IN times of rapid transformation, forecasters are in ever-increasing demand. Perhaps the reason for the emergence of the academic as media 'star'—whether it is Samuel Huntington and his controversial thesis on the Clash Of Civilisations or Edward Said's celebrated work, Orientalism —lies in the fact that the world is moving so fast that we need grey eminences to provide defining theses that tell us exactly what is going on and what is likely to happen.
Paul Kennedy, professor of History at Yale University and best-selling author of The Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers , was in India recently to release the report of the independent working group on the future of the United Nations. As India embarks on the road to globalisation, Kennedy says he has an overwhelming sense of "vibrancy, of a country standing on several thresholds".
In The Rise And Fall Of The Great Powers , Kennedy argued that long-term shifts in economic productivity of nations are coterminous with the increase or decrease of their global influence. The former Oxford University historian carried out a detailed study of the world from medieval to modern times, to changing definitions of war and the emergence of a 'bipolar world'. His subsequent book, Preparing For The 21st Century , sought to redress his earlier emphasis on warring nation-states and focussed on global trends: technological advance and the population explosion, both of which, he argues, will fundamentally affect the global balance of power.
Kennedy believes that whether or not India ever becomes a 'Great Power' depends on its political leaders. "When I went to Italy, I said that politicians could vitally affect the country, and the Italians said to me: 'but all our politicians are in jail'. But it's not just a question of corruption or of people being good or bad. Basically, it is a question of whether politicians have vision and whether they ask the right sort of questions about the rich and the poor, about the North and South."
In a world divided at the moment between the prosperous societies of the North and the teeming underdeveloped societies of the South, India and China, according to Kennedy, fall in neither camp. "I enjoy telling Americans that India has the largest professional middle class in the world and that it is the largest democracy in the world. The middle class is the section of society from which a great deal of creativity comes, where there is concern for the ecological system and for sustained growth. In fact, I agree with those economists who say that it is better that India opts for relatively slower but steady growth rates of 6 to 8 per cent, rather than a rash growth rate of 12 per cent."
The liberalising global economy is still a fundamentally unequal one in which 15 per cent of the population controls about 85 per cent of wealth. "But if Asia grows at 6-8 per cent then, there could well be a shift of balance from a Euro-centric world," he says. In the race for Great Power status between India and China, India, according to Kennedy, has a larger number of cards to play. "In China, the regime is precarious, it is not a broad based democracy like India. But if China and India are to become great powers, if Asia has to rise, then it must do so in a manner very different from the manner in which we talk of the rise of Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries. In those times, Europe rose but they (European countries) were all quarrelling with each other, they did not rise in unity."
Does he think that India and Pakistan will ever resolve their conflict? "Well, France and Germany quarrelled much longer than India and Pakistan. The real question is one of political will." But Kashmir, according to Kennedy, continues to be a 'canker', and therefore the relationship is still 'problematic'.
Yet Kennedy is tremendously hopeful of India's future, fascinated about how India will cling to her strengths as well as eliminate poverty. Says the professor: "Three challenges face India at the moment: How it will deal with the demographic depletion of resources, how it will use the new technology to advance the cause of its people in an increasingly competitive global market and whether it will be a responsible major player in the international state system".