The first element, as I mentioned, is to focus on engaging China, not undermining it, while simultaneously strengthening others. The second element is to protect America’s capacity for continued innovation, since it is the capacity to innovate that ultimately makes the United States the most important actor in international politics. The third element is to build and preserve the technological basis for maintaining enduring military superiority, and particularly uninterrupted US access to Asia. And, the fourth and final element is to keep our existing alliances in Asia in good repair, while reaching out to new friends and new partners, of which the single most important exemplar for this administration, and likely for every successive administration, will be India.
The critical question, when one looks at this prospectively, is whether this American strategy will be a transitory strategy that evolves into something else or whether it is likely to become a new permanent equilibrium that exists with some durability.
This concern takes me to the third part of my presentation, which is to ask why the United States has adopted such a peculiar strategy. What are the features of the emerging strategic environment that justify the current US approach to managing potential rivalry? This third part of my presentation is really an effort to convey a sense of how we are moving into a global environment.
Exploring the New Contours
Let me start by pointing out what has not changed in international politics. What has not changed in international politics is the fact that relations between states will always remain competitive. That much has not changed. Both Kautilya in the East and Thucydides and Machiavelli in the West have testified to this invariant quality of international politics. The responses of states to international competition have also not changed. All states, when faced with inter-state competition, have responded through a combination of internal balancing, that is, increasing their own resources from within, and external balancing, that is, creating alliances to deal with the emerging threat. This too is abiding. All history is littered with repeated occurrences of these behaviours. However, these strategies worked effectively in the past because what defined the international system previously was the reality of economic autarky. States were essentially not dependent on others for the production of their own prosperity: their interdependence extended to, at most, integration with their allies. And so, all countries were basically more or less self-sufficient universes. The bulk of their economic capabilities, the bulk of their military capabilities, all derived mainly from their own internal capacities-or, at best, through reliance on their allies. In this kind of a universe, you could afford to have strategies that were essentially or purely competitive. You could afford to have strategies that focused on solely on containment, on even on eliminating threats to yourself-in other words, purely competitive strategies.
All these four elements working together ““ capital accumulation, labour force growth, innovation and military capacity ““ essentially ensure that in a structural sense, the United States will continue to dominate the international system in the policy-relevant future.
What has now changed in international politics is this reality called globalisation. This is a phenomenon, which although it has had some reflections in the past, is for most part substantially new. In fact, most scholars agree that what is currently underway is the third wave of globalisation but there is absolutely no doubt that this wave of globalisation is unlike any other that has gone before. How so? It is unlike any other because for the first time in history, economic integration-that is, the comprehensive vertical integration of production and distribution chains-is occurring across the boundaries of states that are nominally geopolitical competitors. Therefore, for the first time in our collective memory, the success of a country in accumulating national power is now dependent not simply on how well it mobilises national resources to create appropriate defensive capabilities vis-à-vis a competitor, or how well it mobilizes national resources through economic integration within its friends, but how well it can generate national resources from the economic relationship it enjoys with a competitor-even as it prepares to use those very resources generated from economic interdependence to cope with the geopolitical rivalry that exists with that competitor.
This is what makes the geo-political environment so different from anything that has gone before. And the two great iconic models are the relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union in the old days, and the prospective relationship between the United States and China in the future. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were two separate universes that had no economic connections with one another. Nothing could be more different than the case of the United States and China in the future: if there is to be serious rivalry in this dyad, it will be a rivalry that is deeply embedded in the larger matrix of economic interdependence. It is precisely this reality of interdependence, which is unlikely to disappear any time soon, which justifies the American adoption of the novel strategy that I described a few moments ago. Let me give you an example that is closer to home. Think of the relationship between India and China during the Cold War, where both countries existed in separate universes, and the relationship that is likely to emerge between India and China in the future, where even if Sino-Indian relations were to degenerate into active competition in some dimensions, it is most likely that this rivalry will be deeply embedded amidst growing economic ties. This means that a globalised world is going to be a very peculiar world. And, the key distinguishing characteristic of this universe will be that a state’s economic relations with its rivals will have a critical effect on its ability to produce the political, economic, and military power needed to defend its strategic interests against those very adversaries.
There are important consequences flowing from this fact. Among the most important is that globalisation weakens the traditional concept of what it means to be a political rival. And it undermines the traditional solutions that all states have used historically for dealing with their rivals. The reason this is so is because states are trying to maximise two goals simultaneously, “power” and “plenty.” What they need to do to maximise power, however, requires them to jointly pursue with their rivals strategies for securing plenty. And these strategies, in turn, might only deepen the rivalry between these states as each seeks to simultaneously maximise its power. Given that this is the reality we are confronted with, and are likely to be confronted by for at least the next twenty to thirty years, I want to conclude by addressing the fourth part of the outline I had referred to earlier: what does this mean for India (and for the United States)?