International Relations

Global Institutions & Rules

            The implications of the evolving global order for National security and International relations.  This section explores the implications of this milieu of powers at this point and the rise of China and India. The assertion of power depends on relative power and balance of power, which students of international relations are quite familiar with.  But the assertion of power also depends on the constraints imposed by international and national institutions. According to Alfred North who got a Nobel Prize for his work on institutional economics, “Institution” does not mean the physical structure like the UN, but the rules, both formal and informal, under which individuals and organizations operate. By analogy Global institutions are the formal and informal rules under which countries operate in the World. For simplicity the global organization such as the UN are encompassed under this overall rubric of global institutions. From this perspective a key distinction between countries that can be classified as global powers and those that cannot be so classified is that former help shape and/or participate in the formulation of global rules. Similarly the distinction between a Superpower and a Global power is that the former makes the rules along with any other super power, with or without the participation of Global powers. One implication of this paper is that India as an emerging Global power must aim to influence the formulation and modification of these global rules under which countries operate on the World stage.  The global powers help shape the rules, and India must participate in changing the rules of this global game. The second point is that Globalization is changing the factors which underline power, the economic, military and social elements of power.  Globalization is leading to a change in the relative importance of these factors. This is the underlying theme of this section.

Economic Institutions and Rules

Since the classic 19th century balance of power systems of Europe and  Germany, which have been widely analyzed and depicted in history, there has been a lot of evolution in terms of both economic and social elements. What are these?  Let us start with economic elements. As emphasized strongly in Virmani (2004b), economic size and strength is the foundations of a National power.  Globalization of the World economy has resulted an increase in inter-dependence since the end of the cold War.. This is the first time that every country, except Cuba, North Korea and Myanmar, wants to be part of this global system of trade and financial interdependence.  This is a complete change from the so-called bi-polar world of the USA-USSR. The USSR and many of its block partners chose to remain completely or partially outside this system. Currently every potential global power, including China and Russia, want to be a part of the global economic system.  So, the nature of the rules and institutions of global economic governance are changing.  Global trade related issues and problems are now dealt with at and by the WTO. Virtually all countries want to be a member.  Even  Russia, which is still not a member, has applied for membership. By and large, however, everybody wants to subject themselves to and be part of this economic system. Members voluntarily accept these rules of trade and competition.   As North had said the rules are not always formal.  Even in the UN WTO etc, the formal rules are not necessarily always the most important.  These institutions have informal rules that have evolved over time, and members voluntarily accept these rules in the expectation that they are in their own long term interests.

The only exception, which was mentioned in an earlier section is trade in oil and gas or energy. The oil/gas cartel continues to operate outside the rules of the World Trade System with apparently complete impunity.  It is an amazing thing. Nobody bothers to haul them up in the WTO. This probably requires some thinking. India is certainly not strong enough to do that, but all large oil importers should certainly be thinking about it.

From India’s perspective, it is more important, to participate in some way in the formulation of rules of the global financial system.  One reason for being considered a power or to become a great power is therefore to be a part of the club which frames the rules. One possibility is a G-4 consisting of the US, EU, China and India, a club that would clearly be in India’s interest to bring about, without being inimical in any way to the interests of the other three.  The Indian elite has to think how India can start creating and becoming part of the clubs which shape the rules of the game, so to say, the economic game.

Military Power & Rules

Superpowers clearly define the rules of the game among themselves. Global powers can influence them if they play their cards well.  Military power is an important instrument for enforcement of global rules, whatever they are. Of course, there have been two recent glaring examples of failure of military power, Iraq and Afghanistan.  However, even these examples show that the failure was less that of military power per se and more of other broader elements of power and the context and competence of its use.  Military power also creates a space that allows a global power to act outside the rules.  A superpower has the liberty of acting outside the rules. It just invents its own rules. It is not as simple as it sounds, and requires further discussion. But other military powers can also create the space and have done so in the past, to violate the rules of global military action. Pakistan’s aggressive militarization, way beyond its economic size and power potential is a good example.

