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Event Report: Book Launch- ‘Accommodating Rising Powers: Past, Present and Future’

C3S Report no: 0152/2016

The following is an event report of a Book Launch held on December 22 2016.

A Book Launch was jointly organized by C3S, National Maritime Foundation-Chennai Chapter (NMF) and the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras. It was held on December 22 2016 at C3S, Athena Infonomics Building, T. Nagar, Chennai. The Indian edition of the book ‘Accommodating Rising Powers: Past, Present and Future’ (Cambridge University Press 2016) was launched by Dr. T. V. Paul, Contributor and Editor.

Cmde. R. S. Vasan IN (Retd.), Director, C3S, welcomed the gathering.


Dr. W. Lawrence S. Prabhakar, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Madras Christian College, Chennai introduced the speaker. Dr. T. V. Paul is James McGill Professor of International Relations, McGill University, Montreal, Canada and President, International Studies Association. Dr. Paul’s books are preferred by policy practitioners and academics who focus on the intersection of theory and policy. His next book will be about building sustainable peace South Asia. The theme of South Asia was chosen as the realist framework is insufficient to explain conflicts in the region. A civilizational approach is better suited.


Dr. T.V Paul appreciated The Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras and NMF for jointly organizing the event, as it is important that university scholars are part of the synergy of a think tank.

Another book co-edited by Dr. Paul tilted: ‘Status in World Politics’, was published recently which deals with the phenomenon of countries being status-conscious. For instance, Russia’s President Putin acts not just for attaining power, but for also being recognized. Much of his behaviour craves for a status which the West is unwilling to give him. The political and military elite of Russia have not lost the desire to be seen as superior or equal.


In the book ‘Accommodating Rising Powers: Past, Present and Future’, it is pointed out that the nuclear deal with U.S.A was an act of symbolic status accommodation of India. The psychological benefits of such a move are immense.

The historical legacy of war displays more examples of the failure to accommodate than the reverse. The rise and fall of great powers through war was prominent in the past. This happened because when a country’s material or technological change was not recognized, it became disgruntled. Leaders tend to capitalize on this for their advantage. The 1919 Treaty of Versailles treated Germany like an outcaste. Victorious powers were careful not to give Germany a great power status, unlike defeated France in 1815. Earlier, no country could catch-up with the status of a hegemonic power without material power. Now a country can use other assets for catching up, although material capabilities are essential to sustain the power.  Russia has used cyber power to mould its goals.


This book deals with the subject of why there is so much conflict in power transition. It explores ways of peaceful accommodation of rising powers. Dr. Paul defines accommodation as mutual adaptation by existing and rising powers and elimination of hostility between them. This is a challenge as accommodation can become appeasement. The question arises on upto what point China can be accommodated. Beijing claims the South China Sea territory, and is making efforts to expand its influence in the Indian Ocean. China may assert its claims, even if not peacefully, due to its increasing material power.

Accommodation of rising powers can be studied in different categories: Partial accommodation, Non-accommodation, Symbolic accommodation (E.g.: Indo-U.S Nuclear deal) and Region-specific accommodation (E.g.: Brazil). There is also the concept of ideological accommodation, without which powers can lead to conflict. Territorial accommodation was earlier necessary because of the high demand for land and hence a profusion of territorial conquests. In this age, China is showing that   global commons can become a theatre of Great Power contest. For instance, China is gaining a foothold in outer space also. Besides, land is not as necessary as before for material power, as seen in the case of Hong Kong. Yet land remains a valuable commodity.


Dr. Paul makes a critical evaluation of dominant international relations while addressing this issue. It is not realism but liberalism that is better equipped to handle accommodation. Liberalism proposes three elements involved for peaceful accommodation: Interdependence, democracy and institutions. This is a challenge with respect to China. China is not a democracy, is partially embedded in institutions and has high economic interdependence. U.S President elect Donald Trump’s proposed policies towards China have high potential to cause Beijing to become violent or to adopt its own strategies to sidestep the American order.

On the other hand, Russia has low economic interdependence with the US. With regard to institution-building, the Helsinki Process was not given a shot in dealing with post-Cold War Russia. NATO’s continuation did not help the accommodation of Moscow. U.S President Barack Obama also committed a blunder as his words built pressure on Russia. There is no single mechanism to accommodate countries. Great power status is not a one-shot phenomenon.

Dr. Paul also shed light on the theory of constructivism which is an off-shoot of liberalism. However it is stuck in European realms of ideas and norms for the rest of the world. The problem is liberal values are absent in many countries.

In reality, there is a pulling apart on the civilizational front. This is seen in Pakistan. We need good civilizational leaders who can talk to each other. There must be a civilizational interchange. In Pakistan, one civilization tries to push out another. In the rest of the world, right-wing extremism is taking over. The next 4-8 years will be interesting to watch. Meanwhile, globalization is causing many categories of people to lose their jobs, especially among the lower middle classes.

A major contribution of this book is that if a peaceful rise is desired, a peaceful rise strategy needs to be devised. Deng Xiaoping was much smarter than President Xi who is a technocrat. China should continue its peaceful rise and not to become aggressive, as the country will be respected over time. The problem is that leaders want to create a legacy and go down in history as those who brought greater status and power to their nation.  The Maritime Silk Route and the One Belt One Road initiative of Beijing are very smart moves, as China is attempting to create its own space rather than challenging U.S.A in its own spaces. It resonates of E. H. Carr’s writings in the 1930s that a rising power has to push a bit, and not be passive. The query arises as to what level this can be achieved without waging war. Dr. Paul’s impression is that a great power enjoys its status because other states accept it. This legitimacy aspect is missing in the case of China and Russia. They have to create legitimacy without causing a violent counter-push.

At the other end of the spectrum, India has done reasonably well, despite the negatives in its trajectory. It has achieved in terms of goods, technology, migration, education, etc. Its legitimacy deficit is lower than that of China, because it is not feared by other nations (Except Pakistan). This scenario may change due to various factors. India is not yet a member of the United Nations Security Council. India has reached a stage where Prime Minister Modi’s ideological leanings place him in the company of other right wing leaders. India will be a great power if he can make India attractive for investment and tourism. It will not be looked up to if there are any internal conflicts based on caste, etc. There are serious developmental gaps in India which need to be addressed. Our engineers need to create basic infrastructure. We need not only huge buildings but also urban spaces for improved quality of life.

The talk was followed by an insightful interactive session.

To a query on asymmetric threats challenging rising powers, Dr. Paul answered that such threats existed earlier, for instance in the form of piracy. The Roman Empire faced a threat from the so-called barbarians. Overall, there is no desire among established states to treat an asymmetric actor as equal. India has the example of Naxals. Guerilla struggles constitute another paradigm, but to an extent, as they can be converted due to their socialist character. A significant concern is that the weapons of the weak are increasing.

Dr. Paul’s view on the rise of tribalism was that tribal instincts gain force when nativism is combined with nationalism. A historic case is Mussolini’s Italy.

On the difference between India and China as rising powers, there is no sense of victimhood in India. British colonialism was accepted by Indians, but not by China. Dr. Paul concluded by saying that the English school of international relations has a colonial hangover. There is a need to read more from regional literature to expand this school.


Dr. Paul presented a copy of the book to Mr. M .R . Sivaraman, IAS (Retd.), Former Revenue Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GOI and Vice-President, C3S.

Dr. M. Venkatraman, Professor, Department of Defence and Strategic Studies, University of Madras gave the vote of thanks.

(Compiled by Asma Masood, Research Officer, C3S)

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