Ukraine War: India’s Stature in the Emerging World Order

The war between Russia and Ukraine has caused a major disruption not only in that region, but the entire world. Power centres are shifting; a new world order is emerging out of this global churn. The world anxiously waits for India to take a more active role in a bid to end hostilities. What will India do?

By Rupal Anand, Sakshi Venkateswaran, and Air Marshal M Matheswaran

Special Feature Archive

India’s firm stand of neutrality about the conflict in Ukraine has attracted considerable attention from the world’s strategic thinkers and governments. In this regard, many see the rise of India as a future pole power of the 21st century, as the current world order has entered a phase of instability, conflict, and competition. The Ukraine war may be the tipping point for the Euro-American dominance in the last three centuries, as a multi-polar world order is emerging, albeit slowly. India’s stature in this world order transformation is critical, as the non-western countries that constitute two-thirds of the world will meticulously observe and monitor it. A careful analysis of the ongoing transformation of the world order amidst the massive cacophony of propaganda and a plethora of biased reports (masquerading as research and academic outputs) is a huge challenge for serious researchers and policymakers.

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Towards a Multipolar World

With the Russia-Ukraine war now in its sixth month, countries and experts continue to analyse the impact of the conflict on rebalancing the world order. Scholars (Lukyanov, 2022) argue that Russia has now successfully positioned itself as the “agent of cardinal change for the whole world”, leading to the end of an era. Similar views were put forth by Weiwei (2022), who declared Moscow a revolutionary power for its attempt to overthrow the post-Coldwar unipolar international system in favour of multi-polar world order. Those in China claim that the United States has been the ‘main culprit’ of the crisis, arguing that the country’s NATO has led five operations toward Eastward expansion. While investigating the repositioning of countries, Saxer (2022) lays down an important question that one must consider while addressing the shifts in the international system – ‘Who has the authority to use force – all states, only the strongest, or only the hegemonic power?’ Ironically, Thucydides’ ‘Melian Dialogue’ resonates with Saxer’s question.

Two mainstream schools of thought in International Relations have long argued about the creation of world order. On the one hand, realism and its scholars like Mearsheimer have a theory: an order created out of the pursuit of national interest where stability comes from sustenance of a balance of power. From this perspective, he cautioned that the attempts of the United States to draw Ukraine toward itself were bound to provoke Russia and would inevitably lead to war. Events have proved him right. On the other hand, neoliberal scholars argue that the international order would be maintained for as long as the states followed the rules established by shared norms and institutions. In this context, Russia’s challenge to the ‘international rule-based order’ provoked a series of sanctions from the West. Hence, for Western scholars (Fukuyama), “a Russian defeat will make possible a ‘new birth of freedom”, leading the world towards greater democracy. However, many in the non-western world are beginning to question – ‘whose rules or whose rule-based order?’

The Ukraine war may be the tipping point for the Euro-American dominance in the last three centuries, as a multi-polar world order is emerging, albeit slowly

The war and the consequent sanctions imposed on Russia have led to fears of disruptions to several international economic supply lines. For Germany and other Western countries, the immediate response to the crisis has been to move toward a model that denies Russia the revenues earned from its oil and gas exports without provoking domestic turmoil. This has certianly led to a big shake-up in the global energy system. On the other hand, there has been far less enthusiastic support in the Global South for the position held by the United States and its European allies. Not only have countries like India and South Africa been reluctant for any alliance with the West, leave alone public pronouncement of support to the West, but they have also agreed to avail Russian gas at the cheapest possible rates. ‘The realignment of the global economy according to geopolitical interests’ (Saxer, 2022) leads to increased pressure on the Western infrastructure and energy markets.

There have been substantial shifts happening in the world following the Russia-Ukraine war. Experts expect that the current world order (dominated by the US and its allies the EU, NATO, and the G-7) will now give way to a more rationalised, multipolar, and global governance and an equitable sharing of power. However, at the same time, the Cold-War era demand for the US ‘nuclear umbrella’ has once again increased, with Finland and Sweden now joining the ranks of NATO. Scholars have pointed out that Russia’s territorial gains could imply an increased incentive for states to possess nuclear capability while also allowing them to utilise conventional military force against other states. This has led states like Germany to reverse their ‘military hesitancy’, leading them to invest over 100 billion euros in military infrastructure and capability build-up.

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Stepping away from the practices and alliances during the Cold War, Latin American states have been equally steadfast in their commitment to neutrality. Mexican President Obrador even mentioned that the war didn’t concern them. President of the Imagine Africa Institute and former secretary-general of Amnesty International Pierre Sané, explained the sentiments and policies of several African states. He said, “we have been pawns in the hands of the warring European states”, warning the Western nations against bringing the war to their shores. The war has further shifted attention from the US’ attempts at slowing down China’s economic progress. With billions of dollars already spent on its Belt and Road Initiative, the Chinese government has committed $2.3trn to infrastructure projects this year alone (Roos, 2022).

