A new trend seems to be emerging worldwide. The institutions which were created with collective consent of sovereign states, appear to be in the process of melt down and face challenges to their survival. Post WWII, the world accepted the bipolar power construct for lasting peace. But the countries which found this kind of alignment unsuitable for their nascent geopolitical existence remained outside or in variety of other cooperative mechanisms, eg, Non Aligned Movement, European Union, ASEAN, ANZUS, OIC, AFRICAN Union et al, which has lasted over past seven decades or so. These groupings have survived due to their limited agenda of trade, commerce and economics which has brought prosperity and progress. When it came to security, these amalgamations believed that the world was peaceful under the Cold War security paradigm and they need not have strong military alliance with either pole. Decades later, this confidence seems to be weakening. With the gradual declining effectiveness of world bodies the emerging new leaderships in majority of these deprived nations have become more inward looking and are constantly in search of higher prosperity and resultant poverty alleviation. The collective strength of have-not countries has begun to challenge the multilateral international structures which appeared to be unfair to them. The increasing populations in the underdeveloped countries has also added to sense of insecurity in the developed countries since they are now being subjected to frequent attacks and their cooperative security mechanisms have often failed to provide protection. Therefore, we are in a world where even the industrialised nations have begun losing faith in collective international arrangements. Ineffectiveness of the UN, NATO, EU, WTO etc and withdrawal of the US from WTO and UNESCO, United Kingdom from EU, Maldives from Commonwealth, slow death of NAM etc. are but the tip of the iceberg of shrinking globalisation.
Has the sense of collective wisdom disappeared completely? Not really! It seems that the impact of asymmetric prosperity is most telling on the nations with very large populations and are still in the process of emerging from the burdens of history. In this milieu there is quest for smaller groupings of countries which have linked history but have been separated by artificial geographical divides created by their past rulers. Closer home, SAARC has virtually collapsed due to strained relations between India and Pakistan where Pakistan desires to primate bilateral than regional issues. The other nations of SAARC look up to India for regional security and prosperity umbrella. India’s own economic development is a compulsive necessity. Under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi, the hope for peace, progress and prosperity has received boost not only within the country but also in the entire region. Connectivity, trade and security are fundamentals of this hope. India is leading the region by strengthening regional and sub regional constructs eg BIMSTEC, BCIM and BBIN. PM Modi’s outreach to neighbours is resulting in cooperation. The pace at which the PM desires the country and the region to move is reflective of his realisation of the new paradigm of “regionalisation” which is replacing “globalisation”. These initiatives need to fructify very quickly, otherwise external powers could fill in the void and the Bay of Bengal (BoB) region would remain a bystander. IOR provides great opportunity for strong regional/sub regional connectivity and cooperation. BoB initiative, BBIN, BIMSTEC are achievable to make Indian sub continent prosperous again and prevent its economic colonisation. History is witness that when the littorals of the BoB shared maritime connectivity and integrated trade, they were prosperous.
The Indian diplomacy is treading an effective path in handling of emerging geopolitics in our region which have ultimate impact on our regional connectivity outcomes. With respect to the Rohingya issue, India has to steer between humanitarian tragedy of Bangladesh and its own security concerns. Repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar would also shape the domestic politics in our neighbourhood. Ms Su Ki is in need of political support from India for democracy to flourish in Myanmar and any destabilising fallout from the Rohingya issue may just provide opportunity to the invisible ruling military in Myanmar to remain entrenched in governance mechanisms and throw the country open to economic colonisation. Both these scenarios are challenges to India’s BoB connectivity and regional prosperity.
While “regionalisation” has begun well in the BoB littorals due to Indian initiative, the emerging geopolitics calls for deft handling. Failure to do so has the potential of prolonged indulgence of the extra regional powers and stymie Indian initiatives. These are interesting times in the history of geopolitical restructuring of the world where domestic issues will drive the progress of regional cooperation efforts. World finds itself at the cusp of downfall of multipolar architecture and “regionalisation” offers an opportunity to India in shaping multipolar construct against Chinese dream of a G2 Architecture. Prime Minister Modi has perceived it well and initiated India to seize this great opportunity.
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, PVSM, AVSM, NM and Bar is the former Commander in Chief Western Naval Command & former Chief of Integrated Defence Staff. He is Member, Governing Council, Centre for Security Studies, India Foundation.