DPG Policy Brief

The World in Conflict: The Global Scene and India’s Positioning

This is the first in a series of annual assessments by the DPG Senior Faculty of significant developments in the international arena during the year 2023, and covers a broad sweep of the global scene and India’s positioning therein.

The author opens by observing that 2023 saw the world drifting down a dystopian path, as brutal conflicts raged, challenges to peace and stability intensified, and there was unprecedented volatility in the globalised international system. 

With changing power equations, a more multipolar landscape is steadily emerging. The leading cause of global disruption is the challenge posed to the West’s dominance by the authoritarian powers of Eurasia, and the West’s determination to maintain its unquestioned primacy. This is thus also becoming a conflict between resisting or accommodating reform in the international system. 
No region of the world will have a greater impact on the future of world order than Asia and the Indo-Pacific, the new hub of the global economy and centre of great power competition.  It is high time that Asia finds its appropriate place in the key institutions of global decision making.

Importantly, the ship of the Indian state held steady during a year that saw robust economic growth and growing geopolitical influence. Indian diplomacy was highly effective, ensuring a successful G20 presidency which amplified the voice of the Global South.  Going forward, India’s path as “Vishwa Mitra” (universal friend) must remain distinctly its own. 

The paper then moves on to analyse the conflicts in Europe and the Middle East, highlighting that the pursuit of war has highly unpredictable consequences, and can never make securing peace easier. The European conflict is stalemated, while the Israel-Hamas war remains dangerously poised to escalate.  It is time for the powers engaged in conflict to consider thinking beyond more war, and take recourse to dialogue and diplomacy.

Meanwhile, in the context of great power competition, the principal challenge to US primacy lies in the Indo-Pacific, where China is continuing to advance its expansionist agenda, and looking to firm up its dominance over the South China Sea and ASEAN before accelerating power expansion in the Indian Ocean.  The US cannot afford to be found wanting.   

The brief also draws attention to major distortions in the world order that need to be addressed, including double standards that are undermining the UN Charter and international law, failing multilateralism, un-reformed global institutions, and structural deficiencies in the global economic system. 

Finally, the author turns to India’s major partnerships and challenges.  The US is now India’s leading strategic partner of choice, with intensifying cooperation in high technology and across a broad swathe of bilateral ties, even though some areas of dissonance remain. 

India-Russia relations remain stable and resilient, based on multiple areas of strategic cooperation, shared interests in Eurasia and the common pursuit of multipolarity.

On China, India needs to remain clear-eyed that for the foreseeable future, China will be a major adversary across all domains, and the only option for India is to hold firm and strengthen its deterrent power.

As India and Japan reset their ties in the post-Shinzo Abe era, this vital partnership needs to be better aligned on the critical security issues of the Indo-Pacific. 

Among India’s Quad partners, the relationship with Australia is showing promise, and advancing across the board. 

The author believes that as this new year commences, the multiple crises that are ongoing portend even greater turmoil ahead. The world has entered a period of difficult transition, with long-term stability likely to return only after changes in the power balance between nations and regions that have taken place since 1945 have been accommodated, and growing multipolarity is reflected in renewed and rebalanced institutions of global governance.

To read this DPG Policy Brief Vol. IX, Issue 1, please click The World in Conflict”.