What India Can Teach the U.S. About Multipolarity

What India Can Teach the U.S. About Multipolarity

Understanding power distribution in purely “zero-sum-game” terms is not the best approach to a multipolar world.


Hence, India sits comfortably well with the multipolar world order. During the bipolar world of the Cold War, India refused to join the capitalist and communist blocs and pursue an independent foreign policy, giving birth to the non-aligned movement. This policy of non-alignment originated from India’s civilizational alignment with multipolarity. In India’s current diplomacy, the non-alignment has transformed into a multi-alignment trajectory, as a part of which India continues to pursue an independent and principled foreign policy based on the harmonious balance of its national interests and moral considerations.

New Delhi maintains relations with various nations, including those in the rival camps. For example, India has cordial relations with Israel and Iran and with Saudi Arabia and Iran. India and the United States have a natural partnership premised on the shared beliefs in liberal and democratic world order, the rule of law, human rights, and freedom of expression; however, it calls its civilizational relationship with Russia a “special and privileged strategic partnership.” Russia continues to be its major arms and oil supplier. Despite its border clashes with China and the U.S.-China tensions, India maintains a robust trade relationship with Beijing. Despite American inducements, India has not yet signaled a complete shift towards Washington. In its inherent comfort with multipolarity, India rejects great power politics. It seeks reforms in multilateral institutions to reflect more diversity and achieve inclusive cooperation. With this line, India is well-suited to position itself as a leader of the global south, which is once again an extension of its leadership of the non-aligned movement. Notably, under India’s G20 presidency, the African Union became a full member of the G20.


Independent and principled foreign policy guarantees a certain degree of credibility for India, which was amply visible in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. Despite intense pressure from the West, India refused to join the Western world in anti-Russia sanctions. As a result, Prime Minister Modi enjoys credibility with both camps and is considered the most suitable choice to play the role of mediator and peacemaker. U.S. Secretary of State Blinken himself acknowledged that India, along with China, played an essential role in deterring Putin from the use of nukes.

Perhaps Washington can take a leaf out of New Delhi’s playbook and approach multipolarity with a constructive and optimistic perspective. Understanding power distribution in purely “zero-sum-game” terms is not the best approach to multipolarity. Experimenting with a new style of diplomacy based on bilateralism and minilateralism can be very effective in making a multipolar world order beneficial by leveraging its influence in that world. Once again, India is navigating the great power politics through bilateralism and mini-laterals. The United States can explore this Indian approach, increase development aid, take the lead in reforming multilateral institutions, help post-war reconstruction, desist from protectionist trade policies, and accept value plurality. To sum up, in a multipolar world, there is ample scope for leaders to act as Vishwamitras and Vishwagurus—not as hegemons.

Dr. Abhinav Pandya is a founder and CEO of Usanas Foundation, an India-based geopolitical and security affairs think-tank, and the author of Radicalization in India: An Exploration and  Terror Financing in Kashmir. He has a Ph.D. from OP Jindal University and an MPA from Cornell University.

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