New Delhi: From the looks of it, the twenty-first century will also be an American century. This makes the United States conceivably the most successful Great Power of Modern history, surpassing the greatness of Great Britain. Its present contests with authoritarian Russia and China are in the nature of non-contests. Russia reached its zenith as a Great Power under Joseph Stalin. It has since shrunk at times gradually and at other times dramatically. It will always remain a military power to reckon with with extraordinary advances in science and technology harnessed to its geopolitical needs. But it will never again reach the pre-eminence of the Soviet Union. Authoritarian powers can never create a stable order and become natural magnets for the rest of the world like democratic capitalistic powers. Much of this analysis also applies to China whose true greatness as a Major Power was reached under Deng Xiaoping. But whereas China tried to overcome its industrial backwardness compared to the Soviet Union and the West and did indeed overtake the Soviet Union as a socialist economic power, its failure to make the transition to market economics may yet turn out to be a fatal flaw from which it might never recover. Like Russia, China can present no long-term challenge to the pre-eminence of the United States.

What lessons can India draw from the United States’ longevity as a Great Power? Can it address its security challenges from China and Pakistan learning from the example of the United States?

India and the United States are democracies. While the United States is an imperial power, it is not, however, a colonial power like Great Britain was. For long, Britain balanced the duality and hypocrisy of parliamentary democracy at home and colonial rule overseas and enriched itself by sucking the blood of its colonial subjects. Sooner or later, the contradiction had to be annulled, and this came during the Second World War, when Britain threw everything into the war, and was left without the political, economic and military power to sustain the Empire thereafter. It was exhausted by its victory in World War II. India is not an imperial power and has tasted bitter fruits of power projection in Sri Lanka. It cannot be a colonial power because it was once a colony and was left with little material wealth to start afresh at independence.

In proportion to its geopolitical power, the United States’ contribution to the victory against Nazi Germany was insubstantial. It lost less soldiers in all theatres, for example, than Britain while Soviet losses ranged in millions. It was by no means certain of final victory in the Cold War whose portent was evident in the 1917 revolution and hardened to bitter reality in the closing stages of World War II. But by collective instinct and because of the individual brilliance of Cold War strategists like George F. Kennan, the United States gained a slow and steady mastery over the situation. Building its outreach to the world on the two pillars of freedom and democratic capitalism, it gradually overcame the Soviet Union in Europe and in most other parts of the globe. There were aberrations. The United States did not play a sure hand in the Korean War confronted by the dilemmas of ordering atomic bombings and it ended in a stalemate. It was roundly defeated in Vietnam. But the suppleness of US geopolitics also lay in befriending adversaries. It started with divided Germany and occupied Japan and has continued with Vietnam. Only the breadth and depth of US geopolitics would permit the organization of a denuclearization summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Vietnam. The United States has known, however imperfectly, when to draw back from an unwinnable war. It is moving out of Syria and Afghanistan. It will never go for broke like the Soviet Union did in Afghanistan and Britain in World War II. The powerful democratic opposition in the United States, which is immune to anti-national labels, has kept US geopolitics balanced and on a tight leash. Further, in all its foreign engagements, the United States has not forgotten that its principal strength as a Great Power flows from its position as the world’s mightiest economic power. Consequently, it will do nothing that endangers that position.

What are the lessons for India from this? As long as the democratic opposition is strong in India, it will be insulated from making geopolitical blunders. Once the government narrative on Balakot was challenged, Narendra Modi’s war-mongering lost its bite. It has not made India weaker. It has woken the country -- or at least the intelligent sections of the population -- to the need to do better than Balakot to contain and roll back Pakistani terrorism. India is respected in the world not for anything Narendra Modi did. It is for the 1991 reforms that showed India’s genuine economic potential. From economic growth flows geopolitical strength, the capacity to bring social change and stability, and it also provides the means for steady and sustained rise. Despite having become the number one geo-economic power, it took a lot of coaxing and self-examination for the United States to abandon isolationism and lead the world geopolitically. It is steady and sustained economic growth that will permit India to meet the far greater challenge to its security from China than Pakistan. China is faltering economically and its glory days are over. This is an opportunity for India. But for lasting success, India has to shed jingoism and war-mongering, and strive to unite its citizens under constitutional republicanism. Perhaps things will change for the better after the general elections.