Shivshankar Menon is a Distinguished Fellow at CSEP and a Visiting Professor of Worldwide Relations at Ashoka College. His lengthy profession in public service spans diplomacy, nationwide safety, atomic vitality, disarmament coverage, and India’s relations with its neighbours and main world powers. Menon served as nationwide safety advisor to the Indian Prime Minister from 2010 to 2014, as Overseas Secretary from 2006 to 2009, and as Ambassador and Excessive Commissioner of India to Israel, Sri Lanka, China, and Pakistan from 1995 to 2006. Menon has additionally served as a member of India’s Atomic Vitality Fee and in India’s missions to the Worldwide Atomic Vitality Company and to the United Nations. He has been a Distinguished Fellow with Brookings India, a Richard Wilhelm Fellow on the Heart for Worldwide Research, MIT, and a Fisher Household Fellow on the Belfer Heart, Harvard College. He presently serves as chairman of the advisory board of the Institute of Chinese language Research in New Delhi. He’s the creator of Decisions: Contained in the Making of Indian Overseas Coverage, printed by the Brookings Press and Penguin Random Home in 2016. His new e-book, India and Asian Geopolitics; The Previous, Current, was printed in 2021. In 2010, he was chosen by Overseas Coverage journal as one of many world’s “High 100 International Thinkers.”
The place do you see probably the most thrilling debates/analysis taking place in your subject?
For me, probably the most thrilling growth is the emergence of younger students finding out the Indian expertise, significantly of overseas and safety coverage, who’re sturdy within the self-discipline of IR. They’re methodologically coherent, and I see the beginnings of a very world IR by way of alternate methods of seeing issues. Finally, I’d hope that this can lead to an Indian college of IR rising which contributes to globalising the self-discipline.
How has the best way you perceive the world modified over time, and what (or who) prompted probably the most important shifts in your pondering?
Looking back, I really feel that my understanding of the world was slightly restricted to start with. I belong to the post-war era who got here of political age within the sixties, a time of radical political, technological, and social change in India. We had been characterised by the strongly held opinions and convictions of youth. Our understanding of the world was formed by Chilly Conflict bipolarity and the linearity of pondering that imposed even on the non-aligned. However that quickly modified for me. The observe of being an Indian diplomat, coping with China and nuclear points broadened my pondering, as did our rising company within the worldwide system, the fast finish of the Chilly Conflict, and India’s transformation after 1991. All these compelled us to revisit our assumptions and discover extra refined explanations. Intellectually, whereas we had been introduced up on a wealthy weight loss plan, from Morgenthau to Nehru, I discovered E.H. Carr and the vital studying of classical texts (just like the Mahabharata and Arthashastra) stimulating. At the moment, I’d classify myself as a reluctant realist—extra agnostic and open to a number of factors of view than ever earlier than.
What position does the Belt and Street Initiative (BRI) play in advancing China’s financial and mushy energy pursuits in South Asia? Has it had any antagonistic results on India’s aspirations for enlargement in its neighbouring international locations?
The BRI performs a really appreciable position in advancing China’s pursuits. It performs to China’s strengths, that are financial, the place it isn’t actually matched by some other energy within the subcontinent. Nor do exterior powers prioritise countervailing China’s rising affect within the subcontinent. By committing over US$ 100 billion to BRI tasks within the subcontinent, China has made herself indispensable to the infrastructure and financial plans of the leaders of a number of international locations within the subcontinent. On the identical time, the examples of Pakistan and Sri Lanka recommend that one must be cautious in drawing the conclusion that this mechanically interprets into political affect over a rustic’s overseas coverage, reputation, or into mushy energy. The attractiveness of the Chinese language mannequin or approach of doing issues remains to be slightly restricted, as is their energy of attraction. That is nonetheless a piece in progress and the Chinese language management has usually spoken of the necessity for China to achieve mushy energy. So, its influence on India’s relations with these international locations has not, to my thoughts, but peaked. India has different affinities and customary pursuits with our neighbours that China can’t match that I believe we must always consider, slightly than attempting to match or imitate China.
In your latest e-book India and Asian Geopolitics: The Previous, Current, you recommend that China won’t “behave as Western powers have”. What makes Chinese language ascendancy so distinct, and what does that say in regards to the nature of the world order?
