Emergence of Superpowers Post World War II
The second world war resulted in severe damage and destruction in most of Europe and also in Japan. However, it also left in its wake a bipolar world as the two power blocks emerged from amongst the victors of the war. Japan experienced nuclear destruction, Germany was divided and in ruins and the other two powers, Britain and France, were still coping with the ravages of the war. This left only two significant powers, the Soviet Union and the United States and both acquired nuclear weapons with unprecedented capabilities.
Nuclear Weapons and the Cold War
Knowledge of the damage nuclear weapons could inflict on an adversary transformed the concept of war. Nuclear deterrence was coined as the ability to inflict commensurate damage on the side which initiated a nuclear conflagration. With comparable nuclear arsenals developed on both sides, the competition shifted to a race for dominance in all areas of defence, space, intelligence and international influence. This led to a long period of superpower rivalry called the Cold War.
Birth of the Non Aligned Movement
The battle of ideology between capitalism and liberalism on one hand and communism and socialism on the other, divided the world into two blocs. The smaller nations, as well as some new and developing countries that were created by decolonization, found themselves being forced to align with either one of the two blocs. This is where the idea of non-alignment stepped in, initiated by India, Indonesia and Yugoslavia. The idea was to not to remain neutral or isolated from the world, rather the opposite, however, in a manner that is self decided. This offered a third alternative, it also played a role in cooling off cold war tensions and possibly gave countries the option of taking advantage of both the blocs.
Post Cold War
When the Soviet Union disintegrated, the cold war came to an end. This led to increased importance of international organisations for their role in ensuring peace and preventing unipolar domination. Two theories emerged, one which predicted US hegemony in world politics and the other predicting the rise of other powers which would create a multipolar world. In my opinion both theories proved true, just one after the other. The interference/invasion of the U.S in Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan etc, were instances of domination with no power capable of matching the U.S in military and technology domains. The latter theory also turned out to be true, with the successful economic rise of China with India right behind, and Russia too struggling to regain it’s lost influence.
India’s Multi-Alignment Movement
NAM became partially irrelevant since the reason it was created no longer existed. India leaned towards the Soviet Union during the 1971 war with signing the 20 years Treaty of Friendship in response to U.S backing of Pakistan. In the current context, India and the US have a number of bilateral military treaties namely Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement(COMCASA) , Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), which show it’s leaning towards the U.S. However, the procurement of S-400 air defence systems from Russia despite U.S reservations reveal the latent energy of the ideology of non-alignment. Considering the increased confrontations between the U.S and China w.r.t Taiwan and Chinese claims of the South China Sea, it is certainly evident that China views itself as a match for the U.S. No other country has dared to do so for the last two decades. However, this time the area of interest is very different, with India sharing a disputed border with one of the confronting nations. The concept of strategic autonomy, that is, each nation being free to choose it’s path without being subservient to any dominant power, remains relevant even today. The term multi-alignment, here highlights the idea of issue based alignment. On climate issues, India and China stand together as advocates of the idea of common but differentiated responsibilities(CBDR), on strategic issues in the Indo-Pacific Ocean, India is a part of the Quad countries, while having good and historic relations with Russia for military equipment as well.
The next two decades will possibly witness another race for dominance in some areas if not all, but this time between more than two nations. Another difference is that nations today are more developed, have retained their sovereignty for longer and are more involved in the international context and forums. With the role of nuclear weapons reduced to mere possession and rapid increase in interdependence of the world, the victor for this century will not be crowned due to dominance of military power or technology, rather ideals of cooperation, mutual respect and democracy will prove to be more rewarding.
Some recent developments pose new challenges for India. Russia’s nascent support for an Asia Pacific rather than an Indo-Pacific mirroring China’s stand, India having lesser relations with the Taliban in Afghanistan compared to its other neighbours are some examples. Furthermore, China’s ties with Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar don’t reveal a comfortable picture for India in terms of regional security. The Chinese transgression on the LAC has forced us to lean more towards the U.S which has in turn, further upset relations with China and might test our relations with Russia. The AUKUS submarine deal that has reunited the World War II allied powers with decreased attention of the U.S to NATO points to formation of new blocs again, although, this time not very binary nor extreme.
Global action on Climate Change has finally taken centre stage along with other issues like COVID-19 which has made blocs cloudier and ambiguous. They may help to avoid any serious confrontation in the future. India may now, more than ever, have to revisit its previous ideology of non-alignment, now multi-alignment, to steer clear of US-China tensions or any inter-bloc tensions in the future. However, it will be much more difficult to do so in today’s world given that this time the epicentre is closer to our homeland.
-Arjun Bakshi, BTech CSE 2018-2022