The Hindu Editorial Analysis
17 April 2021

1) The roots of a decentred international order

In the post-pandemic period, developing economies should rise to meet the U.S.-led liberal hegemonic world order

GS 2: International Relations

  • The International Institute for Strategic Studies puts the overall estimate of China’s military budget at $230 billion and the intentions for global supremacy are apparent, chiefly to outrun the Pentagon.
  • The primary geopolitical rivals, namely Russia and China may possibly provide the strategic and tactical counterbalance to the hegemony of America.
  • Moreover, the international order is under threat of the rising economic power of the BRICS nations, with China dominating in its economic and military capacity.

Rising powers and an agenda

  • The final decline of American ascendency that began after the end of British imperialism in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis (1956) when a wrap on the knuckles by America led to the withdrawal of Britain and France.
  • From the Renaissance period onwards, 14th-15th century Europe began its hegemonic ambitions through trade and commerce, taking almost 500 years to colonise and influence nations across the world.
  • The tectonic shifts in the postcolonial era saw the interrogation of Euro-centrism and its biased accounts of the East, especially with the appearance of Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Edward Said’s Orientalism which began to propel freedom struggles against western-centric perspectives inherently inadequate and biased for the understanding of the emerging new world order.
  • It was the Bandung Conference of 1955, a meeting of Asian and African states, most of which were newly independent, that set the schema for the rise of Asia, politically and economically.
  • The confrontational stance was therefore the expected corollary in third world struggles to create a parallel order.

Dents to American supremacy

  • America will continue to play a prime role in international affairs though its image representing universal brotherhood has sharply declined under the Trump regime,
    • Particularly his foreign policy of threatening to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
    • Furthermore, his bare-faced racist obsession and his handling of the marginalized immigrants have left the democratic world aghast.
  • The rising tide of far-right ultra-nationalism and ethnic purity experienced in the Brexit phenomena, in Trumpism, and in the promotion of the right-wing agenda in India, has set in motion the wearing down of liberal democracy.
  • Other threats such as terrorism, ethnic conflicts, and the warning of annihilation owing to climate change necessarily demand joint international action where American “exceptionalism” becomes an incongruity and an aberration. This indeed has chipped away at the American global supremacy.
  • The world is, as a result, witness to a more decentred and pluralistic global order, a rather compelling vision of the empowerment of liberal forces standing up for an international order incentivized by long-term structural shifts in the global economy, indicating the evolving nature of power and status in international politics, especially in the context of the rising impact of Asian Regionalism on international trade and commerce.

Direction by China

  • This is the evolutionary path the developing nations are already embarking on, though the current raging novel coronavirus pandemic has retarded economic development and sent many economies such as Brazil, India, Turkey and South Africa into a downward spiral.
  • It is hoped that in the post-pandemic period, these economies would rise to meet the American-led liberal hegemonic world order.
  • With China spearheading Asian regionalism, a serious challenge is possible but there is deep skepticism about China’s self-enhancing economic and military greed reflecting its personal economic rise.
  • China must strengthen the opposition to the West through the promotion of regional multilateral institutions.
    • Its self-centered promotion of building its own stature through the recent concentration on the principle of the Belt and Road Initiative and the Silk Road project has indeed provoked an understandable clash with India and Japan.
    • More than having individual partners or allies, China must embrace and give a push to multilateral affiliations in order to not further exacerbate regional tensions.
  • Power rivalry in a multipolar world would remain a possibility with military conflict not ruled out.
    • Regional military activity can be seen in
      • Russia’s assertion of power in Georgia and Ukraine,
      • Turkey in the east of the Mediterranean,
      • India’s disputes with Pakistan and
      • China’s infiltration into India as well as its rivalry within its periphery.
  • However, the capabilities of the rising economies cannot be underestimated.
  • China and India clearly have the age-old potential to lead as, historically; they have been pioneers of some of the oldest civilizations in the world.
  • Whereas China’s military capabilities must not make China lose its bearings, economically it must spearhead the challenge to the established western world that has ingrained its superiority in the consciousness of the developing world for centuries.
  • The fragmentation of global governance consequently can no longer be handled solely by America.
  • China, on the other hand, is indisputably a serious rival to the U.S. in the South China Sea, a world leader in renewable energy, and a formidable actor on the global stage of investment and trade, penetrating India, Israel, Ethiopia and Latin America.
  • China must remember that its growing power has compelled Anthony Blinken, the current U.S. Secretary of State, to encourage NATO members to join the U.S. in viewing China as an economic and security threat.
  • This has implications for the functioning of a civilisation that is not controlled by the indomitable will of one.

