India: Non-Alignment 2.0

NonAlignment 2.0, a recent report authored by some of the stars of India’s strategic affairs community. It outlines a foreign and strategic policy for India in the 21st century, identifying the basic principles and drivers that would make the country a leading player on the world stage while preserving its strategic autonomy and value system.

India’s big challenge will be to aim at not just being powerful but to set new standards for what the powerful must do, because in international relations, “idealism not backed by power can be self-defeating and power not backed by the power of ideas can be blind.” India’s legitimacy in the world will come from its ability to stand for the highest human and universal values and at the global level, “India must remain true to its aspiration of creating a new and alternative universality.”

Its approach must be to secure the maximum space possible for its own economic growth in order for the country to become reasonably prosperous and equitable. Although India’s competitors will put roadblocks in its path, “the foundations of India’s success will depend on its developmental model.”

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sanctions don’t promote democratic change

Come July, Iran’s oil will no longer flow to Europe, thanks to an EU embargo announced on January 23. That same day the United States approved sanctions on the country’s third largest bank, Bank Tejarat, which the Treasury Department says “has directly facilitated Iran’s illicit nuclear efforts.” Twenty-two other Iranian banks face U.S. sanctions.

The official objective of the sanctions is to compel Iran to negotiate with the West toward the implementation of existing UN Security Council resolutions calling for Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment program. Unofficially, there are hints that the sanctions are aimed at collapsing the Iranian regime and bringing about democratic change

Additional research is needed on the apparent inverse correlation between broad economic sanctions and democratization. The existing data, however, suggest that states and indigenous pro-democracy groups should be cautious about using economic sanctions as a tool in their struggles against authoritarian regimes. The data not only show that dictatorships faced with sanctions tend to enhance their grip on power, but also that successful cases of democratization have overwhelmingly occurred in the absence of broad economic sanctions. While the evidence may present an inconvenient reality for national legislatures poised to use sanctions to look tough and appear to “do something”—regardless of the actual consequences—indigenous pro-democracy groups should have no illusions about the impact of broad economic warfare on their prospects.


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top 5 regrets of the dying

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

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afghanistan: the best way to peace

Anatol Lieven reviews recent books in Afghanistan: The best way to peace. But, even more notable is his commentary on the history of the conflict, the current dividing lines, difficulties, tensions, and prospects for the future.

It is exceptionally important that US policymakers read the book by Mohammad Khan, because there is a strong tendency in US official circles and in the US media to treat the Pakistani state as the enemy in Afghanistan, and to assume that Taliban resistance in Afghanistan would largely disappear if Pakistan could somehow be bullied or bribed into submission. This misunderstands the deep popular sympathy on the part of the Pashtuns on both sides of the border for the Taliban, who are seen among many Pakistani Pashtuns as a legitimate resistance force. A perspective such as Tomsen’s risks embroiling the US in a conflict with Pakistan that would greatly increase the terrorist threat to the West.

In these circumstances, it is highly probable that government-equipped military forces of one group or another will sooner or later stage a takeover of much of the country. The willingness of the US Congress and public to go on subsidizing Afghanistan would then be gravely undermined. If the coup were seen to be led by Tajik officers, there would be a counter-coup by Pashtun officers, and so on. If the Pashtun parts of the army lost in Kabul, many would defect to the Taliban—replicating in many ways the pattern of the civil wars that followed the Najibullah regime’s fall in 1992.

The Afghan civil war would then intensify drastically and continue indefinitely. The Taliban could not capture even Kabul, let alone the non-Pashtun areas to the west and north, in the face of the opposition from Tajiks and other ethnic groups backed by the US, India, and Russia; but the dividing lines between the different territories would be drawn in battle, and amid horrendous bloodshed.

The pursuit of a peace settlement should be combined with the discussion of a post-Karzai political order in Kabul, and with an Afghan national debate on reform of the constitution, which is now widely recognized to be deeply flawed and far too centralized, and which was never truly approved by the Afghan people. The first step to peace with the Taliban therefore should be to acknowledge their right to participate in a genuine national debate on a new Afghan constitution.

