The world is changing. India must consider all possible outcomes, and evaluate its options accordingly.
Over the last two weeks, US President Donald Trump has claimed that traditional allies such as the EU are “foes”, barely averted a trade war, and has insisted that the US will put its own interests first. What such actions mean for a world order which was underpinned by American economic and military might is not clear. Already, as the global economic centre of gravity shifts towards Eurasia, countries like China are subverting international norms to national interest. This has led to speculation about the New World Order that may emerge.
This phrase tends to enter popular discourse in periods of international turmoil. In the aftermath of WWI, for example, American President Woodrow Wilson outlined Fourteen Points for a “new world”. It is increasingly obvious that we live in a similarly pivotal period. It’s worth asking, then, what kind of new world order will we see, and what would it mean for India?
Planning for the Future
Today, technological innovation, interconnectedness, climate change, and population and economic growth are leading to radical changes in society, industry, and the nature of conflict. Trying to predict where the world is heading might be impossible, but that doesn’t mean that India can’t be prepared for the coming challenges.
One solution is to create a framework that builds possible futures, comes up with recommendations for each, and then looks at the most frequently-occurring ones as the basis of an action portfolio. This could use two key trends that contribute to the structure of the international order. That’s exactly what we did in a recent research paper.
In our framework, orders emerge at the intersection of geopolitics and geoeconomics. To visualise possible futures, our approach was to come up with possible geopolitical trends (the distribution of power) and geoeconomic trends (the distribution and allocation of resources).
The geoeconomic trends selected were: a new economic boom, a secular stagnation, a global recession, and a Great Disruption. For geopolitics, we selected a world in the US remains the sole superpower, three “bi-polar” worlds with configurations of the US-China relationship, and one multipolar world with no superpowers. Their intersection provides a total of twenty “New World Order” scenarios. Each scenario has an icon indicating whether the outlook for India is optimistic, pessimistic, or cautious, and general principles were derived for India’s actions based on these.
A particularly interesting scenario is a multipolar world with no single superpower, coupled with technological advances leading to a Great Disruption. Broadly speaking, disruption would lead to the emergence of two global groupings: those with economic strength derived from technology, and those without.
This would lead to intense international competition, with protectionism and trade wars. Advanced economies may attempt to establish unequal relationships with less advanced ones to seize resources and markets, just as they did in the 18th and 19th centuries. India’s economy would be radically reshaped by the disruption, with many companies being unable to compete and serious risks of job loss.
To manage all this, India must bolster its own position while seeking to manage the effects of disruption. The first step should be to invest heavily in R&D. Foreign investments, a sovereign wealth fund (aiming to secure strategic resources and acquire innovative startups), and promoting immigration to and from India should be used expand its footprint (especially as climate change is sure to cause rising sea levels). Along with other less advanced economies, India should form a technology-sharing and market-access bloc, or a global technology management regime (depending on the extent and severity of disruption).
What India Needs to Do
Based on an analysis of the most frequently-occurring actions over 20 scenarios, we arrived at the following. Domestically, India must implement labour and factor market reforms, and be an attractive destination for FDI. Creating jobs is going to be a major challenge, as will skill obsolescence. As the population gradually ages, social security will also require attention. On the international stage, India must retain flexibility in alignment, and shift its military alignment towards the sea, towards cyberwarfare, and from manpower to firepower.
Other analysts may disagree with the above, of course. What is important to note is that we might not be entering a Brave New World, but we are certainly entering a new one, and India’s next generation of planners are sure to face challenges on an unprecedented scale. Preparing for the future can only be a good thing.
 Maçães, Bruno. The Dawn of Eurasia: On the Trail of the New World Order. Penguin UK, 2018.
 Li, Xue, and Cheng Zhangxi. “What Might a Chinese World Order Look Like?” The Diplomat. April 17, 2018. https://thediplomat.com/2018/04/what-might-a-chinese-world-order-look-like/.
 Wilson, Thomas W. Address to a Joint Session of Congress on the Conditions of Peace (“Fourteen Points”) Speech, Joint Session of Congress, Washington, DC, January 8, 1918.