The Fu­ture is Still Global

In the face of a back­lash against glob­al­i­sa­tion, the com­mu­nity of na­tions needs to re­vive the in­sti­tu­tions of in­ter­na­tion­al­ism


IN­DIA CON­FRONTS A WORLD OF para­doxes. There is a re­asser­tion of na­tion­al­ist sen­ti­ment in coun­tries across the globe, ac­com­pa­nied by sharp­en­ing po­lit­i­cal and so­cial polarisation. This con­tra­dicts the re­al­ity of the in­creas­ingly glob­alised and densely in­ter­con­nected world we in­habit to­day. Our des­tinies as coun­tries and peo­ples are more in­ter­twined, and the cross-bor­der and cross­do­main chal­lenges we con­front to­day are more nu­mer­ous and salient than at any time in hu­man his­tory. This un­fold­ing and in­escapable re­al­ity is the re­sult of the rapid tech­no­log­i­cal changes which per­vade our lives. The glob­al­i­sa­tion of our economies is a con­se­quence of this change. The new re­al­ity com­pels collaborative re­sponses from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and in­sti­tu­tions to en­able them to deal ef­fec­tively with con­tem­po­rary chal­lenges. And yet we seem to be re­gress­ing into an out­dated frame of ref­er­ence where the com­pet­i­tive im­pulses of na­tion-states con­tinue to dom­i­nate.

The na­tion-state en­dures and will con­tinue to do so in the fore­see­able fu­ture. How­ever, the con­cept of na­tional sovereignty, which is its defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic, is in­creas­ingly con­di­tioned, and in­deed con­strained by the re­al­ity that the line be­tween do­mes­tic and ex­ter­nal is now hope­lessly blurred. The In­dian econ­omy is im­pacted by de­vel­op­ments far away from our shores. Our Sensex re­sponds as much to the move­ments of the New York Stock Ex­change as it does to de­vel­op­ments within our bor­ders. A pan­demic may break out in a re­mote corner of Africa, but may spread quickly across the globe. Cli­mate change is a global phe­nom­e­non, and im­pacts coun­tries ir­re­spec­tive of their con­tri­bu­tion to the at­mo­spheric stock of green­house gas emis­sions re­spon­si­ble for global warming. Nat­u­ral and man-made dis­as­ters fre­quently range across na­tional bor­ders. These, and many other chal­lenges can only be ad­dressed through collaborative in­ter­ven­tions on a global scale, and this de­mands the tran­scend­ing of na­tion­al­ist predilec­tions and em­brac­ing a spirit of in­ter­na­tion­al­ism. It is ev­i­dent that a polity which seeks po­lit­i­cal gain through po­lar­is­ing so­ci­ety domestically can­not at the same time pur­sue a for­eign pol­icy which em­braces the logic of in­ter­na­tion­al­ism. Look­ing for the anti-na­tional and anti-pa­tri­otic at home

in­evitably leads to the search for en­e­mies abroad.

In In­dia, we have a prime min­is­ter who has mas­tered the use of new so­cial me­dia and wishes to lift In­dia into the dig­i­tal age. And yet he is also a leader who is not averse to kin­dling the flames of na­tion­al­ism or ac­qui­esc­ing in the pol­i­tics of polarisation. The dig­i­tal age re­quires a dif­fer­ent, more in­clu­sive sen­si­bil­ity, both at home and abroad.

IT IS AN UN­DE­NI­ABLE FACT that the pace of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance has ac­cel­er­ated be­yond the ca­pac­ity of the hu­man psy­che and so­cial mores to adapt. The search for fa­mil­iar an­chors is un­der­stand­able. How­ever, “glob­al­i­sa­tion is a bell that can­not be un­rung”. We are no longer in a world where coun­tries can co­coon them­selves and sur­vive; nor can the pur­suit of do­mes­tic in­ter­ests pre­vail over ex­ter­nal en­gage­ment. Ex­ter­nal en­gage­ment may well be in­dis­pens­able to achiev­ing do­mes­tic ob­jec­tives, pre­cisely be­cause of the in­creased salience of is­sues cut­ting across na­tional bound­aries. In­dia’s ef­forts to deal with cli­mate change will not suc­ceed un­less the rest of the world col­lab­o­rates in uni­son to re­duce and elim­i­nate car­bon emis­sions. Even if our emis­sions be­came zero to­mor­row, cli­mate change would con­tinue to af­fect us if other coun­tries do not pitch in.

And yet, in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions and pro­cesses to en­able the gov­er­nance of the newer and ex­pand­ing cross-na­tional do­mains not only lag be­hind, but their very ra­tio­nale is un­der at­tack. There is some­thing of a world­wide back­lash against glob­al­i­sa­tion, and a per­va­sive yearn­ing for a past with fa­mil­iar po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and cul­tural an­chors. This is a quixotic en­deav­our be­cause the driv­ers of cross-bor­der chal­lenges are tech­no­log­i­cal and eco­nomic, and are now so deeply em­bed­ded in our lives as in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties that they can­not be un­rav­elled. It is try­ing to put the ge­nie back in the bot­tle. The eco­log­i­cal, eco­nomic and strate­gic chal­lenges of the new mil­len­nium can only be tack­led through gov­er­nance at the in­ter­na­tional scale. And that de­mands a spirit of in­ter­na­tion­al­ism which can tem­per and tran­scend the na­tion­al­ist urges, which, unchecked, may threaten hu­man sur­vival it­self.

