Amitav Acharya – The End of American World Order

To the growing spate of books on rising powers and the future of the international order we can add Amitav Acharya’s The End of the American World Order. No other issue has garnered such voluminous interest over the recent in popular and academic literatures as the one of rising powers. What are they? What do they want? What does their rise portend for the global order and the United States? Acharya bravely takes a stab at all these questions (plus more) and comes out of the exercise not with flying colours but having substantively added value to the overarching discourse and discussions that many scholars have tripped up on. 

 The book is structured in five parts – the first section describes the main argument of the book: in that we need not refer to the extant geopolitical conjuncture as a multipolar order but as a multiplex order. Unlike multipolar orders that are characterised by several rising powers whose material capabilities are on the ascent, multiplex world or multiplex order is distinguished by different producers and actors (i.e. nations) that are staging their own shows in conjunction with other states. Unlike the unipolar world that ostensibly shows only one ‘movie’ (that of liberal internationalism) a multiplex order shows several ones. Here, the ‘making and management of the world is more diversified and decentralised with the involvement of emerging powers, states, global and regional bodies, and transnational non-state actors.’ What Acharya desires to depict is a fluid, polycentric world that is driven by multiple and cross-cutting forces that impinge on nations in unique ways. Convergence is meaningless to talk about. Despite the multiplicity of shows and actors, the underpinning edifice is, however, one and one that is shared by all actors – American power undergirds and sustains this infrastructure. Acharya’s visualisation is novel and rather refreshing. But it glosses over one critical element – other powers or actors maybe staging their own shows within the structure but they are highly dependent on the main show (i.e. US which Acharya admits) that underwrites the structure but they are also borrowing large parts of the main show in Acharya’s lexicon and still opt to exist in the main theatre as a cog and choose to exit and re-enter when it suits them best. Acharya’s argument also clearly distinguishes between the decline of the United States and the decline of the American world order. Rightfully, he points that the latter which is happening cannot be equated with the former, which other pundits and commentators have chosen to do. 

The second and third chapters focus on the United States and its fleeting unipolar moment. The decline of the AWO (American world order), Acharya argues, stems from not a misguided sense of isolationism but militant ‘adventurism’ captured by George Bush’s interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan and the attendant costs and implications to America’s power. By wading through the arguments, Acharya punctures the notion that unipolarity, as come claim, leads to stability and an international order that functions effectively. Disorder emanates out of reckless policies that has diminished the differences between the United States and other rising powers, who two decades ago paled in comparison when it came to hard and soft power.

Next, Acharya goes to effectively elucidate the myths of liberal hegemony or those that advocate for a rules-based international order underpinned by American power (a la Ikenberry). Superbly, Acharya knocks down the purported merits of the liberal international order that US has stewarded since the end of the war. To be clear, the order did not include all countries even after it was established. Several critical countries – China, India, Soviet Bloc, parts of the Middle East and Southeast Asia were not constituent elements of the order. And all these countries, some more than others, worked to resist the edicts of the order that was instituted without the consent of the many. It was more coercive that consent based and it did not benefit many of these reluctant states for a long time. Critically, the American stamp or imprint that is widely projected wilfully ignores the agency and leadership of several emerging powers like India and other Latin American countries who worked to advance and solidify important norms and institutions in the 1940s and 50s. It was not an all-American affair as many Americans like to believe.  