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a nice round-up of the failed american occupation of afghanistan. as the US withdraws, the taliban is optimistic and will become stronger. the government has little to no public support, and while not all prefer the taliban, there is a large political vacum.

Candid about Afghans’ criticism of their government, the Nato report is diplomatically reticent about the other main reason why the Taliban has been able to survive, recover and absorb the US counter-offensive in 2010-11. The Taliban benefits from simply being Afghans who are fighting foreign occupation, and “occupation” is the word used by both Taliban and government officials.

It is an extraordinary turn-around that a decade later the Americans are departing and the Taliban are back in business. A leaked Nato report on interrogations of 4,000 captured Taliban, al-Qa’ida, foreign fighters and civilians shows that Taliban prisoners are in a confident mood. They believe their popular support is growing, Afghan government officials secretly collaborate with them, and, once foreign troops are gone, they believe they are going to win.

read rest here, Patrick Cocburn, The death of the American dream in Afghanistan 

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how universal is the mind?

the “mind” concept is not as universal as one might imagine. non-western cultures associate different characteristics with the invisible aspects of personhood. In Korean, the concept “maum” replaces the concept “mind”. “Maum” has no English counterpart, but is sometimes translated as “heart”. The Japanese have yet another concept for the invisible part of the person – “kokoro”.”Kokoro” is a “seat of emotion, and also, a source of culturally valued attention to, and empathy with, other people”. Yet,  the notion of “cognition” in contemporary studies is informed by western conceptions of the “mind”, characterized by thinking, knowing, reasoning and other such ‘invisible’ abilities/properties. Andrew D. Wilson and Sabrina Golonka argue,

In a larger sense, the fact that there seems to be a universal belief that people consist of visible and invisible aspects explains much of the appeal of cognitive psychology over behaviourism. Cognitive psychology allows us to invoke invisible, internal states as causes of behaviour, which fits nicely with the broad, cultural assumption that the mind causes us to act in certain ways.

To the extent that you agree that the modern conception of “cognition” is strongly related to the Western, English-speaking view of “the mind”, it is worth asking what cognitive psychology would look like if it had developed in Japan or Russia. Would text-books have chapter headings on the ability to connect with other people (kokoro) or feelings or morality (dusa) instead of on decision-making and memory? This possibility highlights the potential arbitrariness of how we’ve carved up the psychological realm – what we take for objective reality is revealed to be shaped by culture and language.

see the rest of the post How Universal is the Mind?  here

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Flavour of the Month: Iran

How can Iran be made to stop enriching uranium? How soon, if not already, before Iran starts using this uranium for a weapons program? Will Obama suport an Israeli strike on Iran? Or, perhaps the US will initiate military action itself? What are the effects of the current American and EU sanctions, will they cripple the regime? Will Russia, China, and India finally cooperate with the EU and US on sanctions? Will Iran block the Strait of Hormuz?

These are some of the questions that foreign policy makers, commentators, and journalists have been obsessing about the past fortnight.

India’s second largest supplier of oil is Iran; Iran is also a vital part of the western asian regional security architecture, especially with the American withdrawal from Afghanistan. India thus has plenty at stake. However, characteristic of  our foreign policy thinking, India has failed to articulate a clear position on the Iranian situation. Rather, Pranab Mukherjee stated that India will not cooperate with the sanctions as it has pressing energy needs which it can not ignore.  India will make 45 percent of payment for Iranian oil in rupees, and thereby remain outside the realm of sanctions; part of the rupee payments will also be deposited in two private Iranian banks, escaping also the sanctions imposed on state-owned Iranian banks.

While India seems to have found a way around the sanctions at the moment, this mostly  amounts to buying time. If the sanctions extend to even private Iranian banks in June, as Obama promises, the rupee option will look increasingly bleak.

India will do well to take an actual position on the stand-off between Iran and the West, else it will be relegated to being a mere spectator in an area vital its strategic interests. Moreover, membership of the great-power club requires taking a policy stand on issues, not employing merely a series of reactive tactics, from one situation to the next.