On sharing and treaties

  • The emphasis, therefore, would be a move towards restructuring and advancement, as well as adopting an oppositional posture as a robust replacement of subservience to western hegemony.
  • The challenges of the 21st century can be met head on through mutual sharing of knowledge and more ground-breaking inclusive treaties.
  • It is feared that there could be a possibility of a multipolar world turning disordered and unstable, but it is up to the rising nations to attempt to overcome territorial aspirations and strike a forceful note of faith on cultural mediation, worldwide legitimacy, and the appeal of each society in terms of its democratic values.

2)Vaccine diplomacy that needs specific clarifications

The government needs to convince Indians that the vaccine exports have not been made at the cost of their health

GS 2: International Relations

  • On March 18, V. Muraleedharan, Minister of state in the Ministry of External Affairs, while responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha on the “Distribution of Covid-19 Vaccine in Foreign Countries”,
    •  “External supplies are done factoring in domestic production, requirements of the national vaccination program and requests for the ‘Made in India’ vaccines. These supplies will continue in the weeks and months ahead, in a phased manner, depending on production and needs of the national vaccination program”.

As an obligation

  • Mr. Muraleedharan also stated that India was sending these vaccines abroad in the “form of grant, commercial sales of manufacturers GAVI’s COVAX facility”.
  • Eight days later, Mr. Muraleedharan made the same points while answering a question in the Lok Sabha but he also, significantly, added, “The supply to GAVI’s COVAX facility is an obligation since India is a member of this multilateral body and also a recipient of vaccines from this body.”
  • As of April 13, India had supplied over 65 million vaccines to 90 countries.
  • Of these more than 10 million were sent as grants, almost 36 million on a commercial basis and about 19 million under the COVAX program.
  • These estimates are based on the Ministry of External Affairs statistics.
  • Taken together, these supplies come to around a month of India’s current COVID-19 vaccines production.
  • Vaccines were sent as grants from the third week of January through March; some small quantities have also been sent this month.
  • Vaccines were exported on a commercial basis mainly from the end of January through February, with a small number in March.
  • The COVAX dispatch was made overwhelmingly in March, though some small supplies have continued in April.



‘Why’ as a crucial query

  • Mr. Muraleedharan’s responses to the Parliamentary questions focused on ‘how’ vaccine supplies were sent.
    • They also mentioned that these exports were contingent on requirements of the national vaccination program, vaccine production, and the compulsion arising out of the GAVI membership.
  • They do not however go to the basic question: ‘why’ send vaccines at all.
    • That is certainly a crucial query for the enormous domestic need for vaccines made each dose precious; hence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis that no vaccine should go waste.
    • Clearly, India wishes to signal that it is a responsible global power that does not self-obsessively think of itself alone.
    • Significantly, India has not been shy of comparing its record with that of advanced western countries.

A side to foreign policy

  • This desire to be a good global citizen can be traced to the Objective Resolution moved by Jawaharlal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly on December 13, 1946.
  • It noted, inter alia, “This ancient land attains its rightful and honored place in the world and make its full and willing contribution to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind.”
  • Mr. Modi followed this vision when he also told the Raisina Dialogue, “And we must think of the entire humanity not merely of those who are on our side of the borders. Humanity as a whole must be at the centre of our thinking and action.”
  • The Modi government also time and again invokes the ancient phrase ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam”; Mr. Jaishankar did so at the Raisina Dialogue too. The premise of the ideal ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ is no different to that of the Objective Resolution.
  • These approaches are the idealistic side of the foreign policy coin whose other face is fashioned by cold and ruthless realism and exclusive self-interest.
  • Foreign policymakers often seek to emphasize a country’s tradition of altruism and the imperative of enlightened self-interest — in all peoples’ safety and prosperity lies our own — to justify the assistance they give to other lands.
  • But they have to ultimately justify it to their own people on the basis of tangible short- or long-term strategic and economic interests.
  • This is particularly so in times of shortages when the welfare of a country’s own citizenry is directly and obviously at stake.

Factors that mattered

  • The implications of Mr. Muraleedharan’s responses show that the government made estimates of the vaccines that could be sent abroad on the interplay of three factors:
    • Domestic production,
    • The demands of the national vaccine program and
    • Requests for vaccines manufactured in India.
  • Mr. Muraleedharan clarified that it was obligatory to send vaccines contracted under GAVI’s COVAX facility.
  • Experts in international law can weigh in on this assertion because sovereign states can always invoke supreme national interest to override obligations.
  • Certainly, the vaccines sent as grants were voluntary and the commercial contracts of the company concerned could always be disregarded under existing laws.
  • Thus, all in all, vaccines sent abroad were for general foreign policy considerations for which there is some justification. But that is insufficient.
  • Specific clarifications are needed to convince the people that these exports have not been made at the cost of their health.