Impact on India

India holds a strategic position in the Indian Ocean Region, is a fast-growing economy and is home to a large working-age population. It is becoming indispensable to the rest of the world – geopolitically, economically, and diplomatically.

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On the one hand, realism and its scholars like Mearsheimer have a theory: an order created out of the pursuit of national interest where stability comes from sustenance of a balance of power. From this perspective, he cautioned that the attempts of the United States to draw Ukraine toward itself were bound to provoke Russia and would inevitably lead to war

While the conflict in Ukraine has the potential to disrupt India’s relations with Russia and the US and its allies, India has been steadfast in maintaining its autonomy in its diplomacy. When pressed on India’s position in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar said in an interview, “Europe needs to grow out of the mindset that its problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems” (PTI, 2022). India has been careful and avoided publicly condemning Russia’s actions in Ukraine and abstained from voting on the issue twice in the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). Instead, India has called for “diplomacy and dialogue”. In briefing the Rajya Sabha on the situation, EAM S. Jaishankar said, “the global order is anchored on international law, UN Charter and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty of states” (MEA, 2022).

India’s balancing act is a deliberation based entirely on realistic national security threats. Pakistan and China remain India’s biggest concerns, and any strategy it undertakes vis-a-vis the Russia-Ukraine conflict will keep these threats at the forefront. To India, Russia appears a more dependable partner in an otherwise hostile neighbourhood, driven largely by decades of strong ties that the two countries continue to enjoy. Russia being a major and reliable supplier of defence equipment to India, enhances the strategic importance of this relationship. This aspect complicates matters in relationships with the West in the current scenario.

The US’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Moscow’s own interests in the region adds another dimension to India’s position in the ongoing conflict. The Taliban’s control over the state and its nexus with Pakistan is a perpetual security threat to India.

India’s balancing act is a deliberation based entirely on realistic national security threats. Pakistan and China remain India’s biggest concerns, and any strategy it undertakes vis-a-vis the Russia-Ukraine conflict will keep these threats at the forefront

In viewing these security considerations, India looks towards both countries –  the US and Russia for support in tackling them. India’s enduring goal remains to achieve great power status and a multipolar world order. India’s refusal to outrightly condemn Russian actions might irk the US and its allies that espouse liberal values and a rules-based order. However, it is also a signal to the world that New Delhi will always prioritise its national interests and will not allow its use as leverage in ensuing power struggles. However, an underlying fact remains; although India is all for respecting the liberal world order, differences in opinion over what the word ‘liberal’ means remain. Though a democracy, India’s leadership is reluctant to embrace the individualistic nature characteristic of Western democracies. Instead, the country’s colonial legacy and state formation make the political establishment cautious about adopting every liberal ideal that the West propagates.

India’s strategic community is likely aware that its decision of not openly antagonising Russia could fail given the growing linkages between the latter and China. India can also be cautiously optimistic about the fact that India continues to remain a steadfast partner to Russia. Undoubtedly, Russia’s actions in Ukraine have united the US and its allies in a manner not seen since World War II. Moscow might thus enjoy having India tentatively backing it – a state that continues to walk the tightrope in the multiple power competitions taking place in the international system.

Bibliography

Lukyanov, F. (2022, March 1). Fyodor Lukyanov: The end of an era. RT International. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.rt.com/russia/550873-ukraine-action-end-era/

MEA. (2022, March 15). Suo-Moto Statement by External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar in the Rajya Sabha on the “Situation in Ukraine”. Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. https://www.mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/34952

PTI. (2022, June 3). Europe has to grow out of mindset that its problems are world’s problems, says S Jaishankar. The Economic Times. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/europe-has-to-grow-out-of-mindset-that-its-problems-are-worlds-problems-says-s-jaishankar/articleshow/91988948.cms

Roos, J. (2022, June 29). A new world order. New Statesman. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.newstatesman.com/international-politics/ideas-international-politics/2022/06/new-world-order-how-global-politics-reshaped-war-ukraine-the-china-climate-change

Saxer, M. (2022, August 5). The Coming World Order. – Economy and ecology | IPS Journal. Retrieved August 5, 2022, from https://www.ips-journal.eu/topics/economy-and-ecology/the-return-of-geo-economics-5874/

-Air Marshal M Matheswaran AVSM VM PhD (Retd) is a former DCIDS (PP & FD) and is now the President of The Peninsula Foundation (TPF) at Chennai.

-Ms Rupal Anand is a Research Assistant at The Peninsula Foundation and Ms Sakshi Venkateswaran is a Research Assistant at The Peninsula Foundation. Views expressed are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda