International relations in times of Covid-19: Changing paradigms and the Indian balancing act

The world that was once driven by the principles of idealism, through the forces of globalization, has been now compelled to adopt the realist paradigm.



Yatan Sharma


The Covid-19 pandemic has jolted the world and propelled countries to make epochal changes in their governing approach. The world that was once dominantly driven by the principles of idealism, through the forces of globalization in the pre-pandemic era, has been now compelled to adopt the realist paradigm. Their foremost goal is now to secure statism and survival rather than ensuring economic prosperity. The outbreak of deadly Coronavirus has affirmed the fact that a country cannot be governed by the either approach alone. There must be a balance between the two opposites namely, idealism and realism. In these testing times, the Government of India, through its policies, has demonstrated that India is keen to ensure the safety of its own citizens and the survival of those from other nationalities as well.

In the pre-pandemic era, countries were deeply interdependent and interconnected in a way that individuals identified themselves as global citizens and the concept of cosmopolitanism seemed feasible. Indians, being no exception, preferred to go abroad for employment and education. But the outbreak of the pandemic has testified the dictum of Morgenthau that politics is an autonomous sphere of action and cannot therefore be reduced to economics of morals. India instantaneously barred the entry of foreign nationals into its territory as an immediate measure to contain the spread of the communicable disease. Not only India, even the countries of the European Union (EU) have closed their borders even for the EU members. Additionally, India and other countries have started special flights to airlift their people stuck in other countries.

This chain of events substantiated the fact that the realist precepts, that were assumed to be dead in the aura of globalization, are still playing an indispensable role in the global governing process. There is no global community to protect an individual who identifies himself/ herself as a global citizen. It is only his/ her native country that will cater to their needs and ensure their protection. Following the realist paradigm, the government of India unhesitatingly abandoned the precepts of globalization by closing the borders for foreigners and by bringing back their citizens to India to ensure their safety and survival.

Countries are well cognizant of the fact that it would be impossible to slay the invisible enemy without each other’s co-operation. Therefore, they have zestfully shared the essential medical equipment and lifesaving drugs to save lives of people of other nationalities as well. And believing in the idealist precept of Vasudhaiva Kutumbhakam, India exported hydroxychloroquine drugs, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits and ventilators to the nations like the United States, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and others to contribute their part in saving the masses. The abeyance of economic activities has proved to be a blessing in disguise for India. The country that was importing face masks, ventilators and other essential medical equipment, has now become a manufacturer of it and is not only serving their people but also catering the global family.

However, the courageous response by Indian army to China's attempt of encroachment has once again confounded the globalists' claim that the forces of globalization have eroded the stringent notion of sovereignty for states and economic gains are now the driving force of policy formulations. Following the realist paradigm, the government of India has shrewdly used economics as a means to admonish China for their illegitimate acts at the border and has simultaneously possessed a great challenge for their economy as well. The act of China has worked as a stimulus for our local producers by evoking the masses to reduce their dependence on imports by preferring the locally produced goods over them. With this act, India has also provided a platform to various countries to revive their economy by inviting them to establish their manufacturing units in the country and to sell their locally produced products in the market. Let us try to comprehend it with an example. A Japanese manufacturing unit will look for cheap labour and easy resource availability that will lower their production cost and consequently increase the profit. In return, Indian youth will get job opportunities and the resources that were used inefficiently due to poor technology, will now be used proficiently. In this way, the policy will dwindle the stockpiling of resources and will subsequently ensure the development of human capital.

We can say that it would be spurious for a country to adhere strictly to a particular approach to international relations out of the two, namely, idealism and realism. A right balance between the two is the best paradigm that has been demonstrated by the Government of India in these trying times. There is need to reckon the fact that Wilson’s Idealism came to end with the commencement of the second World War and Morgenthau’s realism faded with the ushering of globalization. Every extreme has an end. Therefore, rationality and flexibility should be the key approach for governance.


(The author is an Intern with Academics4Nation. He is also a Postgraduate student at Hindu College, University of Delhi).

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