India is on the rise—it is among the fastest growing economies in the world, is an established technology powerhouse, and is increasingly playing a key role in international politics. Given the size of its economy, its demographic dividend, and democratic values, India is in a unique position to influence new institutions and have a leading role in shaping the global order. Recognizing this, thought leaders at the the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) conceived of the Raisina Dialogue in 2016, bringing together political leaders, strategic thinkers, scholars, practitioners, technology innovators, industry leaders, and journalists under one roof to address pressing global issues and provide a roadmap to tackle an uncertain future. In these four years, the Dialogue has not only grown in scale and scope, but the rationale and composition of the discussions further understanding of the broader global trends and challenges that beset the 21st century. It has also become a powerful indicator of New Delhi’s willingness to play an active role in finding innovative solutions to global threats.
The fourth edition of the Dialogue, which took place last month and brought together 600 delegates from 93 countries, 1500 participants, and 40 sets of interactions and panel discussions, focused on addressing issues arising from the ongoing global transitions and disruptions, aptly titled “A World Reorder: New Geometries; Fluid Partnerships; Uncertain Outcomes.”
Global Reordering and Power Reconfigurations
The global distribution of power and resources in world politics is rapidly shifting. Changes in the material and military capabilities of nations have augmented alterations in their international role, status, and ability to wield and exercise national power. An increasingly inward-looking United States is no longer the undisputed superpower. Russia and China are challenging American primacy and are ready to shape the balance of power in the global system in their own favor. Some of these countries are challenging the basic principles that have underpinned the global governance structure since the end of World War II. On the other hand, Europe is affected by problems of immigration, the rise and threat of militant Islamism, and the overall economic health of the Union. The changing nature and magnitude of security challenges to states and individuals in regions across the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia have moved beyond conventional wars between state actors to a mix of non-state actors, unstable alliances, terrorism, and insurgencies that cross national boundaries.
Many of these pressing concerns were discussed and debated at Raisina, in panels such as “The Arrival of Global Politics: Navigating a Multi-perspective World Order;” “Old World, New Frontiers: In Defense of the Liberal Order;” and “A New Delhi Consensus: India’s Imagination and Global Expectations.” Samir Saran, curator of the Dialogue, while discussing the rise of new powers and interests, rightly raised the conundrum that there is little consensus on the path forward as “old tensions eclipse the potential for cooperation.”
Securing the Oceans and Rethinking Geopolitical Constructs
One of the key themes that ran through the sinews of the conference was the importance of oceans, whether it be for trade and harnessing the rewards of the blue economy or for strategic gain. Prime Minister of Norway Erna Solberg, in her keynote address, underscored that global communities would be looking to the oceans to ensure sufficient food, jobs, energy, and economic growth. Thus, she cautioned, “Might is Right” cannot be the basis for the governance of oceans—a global commons—and urged all countries to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. She also called for a greater Indian presence and involvement in the Arctic and Indo-Pacific regions.
Maritime competition in the Indo-Pacific was a significant focus at the conference, and for the second year in a row, the Quad panel, comprising the navy chiefs of the United States, Japan, Australia, and India and entitled “Indo-Pacific: Ancient Waters and Emerging Geometries”, was the most anticipated of all. France’s Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Anthony Prazuck joined the proceedings to make it a Quad Plus discussion, highlighting how its interests aligned with the Quad grouping in securing the Indo-Pacific region. The Quad Plus countries articulated a clear strategic vision that China alone should not flex its muscles, and determine rules of engagement, in the region. However, there needs to be greater clarity among the Quad Plus countries on how they would achieve these objectives, especially since each country’s policies are impacted by the vagaries of their own national priorities and domestic compulsions. Therefore, it is important that these countries arrive at some concrete and viable ways to jointly focus on geoeconomic linkages and infrastructure projects in the Indo-Pacific while sticking to the principle of avoiding direct confrontation with China and ensuring that the region remains open, free, and stable.
The Digital Age: An Accelerator for Progress?
Several discussions at the Dialogue centered on understanding global disruptions, their consequences, and how best to manage them as advances in technology change the economic and social order. While the promise of the digital economy has provided unprecedented opportunities to millions, it has also introduced new tensions of job loss due to automation. Questions about privacy, regulation of use of data, and whether the benefits of the digital economy can be evenly distributed were hotly debated. Recognizing the spirit of innovation in India and its ability to take advantage of the innovation revolution, the United States Chamber of Commerce launched a new initiative called “Fair Value for Innovation” during the Dialogue, which will explore how policymakers can harness innovation capital in India.
In the military realm, global trends indicate that emerging technologies such as cyber, artificial intelligence, and robotics will shape the balance of power and provide advanced economies with first mover advantages. Thus, at the Dialogue, the discussion revolved around the challenge for emerging nations to discover pathways of cooperation with global powers to develop norms to regulate and manage the use of these new technologies.
Raisina Over the Years: Continuities and Changes
Over the past four years, discussions on the themes of regional and global connectivity, terrorism, maritime security threats and challenges, political cooperation, and global governance have been a staple at Raisina. Some of these themes have also underscored priority projects for India, such as the push to improve India-Japan infrastructure cooperation in South Asia, India’s maritime initiatives such as ‘Project Mausam’ and the ‘Sagarmala’ initiative, and New Delhi’s attempts at shaping the global governance architecture to create new institutional mechanisms on global trade, capital, and investments. While continuing some of these conversations, the more recent discussions at Raisina have emphasized the strains on the liberal order, the rise of populist sentiment and a move towards insular policies, such as under the Trump administration, and their global ramifications, the significant risks and challenges of China’s rise and its assertiveness, the growing nuclear arms race globally, and the black swans in the digital age.
One key area where the policy impact of the Dialogue is visible is facilitating progress on Quad cooperation on the sidelines of the conference. As Alyssa Ayres has written, the 2018 iteration of the Dialogue “delivered the most iconic image of the ‘Quad'” by bringing together the naval chiefs from Australia, India, Japan, and the United States on a panel, “showing the potential of four great democracies to secure the Indo-Pacific.” The Dialogue’s efforts to continue the conversation by inviting all four chiefs yet again this year, especially at a time when questions are being raised about the Quad countries’ commitment to the grouping, have certainly created space for further discussions about avenues of cooperation among these countries.
However, some important issues that have remained under-emphasized at the Dialogue are civic engagement of the youth, resource security, and emerging technologies with military applications and how best to control their spread and use. With trademark Indian characteristics, including a penchant for healthy debate, the Raisina Dialogue 2019 emerged as an incubator for new ideas on how to shape and manage the 21st century. The challenge ahead is well encapsulated in the words of ORF’s chairman, Sunjoy Joshi: “The shifts in wealth, power, and technology should not produce conflict in the 21st century—instead, they must create new arrangements and propositions.”
Image 1: MEAphotogallery via Flickr Images
Image 2: Raisina Dialogue via Twitter