A Multi- Polar World – Asia in the 21st Century

After the Second World War, only two nations were left with the political clout backed by resources to be called superpowers. The United States of America and the United Soviet Socialist Republic presented two diametrically opposed philosophies put into practice, in a race to see which one would withstand and which crumble to dust. The Cold War era was at its height, and India, under Nehru’s Marx-influenced leadership, was choosing to align itself with the USSR’s socialist policies of administration, while maintaining political non-alignment. Nuclear weapons possessed by both the powers in numbers unknown to each other complicated the situation tremendously, bringing the world almost to the brink of destruction in 1962. Then, in 1991, with the disintegration of the USSR, the world took on the uni-polar shape we live with and grumble about today.


India and China are touted today as the world’s next big superpowers, the movers and shakers of the globe – the next century is Asia’s. This may well be true, but a major part of Eurasia is comprised of what is now the Russian Federation. A decreasing population is pushing per capita income up even as rising global oil prices are boosting the Russian economy, providing profits that have already been invested in strengthening and diversifying the economy and reducing its external vulnerability. Under the capable leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s external public debt was halved between 2003 and 2008. Moscow is, therefore, no longer subject to economic pressure from the IMF, the EU or anyone else.


Taking advantage of the opportunity to rise against its post-1991 humiliation by the West, Russia has begun to again assert itself in international politics. This was clearly manifest in the conflict in the South Ossetia and Abhkazia provinces in Georgia. While the conquest of the tiny Georgian army by Russian might was not a monolithic feat, it indicates the lengths to which the Russian Federation is willing to go to protect its strategic interests. It is reclaiming areas that were part of its traditional sphere of influence, Eastern Europe that are straying towards the NATO coalition in the taking-of-sides that is occurring. It would be over the top to call the events a resumption of the Cold War, but they are a visible sign of Russia’s growing confidence and vision of itself as a major player to be reckoned with.


Where are India and China placed in all this? China and Russia have formed a somewhat anti-West collaboration on the United Nations Security Council, their similar Red philosophies facilitating cooperation, but it is an uneasy alliance. Russia is highly conscious of the most populous country in the world, emerging in its old place as a superpower bordered some of its thinly populated areas, like around Vladivostok. As for India, Russia’s shift to a “China First policy” just before its collapse marked the beginning of a distancing that, it appears, can never be undone. Though current levels of cooperation remain high, when attempting to predict future trends, there are many factors to be taken into account, such as India’s warming relationship with the United States of America, President Barack Obama’s efforts to reach out to Russia, and the Sino-Russian military relationship.


A multi-polar axis consisting of Russia and China, opposed to the US was evident, where India would have to choose a side. However, Obama may have the power and will to genuinely change the global geo-political power balances, perhaps bringing us to a peacefully coexistent, if not always cooperative state of affairs.


Sanjana Manaktala

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