The endorsement that India got from 187 out of 192 nations for a seat in the UN Security Council is heartening, but let it not go into our head. After all, we were the sole candidate for the Asian seat,and the seat is a non-permanent one. We have some way to go before we can get a permanent seat of the kind China or the US occupy. The bigger question is, however, what now? What would an Indian incumbency mean for Indian security policies and relations with various countries of the world? Unfortunately, the short answer probably is, nothing.
New Delhi seems to think that the mere fact of wearing the UN Security Council crown would automatically endow it with attributes of being able to operate in the international system in a manner that secures its own interests through the effective use of military, economic and diplomatic instrumentalities, even while ensuring that it degrades the abilities of its adversaries, existing or potential. India has this enormous thirst for being recognised as a world power, but it doesn’t want to expend sweat to attain that goal, all it seems to want are the symbols of power, not power itself.
Neither through inclination, institutions— or its leadership— is the India of today oriented towards a relentless promotion of national interest— the core guiding principle of contemporary international politics. It lacks any comprehensive understanding, or maybe the stomach, to get involved in the hurly burly of infighting and maneuvers— and compromises— that are the stuff of being a world power.
India’s weaknesses have become manifest in an era where the international balance of power is in a state of flux. Far from being on the margins, as it was through much of the Cold War, India is now closer to the center because of developments in Afghanistan and the Indian Ocean.
Ironically, two of our adversaries—Pakistan and China—are key players now but in diametrically different ways. Pakistan’s is a negative challenge. The rise of jihadism within the country and the collapse of its institutions have a direct bearing on Indian security and well-being. Associated with this are the consequences of a possible defeat of the American-led coalition in Afghanistan.
The Chinese hospital ship, Peace Ark, which has been deployed in the Indian Ocean in September 2010
China’s incredible rise has a different kind of resonance. Though Beijing remains focused primarily on its eastern seaboard—Taiwan, Korea, Japan, the ASEAN and the US—the enormous dynamism of Chinese growth is spilling over into South Asia and the Indian Ocean. In what should have been India’s backyard, we find a vigourous Beijing undertaking infrastructure projects, offering military aid and undermining New Delhi by its presence.
In the Indian Ocean area besides the Chinese activity in developing facilities in Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, the Chinese Navy has taken an active interest in the anti-piracy mission and are wooing littoral nations of Africa. The Chinese are by no means a threat to the Indian position in the ocean today. But you would be foolhardy to suggest that they will not be so tomorrow.
The choice before India is stark—stand up, or kowtow. The second is really no option for a country of India’s size that measures up well with China in virtually every element of national power. India cannot turn away from its historical destiny of being one of Asia’s big powers to stand aside from regional responsibilities will have serious consequences for the global balance of power, the stability of our region, and indeed our homeland security. In this interdependent world, there is no opting out.
The issue then is straightforward— should India be part of a coalition to stand up to a rising China which is becoming more truculent by the day, or should it retain its strategic autonomy and stand on its own as one of the poles in the global order ?
Both options are attractive and doable. For a variety of reasons, the rise of India has not been viewed as threatening by anyone. Indeed, the world’s foremost power—the US— sees it as a positively useful development. This was the reason why an unnamed US official had declared in 2005, on the eve of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to New Delhi, that the US “goal is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century.”
In the heady years following this, India was active with the US, Japan and Australia and there was talk of an Asian coalition of democracies. But the idea of a Quad security dialogue was proposed and quickly abandoned. After the economic crisis of 2008-9, and America’s current difficulties, it seems to have been forgotten, even though the countries in question maintain “strategic” ties bilaterally and have even held joint naval exercises.
The American moves towards India have not been based on philanthropy for which that great nation is well known for. It has been based on a sharp perception of American interests. Equally, the manner in which India grabbed the US offer of the Indo-US nuclear deal showed how we could also see the main chance when offered.
But there remain strong forces within India suggesting that we stand by ourselves on matters relating to foreign and security policy. In some measure this is a hangover of the era of non-alignment and to some extent it is a valid argument for a model where India sees itself as one pole in a multi-polar world, one that should stay out of other’s problems and concentrate on building up its own capacities. It is also the bitter lesson learnt from the experience of dealing with the US whose ruthless devotion of its national interests have caused us much harm in the past, and could well do so again, in relation to Pakistan.
Alarmingly, though, it is more likely a consequence of an inability of our political class to provide the leadership needed by the country to cope with the demands of the era.
Stephen P. Cohen and Sunil Das Gupta have hit the nail on the head by their analysis of Indian military policy, titled evocatively, Arming without Aiming: India’s Military Modernisation. Their major conclusion is that India’s military modernisation for which the country is likely to import some $100 billion worth of arms, is haphazard and lacks political direction or a strategic-military purpose.
After an initial flurry of activity to implement the GoM Report of 2003 and incorporate the armed forces into the larger decision-making process of the country, things have stalled. So today a military buildup continues sans a grand strategy. The major reason for this is the lack of a integration of the military and civilian elements of national power.
At a simplistic level, the duty of the armed forces is to secure the country and its air space and guard its sea-lanes, but that alone cannot be their utility. Nations do not invest vast sums of money to get their armed forces to merely do chowkidari (guard duty). They have a larger function in the promoting the country’s standing in the world and expanding its sphere of influence.
Mail Today October 14, 2010