much greater significance than in a bipolar or unipolar world.

A Multiplex World presents many opportunities as well as challenges for India. By most accounts, India is a rising power. This week, the International Monetary Fund projected that India’s economy will grow by 6.5% in 2016, faster than China’s predicted 6.3% expansion.

Both the bipolar Cold War and the unipolar moment limited India’s ability to shape world order. The waning of Western dominance opens space for emerging powers like India to play a more active role in global affairs.

But to take advantage of this opening, India needs to abandon outmoded principles such as non-alignment in favour of a more energetic, proactive and positive posture of global and regional engagement.

India is absolutely right to demand the reform of global institutions such as the UN, WTO, IMF and the World Bank to make them more democratic and accountable, and give India and other developing nations more voice.

At the same time, it must shed its reputation for being the country that gives “global governance the biggest headache” as American journalist Barbara Crossette once put it. This may be an unfair characterization, but a new book entitled Bargaining with a Rising India by Amrita and Aruna Narlikar, confirms that Delhi’s negotiating behaviour on issues such as trade and non-proliferation is marked by an exaggerated sense of its needs and priorities, a refusal to make concessions and a tendency to accept only those agreements that are highly favourable to India. To benefit from a Multiplex World, India needs to adopt a more positive sum approach, pursuing shared interests and seeking common ground, and showing a greater willingness to make concessions and compromises.

Like other emerging powers, India may be tempted to bypass its region and seek status through membership in global forums such as G-20 and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). These global clubs are, of course, important. But their benefits are compromised if the regional ties of the emerging powers are in poor shape. Look at China. Its global image and leadership ambitions are undermined by its plethora of disputes and rivalries with its neighbours.India should not privilege its membership in global clubs at the expense of its regional ties.

 Imagine what an India-Pakistan shift from a duel to a duet -whether in the form of a combined cricket team playing against Australia or a joint effort to strengthen the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation -will do to India’s domestic stability and its global image and influence! None of this is to say that India should disregard its national interest and embrace a neo-Nehruvian idealism. But a Multiplex World gives it more choices to pursue its national interest and leadership ambitions by promoting global interdependence, pursuing proactive and shared leadership of global governance, and building a positive regional environment in South Asia and the Indo-Pacific.
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