The myth of rule-making in the international order

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Context:

  • Commentaries abound on how emerging powers like China and India are being excluded from institutions in the international order. Exclusion ostensibly prevents them from becoming rule makers that presumably would allow them to make or create rules that help address problems like climate change or nuclear proliferation that no one state can address alone. 

We need to ask three questions before making pronouncements on the international order and if it can accommodate rising powers like India:

a) How sincere are Western countries to sharing power in the international order?

b) How are rules made or “written” in the international order? and

c) Is it in the interest of rising powers like India to shoulder burdens that do not comport with their interests and capabilities?

  1. US and Western countries that lead the international order are not completely open to meaningfully sharing power with rising powers like India
  • The international order was constructed following World War II to manage geopolitical exigencies wrought by the Cold War
  • Over time, international organizations took on different priorities, particularly facilitating liberalization and the opening up of global markets
  • Trade agreements were used to open new markets for American goods
  • Negotiations on a number of agreements from the 1980s on issues like global warming, disarmament and tobacco control were marked by American and, occasionally, European reticence to make rules globally applicable
  • The international order has been liberal but only for a small minority in the West

2. It is difficult for any one country, even the US, to function as a rule maker

  • Being a rule maker is distinct from stitching together ad hoc coalitions to tackle problems
  • Rule makers purportedly work within multilateral fora to address existing trans-boundary problems
  • Negotiating international rules in such settings entail dealing with over 100 different national agendas and as many interpretations on how they perceive a policy problem should be addressed

3. It may not be in India’s interest, now, to seek or acquire greater responsibilities in the international order

  • Leadership is an onerous task
  • Issues like intervention, humanitarian crises, and nuclear proliferation require nifty diplomatic coalitions to address
  • India’s overriding focus on securing its periphery and improving its growth trajectory serve as constraints to higher ambitions in the international order
  • India’s economic interests conflict with or complicate policy choices

Conclusion:

  • Leading while trying to sustain growth is complex and not always prudent.
  • Also the very real constraints that accompany development offer India a political strategy to eschew burden-sharing responsibilities until they can be balanced with domestic commitments.
  • It’s time to take a step back and ask such questions before pontificating on the selectively liberal international order and whether it can accommodate rising powers like India into the mix. Better to wait.

Source: Livemint