Two important new elements, have come in and become an important part of the canvas of military power and its use. Most people are familiar with the fact that nuclear weapons are game changers.  As Mr. K Subrahmanyam has emphasized, full-fledged war between nuclear weapon States is unthinkable; maybe, that is too strong a word, but clearly it is a game changer. The emergence of alternative instruments of warfare, terrorism, guerrilla warfare, whatever you want to call it is also familiar. Virmani (2006) gives an indication of Pakistan’s strategy of combining nuclear weapons and terrorism (along with incredible diplomacy) to violate global rules and conventions for 25 years. Pakistan’s use of these elements is a case study worthy of inclusion in a graduate textbook.  

Social-Political power

            The third element, which is new and an important element of post-war globalization, relates to the issues of human rights. This is an element of power in which there is the greatest philosophical divide. Democratic societies put much more emphasis on individual rights, “The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,…” as the first democratic Constitution said, In contrast communist-socialist such as China emphasize collective rights. But leaving this aside, the issue of human and social rights is beginning to shape global rules in a way that has never happened historically.  This change is consistent with India’s National, social and human development objectives.  It must therefore incorporate into our global objectives and strategy. India must develop a World vision or vision for the World which is consistent with its own ethos, interest in and commitment to democracy. This would intelligently combine national interests with the interests of a wider spectrum of peoples and countries.

            Soft power has been widely talked about since it was first proposed by Joseph Nye. Instead of putting this as one of three elements of power, this paper treats it as a sub-element of socio-political power in a global environment.  This is because globalization is increasing the connect between National elements (economy, security and social) and international elements (economy, military and socio-political) Introduction of a socio-political (social, political) element of power, allows us to connect the internal and external elements and thus bring about a consistency in the narrative of power. When a country takes a global action, is it consistent with the vision that it has been propagating.  Thus Iraq is a failure because there was no consistency between professed vision and the actions taken after the initial military victory.  From the perspective of global public opinion clearly, there was what psychologists call dissonance.

If India is to become a global power, its elite (academics, media, politicians) have to start thinking of this. The perceived consistency of narrative and the credibility and the legitimacy of the use of power. If India is going to use power, for instance to fight the terrorists in any neighboring country, it has to develop and focus much more on establishing this credibility. There is too little of this propagation; At least it is not very visible or prominent.  

In overall power, the will to power (i.e. the will to acquire and use power) is very important. For example, when the nuclear deal was hanging in the balance Indian political system appeared for a while to be woefully short of any will to power. That has been partly but not wholly corrected.

Globalization of National Security

            “The changing role of India in the global environment requires a change in the institutional arrangements and approaches that we have for interacting with the current and potential global powers as well as with other countries and regional organizations.  Over the next decade or so we have to change our approach from one in which we react to the actions of other more active and hyper active countries to one in which we try to influence the policies of others.   We need to bring about a greater conceptual clarity to our foreign policy and revamp our international intelligence capabilities.  We also need to ensure that the rise in the ‘actual power’ of India is commensurate with the rise in ‘power potential,’ by developing a comprehensive approach to Strategic Technology [Virmani (2006)].”


When the author first projected (in 2004-05), the development of Tri-polar Global Power structure by the middle of the 21st century, US Foreign affairs journals refused to even consider this possibility seriously.  Despite major upheavels in the last seven years, authors projections have changed only marginally.  Adverse (favorable) changes may delay (accelerate) the achievement of the bi-polar and tri-polar global power structure, but not derail it.  What has been termed a multi-polar structure is merely the phase of high uncertainty during the transition between the uni-polar structure at the end of the 20th century and the bi-polar/tripolar structure that is likely to emerge during the second quarter of the 21st century.  However, as Keynes said, “In the long run we are all dead.” 

The Transitional phase spanning the remaining years of the first quarter of this century, can be characterized as multi-polar or Pluri-polar.  Besides traditional measures to enhances National security, there is a need to modify/change the institutions and rules of the global economic, military and socio-political game and to work to set up new institutions that will better serve our national and global security interests.