The Chinese language are very acutely aware of their very own political and strategic custom. They, significantly their current management, see the final 150 years as a historic aberration, a “century of humiliation” is what they name it. It’s an aberration of their thoughts from an imagined previous when China was the preeminent energy on this planet, the most important economic system, a technological chief, and so forth. Goal historians and non-Chinese language may need their very own, totally different view of the previous, however it’s this attitude and the search for primacy it produces that appears to drive China’s worldwide behaviour now. China’s is a unique strategic tradition from that of the 2 earlier world superpowers, Nice Britain and the USA. Apart from, China’s geography, historical past, useful resource endowment and dependencies on the world are totally different from these western powers. Therefore my sense is that they won’t behave as western powers have. At the moment, China is but to be a world superpower, and it’s tough to foretell whether or not she is going to succeed on this quest, which is dealing with resistance.
In an article printed in The Print, you critique the system of nationwide boundaries, saying that South Asia has “outdated nations in new states”. What are the constraints of those boundaries, and what influence would possibly their reconstitution have on geopolitics as we all know it?
The thought of exhausting linear boundaries is a comparatively latest one in historical past, a characteristic of the Westphalian state that has acquired common legitimacy with the rise of nationalism. For many of historical past, borders, versus linear boundaries, had been zones of interplay and communities straddled these borders, whereas buying and selling, touring, and carrying on the conventional enterprise of life throughout these porous borders. With the evolution of India and its neighbours into trendy Westphalian states within the second half of the 21st century, and the partitioning of the subcontinent into post-colonial states, exhausting boundaries had been imposed on historical communities and nations which didn’t coincide with pure options or ethnic divisions or with their patterns of life. Because of this border zones in most of our international locations have been unstable and more and more securitised by the state, with unlucky penalties for the inhabitants. Essentially the most excessive instance of this phenomenon is Pakistan. However I do imagine that there are political and financial options to those points that are more and more being practised by the opposite international locations within the subcontinent, reminiscent of India and Bangladesh.
Having been the previous Nationwide Safety Advisor (NSA) of India, you performed a key position in drafting India’s overseas coverage from 2010-14. What was the most important problem for India within the final decade, and the way satisfactory was its response?
The most important problem within the final decade and a half was the truth that the worldwide setting grew to become much less supportive of our efforts to remodel India, significantly after the worldwide financial disaster that started in 2007-8. The rise of China and the expansion of China-US strategic rivalry modified the scenario, opening new alternatives for India-US relations but in addition creating challenges in our neighbourhood and on the India-China border the place China has been altering the established order. China has emerged unequivocally as our biggest strategic problem however can be our biggest buying and selling associate. We now face a fancy set of relationships with all our neighbours and the foremost powers in a world that’s adrift between orders.
Tianxia (actually ‘all underneath Heaven’) refers to a world order knowledgeable by Chinese language tradition, morals and ethics, which was important earlier than China’s engagements with the remainder of the world pre-19th century. How does this notion inform China’s relations with its neighbours?
I’m suspicious of single-point explanations for state behaviour. Tianxia can solely be one issue influencing Chinese language pondering. In any case there isn’t a going again to the previous, significantly one as idealised as China’s is, or to the concept of tianxia. However I believe that the sinocentric method embodied in tianxia, of China as zhongguo, the center kingdom, actually does play a job in Chinese language pondering on world affairs.
What are the important thing safety challenges dealing with Indo-Sino relations post-pandemic?
The primary is the border, which is now dwell all alongside the Line of Precise Management because of China’s actions since spring 2020. By its actions, China has forged doubt on the agreements, confidence constructing measures, and understandings that stored the peace on the border, and the scenario unchanged, for nearly three many years. Chinese language claims on our territory stay a safety risk that we should cater for. There are different safety points which additionally concern us, reminiscent of China’s army exercise within the subcontinent, our periphery, and the Indian Ocean area. The makes use of she makes of a port like Gwadar, which appears economically unviable, are potential worries. So is China’s covert assist to sure rebel teams focusing on our north-east. If the political relationship stays adversarial, slicing our financial dependencies on China would develop into a strategic necessity. To my thoughts, the 2 international locations must discover a new paradigm for the connection, or a brand new strategic framework, inside which to handle or settle these points and to take the connection ahead. In different phrases, the current scenario requires a elementary reset of India-China relations.
What’s crucial recommendation you could possibly give to younger students of Worldwide Relations?
Study as a lot as you may, maintain an open thoughts, and observe your curiosity or ardour (and never immediately’s style).
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