The next chapter considers rising powers in some depth. Quite astutely, Acharya captures the maelstrom surrounding the rising power lexicon. There is great obfuscation surrounding rising power conceptions, very existence and their interests and intentions. Conceptual clarification is greatly lacking. As Acharya argues, there is a clear and conspicuous ‘accounting gap’ between the aspirations and capabilities of these emerging powers and the benefits and burdens they impose on the existing order. Empirically, there is not much work on measuring the intentions, perceptions and capacities of rising powers as they engage with the order. These variables could tilt their behaviour – either drive them to work with international institutions or outside them or a strategy that features both as per the issue. Despite their vaunted status in the current architecture, these powers are not in a state to assume any sort of leadership positions or drive collective action coalitions on problems that emerge. And the forums where emerging powers have been, at least on the face of it, a leading presence like the G-20 has not amounted for much. The wide grouping is now in a flailing state and without a raison d’être to guide its path in the choppy waters of international politics. Should it be a crisis manager or function more like a convenor? What issues should it cover going ahead? These are questions that will, no doubt, recur as emerging powers gain more stake within the international order. 
What does the arguable end of the AWO signify? What sort of governance is required to manage troubling collective actions that no nation can address alone? And how should emerging and emerged nations manage their rather tenuous and thin institutional accord? Acharya calls for greater emphasis on regional solutions. Now there are more regional orders and projects than ever before. These vehicles are tackling emergent issues as they arise. For instance, the Arctic Council that was pieced together to manage the growing resource issues in that part of the world. Other examples include the SCO and OSCE which are burgeoning security frameworks. Acharya places his faith on these projects given the maturation of several regional projects and growing number of regional economic agreements that dot the international landscape. Unlike the concert type of governance model, the regional model, in his words, holds more promise. If these regional orders are better linked and connected to international institutions like UN and UNSC, their relative writ could strengthen.  
Despite his enthusiasm, however, a regionalised world is unlikely to take over the responsibilities of international governance anytime soon. As Acharya carefully points out, some emerging powers find regionalisms and regional responsibilities a burden and not a boon. India and Indonesia have rather tepid connections with their regional counterparts and less inclined to divest considerable power and authority on SAARC and ASEAN to play a central role in regional affairs. Neither will South Africa, China or Russia for that matter. Acharya also does not consider the prospect of a G-2 that was much talked about sometime ago. Notwithstanding the differences between the US and China, there currently exists around 50 distinct bilateral dialogues between both nations on all public policy matters. Of late, we have also see renewed efforts and willingness from Washington and Beijing to come together and tackle climate change through joint measures. If these functional mechanisms deepen, they could present a viable means of addressing global problems despite the unease it will stir up in world capitals. What you might also see more of going ahead is organised anarchy characterised by a plethora of groupings and frameworks (bilateral, multilateral, mini lateral, plurilateral, public-private, south-south) uniting state, non-state, public and private actors working to address collective action problems. And that will require much more careful and judicious mapping if we are to better grapple with what will come after the American world order. It might not be multipolar or multiplex but multi-centric. 

