Foreign policy churn with long-term gains
Brookings Institution’s Bruce Riedel thinks it is now an India-America alliance versus a Pakistan-China one. He says Barack Obama’s America is once again showing a preference for India over Pakistan, like in fellow Democrat John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s time – in those 1,000 days between 1960 and 1963, nicknamed ‘Camelot’.
It is true enough that we disappeared conceptually behind the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic’s iron curtain for many years thereafter, even though we tried to project ourselves as the champion of the post-colonial nations in the Non-Aligned Movement. But we only emerged, blinking in the free world’s sunlight in the 1980s, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the dismantling of the USSR.
Riedel quite ignores however, the pressing American desire to contain China in 2015. And its need to use sizeable and populous India for the purpose, in the South Asian and Indian Ocean theatre certainly, but also as a soft power globally. While there may be an element of veracity in this scenario, with India and the US each looking at it from their own unique, and not necessarily common, perspectives, it is far from the whole truth. India’s adversarial and mistrustful attitude towards China has changed under Narendra Modi, who seems willing to leave behind the humiliations of 1962 in the interests of ‘The Asian Century’.
As for the long-standing Western tendency to hyphenate India and Pakistan, and even the needs of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation versus those of India; even the US now, more often than not, looks at India and China together instead. The hostility of the West regarding India as a Soviet stooge is now truly gone.
Pakistan, failing, near-bankrupt, troublesome, devious, and bristling with terrorists, seems to have disappeared into China’s armpit in strategic terms, particularly after the US pullout from Afghanistan and more so after Beijing’s recent $47 billion embrace. And though the Sunni Jihadis/Mujahideen Islamic State is threatening the world by saying it is on the brink of acquiring a nuclear weapon from Pakistan, Western intelligence sees it more as a Saudi/Pakistani-prompted ploy. A scare tactic designed to retard the normalisation of relations with Shi’ite Iran, and the lifting of cruel sanctions against it after decades.
But this IS boast could well turn out to be real, if its supporters go through with their plan to create a true Frankenstein. This could precipitate an unprecedented and sudden nuclear conflict with a savage ‘non-state actor’. But till then, it is a matter for the covert organisations like the Mossad, the Central Intelligence Agency, the MI-6, the successors of the KGB, and others, to head-off the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence and IS nexus at the pass. Pakistan itself may have to be quarantined, and its nuclear weapons brought under firm international control.
And India’s relationship with Russia, though nostalgic about the vanished alliance with the USSR, has much less going for it now, in a new, multi-polar world in which India too aspires to become one of those poles.
And this, irrespective of earning a seat as a permanent member in the United Nations Security Council, because there will inevitably have to be other inductees such as Germany, Israel, Japan, perhaps even Pakistan, in addition to the present five. But India is working on its wider responsibilities, even visiting the little staging points in the Indian Ocean to suit.
The expanded UN Security Council, should it happen, promises to become even more factional and unwieldy than it is at present. But the fact that there are multiple new contenders underscores the point that the world has turned de facto multi-polar. This, in the absence of US willingness to being globocop in perpetuity.
Apart from the ideological reservations it may have in this regard, even the US cannot afford the responsibility to keep the ‘free world safe from harm’, with its humungous associated costs; any more than Britain could keep up with any more than symbolic commitments to its erstwhile empire in the commonwealth. Therefore, each nation must work out the terms of its co-existence, and the bilateral relationship is as important as any G-8, Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Saarc, and so on.
One obvious reason for us not necessarily getting under the eiderdown with America in any kind of tight embrace, is because India today is not comfortable substituting being a Soviet satellite with becoming an American one. There are unfortunately no guarantees in today’s world, even if we were to do so, as Australia under Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and indeed the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, is finding out.
In reality too, though we may need new friends and allies, we are not keen on playing a tied and hobbled foreign policy game for uncertain reciprocity with anyone. China, on its part, is eager, now that Tibet is firmly in its grasp, and the erstwhile Middle Kingdom is clear and away the second biggest economic power in the world, to control the irritants of the colonial British McMahon Line. Instead, it wants to ramp up its business cooperation with India. China too hopes to exert a great deal of geopolitical influence on India in the process.
India, on its part, must consider its own advantages along its growth path, forging multiple and overlapping alliances as it does so. To an extent, working with China and Japan simultaneously already demonstrates this