The Emerging World Order By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)


Ever since the Wuhan Virus pandemic set in, great power competition has intensified.  Deglobalization also commenced in reaction to Chinese assertion during the pandemic. The decline of USA and the Chinese ascent was heralded. A role reversal in world affairs and a China led global order was predicted. Then came the Ukraine War. From the expectation of a short sharp war, it has morphed into a long-drawn conflict which has gone past 100 days with no end in sight. As the war prolonged, its character has also changed. In this period, conventional war, duly hybridized by information and cyberspace, rediscovered itself.  This war is changing the world order in more ways than imagined. The two events have also brought to fore that some of the fundamental requirements of humanity – food, energy and resources are finite, inadequate and at risk. Weaponization of these essentials is changing the contours of great power competition. 


The globalization era led us to the belief that a superpower had to be an economic behemoth foremost, backed by advanced technology, purposeful diplomacy, and a strong government. Military power and its application were being hijacked by untested technologies and almost relegated to footnotes. This was peddled as exercise of comprehensive national power in a multidomain scenario. However, the onset of the virus and the beginning of de-globalization gave way to military power re-asserting itself. When the PLA was made to retreat 8 kms after breaking up defenses it constructed on the banks of Pang Gong Tso during the Sino-Indian Eastern Ladakh clash, it was indicative that comprehensive national power cannot replace military power on the battlefield. The long drawn Ukrainian war has confirmed that conventional military strength with all its brutality, violence and shock has a vital role in human affairs and will continue to have a say in the global order. Countries with a strong and seasoned miliary force will always have to be reckoned with in the new reality which is setting in. In this emerging world order, India’s role is of importance to us.


USA has been the sole superpower for the past three decades. It is well endowed with natural resources. It is probably the most self-sufficient and unassailable nation on earth.  It is quite aware that its position as the sole superpower is at risk. It is also aware that it is at a point from where it will decline unless it reinvents itself. USA has been a society which thrives on blending its sheet anchor capabilities with immigrant genius. Resultantly, it is a constantly morphing society which will be at internal odds with itself. How this internal dynamic will play out depends on how well the society reinvents itself. History suggests that USA has reinvented itself in the past. However, it is to be seen if it holds good in future. That will dictate if US declines or not. From an external perspective, it recognizes that its main threats are Russia and China. More than that Russia and China have made moves to join hands to upend the worlds order. USA has reacted swiftly. It withdrew from a debilitating war in Afghanistan.  Russia, the other self-sufficient nation, and unassailable nation which once rivalled USA was provoked into an ill-advised war in Ukraine. It has been enmeshed in inextricably through the EU and NATO combine. USA has also forced the ambivalent EU towards trans-Atlantic consolidation under its leadership. China is the ambitious power which aspires to replace USA at the top of the totem pole. USA is currently baiting an isolated China into an indiscretion or an overstretch with the help of QUAD, AUKUS and IPEF. USA is not going to give up its position as the global leader in a hurry. While it can hold its own in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, it needs partners and alliances in the Indo Pacific. 


The PRC is an economic superpower which is making a single-minded bid to become an all-round superpower. The Chinese Communists are determined to pull down USA and show that their system is the best in the world. They are also attempting to put down India as its regional competitor. Despite being an isolated power, which has not gained global trust, and lacks credible allies, China is unwavering in its attempt to rewrite the global order based on its rules. Based on its economic might, China launched the BRI backed by debt trap diplomacy as its vehicle to achieve geostrategic dominance economically and diplomatically. It has launched a modernization drive unparalleled in history to achieve the strongest military on earth. This is to achieve a degree of military and diplomatic parity with USA and superiority over India and Russia which are its nearest competitors. However, it remains militarily hamstrung with an independent Taiwan sitting on its doorstep like a porcupine to pose a threat to the mainland. Also, it lacks overseas bases from where it can exercise global military influence over the seven seas. At this point of time, it is attempting to redress this issue. Having consolidated its position in the South China Sea, it has commenced forays into Atlantic, Western Indian, and Eastern Pacific oceans. Most significant being increasing its influence in the Pacific Island Group. Chinese ambitions will have to be critically viewed through a lens of China’s chronic resource deficiency, food insecurity, an untested and inexperienced military, struggling BRI, a slowing economy, a threatening Virus, certain technological deficiencies and most importantly an ageing population. The LAC, the Malacca dilemma and India’s rise despite all odds will be thorns in its flesh. A weakened Russia due to the ongoing Ukraine war will leave it without a reliable ally. The international system is unprepared and not willing to accept China as a global leader due to lack of TRUST. Notwithstanding all this, China will attempt to beat the clock to proverbially get rich before getting old. An aggressively ambitious China, attempting to become a superpower in a fixed time frame is a vulnerable nation and is also a troublesome nation to the world at large. 


Russia is the other self-sufficient resource rich nation with the largest landmass on earth.  Technological parity with any developed nation, a stable economy, and a long-standing experienced government has propelled it to harbor revivalist ambition to be a superpower once again. In its transformation from superpower USSR to middle power Russia it let its military go to seed. Its bid to stamp its authority over Ukraine and mutatis mutandis over NATO and EU has come unstuck in the ongoing war due to this one single factor. A flawed military campaign has resulted in a protracted war without an exit strategy. It is going to sap Russia’s power. For most of EU and USA, Russia is the prime villain currently. Resultantly, the no-bar relationship with China is already on uncertain ground. Its international reputation and standing has weakened proportional to the length of the Ukrainian conflict. Its recovery will take equally more time. However, one should not count out the Russian resilience and ability to bounce back. It still retains influence in many parts of the world since it provides answers to fundamental requirement of food, energy, and resource to many nations.   


