On 5 July 2023, the South Asia Programme at RSIS hosted Dr Manjeet Pardesi, Associate Professor at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Dr Pardesi gave a public lecture comparing the classical Greco-Roman Mediterranean and the eastern Indian Ocean region’s impact on theorising about international relations. The lecture was based on a research project Dr Pardesi is pursuing with Dr Amitav Acharya.
Dr Pardesi began by demonstrating that the ideational influence of Greece and geopolitical control of the Mediterranean by the Roman Empire (6th century BCE—3rd century CE) has provided a major source of theorising about International Relations and world order. However, the ideational influence of India and the geopolitical role of China in the eastern Indian Ocean centring on modern Southeast Asia (1st—15th century CE), offers another model for understanding international systems. In the Mediterranean model, Rome maintained power by directly controlling the trade routes, with itself as the major beneficiary of them. Further, based on a doctrine of sea control, order-making was a top-down process in the region. Rome lay at the region’s core and was surrounded by a periphery that needed to be subdued. In essence, it wasn’t a security-seeking state but rather a hegemonic one. In the eastern Indian Ocean, a non-hegemonic order existed. No single power exercised sea control, and power in the region was decentralised and equitable. Protection of the local waters was the responsibility of the local power and management of maritime trade routes was the shared responsibility of all the states in the region. Moreover, it was governed by a Mandala system which was driven by material imbalances and not cultural inferiorities.
Thus, the two regions offer powerfully contrasting images of international systems/orders. In his conclusion, Dr Pardesi shared some thoughts on the implications for the future of the international order based on his research. Fundamentally, he argued that historic approaches to maintaining regional order in the eastern Indian Ocean which were based on decentralised control and management of local waters can be applicable to modern maritime Southeast Asia. Thus, even without American hegemony, the international order can continue to exist.