As the US and the West pro­gres­sively lose the ben­e­fits which have been an­chored in Western as­cen­dancy of in­sti­tu­tions and pro­cesses of in­ter­na­tional gov­er­nance, there is a re­lapse into na­tion­al­ism and the at­tempted re­vival of an imag­ined past. We are con­fronted with an el­e­men­tal dilemma: pre­cisely at a time in the his­tory of mankind when we need much stronger and more ef­fec­tive in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions and pro­cesses to deal with a com­pletely new set of chal­lenges, the bal­ance be­tween na­tion­al­ism and in­ter­na­tion­al­ism has tilted heav­ily in the na­tion­al­ist di­rec­tion. This is hap­pen­ing across the world, and there is a frag­men­ta­tion of the global space ac­com­pa­nied by a polarisation of at­ti­tudes in coun­try af­ter coun­try. The yearn­ing for na­tional con­trol, the hark­ing back to an imag­ined his­tor­i­cal, so­cial and cul­tural iden­tity such as we have seen in the Brexit vote in the UK, and the more re­cent elec­tions in the US, will in­evitably end in frus­trated ex­pec­ta­tions. For the West, glob­al­i­sa­tion was em­braced as long as it re­in­forced Western as­cen­dancy, but it be­came threat­en­ing when it spawned other cen­tres of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic power. Mak­ing Amer­ica great again in the same mould as in the post-World War II era is no longer pos­si­ble. Nor is the China Dream—as ar­tic­u­lated by Xi Jin­ping—pos­si­ble, be­cause that is

not the log­i­cal des­ti­na­tion of the glob­al­i­sa­tion of the Chi­nese econ­omy. It is a re­gres­sion to a past glory which lingers in the Chi­nese psy­che but is unattain­able in a vastly dif­fer­ent geopo­lit­i­cal ter­rain. It is only a new in­ter­na­tion­al­ism which en­ables the ben­e­fits of glob­al­i­sa­tion to be shared eq­ui­tably, mit­i­gates the neg­a­tive fall­out, and ad­justs ex­ist­ing gov­er­nance regimes as well as emerg­ing ones to ac­com­mo­date all stake­hold­ers, which could bring rel­a­tive peace and pros­per­ity. Mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions and pro­cesses should no longer be the plat­form for a con­test of com­pet­ing na­tion­alisms, but should func­tion in a spirit of in­ter­na­tion­al­ism with­out which mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism is con­demned to de­liver least com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor re­sults.

In­dia’s first prime min­is­ter, Jawa­har­lal Nehru, was a fer­vent na­tion­al­ist but was also a com­mit­ted in­ter­na­tion­al­ist. His ideal was a “col­lec­tivism which nei­ther de­grades nor en­slaves”. The In­dian con­cept of Va­sudev Ku­tum­bakam, or univer­sal brother­hood, in his view, was what was needed to meet the chal­lenge of a post-atomic world, with its threat of univer­sal an­ni­hi­la­tion. Nehru’s vi­sion of In­dia was a coun­try at peace with it­self, a democ­racy which guar­an­teed fun­da­men­tal rights of the in­di­vid­ual, which en­abled its cit­i­zens to pur­sue their own ge­nius and a fed­eral polity which in­cor­po­rated the ideal of unity in di­ver­sity. But, more im­por­tantly, Nehru lo­cated In­dia’s quest as part of a global en­deav­our for peace and de­vel­op­ment. To quote his well-known and what to­day are truly pre­scient words:“And so we have to labour and to work, to give re­al­ity to our dreams. These dreams are for In­dia but they are also for the world, for all the na­tions and peo­ple are too closely knit to­gether to­day for any one of them to imag­ine that it can live apart. Peace has been said to be in­di­vis­i­ble; so is free­dom, so is pros­per­ity now and so is dis­as­ter in this One World that can no longer be split into frag­ments.”

ONE DOES NOT PRE­TEND to know how one could bridge the dis­con­nect be­tween the re­al­ity of the One World we in­habit to­day and the wave of in­tol­er­ance, sec­tar­ian and racial ha­tred and the gross­ness of po­lit­i­cal dis­course which is sweep­ing across coun­try af­ter coun­try in the world. Could In­dia lead the way to shap­ing a new world or­der which is aligned with the chal­lenges we con­front as hu­man­ity? Through the ages, In­dia has de­vel­oped a civil­i­sa­tion whose at­tributes are what that new or­der re­quires: the in­nate syn­cretism of its ac­com­moda­tive and self-con­fi­dent cul­ture, its easy em­brace of vast di­ver­sity and plu­ral­ity with an un­der­ly­ing spir­i­tual and cul­tural unity, and a deep con­vic­tion that to achieve great­ness a na­tion must stand for some­thing more than it­self.

We work on a much nar­rower agenda now, and seek to ad­vance In­dia’s in­ter­ests with­out much thought to our place in a larger, in­ter­linked and in­ter­de­pen­dent world. In the con­text of the eco­log­i­cal chal­lenge we con­front as hu­man­ity, it has been said that if we as a species fail to halt and re­verse the rav­aging of the earth we in­habit, then we face cat­a­clysmic and ir­re­versible con­se­quences. In a world where each na­tional leader wants to make his coun­try great again, there may well be a fu­ture in which great­ness will have be­come ir­rel­e­vant in ev­ery sense of the word. Will In­dia point to a dif­fer­ent, more hope­ful fu­ture?

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