The Ukrainian conflict is witnessing remilitarization of Europe and strengthening of NATO and the EU federation. Notwithstanding the internal differences of opinion in UK and EU, the federation is clear on certain core issues. Europe has realized and reaffirmed that USA is its leader. Its relationship with China has entered a period of strain. A technologically rich and affluent Europe will continue to play a critical role in the world order despite its aging societies and propensity to avoid conflict. One needs to remember that the architecture and institutions of the old-world order were set, based, and operated from the European continent. France, UK, and Germany still have the diplomatic and economic weight to influence decisions alongside USA. The trans-Atlantic consolidation will influence world affairs more in future than in the recent past with the impending enlargement of the NATO and EU basket of nations.    


The advanced economies of Japan, South Korea and Australia have thrown in their lot unequivocally with USA, as in the past. Though there are differences cropping up between them and USA from time to time, their relationship continues to be largely stable. In future this is likely to expand further with all three of them having increasingly vast differences with China which is just short of animosity. Further, the nuclear overhang of the Ukrainian war has triggered additional mistrust of China with whom they share maritime borders and differences thereof.  


The Middle East and other resource /energy rich commodity export-oriented nations will continue to hedge between the big powers. They will use the middle powers to take positions as neutral as possible to safeguard their interests. The interesting characteristic of many of these nations is that they are largely food insecure, technologically deficient, and their societies exist in autocratic systems. These nations while being prosperous at one level    

also tend to be unstable at another. They will go with the wind. 


Amidst this period of change, India has entered a sweet spot. Having successfully battled the virus it has emerged as the fastest growing economy. International realization has also set in that India is the only global alternative to China in scale. India’s multilateralism makes it a central and ‘swing’ power in the world order. This has been on view in the developments resulting from the Ukrainian conflict. The ‘swing’ part was predicted by Samuel Huntington in his controversial thesis on clash of civilizations. Its vibrant democracy, its stable government, seasoned military, and a diplomacy coming of age have all come together to present it with an era of Indian opportunity. India has a ‘never before’ geopolitical opening to regain its neighborhood and break the string of pearls.  The first break has already occurred with vast improvements in Indo- Bangladesh relations and a Bangladeshi realization which resulted in their awarding the contract for the Sonadia port to Japan (in Nov 20) instead of being financed, built, and operated by PRC.  The second and major ongoing shift has been in India’s move to stand firmly by Sri Lanka during the latter’s severe economic crisis. India’s role has been an antidote to China’s debt trap toxicity, intent, and reluctance to bail out Sri Lanka. If leveraged, the larger Sri Lanka model could be the exemplar showpiece to curtail Chinese influence worldwide. A similar opportunity is opening in Nepal and Maldives. Afghanistan reaching out to India and Taliban inviting it to reopen its embassy is another major shift and opening which needs to be followed through with balance. A marginalized, weakened, unstable and internationally ignored Pakistan has just started to realize that its long-term interests could be best served with mending fences with India. India needs to rethink its Myanmar strategy to find better solutions along with other international partners. A rising India’s improved relevance in its neighborhood implies its consolidation over the IOR. India’s role expansion as a net security provider in the maritime domain cements India’s role as the consequential power in the IOR. This has been acknowledged by the QUAD unequivocally. It does not mean that India can wish China away. It only means that China will be less relevant. Revitalization of its historic connections with the Middle East and large swathes of Africa makes it a regional power. A rising India contributes immensely to a ‘contained’ China in world affairs. The challenge is for India to overcome its huge internal contradictions to seize the opportunity and emerge as a power of consequence beyond ‘swing’ capability. The danger for India remains its ability to demonetize itself. This propensity of severe ‘foot in the mouth’ and ‘shoot yourself in the leg’ self destruction manifests periodically. Currently it is through irrational and narrow religion-based ideologies to weaken its geopolitical strength and a whacky ‘tour of duty’ scheme in the offing, to weaken its tough military. Better sense needs to prevail. 


The emerging world order consists of many moving and uncertain parts as can be seen. India’s role in this situation is becoming more central and important. Many of the world’s problems have their solutions in India. Conversely, many global problems can no more be solved without India. India’s choices and the position it takes will make the difference in future. This is especially relevant when climate change and global warming is bearing down upon us fast. It will have its last say in the world order. 




4 responses to “The Emerging World Order By Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Sir, our weaknesses are a lack of energy security and weak internal security. The second could well be motivated with the aim to keep us externally dependent for the first. Our goal should be to move to a nuclear/hydrogen fuelled economy within this decade and usage of tech to identify and punish expeditiously at least those who indulge in mass rioting/violence in public spaces. Punishment should be automatic and at a minimum should include cutting off all doles/freebies, passports, licenses etc, in addition to heavy financial penalties. All externally motivated resistance to these goals should be tackled firmly. Internal security should be bolstered with an increase of the woefully inadequate police numbers from the ex-armed forces personnel to provide discipline, muscle and, teeth to the punitive arm of the home ministry.

  2. Nice read

  3. Thank you for the thought provoking analysis on the indispensability of military power as a component of comprehensive national power (CNP). As US & China are finding it's an unending quest for nations to reinforce their CNP as technology discovers new vistas to conquer in the race to the top.

  4. Very well analysed article👍👍👏👏

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