International politics is likely entering an unstable period and India will not be immune from its dangerous consequences. Globally, three full decades after the bipolar great powers Cold War ended, another era of bipolar competition is upon us, which will involve India too. China’s paranoia and foolishness will be additional dangers and India’s foreign policy options to deal with these are shrinking.
But New Delhi appears to have difficulty even recognising the nature of this bipolar contest, misperceiving the world to be multipolar in which India is one of the poles. Polarity is difficult to define with any precision, but the blunt reality is that we now have a world in which the US and China stand head and shoulders above everyone else in material power. India is not a weak power by any stretch, and it can possibly hold its own in a military confrontation with China. But India is not a polar power either, not when its economy is about one-fifth of China.
In a truly multipolar world of several roughly comparable great powers, India would have choices that it will not have in a bipolar contest. Crudely, in a bipolar contest, New Delhi’s choice of partners to counter China is limited to the US.
India cannot opt out either, because China will not leave alone a country on its borders — even if India is not a polar power, it is not so weak that Beijing can ignore it. Both its geography and its capacity mean that India will be a party to the contest whether it wants to or not. This is so even if we keep the border dispute out, which, of course, is not possible.
Thank god, China came out
Behind the emerging scenario is China’s behaviour over the last few years. Although China is not uniquely strategically stupid, it comes close. Beijing had a golden opportunity these last four years, as US President Donald Trump destroyed America’s global power and purpose
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