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Vibin Lakshmanan Asked: Can one conclude that the international order is more ‘liberal’ and 'security friendly' nowadays?

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  • S. Kalyanaraman replies: Yes to more liberal and no to security friendly. The international order has assumed a more liberal tendency after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the triumph of the United States in the Cold War competition. The resultant unipolar moment, which has just about begun to wane in the last few years, saw the first and hitherto only democratic, non-imperial, superpower in history (exceptionalism writ large indeed!) and its European allies assuming a new civilizing mission to create a new international order. The defining features of this new order are (were?): the modification of the Westphalian notion of absolute sovereignty through the imposition of the idea of the state’s responsibility to protect all sections of its population; and the promotion of democracy, especially within those recalcitrant states that opposed, or refused to kowtow before, the West, to create a world composed of democratic states. The liberal and neoconservative assumption behind these initiatives was that an international system composed of democratic polities that exercised restraint within and without would lead to the utopia of perpetual peace wherein states and their people would be content with pursuing happiness through the accumulation of wealth. Ironically, the means adopted to achieving this ideal involved the imposition of democracy (regime change) at the point of a bayonet. Further, the end envisaged involved two related impossibles: annulling politics between polities, and the triumph of competitive economics [capitalism or geo-economics] over competitive politics [war or geopolitics] without the first degenerating into the second. The future of this more liberal international order is now in doubt because of the rise of China as a new geoeconomic and geopolitical rival of the United States, the re-emergence of an assertive Russia after a decade plus of decline, the onset of economic decline in the United States and in Europe, and the West’s unwillingness to expend greater amounts of blood and treasure for realising the envisaged vision.

    While the post-Cold War international order may be ‘security friendly’ for European states in conventional terms, the same cannot be said for the United States especially in the wake of the rise of an assertive China. And the international order has definitely not become security friendly for India or other Asian states. India’s security situation has become more challenging since the end of the Cold War, given Pakistan’s continued support for terrorist groups (which may increase in the aftermath of US withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2014), its rapidly expanding nuclear arsenal and entente cordiale with China as well as China’s growing assertiveness, rising influence all around India’s continental and maritime periphery, and continuing progress in power projection capabilities.