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Reports on Conference/Seminars
Name of Event:
  India's Role in a Multi-Polar World  

  25-26 March 2010

  Sapru House, New Delhi

The Foresight India symposium on India's role in a multi-polar world took place in New Delhi on 25-26 March. The forum was organised by the Indian Council of World Affairs in cooperation with the Foresight initiative, a programme led by the Alfred Herrhausen Society, the international forum of Deutsche Bank in partnership with the London-based think tank, Policy Network.

The forum brought together leaders, policy-makers, scholars and others from over fifteen countries to discuss and analyse India’s role in an increasingly interdependent and multi-polar world. Key international participants included, amongst others, Daniel Benjamin; Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism, US State Department; Wu Jianmin; President of the China Foreign Affairs University and former Chinese Ambassador to the UN; Sergei Karaganov, Chairman of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defence Policy; James Purnell, former UK Secretary of State for Work and Pensions; and Par Nuder, former Swedish Finance Minister. (Please see enclosed the programme and participants list for further details).

Welcoming the delegates, Sudhir Devare, Director General, ICWA, referred to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s remarks at the G-8 Summit in July 2009 in which he had said that “India as the largest democracy in the world and an emerging economy that has achieved the ability to grow rapidly, remains deeply committed to multilateralism.” DG further said that at a time when Asia is witnessing an extraordinary growth of major powers, India’s active role in the multi-polarity of Asia will be of significance.

The symposium opened with a session on India at the crossroads: understanding the multiple transformations. The discussions provided an introductory overview and examined four key issues: recent changes in India and the different visions for its future; the factors that drive Indian foreign policy; the impact of India’s self-perception and historical evolution on Indian foreign policy; and the external perceptions of India’s rise. K.S. Bajpai suggested that after the end of the Cold War, India, like many other states, is still trying to work out its goals and aims. Domestic pressures, anti-imperialism, and pacifism have been guiding factors of Indian foreign policy over the years. Sunil Khilnani said that India needs to find a new positive conception of power. Historically, in the 50’s and 60’s, given the context of imperialism, India utilised the power to resist the powerful. As India itself acquires more power, this is changing but the process will be slow and complex. Edwina Moreton outlined some of the external perceptions of India as weary of entanglements, unkeen on friendships and too keen to cut bilateral deals. She suggested that the choice before India, as many other countries, was whether to be a capable, dynamic and problem-solving power or not. K.P Fabian asserted that India’s past will continue to influence its behaviour and India should be open to the world while retaining its identity. Kapila Vatsyayan suggested that there was much that India and other developing countries had to offer to the globalisation process. In the lively discussion that followed, one of the key themes that emerged was the role that democracy plays in India, whether it is just a domestic concern, a source of soft power or if it provides a greater value orientation in its foreign policy.

This was followed by an intervention by the actress and film-maker Nandita Das, who explored the complexities of Indian identity and discussed both the positive and negative impacts of globalisation on culture and society.

The second session on Sustaining economic globalisation: building a fair regime analysed three key themes: the implications of the financial crisis and rising anxieties in the advanced economies for the future of economic globalisation; the role of special provisions and differential treatment in the international trade regime for emerging economies such as India; and the reform of the global economic governance architecture to reflect the changing balance of power. Andre Sapir argued that the emerging economies had weathered the financial crisis much better than the advanced economies. The shift to the G-20 is a necessary and welcome shift but it is still to be seen whether it will be able to fulfil its promise. Raymond Vickery discussed the dilemmas of what fair means, saying that things to have be fair to the ‘aam aadmi’ or ‘common man’ in India but the equivalent of that is the middle class in America. He suggested that there is need for greater engagement, such as happened with negotiations on the TRIPS agreement. Sanjaya Baru asserted that there is a paradigm shift taking place where production moves to Asia and the question is how well the OECD countries can accommodate to this shift. He argued that if we do not revitalise global institutions, they may be replaced by regional ones, which could be a dangerous process. A.N. Ram suggested that India presented an uncompromising voice for a more equitable international economic order. In the discussion that followed, there was much debate about the issue of global imbalances and the role of the IMF. Many urged that the task ahead was to find new ideas and paradigms.

