Indo-European Dialogue in a Changing World


On November 25-27, 2009, the conference “Indo-European Dialogue” was held in Brussels and in Paris. The event was organized by the Foundation for European Progressive Studies in collaboration with the French Foundation Jean Jaurès. We publish here Dr. Reinhard Hildebrandt’s discussion paper, titled “Indo-European Dialogue in a Changing World,” for the conference.

By Dr. Reinhard Hildebrandt

The following discussion paper is to be situated within the context of the subjects debated at the “Indo-European Dialogue” conference:

  • Europe and India: strategic partners in a multipolar world?
  • European policy positions towards Asia: Does India play a secondary role?
  • Major Parameters of India’s Foreign Policy and Europe’s relevance
  • Common Indo-European interests and the South and West Asian Regions
  • India’s relations with China and its geopolitical challenges
  • India’s Neighbourhood and West Asia
  • India’s Maritime Strategy and its main Challenges
  • A realistic Assessment of Europe’s interests: Where do Europe and India meet?
  • Are Indo-European relations a prisoner of bi-lateral relations? The way ahead from an Indian perspective
  • The struggle against inequality, the crisis of democracy
  • How can a continental and multinational democracy function?
  • The Crisis and the Struggle Against Inequality – The Role of Public Power Perceptions of Indo – European relations


I. Introduction

  1. We are at a historical turning point, today. With the Asian powers coming closer together and with the reorientation of Continental Europe in the aftermath of the world economic crisis, with the realization that the USA is in the process of losing its hegemonial status in the context of its global military interventions, a new kind of interplay is discernible between the global powers. In my opinion, the core issue at present is: What is the power structure that will emerge from this global concert of powers, and at what generally accepted values will it primarily be anchored on.
  2. An analysis of the power structures and value orientations of the past enhances the understanding of the present realignments in the interplay of powers; it will also reveal the fundamental differences that distinguish the present from previous epochs of history.
  3. Within this framework of shifting power equations, we need to deliberate on the prospects for European-Indian relations resulting there from.

II. A brief review of the past

1.The pentarchy (five-power system): 1815 to 1871

The steady decline of the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”, dominated by German princes, kings and emperors, together with Napoleon’s “daredevil” attempt to build a French empire, led to the emergence of the European five-power system with Great Britain, France, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Prussia as players. Looking at the scenario from the perspective of power politics, it may be said that the three powers of the European flank – Russia, France and Austria-Hungary – contributed to a further weakening of the European center which consisted of many small states. The latter saw themselves faced with the threat of annexation by a still ambitious Prussia. The five-power system operated as follows: If Prussia and Austria-Hungary were for instance locked in a war over territorial disputes, France and Russia maintained a balance between the warring sides while Great Britain was the power that tipped the scales. In weakening the stronger two-power alliance and strengthening the weaker of the two, Great Britain ensured that continental Europe was kept preoccupied with itself, thereby leaving it free to expand its own empire. However this system, guided solely as it was by power politics, was unable to prevent Prussia from expanding its territory and influence over the small German states.

Illustration of the Pentarchy 1815-1918

2. A somewhat modified pentarchy following German unification:1872 to 1919

Reacting to the growing endeavors of democratic and nationalist-minded Germans and economic experts to do away with the system of small states and, with that, also shake off regressive princely rule to create a liberal German nation state with a single external customs border, Prussia

  • expanded its territory by waging war and exerting economic pressure on the other small states
  • suppressed democratic movements and
  • proclaimed the German Reich following the war with France in 1871/72.

This henceforth modified five-power system with a far more powerful Germany in the center of Europe weakened Great Britain’s balancing role. Further, the new pentarchy had to come to terms with the fact that Germany, with its own ambitions of colonial conquest, had joined the ranks of Europe’s established colonial powers.

The absence of an overarching normative structure straddling the purely power-driven architecture of the pentarchy was now more conspicuous than ever before. Without the same generally accepted values for all the powers involved, the purely power-oriented architecture showed signs of strain and finally collapsed amid the turmoil of the First World War (1914-18).

Illustration of the modified pentarchy from 1918-1939

3.The pentarchy re-configured: 1919 to 1945

The unsuccessful attempt, together with the new allies Poland, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, to revive the pentarchy against the isolated revolutionary Soviet Union and the vanquished, severely crippled Germany and finally ended in the Second World War (1939-45) from which the USA and the Soviet Union emerged the new leaders for Europe. The division of Germany into two states, with a divided Berlin as a separate unit, and the division of Europe into an American and a Soviet zone of influence created an entirely new security architecture dominated by peripheral powers – a situation described as indicative of the East-West conflict but in reality reflecting the dual hegemony of the USA and the Soviet Union.

4. The security architecture of the dual hegemony of the USA and the Soviet Union (1945-1990)

With the end of American monopoly over the nuclear bomb in 1949 and, more importantly, with the loss of nuclear invincibility in 1959, there emerged for both hegemony-oriented powers a strategic situation in which geo-political stability could be established and maintained exclusively with, and at the same time against, the other in each case.