Forged in Crisis: India and the United States since 1947

Forged in Crisis: India and the United States since 1947 – Rudra Chaudhuri

Rudra Chaudhuri’s recent history on Indo-US relations Forged in Crisis: India and the United States since 1947 is a book that is as ambitious as it is provocative. In it, Chaudhuri, embarks on a concerted myth-busting journey by revisiting some of India’s critical bilateral junctures with the United States over the course of sixty years with an intent to distill a clear and perceptive strategy underpinning its relations and approach toward the United States, the leading power of the international system since 1945. By doing so, Chaudhuri also attempts to debunk many of the lingering tropes characterising Indian foreign policy since 1947. Chief among these is India’s vaunted indigenous approach to managing foreign relations – ‘Non-Alignment.’ Through a forensic analysis of the archival materials supplemented ably by an array of primary and secondary sources and news clippings – Chaudhuri argues that India’s approach to the United States is characterised and influenced by a melding of ideas (‘who we are’) and material interests. The approach and conclusions make for an exhilarating and highly revealing, if not completely acceptable, read.
To make his case, Chaudhuri zeroes in on a series of diplomatic encounters with the United States. These are organised into three sections that are also deftly titled. The first on ’Negotiating Non-alignment’ looks at the early Nehru years and how Non-alignment as a political strategy and ideational construct was crafted and its relevance during India’s appeals for economic assistance following independence and during India’s tryst as a mediator with the Eisenhower administration during the Korean War. Both these junctures effectively laid the diplomatic infrastructure between both nations that has endured. The second section entitled ‘Negotiating Change’ deals with three crises – 1962 China war that purportedly dented the concept of nonalignment; subsequent negotiations with Pakistan over Kashmir and the 1971 Indo-Bangladesh War. These chapters deal with a rapidly shifting international climate that show how a chastened India maintained its dogged diplomatic approach of balancing ideas and interests following its ignominious defeat against China. And the final section, ‘Negotiating Engagement’ covers India’s contemporary engagement with the US on two important issues – Iraq War in 2003 and Indo-US Nuclear Deal, events that as many scholars claim witnessed a ‘new India’ that had shed its cold war shibboleths and was finally ready to engage as a major power. But these proclamations and declarations, Chaudhuri argues, do not withstand empirical scrutiny; instead, Indian behaviour allude to a clear and traceable continuity insofar as India’s foreign policy is concerned. The emphasis on ideas and interests and its complex intermeshing shaped New Delhi’s thinking when debating whether to send troops to Iraq and during the highly controversial, contested and laborious civil nuclear deal negotiations.   
As a thesis alone, the ideas and interests argument does not sound altogether novel. Nation states, as Charles De Gaulle once quipped, only have interests, no friends. And nations are generally understood to be governed by some normative or ideational influences as they attempt to accomplish their objectives within the international system. But what makes Chaudhuri’s argument novel and arresting is the actor in play – India and the legacy of Indian foreign policy, compounded by the literature covering it, that has disconcertingly clouded its diplomatic behaviour through a overbearing sense of idealpolitik, long wedded to Nehruvian consensus and channeled through principles of non-alignment. Burdening this trope is another one that claimed Indian foreign policy a la non-alignment was a red herring and a scaffold used to mask and advance a realist oriented foreign policy. In this context and backdrop, the book’s thesis is path-breaking since it questions and aims to delegitimise long-held views and understandings by empirically uncovering and substantiating Indian positions and those that ran its foreign policy, in this case – relations with Washington. 
Some of these unsubstantiated tropes run through and influence the literature on Indo-US relations. As Chaudhuri demonstrates, earlier accounts of the relationship, notably Dennis Kux’s book characterised India and the United States as ‘estranged democracies’, whose relationship had long been victim to the exigencies of the cold war and the ideological proclivities of both nations that pitted them at opposite ends. Strobe Talbott followed a similar argument by presenting the relationship as one that had crossed a ‘difficult half century’ before setting forth to describe his diplomatic encounters with Jaswant Singh in the 1990s. Chaudhuri’s efforts are clearly aimed to set the record straight against these accounts which he claims severely ‘misreads the history of the relationship’ between both nations. The truth, as he argues, is more complex. Contrary to existing interpretations, Chaudhuri’s picture depicts two democracies that, from the outset, frustrate and test one another but not at the expense of the larger relationship that as time progressed, proved to be more resilient and capable of withstanding minor irritants (la affaire Khobragade). 
The revisionist interpretation also seeks to challenge and contest long-held myths in Indian foreign policy, notably that of non-alignment and what it constituted. As Chaudhuri makes clear, non-alignment was not much of a nebulous construct as some critics have charged. It had solid roots in the core notion of non-dependence and this impulse has persisted and influenced India’s approach with the US since 1947. Moreover, he challenges contemporary accounts of Indian foreign policy that point to non-alignment’s demise following a fundamental structural transformation has taken place over the past thirty years since liberalisation took hold. Though sympathetic to broader structural shifts, Chaudhuri dismisses these and other culturalist arguments pertaining to the conduct of Indian foreign policy.

Chaudhuri’s work is firmly anchored within the new historical turn in the study of Indian international relations that, according to Kanti Bajpai, revisits and unpacks some of India’s pivotal diplomatic moments to lay bare how these affected and continue to affect policies and choices today. Such scholarship tends to be inductive and interpretative and light on theory but strong on its descriptive understanding of critical junctures. What these historical accounts and interpretations also convey is that is prudent to be more cautious over some of independent India’s founding foreign policy principles that are heavily influenced by ideas of independence and sovereignty, greatly shaped by legacies of colonialism and partition. Scholars like Srinath Raghavan and Chaudhuri argue that we must guard against essentialising these beliefs and instead adopt a more measured attitude when examining their relevance. 

In every sense provocative, Chaudhuri’s work aims to inform and introspect. Despite its many positives, there is one rather negligible blemish. Nowhere in the book is there a definition of what a crisis is. Gleaning from the cases that are under focus, it is implicitly clear that periods that precede or follow a military conflict are understood as moments of crisis. If clearly defined early on and well explained as to why these particular moments were chosen, the reader would have gained more perspective. But this does not detract from the deft and solid research and analysis that accords this book considerable esteem.