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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Not an end of history

In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the collapse of the USSR made many people hope this was the `end of history'; that `the final curtain would fall and the game of power politics would no longer be played.' It was felt that all countries were moving towards open minds and open economies, so that there was no room for great power politics rooted in ideological differences.

The reality has shaped up quite differently. China continues to be an explicitly autocratic state. Russia is not a democracy and won't be one for the forseeable future. Both countries are great powers who are based on autocratic ideology. In addition, perhaps 100,000 Islamic extremists are assiduously at work worldwide, seeking to derail the world that is based on open minds and open economies.

Robert Kagan has an interesting article End of Dreams, Return of History where he looks at the global situation from the point of view of what United States foreign policy is doing, and what it ought to do. Among other things, he says:

... the United States should pursue policies designed both to promote democracy and to strengthen cooperation among the democracies. It should join with other democracies to erect new international institutions that both reflect and enhance their shared principles and goals. One possibility might be to establish a global concert or league of democratic states, perhaps informally at first but with the aim of holding regular meetings and consultations on the issues of the day. Such an institution could bring together Asian nations such as Japan, Australia, and India with the European nations -- two sets of democracies that have comparatively little to do with each other outside the realms of trade and finance. The institution would complement, not replace, the United Nations, the G-8, and other global forums. But it would at the very least signal a commitment to the democratic idea, and in time it could become a means of pooling the resources of democratic nations to address a number of issues that cannot be addressed at the United Nations. If successful, it could come to be an organization capable of bestowing legitimacy on actions that liberal nations deem necessary but autocratic nations refuse to countenance as NATO conferred legitimacy on the conflict in Kosovo even though Russia was opposed.

(On this subject you may like to see India and NATO?).

In India, a broad majority appears to aspire to become a country based on open minds and an open economy. But the evolution of India in these directions is far from assured. Too many people who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s have socialist instincts on economic policy matters. The present ruling coalition involves giving veto power on all legislation to left parties who got 5% of the votes in 2004 elections, who aspire for a future for India based on a closed economy and a foreign policy which is sensitive to Chinese and Russian interests. The Shiv Sena burns books.

There are, hence, two distinct questions that we face in India. First, how can India continue to chip away at making progress towards becoming a modern, liberal society characterised by ever-expanding freedoms for individuals in terms of both society and economy? Second, what would the consequences of this founding `idea of India' be, for the conduct of foreign policy?


  1. Prof

    I agree with your intentions...of course, there's not much to disagree about there. You use Mr. Kagan to address how? How do his prescriptions address a solution for a more stable and cooperative world? His suggestions seem more exclusive, maybe even naive. Of course I wouldn't expect anything truly substantive from the guys at AEI anyway; when was the last time their prescriptions led to truly great policy ends?

  2. Robert Kagan's article is explicitly about maximisation from the US perspective, and for the larger project of furthering liberal values which are seen to be innately good and desirable. However, it's interesting for us in India to read it for third reasons.

    First, if this treatment of the framework of international relations is going to play out in the next 10-20 years, we need to ask ourselves what is our strategy in such a setting.

    Second, the US is a key player in the game, and it helps us to have an understanding of the moves that the US might make. In solving for your Nash equilibrium strategy, you do need to understand what's optimal for the other players.

    Third, many people in India do share the same sense that liberal values are innately good and worthy of furthering.

  3. Prof

    1. I agree with your first point.
    2. Reading Kagan's article may give us a glimpse to future US options/decisions but his school of thought is hardly leading the intellectual debate here in Washington. How much of their ideas will be incorporated into the next 5-10 years of policy is questionable considering their reputation for...well...miscalculation.
    3. India should embrace liberal values; here lies our advantage. But why Kagan's interpretation of liberal values? His is not the only set of liberal values and certainly not the most optimal.

    In looking to the future, I think what is most important for India is to understand the nuances in American thought and policy and lobby/prepare for what fits our interests. We know more liberal policies fit our interests, but not all liberal American policies are created equal.

    Kagan certainly makes some good points but most of his analysis suffers from distracted and imprecise generalizations. He then bases his suggestions on these flawed assumptions.

  4. sir,

    there are no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests

    likewise, there are no set of "liberal values" that are constant in international relations. Every country, especially the US, does what it perceives to be in its best interests.

  5. On the subject of the United Nations, we don't need a new organization to complement it, but rather drastic overhaul of the UN iteself. Specifically it needs be be based on the principle of democracy...

    France is the 20th most populous nation and holds a permanent seat on the security council, thus has veto authority. India is the 2nd most populous nation, yet has no such position. This simply cannot be justified in modern terms.



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