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It is painful and even frightening to watch America’s decline, to see its power and prestige wither away and the world become a more dangerous place. With Canada’s military disintegrating and our current government neglecting national defence, it’s logical to wonder and worry about which country might step up to become the next global superpower.

Those on the left may see America’s decline as its rightful comeuppance – the price it is finally paying for its imperialism, greed, and economic and military bullying. But those who understand the good it has done realize the world needs a dominant though essentially benign superpower — a “hegemon” in political science parlance — to protect the global commons at sea and in the air, to prevent regional conflicts from spiralling, to help foster democracy and to enable global prosperity. The era of American hegemony brought us NATO, remember, which delivered peace in Europe for the next 75 years, as well as the only significant period of safety in all seven oceans the world has ever known.

Who then might replace America as the world’s force for good? Under whose protection could weaker nations flourish? What nation will be the example to others, that beacon of light on the hill? China or Russia obviously cannot be trusted. Groups of co-operating countries like the United Nations or the European Union can’t do the job — their innate tendency toward internal division disqualifies them. Is there another candidate?

Before answering the question, one first must ask what characteristics distinguish a moral superpower — one not obsessed with conquest and exploitation but that advances its interests peacefully and, thereby, safeguards everyone’s freedom. During my university studies long ago, one of my professors put forth eight traits for us to consider that then applied to the U.S. I’ve added two more. Considering all those criteria today, one nation stands out: India. The world’s most populous country could become the world’s next moral superpower.

Taking the 10 characteristics one-by-one, here’s how India stacks up:

One: A Large, Patriotic Population. India is home to 1.4 billion people and its population is still growing. More impressively, 62 per cent of Indians consider themselves patriotic, while another 29 say they’re somewhat patriotic. While the U.S. was once intensely patriotic, today a near-record low of 39 per cent say they are patriotic.

Two: High Levels of Education. Education gives teeth to patriotism. It’s necessary for advanced war-fighting capability but also so that soldiers know what they are fighting for and why. It’s crucial to building a powerful economy and it sharpens talent for trade and foreign affairs. India’s education system needs improvement, particularly in serving poor and rural populations and eliminating gender disparity. But the country’s literacy rate is a respectable 74 per cent (in the U.S. it’s 79 per cent). India has more than 700 universities and 37,000 colleges, and 26 per cent of adults aged 18-23 are enrolled in higher education.

Three: A Robust, Market-Based Economy. India’s economy is the fifth-biggest in the world and the fastest-growing among major countries. India has transformed itself from a largely agricultural society, one crippled by socialist policies in the decades after independence, to a market-based modern economy with strength in manufacturing and services. India remains a poor country, ranking a woeful 160th in the world in GDP per capita, but that measure too has seen healthy improvement; a 2022 report from Morgan Stanley gushed about India’s Impending Economic Boom.

Four: Abundant Natural Resources on a Large Land Mass. India is the world’s seventh-largest country by area, and a remarkable 60 per cent of its land can be cultivated. And while the country is poor in crude oil, it is blessed with a number of important natural resources, including coal, diamonds, natural gas, manganese, lithium and iron ore.

Five: English as a Main Language. English is the global working language of science, business, diplomacy, the internet and many specialized areas like aviation. As this article rather disapprovingly notes, about 30 per cent of Indians currently speak English which, alongside Hindi, is one of the country’s two official languages. Frequently used in government functions — including the Indian parliament — English is taught in schools and provides a distinct economic advantage. Almost 89 per cent of Indians with a bachelor’s degree speak English, and men who speak it fluently earn up to 34 per cent more than those who don’t.

Six: A Large, Technologically-Advanced Military. With more than 2.2 million troops, including nearly 1 million reserves, India has the world’s second-largest military, after China, the third-largest defence budget, and — according to recent Global Firepower rankings — the fourth-most-powerful military overall. It’s one of nine countries with nuclear weapons, a deterrent to hostile, nuclear-equipped neighbours China and Pakistan. India has two aircraft carriers — the same number as China — and is building a third. It’s also developing a fifth-generation stealth fighter jet. Last summer, it sent much of its navy on a “mega exercise” in the Arabian Sea to prove, as one commander put it, that India “is capable and ready to support our ‘collective’ security needs in the region.”

Seven: Elections and Freedom, Guaranteed in a Constitution. For everyone’s sake, the next global hegemon must not be an oppressive dictatorship. It must be a democracy. India is the world’s biggest democracy and it holds impressively smooth elections. Over 900 million people were eligible to vote in 2019, and turnout was over 67 per cent. India also has the world’s longest written constitution, whose preamble secures liberal democratic rights of freedom and equality.

Eight: Widespread Religion. Religion is an important component of a moral superpower because it brings moral standards to bear on a nation’s behaviour. Although India is a nominally secular country, the population remains widely religious. More than 70 per cent of Indians are Hindu and recent surveys found that 60 per cent of Indians pray daily and that 84 per cent say religion is important.

Nine: Protective Seas, Strong Borders. Protective seas form the most powerful natural defence against the threat of external violence or invasion, giving a prospective superpower a safe base from which to develop and operate. Great Britain and the United States were almost perfectly endowed in that regard. India, not quite so much. Though bracketed by the Arabian Sea on the west and the Bay of Bengal on the east, and with no enemies to the south, its northern approaches are a major vulnerability. To secure the north, India has the world’s largest Border Security Force, with a strength of 270,000 personnel.

Ten: Effective Diplomacy. The precarious geopolitics of our world today demand not just powerful but moral international diplomacy. When it comes to soft or cultural diplomacy, India succeeds in many ways, from Bollywood, to yoga, to exporting its unique food and fashion, to showcasing its mid-20th-century history of nonviolence to gain independence. While India remains officially non-aligned with any of the world’s three main powers, it has shown a distinct swing away from socialist dictatorships and towards the West. And India supports Israel, with prime minister Narendra Modi being one of the first global leaders to condemn the horrific October 7 attacks by Hamas. That India can favour Israel – the lone democracy in a hostile neighbourhood – when most other countries and the United Nations condemn it says a lot.

The Bottom Line: India today is, to be sure, in a weaker overall position than the U.S. was throughout the 20th century. It is bordered by enemies in a way the U.S. is not, and those threats have erupted at times into regional wars. It is still a comparatively poor nation that suffers from political nepotism and the lasting influence of its caste system. Possibly the biggest caveat to its becoming the next moral superpower is the lasting stain of sectarian violence in the Punjab, where terrorism in the fight for a separate Sikh homeland was met with reprisals and oppression. Brutal violence left thousands dead, though certainly not just Sikhs.

But obstacles can be overcome and the bigger picture for India is of an emerging superpower taking its place on the right side of history — that is, as a free-market-based democracy that stands to become a force for a safer, more peaceful and more prosperous world. For Canada’s entire existence, we’ve depended on the good graces of benign superpowers — first Great Britain, then the United States. As America declines, a rising, democratic India will be a very good friend to have.

The full-length, twopart version of this article recently appeared in C2C Journal.

Lynne Cohen is a journalist and non-practising lawyer from Ottawa. She has four books published, including the biography Let Right Be Done: The Life and Times of Bill Simpson.


  • Lynne Cohen

    Lynne Cohen is a journalist and non-practising lawyer from Ottawa. She has published four books, including the biography Let Right Be Done: The Life and Times of Bill Simpson.