POLITICAL MINEFIELDS AHEAD
There are political minefields ahead for India and its partners. NATO-Russia tensions will surely rise when Sweden and Finland’s requests for membership are taken up. An intensification of the Russia-Ukraine war might force India to choose between its Quad partners and Russia.
India’s earlier intention to achieve multipolarity through the BRICS will be even less tenable if Russia-China relations become ironclad. The notion of a more distributed power system will collide against the reality that closer ties with the US may appear a better option for India.
At the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war, India worried that China would gain an enfeebled and dependent Russia as a junior partner. New Delhi stood to lose Russia as a strong and reliable geopolitical partner. Economically, the sanctions on Russia are setting off a process of de-dollarisation that benefits China. The Ukraine conflict could deliver advantages to China that it could not have otherwise secured.
Indian policymakers are betting that Russia will not want to put all its eggs in one basket and that Russia will continue to respect India’s independence. A weakened Russia will still have veto power at the UN Security Council where India has historically been a beneficiary.
India is betting that the level of convergence with the Quad members on China’s aggression in the Indo-Pacific is strong enough for them to tolerate dissonance on other grounds. It is counting on its friends to realise that pressure to take sides is unlikely to produce results and may backfire.
India has consolidated its strategic autonomy without economic or strategic costs. Its Quad partners appear willing to tolerate differences – after all, there is no Indo-Pacific without India.
New Delhi has been able to set the terms of global engagement in the current geopolitical constellation. But depending on the outcome of the Ukraine war, India’s conception of the type of global order that guards its strategic autonomy may have to be reluctantly refined.
Deepa M Ollapally is Research Professor of International Affairs and Director of the Rising Powers Initiative at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University. This commentary was first published in East Asia Forum.