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Much before the pandemic struck, there were several counter-currents against the globalization process. Starting with Brexit and including the emergence of Trump and other authoritarian rulers, there were concerted attempts to “weaken” globalization and “dilute” the processes of globalism. Indeed, the return of My Country First ideologies meant that worldwide, there was a new initiative to look inward and turn protectionist, favouring domestic firms that did not outsource their operations and discouraging transnational corporations. When the COVID 19 Pandemic struck in the first quarter of 2020, the first reaction of governments world over was to “lockdown” their citizenry and ban international travel as well as shut down foreign trade and commerce. With the Coronavirus perceived as globalization’s outcome, nations worldwide brought up the “walls” that separated them from the world. Indeed, much like the “tearing down” of the Berlin Wall in 1989 symbolized the “arrival” of globalization, Trump’s personal favourite i.e. the Wall that was supposed to keep immigrants out, characterized globalism’s retreat.
So, one could arguably say that Populism and the Pandemic had already weakened globalization, though not buried it forever. Indeed, even with these two forces against globalism, multinational firms and export-import firms did manage to thrive despite such currents against them. This was mainly due to the tight integration and interconnectedness that globalization engendered and which proved hard to “untangle”. Moreover, even Trump and other “strongmen” saw its benefits outweighed their political gains and hence, they did not really derail the globalization projects, though they tried their best to whittle down the process. Putin entered this potent mix with his “military operation” in Ukraine in Feb 2022, and in one stroke, ensured that globalization’s foundations were shaken and weakened. The globalization process depends on a tight “coupling” within nations and with sanctions and withdrawals of firms from Russia becoming the norm, Putin did indeed strike a huge blow to globalism.
What we have now are the 3Ps of Populism, Pandemic, and Putin that have put globalization in peril. If populism ensured that the ideology of Walls “trumped” (literally and figuratively) open borders, the pandemic led to “practical difficulties” in pursuing openness and free flow of goods and people across borders, and perhaps ominously, Putin showed that military might can undo the process of free trade and international commerce. It needs to be emphasized that what Putin did was more damaging to globalization than the other 2 Ps as suddenly, there seems to be a “realignment” and “reordering” of national interests and nations in the emerging New World Order. Indeed, the Ukraine war is perhaps the first “shot across the bow” against what most global firms took for granted, i,e. the “stability” and “certainty” of SOPs or Standard Operating Procedures that underpin their presence worldwide. With most of them now out of Russia, perhaps permanently, CEOs would definitely reevaluate and rethink about their strategies going forward.
In the midst of all this chaos and confusion and uncertainty, there seem to be some bright spots and India is one of them. As a recent report put it, India’s foreign policy seems to be in a “sweet spot” at the moment with even Imran Khan praising it and this is mainly due to the deft way in which we have manoeuvred the “minefield” of geopolitics. By keeping open its options and balancing competing interests, so far, the Modi government has managed to gain from its “qualified neutrality” wherein harking back to the NAM or Non-Aligned Movement years seems to be wise, given the heated situation in the world. Indeed, this is where India can benefit by keeping its doors open to the world and “playing its cards well” by engaging with all the players and more importantly, pursuing “geoeconomics” or economy driven geopolitics. For this to happen, we need to be more aggressive with our economic interests driving our foreign policy and pursuing what is known as “realpolitik” or the realism driven national interest.
Last, it is my belief that globalization would survive the 3Ps and this is because of Xi who arguably represents the “make or break” point for globalism. In other words, the moment China decides to “wall itself off”, then we can well and truly believe that globalization is under threat. Until then, even India, with all its Atmanirbhar policies, needs globalization and perhaps, the Indo China dynamics and the “contest” in Asia are the way forward for globalization. Having said that, with so much unpredictability of the main actors in the world, it would be prudent to say that globalization has suffered a major setback and would need years to recover from the 3Ps. To conclude, the world is at an “inflexion point” where the contours of the future are being drawn and redrawn and only time will tell whether the walls would come up again.
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