4.1. The geopolitical ‘with-each-other’

If the geopolitical ‘with-each-other’ were to be considered first, it should be assumed with respect to the implementation of real politics that both hegemonial powers – contrary to their self-perception – were not in a position to exploit all conceivable options for the maximum assertion of their own will. In other words: The assertion of one’s own will curtailed the will of the opposite side to assert itself. The “freedom” of both hegemonial powers henceforth lay in the choice between the options offered by the unfolding of their own power, and the options that could be checked and obstructed, and therefore effectively curtailed, by the opposite side. However, at no point could they assess the exact scope of action open to them. This high measure of uncertainty meant that despite very severe competition, both hegemonial powers shared a common interest in the preservation of the fragile geopolitical stability, particularly in divided Europe and consequently also in their dual hegemony.

Illustration of the dual hegemony between russia and usa from 1945-1990

4.2. The political ‘against-each-other’

Political ‘against-each-other’, which existed alongside, may be briefly explained as follows: Although there was an interest in preserving geopolitical stability as explained above, both powers nevertheless also acted in accordance with the principle of the maximum unleashing of power. The USA regarded its Soviet hegemonial partner as devil incarnate and arch rival, while priding itself on being the ultimate defender of freedom. The Soviet Union projected itself as the ultimate representative of the proletariat and suspected the US of the most hostile intentions. Both sides sought to weaken the other with all the military, economic and political means at their disposal. Thus, almost unconsciously, they questioned the stability necessary for dual hegemony while – without themselves noticing – pushing the boundary line between the framework of action open to both sides to the detriment of the other in each case. Finally, shortly before the end of the East-West conflict (1989), the Soviet Union found itself divested of nearly all its freedom of action, whilst the US could expand its room for maneuver to the maximum. The Soviet Union lost all its areas of influence and was on the verge of collapse. However, even the USA had to accept – even if only 20 years later – that the end of dual hegemony had at the same time also irretrievably eroded its own hegemonial claim. Even before this realization had dawned in the US, two American administrations had already made every effort to expand their territorially restricted hegemony into a global one.

5. US ambitions for global hegemony: 1990 to 2009

Under President Clinton and Bush Jr., the USA used various means to pursue an unilateral policy of expanding American hegemony to states that had formerly belonged to the Soviet or non-aligned block. A weakened Russia and China were likewise also brought under the purview of this policy. Under Clinton, the USA instrumentalized human rights policy in particular for its own hegemonial intent, though it drew just as much upon the neo-liberal strategy for bringing economies in the rest of the world closer to the US model. Under Bush Jr., this policy was supplemented with military intervention through the three wars entered into against Iraq, Afghanistan and what was (and is) referred to as “international terrorism”. To attempts on the part of Russia, China and India to assert themselves, the Bush administration responded by adopting containment strategies against Russia and China on the one hand and holding India in friendly embrace on the other. Some of the continental powers of the European Union held out against the USA’s hegemonial ambitions, whereas the majority of the East European countries fell entirely in line while Great Britain even worked in tandem with the US to maintain Anglo-American supremacy. Finally, the heavy losses inflicted by the wars and the financial crisis have taken such a toll on the US that it finds itself compelled to relinquish most of its hegemonial ambitions in the near future and finally take on the challenge posed by more recent developments in the concert of global powers.

Illustration of the global hegemony of the USA from 1990-2010

III. The present re-orientation of the concert of globally engaged powers: (2009/2010)

The following developments brought about changes in the global architecture:

1. The Bush administration recklessly frittered away its influence on Russia, which the Clinton administration had come to gain over Russian President Jelzin.

2. After the USA and the EU increasingly began to offer the states of the former Soviet Union membership to the NATO and the EU, while at the same time instrumentalizing the uncertainty created by differences between Russia and the Ukraine over oil and gas supplies in order to advance their own pipeline project circumventing Russia, the Russian President Putin began to increasingly turn to Asia. This shift saw the birth of the “Asian triangle” of which resource-rich Russia is a part along with China and India, and in which the Central Asian Republics are fully engaged.

Should the strategic partnerships between China, India and Russia – converging in the “Asian triangle” – result in the emergence of a legal superstructure in the long term, they would, like the EU, become a lasting factor of stability in the global play of powers.

3. An ever-increasing number of Asian economies are turning to China, after the USA – as the largest importer of Asian products until the financial crisis – has now become considerably less important for these markets as a result of the crisis.

4. Some key member countries of the EU, among them Germany in particular, are in turn strengthening their ties with Russia, regarding that country as a useful stepping-stone to Asia.

5. On the Latin American continent – regarded as the USA’s “backyard” during the East-West conflict – only Columbia remains an ally of the US, while Brazil is readying to become a global player.

As a consequence of these developments, a new interplay of the global powers appears to be emerging. Economically, the inner Western triangle of USA-Japan-EU still attracts 40 percent of the world trade, but given the activities of the transnational companies and the financial capital involved, even this 40 percent is intensively linked with the emerging Asian triangle of China, India and Russia. Trade within this new triangle is also substantial. The trend towards more globalization remains unbroken although the economic crisis has temporarily curtailed the global flow of financial capital, dented the production volume of transnational companies and caused the rapid decline of the US market. However, we have to take into consideration a shift in global production and trade from the traditional Western triangle to the new Asian one. This development will also have political, military and cultural impacts besides challenging the hegemonic ambitions of the USA.

Illustration of the current development of powers

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