If india wants to be taken seriously and guard its vital interests, it might consider the following.

first,  iran is not actually in violation of international law. The IAEA has stated in no unclear terms that there is no evidence of a weapons program, and that  Iran has not violated international law. Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), member states are permitted to have nuclear weapons capability, and the legal red line according to the NPT’s ‘Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement’ is the diversion of nuclear material to a weapons program. However, multiple experts and official reports have confirmed over the years that no such program exists.

second, as R.Scott Kemp, a Princeton research scholar highlights, under international treaties aimed at preventing nuclear proliferation, if a state begins uranium enrichment, this comes with the obligation to be open to international inspections. iran currently has inspectors monitoring the Natanz and Fordo enrichment facilitates, and has been generally cooperative with IAEA inspections. If Iran ends uranium enrichment, it is no longer under obligation to be open to international inspection; this means that it could in fact have greater freedom in constituting a nuclear enrichment and weapons program in secret. accordingly, continuing to allow Iran to enrich uranium might be the best way to prevent iran from developing nuclear capability.

third, consider iran’s security environment, and it seems unlikely that iran will ever  completely give up its nuclear program. the US has orchestrated regime change in iran once before  ( the United States overthrew Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, supporting the Shah afterward) and US military bases surrond Iran ( see this map from informed content); Obama, at the recent State of the Union address stated: “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.”  Israel has numerous nuclear heads and some speculate, and with good reason, that Israel was behind the recent murder of iranian scientists.  The difference in the international community’s response to North Korea and Libya has also reminded the Iranian leadership about the importance of a nuclear deterrence; the American occupation of Iraq an Afghanistan, while simultaneously wooing Pakistan, drives home a similar point. The nuclear capability option provides Iran with an essential insurance policy; moreover, in the event that fuel supply is disrupted by future military strikes, it makes sense for Iran to  stockpile more  enriched uranium than they need right now for their research reactor.  Even critics of the regime are aware of the threats Iran faces;  a 2010 University of Maryland survey noted that 55 per cent of Iranians support the pursuit of a nuclear program, and 38 per cent support the building of a nuclear bomb, that  even the worst critics of the regime support Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear programme, especially in light of the bellicose regional environment.

fourth,  the sanctions are not really aimed at the nuclear program, but regime change. to get the sanctions lifted, iran would have to release political prisoners, cease violent repression of protestors, take steps towards establishing an effective judiciary etc. While these might be laudable goals,they are clearly far beyond the ambit of the NPT. the threat of iran developing nuclear weapons capability is simply being used to re-order the Iranian state, with the false claim that it is violating international law. it is worth noting that conflict is fundamentally built into the logic that any foreign regime that is not similar to us in values and mind-set, should be replaced by a regime more friendly and capable of advancing our interests in the region.Given these provisions, the Iranian leadership could justifiably thinking that regardless of what action it takes with regard to its nuclear programs, the sanctions will remain – so why cooperate with the IAEA?

fifth, all this being said, there is a case to be made for re-defining national interests. national interests are not fixed; nor is the hierarchy of interests necessarily ordered in a particular manner. US-Iran relations thus do not have to be dictated by a zero sum logic.  The US and Iran in fact share common interests in Central Asia, in increasing regional trade and stability;  stability in  Iraq and Afghanistan; the end of terrorism from Al Qaeda and the Taliban; the reincorporation of Iran into the international community; and no war.

One option is that the IAEA and UNSC could  accept an Iranian civil nuclear program, on the condition that Iran grants inspectors full access. Or, as suggested by the 2010 deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil, but rejected by the US, Iran coud stop its enrichment in exchange for foreign supplies uranium fuel plates for its research reactor.

What is clear is that Iran is within its rights, and is unlikely to  give up its enrichment program. Military strikes will be de-stabilizing, catastrophic, an unjustified act of war that will attract retaliation. The conversation thus needs to shift from eliminating nuclear capability to improved monitoring.  India must play a more active role in shifting this conversation, else it risks becoming a spectator in its own back-yard.


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