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February 28, 2017

Middle Powers in the Twenty-first Century World Order with Ambassador Rich Verma

Middle Powers in the Twenty-first Century World Order with Ambassador Rich Verma

On February 22, the Georgetown University India Initiative hosted Ambassador Richard Verma and Professors Victor Cha and Jangho Kim for a panel moderated by Professor Irfan Nooruddin. The panelists discussed the role of middle powers in the international ecosystem and how their roles may evolve in the twenty-first century. 

Middle powers are defined as countries that play a significant role in the international system, yet not a role as significant as the great powers. The program was hosted in conjunction with the Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul. Interestingly, the three speakers unanimously agreed that neither Korea nor India qualify distinctly as middle powers. Ambassador Verma disagreed with the middle power premise at the outset and made the case for classifying India as a rising power instead.

Dr. Victor Cha began the discussion by providing the audience with a theoretical framework with which to classify and describe middle powers. According to Dr. Cha, these states are non-threatening "middlemen" in international affairs that can act as intermediaries between other nations, large and small. He emphasized the need for burden-sharing among middle powers and highlighted the fact that their individual and collective convening power can provide a necessary network in times of global uncertainty. He then continued to describe South Korea's role in international affairs and evaluated whether it met the criteria set forth. He proposed to the audience that although Korea is influential in the global economy and is considered non-threatening by the majority of its neighbors, Korea's role falls outside the definition of a middle power.

After Dr. Cha's remarks, Ambassador Richard Verma argued that India is not a middle power, but a rising one. India is seen as threatening by some of its neighbors, is growing at a nearly unmatched pace and scale, and due to its strong economy, aspirational population, and established democratic traditions, is likely to graduate to the status of world power or great power during the twenty-first century. Throughout his speech, Ambassador Verma reiterated the positivity and productivity of the U.S.-India relationship and highlighted its positive trajectory over the past four years. He discussed his experience as ambassador to India and spoke about common U.S.-India interests. While the opening half of his speech took an optimistic view of India's future, the latter part of his remarks addressed India's challenges, including job creation for college graduates and rapid urban growth.

During the question-and-answer period, Dr. Irfan Nooruddin probed both Ambassador Verma and Dr. Jangho Kim on the subject of political corruption. Professor Kim argued that corruption in Korea is a top-down, large-scale problem rather than a local issue with daily impact on its citizens, but agreed that corruption stifles opportunities for global outreach from Korea. Ambassador Verma described corruption in India as rampant at the lower levels but relatively nonexistent at the highest and mid-levels of the present government.

The panelists answered multiple additional questions, ranging from the significance of Ambassador Verma's visit to Arunachal Pradesh in northeast India to the potential for collaboration between India and Korea. Looking toward the future, Dr. Kim discussed the balancing act that Korea may have to play between its longtime trading partner, China, and its greatest military ally, the United States. He noted that Korean civil society is split on this issue, and he stressed the importance of leaving this decision in the hands of the Korean people.

Ambassador Verma had similar thoughts on current events in India. He emphasized that although India grapples with several social issues, this is a normal phenomenon of democracies. He professed faith that ultimately, Indian society will find the answers to these social questions, be they on patriotism, regionalism, nationalism, minority rights, or civil liberties. The democratic theme underlying the panel was evident throughout the event.