Round Table discussion on “Accommodating Rising Powers: Past, Present and Future” on January 27, 2017

Round Table discussion on “Accommodating Rising Powers: Past, Present and Future” on January 27, 2017 led by Prof. T.V. Paul and Amb. Shyam Saran, at Private Dining Hall, IIC, New Delhi.


Society for Policy Studies (SPS), in association with India International Centre (IIC), organized a Round Table on “Accommodating Rising Powers: Past, Present and Future by Prof. T.V Paul, James McGill, Professor of International Relations, Department of Political Science, McGill University, Canada. Amb. Shyam Saran, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research & former Foreign Secretary, Government of India Chaired the proceedings.

Amb. Saran dwelt on the importance of the book at this juncture when there is global anxiety about emerging powers (such as China) and the outcome of the Trump transition that may adversely impact the bi-lateral relations , between the US and China ; US and Russia and other global players.

Prof. Paul opined that the historical legacy of war reflected more examples of the failure to accommodate rising powers than the converse. The rise and fall of great powers through war was prominent in the past. As war is unimaginable in the nuclear world and with a number of so many rising powers, appropriate strategies have to be devised for a peaceful transition. However, dominant theories of International Relations contend that major changes in the system are generally possible only through violent conflict.

Prof. Behera highlighted the limitations of IR scholarship in predicting momentous developments in international politics specifically pointing to the inability of IR theory to predict the collapse of the bipolar world order. He also questioned whether it is still useful to view power simply from the prism of realism. Power in the international system is too dispersed. He further questioned the idea of polarity and thought that the future world order may be acquiring a non-polar character. In his assesment, rising powers were already being accommodated in the global governance structures and therefore they had a stake in the existing normative order. He averred that power transition in the future was unlikely to be very violent.

The book explores ways of peaceful accommodation of rising powers. Dr. Paul defined accommodation as mutual adaptation by existing and rising powers and elimination of hostility between them. Accommodation of rising powers can be studied in different categories: partial accommodation, non-accommodation, symbolic accommodation (eg. : India-U.S. Nuclear deal) and region-specific accommodation (eg: Brazil). Referring to specific historical cases, he argued that peaceful change is possible through the pursuit of effective long-term strategies on the part of both status quo and rising powers.

In the discussion Amb. Saran refuted the proposition that that the US-India nuclear deal was “symbolic accommodation” of a rising India. Saran averred the US would not have entered into the deal unless they saw material and strategic benefit and that this was driven by recognition of India’s proven strategic profile post the nuclear tests of May 1998.

Dr. Kalyan Raman observed that the non-accommodation of rising powers is not a major reason of friction. He said that past instances of hegemonic wars to determine the hierarchy and distribution of power and status occurred not because of the non-accommodation of rising powers by the established powers; but because one of the already recognised great powers, driven by a combination of domestic and international systemic factors, sought to overthrow the prevailing (European) , and by extension the global, balance of power of the Europe-centred and-dominated international system. Instead, Raman argued, these hegemonic wars were caused by the combination of a radical change in their self-definition of national and geopolitical interests and their perception of spotting a favourable opportunity to attain their interests. In other words, accommodation was not an issue or the cause of these hegemonic wars. To that extent, this book misapprehends and misstates the correlation between power transition, accommodation of rising powers and the outbreak of hegemonic wars. This is not a problem that is exclusive to the current volume, but is widely prevalent in the IR theoretical discourse. There is a wide and unbridgeable gulf between IR theory and history.

The understanding of the term accommodation and what it meant were also raised during the discussion. Prof. Mahesh Shankar raised the issue that what are the global powers accommodating and how would the current design of global institutional structure facilitate relatively bloodless transitions? Amb. Bhaswati Mukherjee questioned the concept that accommodation meant not challenging territorial integrity. She pointed out that territorial integrity has been challenged by the US led West on various occasions – and who is going to decide where it should be respected? Ambassador Jaimini Bhagwati said it was the strategic balancing concept of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) that ultimately led to accommodation between the former USSR and the USA during the Cold war. This ensured that there was no direct conflict between the two super-powers but proxy wars were pursued.