24 May 2023

Former Ambassador T.P. Sreenivasan talks on the Emerging World Order in New York - The world is in transition between an order that has diminished and an order yet to take shape

Former Indian Ambassador T.P. Sreenivasan was hosted at a dinner/talk by the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) and Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in New York City on May 18th at the Bhavan’s Romanti Auditorium in New York on May 18, 2023.. The program started with an introduction of the Bhavan by Bhavan’s Operations Manager Minesh Patel followed by remarks on the history of the Bhavan in USA by its Chairman Dr. Navin Mehta. GOPIO Chairman Dr. Thomas Abraham welcomed everyone on behalf of GOPIO and its chapters and spoke on GOPIO’s history and activities around the world. The program was streamed live for the world audience.

The houseful program was chaired and moderated by Dr. Abraham and introduced Ambassador Sreenivasan as a diplomat, TV anchor, and author of several books. He has been Ambassador to many countries. The last assignment was as Ambassador to Austria where he also served as Governor of India at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and is currently adjunct professor of eminence at Mumbai based Somaiya Vidyavihar University, He also serves as Chairman of Academy Council and Director of NSS Academy of Civil Services.

“The world is in transition between an order that has diminished and an order yet to take shape,” said Ambassador Sreenivasan in a talk on the Emerging World Order. He said that four game changing developments in the early 21st century, 9/11, the economic meltdown, Covid 19 and the Russia Ukraine had impacted all aspects of human activity and left the world in disarray

“The foundations of the post Second World War have been demolished, but the shape of a new order is still not in view,’ Sreenivasan said.Sreenivasan shared his perspective on the current state of the world. One thing recognized in the world is that we are in a phase of transition, because there are so many points and many have talked about change.

Sreenivasan said “Change is order of life, it can happen, it continues to happen all the time, but we must remember that we are in a particularly critical phase in the world today because of certain developments in the 21st century. In fact, if we take the years from 2000 to 2020, you can see that there have been very dreadful events, game-changing events which have taken place; we have been through it with difficulty. But the important thing is that these have not changed. We are still in the grip of the events that took place in the 21st century.”

He said that the 9/11 attacks demonstrated the limitations of even the most powerful nations in the face of determined individuals or groups. He said, “We think 9/11 is behind us, there is a new building to commemorate it as a museum. But it has not left us. Because what was the fundamental lesson that we learned that whatever maybe the power of a country, however much of a capacity it has to destroy the world, the United States has the capacity to destroy the world 55 times, I don't know why you need that kind of capacity. But even that kind of power has no relevance in the face of determined people,” said Sreenivasan.

Terrorism has become a major concern, and efforts to define and address it at the international level have been complex and ongoing. He followed with his personal experience and added, “I was in Vienna. And the US Ambassador told us when the story came on the television, ‘Please forget this event. The United States will not be affected by it.’ These were the last words by him. That's the famous words that they all said. But there is nothing of the United States left in its original form. Since 9/11, the kind of fear that you have, and the kind of inconvenience all of us must go through passing through an American airport, or even any other airport reminds you every minute of the day that this problem has not been solved.” “Even today, we are discussing terrorists and terrorists continue to dominate several societies and we have cross border terrorism, as we all know, is a major danger, it is a work in progress,” said Sreenivasan.

The second is the economic meltdown, which affected the world in various ways, highlighting the interconnectedness and interdependence of economies. He quoted, “We feel happy that much of it was the result. And the United States came back to the kind of normalcy, but you still can see the reverberations of the meltdown. Today, banks are closing down, and problems are increasing. There's inflation, it's not only in the United States, everywhere, G20 was formed in order to deal with that issue. And now G20 India is working very hard to resolve some of these problems. But it is now the G20 that is dominated by, not economic issues, but political issues. And therefore, the difference between economic and political issues have changed.” 

