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#1182, 20 October 2003
International Security Environment – II: A Brief Overview of the International Environment
Maj. Gen. Dipankar Banerjee
Director, IPCS

In the backdrop of the emerging characteristics of the new era, it may be worthwhile to examine the salient elements of the emerging international environment.


The US is a pre-eminent power, militarily, economically, politically and technologically. It is unchallenged around the globe and will remain so for many decades hence.

·         Militarily – the US spends on defence more than all countries of the world combined and its lead in defence technology is even more awesome.

·         Economically. It constitutes a little less than a quarter of the world’s economy. In spite of the devaluation of the dollar, troubles in its domestic economy, growing unemployment, enormous trade and budget deficits, its currency continues to be preferred over others around the world, providing it a reserve and strength not available to others.

·         Politically. The US remains the only country able to affect developments around the world and dominate global institutions.

·         Technologically. It remains the world leader, though in selected areas it is increasingly challenged by others.

Yet, the US is in many respects remains out of tune with the world and isolated on many international issues; from global warming and climate change and trade and commerce and is an active opponent of the International Criminal Court. On disarmament questions, whether it is the CTBT, BWC, the 1972 ABM Treaty, or plans to deploy space based weapons, or as some believe, an impending decision to resume nuclear weapons tests, it remains the odd country in the international system. Further its policies are characterised by unilateralism, and a low opinion of the UN and its organs.

It is a unipolar moment, though a question may arise as to how long it will last. In the mid 1980’s Paul Kennedy’s theory of ‘the imperial overstretch’ predicting an early demise of American power proved utterly wrong. In the knowledge world of today, as long as the best young minds from the world flock to the US and its universities and remain there, its position is not likely to be challenged. The period of its dominance of the global order is likely to be measured in decades and not years. This is the wider reality that the world has to come to terms with.

Is the US a benign power? The question is irrelevant, but measured historically probably more benign than any other.

European Union

Soon to be a grouping of 25 countries with 325 million people it is unifying in many ways, rapidly and well. Combined together its economy is strong and stable. Yet, it is a disparate region with different identities, languages, cultures and beliefs with all that it portends for long term unity and stability. The Union is hardly a unitary power and its individual militaries are no match for the USA and there is little prospect for a unified collective force or an effective common security policy. Its military capability is dominated by NATO, which in turn is US led and without this support it is incapable of out of area operations even for robust peacekeeping. Besides, its economy too is likely to have major difficulties and its welfare state system is unlikely to be sustained due to demographic imbalance and tensions with immigration.


A country that has turned the corner at last, but still remains desperately poor. It is likely to continue to grow economically particularly if oil price remains high. Its population is reducing by a million a year and in five years will be lesser than that of Bangladesh or Bihar. Still a military power, but decidedly of the second rank, and for how long will remain a question? A great power in the future? Perhaps, but not in half a century. But, will remain an important player in selected areas due to its membership of the UNSC and its past.

The Middle East and the Central Asian Republics

A long as oil and natural gas remain the principal energy source for the world, the region will remain strategically very important. Yet, this critical dependence may well reduce significantly in the next fifteen to twenty years. Of these countries Saudi Arabia and Iraq will be the crucial players. The question of the region’s political stability will remain an important question and affect India’s interest vitally. In the case of the CAR, the domestic stability of the countries will be a major concern in the future, with a potential for negative developments no less than was the case in Afghanistan.


The next century will still belong to the Asia-Pacific. Its dynamic growth, uneven but cumulatively very high, innovativeness, enterprise and thrift will all act as powerful forces determining the region’s place in the world. Even though there may still be some hot spots, yet these problems are likely to be resolved without conflict or major confrontation.


There should be no doubt in any quarter that in 20 years, China will emerge as a major power and indeed the principal challenger to the US in the global order. The questions that have been asked about China in recent years and will continue to be valid for several years more are several, such as:-

·         Will it remain stable?

·         Will it engage the world through cooperation and accepted international conduct or resort to its historical middle kingdom syndrome?

·         The nature and capability of its military forces. Will they remain large, offensively structured, rapidly acquiring RMA capabilities and an ability to project power beyond what its neighbours consider as legitimate?

·         How will it relate to its neighbours and to rest of Asia?

Overall, the prognosis is one of optimism and maturity. Yet, sensible policies in its neighbourhood will call for a pragmatic approach.

It is on the basis of this very brief analysis that one needs to posit the challenges to India.

Extracts from a presentation at the National Defence College, New Delhi, India, on 14 October 2003 on the same subject

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