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Issue No.: 572 | February 2015

Global Power Structure in Transition: A New Bipolar World Underway?

B. Ramesh Babu
Change is the law of life. The architecture of the global power structure is on the threshold of another paradigm shift. Since the eve of the Second World War, the global balance of power has gone through several changes. These macro transformations are conceptualized by international relations scholars as multipolar, bipolar, unipolar, unipolar plus and multipolar in the making in that chronological order.

It seems that the global power structure is at the crossroads of yet another transition, a likely return to a bipolar world with new characteristics of its own. The latest changes underway open up new possibilities and also pose fresh challenges to China, India and most other nations. An effort is made here to analyze the unfolding scenario from the perspective of India.

The Prime Movers

The demise of the Soviet Union, collapse of Communism, end of the bipolar world, the rise of America as the lone Super Power, liberal capitalist globalization of the world under American auspices, aggressive expansionism of China, "pivot Asia” policy of America, growing hostility of the US and the West towards Russia, Putin’s tough response, India moving closer to America, and coming together of China and Russia are among the major ingredients of the shifting balance of power on the world stage from mid-1980s to the present. The not-sopeaceful rise of China and the economic and political decline of the US are the most dynamic factors or the primemovers behind the transformation underway in world politics now. India and Russia are global players and also targeted states at the same time. World bodies (like IMF, World Bank, UN, ADB) and the multitude of intergovernmental institutions with global reach like NATO, EU, BRICS, SCO, ASEAN and the multitude of free trade agreements across the world are important players in global politics and the emerging global balance of power.

US-China-India Trilateral

The trilateral equation among US, China and India can be seen as the fulcrum of global politics in the 21st century. It may be recalled that US President Obama and Chinese Premier Li described their country’s equation with India as "one of the defining relationships in the 21st century.” Since assuming office as Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi injected fresh energy and dynamism in the country’s strategic and economic/political equation with both China and the US. His overarching and primary goals are putting India back on the track of rapid and sustained growth and to ensure the nation’s security visà-vis China and Pakistan. Towards these ends, he initiated significant departures from the policies and postures in place till now. Economic development has always been India’s most important and widely accepted objective of its policies and actions at home and abroad. But for a variety of reasons, the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government lost the momentum after significant success in the initial years. Modi’s agenda of development for all, employment for all, training and skills for the youth, rural revival, etc., aroused the whole nation and brought spectacular success to the BJP in the 2014 elections. After a long gap of three decades one single party won overwhelming majority in Lok Sabha.

Promoting a business friendly climate and unleashing the entrepreneurial spirit of the people are seen as the most urgent tasks on hand. Dismantling the many hurdles in the path of investment and discarding archaic laws on the one hand and enacting new laws that positively promote domestic and foreign investments in the country were taken up in all earnest. Despite the hurdle of lacking a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the Modi Government is doing its best to get reform bills passed through persuasion and consensus building.

However, credible success in enacting domestic economic reforms has proved to be elusive so far. While it is too early to pass final judgment, time is running out and soon disillusionment could set in because high expectations were raised during the 2014 general elections. Hindutva hardliners are skewing the pitch against Modi’s development agenda.

However, it is in the area of foreign relations that Prime Minister Modi achieved significant success by transforming the investment climate at home. Doing business in India is once again perceived as attractive and profitable. Modi’s foreign policy initiatives also enhanced the security scenario of the country. FDI is flowing in. But, the potential foreign investors are waiting for progress on the promised second generation of reforms.. Modi was able to win large scale investment commitments from Japan and also China. Corporate America is also expected to come forward in a big way. Negotiations are on with Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi corporations to find mutually acceptable ways around the Nuclear Liability Law, which proved to be a big obstacle to the inflow of American investment in the civilian nuclear energy arena. In this context, the latest agreement with Russia to set up twelve more nuclear reactors in the Kudankulam complex is doubly welcome. This will not only enhance the generation of nuclear energy in the country significantly, but also put pressure on the US and France to take a fresh look at their inflexible postures. Otherwise, they might lose out in the nuclear energy business.

The invitation to President Obama to come to India again and grace the occasion of Republic Day celebrations is a remarkable initiative. Naturally, the visit is expected to yield good dividends on the economic and strategic fronts. Already there are hints of the possibility of a ten year defense treaty between the two countries. US-JapanIndia trilateral dialogue has moved forward significantly. The "Malabar” naval military exercises will be resumed soon. Furthermore, Australia responded by openly declaring that it wants to join the dialogue and the military exercises. A US-Japan-India-Australia quadrilateral is on the anvil. Modi’s dynamism and clarity of purpose played no mean part in this strategic transformation in global politics.

China Responds Quickly

China responded to India moving very close to the US and the "pivot Asia” policy of America rather quickly, but in an intriguing way. A commentary published in a newspaper close to the official circles in China stated that neither the Indian government nor "Indian scholars” have endorsed America’s "Asia pivot” doctrine. India and China should overcome their domestic and foreign problems and pursue an Indo-Pacific-Geo-Economic Plan that includes the ancient silk route and new maritime silk route. The analysis goes on to add that Bangladesh-India-Myanmar Economic Corridor (BIMC) and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor are a part of the grand inter-continental plan. China is looking towards to India for establishing an Indo-Pacific Era based on shared interests and to avoid the American doctrine. In a subtle way the analysis reminded India of its long standing goals of countering America’s global hegemony, democratization of global governance and multi-polarization of world politics.

It will be interesting to see the Modi Government’s response to the informal overtures of China. But what is clear is that China is trying to explore ways and means of defusing the latest phase of India moving very close to the US strategically and ideologically, and roping in Japan to form a powerful US-Japan-India trilateral. There is no need to dismiss the Chinese "trial balloon” in a hurry. Maybe we are on the threshold of an uncharted terrain pregnant with unexpected possibilities. Be that as it may, the Chinese overtures are clearly the outcome of Modi’s policy of infusing clarity of purpose and new dynamism into India-US equation. We should therefore continue to move forward on this track.

Growing Hostility between the US and Russia

The increasingly hostile relations between the US and the West on the one side and Russia on the other indicate a return to a new version of cold war in world politics. Western strategy of relentlessly expanding NATO’s jurisdiction to include the former East European allies of Russia and promoting popular disaffection and rebellions in the Central Asian Republics close to Russian territory are naturally perceived as a grave threat to the security of the nation. Putin’s Russia responded in kind by precipitating a crisis in Ukraine and promoting the secession of Crimea. The US responded by imposing sanctions against Russia and by threatening to toughen and extend them. Economic sanctions rarely achieved their stated goals. But, the Russian economy, which is already in serious trouble, will be confronted with deeper challenges. Putin is determined not to yield to the American "blackmail”. At the recent G-20 Summit held in Brisbane, Australia, the western leaders boycotted him socially and were needlessly discourteous. An angry Putin left Australia in the midst of the Summit meeting. Since returning home he moved very close to China. The two countries signed a long term mega deal in the field of energy, which China needs badly. The mega business deal is a boon to the beleaguered Russian economy. The two countries also signed a defence treaty and announced joint naval military exercises in the Mediterranean Sea and the Pacific Ocean! In the past the Soviet Union was the senior partner. Now China is the Big Brother in the new entente against the West.

To be continued

DR. RAMESH BABU is a specialist in International Relations, American Politics and Foreign Policy. 
He is a Visiting Professor at the University of Hyderabad, and 
Scholar in Residence, Foundation for Democratic Reforms, Hyderabad. 
Formerly, he was Sir Pherozeshah Mehta Professor of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai. Email:





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