 Sreenivasan added, “We do not know which one is prominent, but both are problematic. Efforts have been made to address economic issues, but political considerations have often taken precedence, leading to a shift in the balance between economic and political concerns.”. The question he quoted at the end was, “What did the United Nations do? What did the international community do?”, to which he answered, “People solve their problems themselves, but the “United Dealing” with these kinds of issues, is now taking place in the world.”

Followed by the COVID-19 pandemic, he started, “You don't have to talk about the pandemic. But what happened? The United Nations Security Council could not even meet for even a day because China was the president of the Security Council that month. And China was suspected to have created the virus. And therefore, in a situation where the Security Council is supposed to deal with threats to international peace and security. Here was the greatest existential threat to humanity. And the United Nations was completely paralyzed. Even today, there is no involvement of the Security Council in the fight against the pandemic. Because the Chinese made sure that this will be dealt with by the WHO, WHO is just a health organization, they have no capacity to deal with a pandemic. He continued, “We dealt with HIV AIDS. We dealt with several other pandemics in the past through the Security Council, but the biggest of all, could not be dealt with. That's why the world was running around helter-skelter without vaccines without cooperation.”. Covid-19 exposed vulnerabilities in global governance and cooperation. The United Nations Security Council, responsible for dealing with threats to international peace and security, faced challenges in responding effectively due to political tensions and disagreements. The pandemic also revealed disparities in global healthcare systems and the need for international collaboration in addressing such crises.

And then the fourth, the most unexpected invasion of Ukraine by Russia raised concerns about international norms and the behavior of powerful nations. The complex dynamics involving Russia, Ukraine, and other global powers have created uncertainty about the future trajectory of international relations. He spoke about the relations between the Indian and Russian government. Quoted a few examples to make the audience understand the depths of India-Russia ties. 

He also talked about the changing nature of the world order. He mentioned, “It is very clear that we are not in the same world as we were at the end of 2000. And how are we going to deal with it? What is it going to be something that nobody can predict? We know the trends, but exactly where our world will go, we have to now look for it.”. He continued, “So, what exactly is the nature of the world today?” the answer to which he analyzed, “When there was a world order, when we talk about world order, we are not talking about equal or even equitable world order. There cannot be a world order in which everybody is equal. That is impossible. It has never happened. And nobody has tried it. But what did the United Nations do? What the United Nations did was to establish standards of behavior by nations. Whether you followed it or not. The United Nations sat down, and from the colonization, up to the other pandemics not really the COVID-19, but every human rights situation, environmental situation everywhere, standards have been established. And the effort was to keep those standards alive.” 

While an equal or fully equitable world order may be unattainable, the United Nations was established to establish standards of behavior among nations. However, adherence to these standards has waned, and the influence of powerful nations, particularly those with veto power in the UN Security Council, has often impeded global cooperation and consensus. Additionally, challenges such as climate change require collective action, but progress has been hindered by differing priorities and lack of commitment from some developed countries. The consequences of not addressing these challenges, including climate change, could have severe impacts on the future of humanity. 

He concluded his talk by highlighting the emerging cold war between China and the United States, with Russia playing a diminishing role. The management of this relationship, as well as cooperation on emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, will be crucial for global stability.Overall, he emphasized the need for the world to adapt to the changing dynamics and uncertainties, and for international cooperation to address pressing global issues.

There was a large participation from the audience in which he addressed many other questions including promotion of ayurvedic treatment, US-India relations, India-China and India-Pakistan conflicts, climate change, artificial intelligence and on negativity towards the USA.

Bhavan’s Chairman Emeritus H.R. Shah concluded the event with a tribute to Bhavan’s early supporter billionaire and philanthropists S.P Hinduja, who passed away a couple days earlier. GOPIO International President Lal Motwani presented Ambassador Sreenivasan a memento of a collector’s item of the First Day Cover brought out by the US Postal Service at the First Global Convention of People of Indian Origin in 1989. The program ended with a vote of thanks by GOPIO-New York President Beena Kothari followed by a wholesome vegetarian dinner.