A multipolarity, scripted by the middle powers


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Eurasian Economic Union

Mains level : Paper 2- Multipolar world

Four middle powers: India, Japan, China and Turkey anchor the world to multipolarity. The article deals with this issue.

New cold war

  • In respect of three crucial relationships, namely China, Russia and Iran, Mr. Biden is following in the footsteps of his predecessor.
  • Mr. Biden has also extended his firm backing for the “Indo-Pacific” and the associated alignment — the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad for short.
  • The U.S. continues to view China as its principal adversary on the world stage and that it will use the Quad to challenge China in the Indo-Pacific.
  • The U.S.’s hostility for Russia goes back to the latter’s war with Ukraine and the occupation of Crimea in 2014, followed by allegations of Russian cyber-interference in the U.S. presidential elections of 2016.
  • U.S. animosity has encouraged China and Russia to solidify their relations.
  • The two countries have agreed to harmonise their visions under the Eurasian Economic Union sponsored by Russia and China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • This idea has now been subsumed under the ‘Greater Eurasian Partnership’ to which both are committed.
  • Thus, the new Cold War is now being reflected in a new geopolitical binary — the Indo-Pacific versus Eurasia.

How middle powers can play an important role

  • Four nations, Japan, Iran, Turkey and India, which, as “middle powers”, have the capacity to project power regionally, build alliances, and support (or disrupt) the strategies
  • But all four seems to be already aligned.
  • Japan and India are part of the Quad and have substantial security ties with the U.S.
  • Iran has found strategic comfort with the Sino-Russian alliance.
  • Turkey, a NATO member, has found its interests better-served by Russia and China rather than the U.S. and its European allies.
  • So, why the uncertainty? The main reason is that, despite the allure, the four nations are not yet prepared to join immutable alliances.

Why the middle powers are reluctant to join alliances

1) India’s China concerns

  • India has been expanding defence ties with the U.S. since 2016, by massive defence purchases and agreements on inter-operability and intelligence-sharing and frequent military exercises, as also the elevation of the Quad to ministerial level.
  • This might have signalled to China that India was now irreversibly in the U.S. camp.
  • But China has a point: while the Quad has made India a valuable partner for the U.S. in the west Pacific, neither the U.S. nor the Quad can address the challenges it faces at its 3,500-kilometre land border with China. 
  • Moreover, the U.S.’s intrusive approach on human rights issues ensures that India will need to manage its ties with China largely through its own efforts while retaining Russia as its defence partner.

2) Sino-Japan relations

  • Japan has an ongoing territorial dispute with China relating to the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
  • But there is more to Sino-Japanese relations: in 2019, 24% of Japanese imports came from China, while 19% of its exports went to China, affirming the adage.

3) Why Iran is reluctant

  • The crippling sanctions on Iran and the frequent threats of regime change make it a natural ally of the Sino-Russian axis.
  • However, its strategic culture eschews long-term security alignments.

4) Why Turkey is reluctant to join

  • Turkey is steady distancing from its western partners and increasing geopolitical, military and economic alignment with Russia and China.
  • But Turkey still wishes to keep its ties with the U.S. intact and retain the freedom to make choices.
  • Its “New Asia” initiative involves the strengthening of east-west logistical and economic connectivity backed by western powers and China.

Consider the question “What are the factors India need to consider as it deepens its involvement in the Quad?” 


As the clouds of the new Cold War gathers over the world, these four nations could find salvation in “strategic autonomy” — defined by flexible partnerships, with freedom to shape alliances to suit specific interests at different times.

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