The third session on Transnational terrorism: regional dimensions of a global challenge analysed the challenges presented by transnational terrorism in the South Asian region. It explored the role that international involvement has played in the region and the potential for increasing the role of local and regional actors. It also examined possible ways forward in the on-going conflict in Afghanistan. Daniel Benjamin said that the Obama administration realises the importance of local and regional actors and that is the reason it is investing in capacity-building. Tackling the challenges requires efforts by all the states and actors involved and this includes Pakistan. Leela Ponappa argued that we need to agree on the gravity of the threat presented by terrorism in South Asia also at the global level. Integrating action at the local, regional and global level is required as all dimensions are intertwined. Bernd Mutzelburg suggested that South Asia is unprepared to deal with the threat presented by terrorism due to the absence of a regional security architecture. While history and hostilities make this architecture difficult, it is necessary. Sergei Karaganov asserted that international involvement has largely not been successful and needs to be more modest and humble in its aims and approach. Prem Shankar Jha called for a regional approach to tackling the challenges in Afghanistan, and said that India was the country with the biggest responsibility to undo the scars of partition and that people need to be persuaded about this. Harald Kujat highlighted that most Europeans do not support the war in Afghanistan and the challenges this presents for NATO. In the following discussion, there was much debate on the need for a political solution, which would be more important than military strategies.

The second day of the symposium opened with a discussion on the possibility of a global grand strategy in a multi-polar world. Stephen Krasner asserted that the preponderance of power still lies with the United States and that a grand strategy structured around the idea of responsible sovereignty was possible. Responsible sovereignty would entail two key elements i.e. effective domestic governance and providing global public goods. Amitabh Mattoo questioned the relevance of the concept of a grand strategy in the current global disorder, and suggested that what was needed was a combination of many ideas. He suggested that even though India’s grand strategy is not articulated, it can be said to be structured around three key pillars, which are the search for space, strength and stability.

Minister Shashi Tharoor addressed the forum and gave an eloquent overview of global governance and India’s role in the world today. Today there are both forces of convergence such as trade and forces of disruption such as conflict. Due to increasing interdependence, no area can remain isolated and global governance has become even more vital. India has a long history of internationalism and realises the interconnected nature of the world. Its policies are changing in the context of the changing global environment, and now, instead of only non-alignment, it follows a multi-alignment approach participating in a wide range of forums and cooperating with many different countries across the world. At the same time, he stressed the need for reform of the global governance architecture including the UN and international financial institutions.

The fourth session on Ensuring resource security: from a local problem to a global challenge? analysed the process of ensuring access to essential resources. The discussions examined the need for strengthened international mechanisms; efforts to facilitate innovation; and the extent to which growth models and consumption patterns will need to adapt. Ligia Noronha suggested that the impact of climate change and the economic rise of new powers has increased the challenges of resource scarcity. However, scarcity could lead to better cooperation and there need to be flows from the local to the national to the global and back. Qingguo Jia discussed how water was a severe domestic problem in China as the North faces drought but China has not yet decided on the controversial Western canal project. He asserted that whatever decisions China makes will also take into consideration impacts on India and other countries in the region. Fyodor Lukyanov asserted that there is great need for a governance system in the field of energy that will be acceptable to all actors, both producers and consumers. Ajay Shankar argued that the debate on resources was inextricably linked with the debate on development, and that one needs to realise the efficacy of the market mechanism although national and international action and intervention will also be necessary. Saideh Lotfian said that Iran faces challenges due to environmental degradation and the costs of petroleum and therefore nuclear energy is viewed as a big potential. In the debate that followed, the need for better cooperation and coordination mechanisms was emphasised.

The concluding session of the symposium on Forging common futures: India’s role in a multi-polar world examined external expectations of India as well as Indian visions for its role in the changing international order. James Purnell, in an interesting example, called on India to be more like Google and embrace and promote its democratic values. Wu Jianmin asserted that China welcomes India’s rise as there is Asian solidarity and the economies of both countries are complimentary. However, there continues to be mistrust and there needs to be greater communication and exchanges between the two countries. Charles Kupchan asserted the importance of regional orders, as more breakthroughs are seen at the regional level and that diplomatic engagement was the key to peace. Vasily Mikheev said that India should lead in both regional and global governance and said that although Russian-Indian relations had lost pace, there is now an attempt to revive ties. Arundhati Ghose said that the debate between interests and values was not very relevant as both would guide India. She also stressed that while India is a democracy at home, democracy can not be imposed on other countries. G. Parthasarathy argued that India’s key role was to successfully conduct its experiment as a pluralistic and democratic nation-state, and through this, it could be a beacon. The Indian economy is reliant on consumer-led growth and what India seeks is the stability of its borders. There will be rivalries, but also cooperation in today’s increasingly multi-polar world.