Category Archives: india

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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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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the rusdhie affair,de-constructed, a tweet at a time

the best piece i’ve read so far on the rushdie affair. especially glad to see someone point out that claiming to a champion of liberal values is not enough. what matters is also how you fight for them, and the paradox is that in the process you could actually end up undermining those same values. even the fervent defence of liberal values can be fundamentalistic, a liberal ‘you’re either with us or against us’

Rohit Chopra writes,

 Rushdie’s pals, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, and Hitchens—the “liberal supremacists” as Terry Eagelton calls the breed— have made the vilest remarks about Muslims, and yet they are touted as great defenders of liberal values. In contrast, anyone who disagrees—even civilly—with the stance of Rushdie and his acolytes is cast as a narrow-minded, unenlightened, bigot…Eagleton reminds us: “Both Hitchens and Salman Rushdie have defended Amis’s slurs on Muslims”

“The irony is clear. Some of our free literary spirits are defending liberal values in ways that threaten to undermine them. In this, they reflect the behaviour of western states. Liberals are supposed to value nuanced analysis and moral complexity, neither of which are apparent in the slanderous reduction of Islam to a barbarous blood cult.”

read rest of the article here

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aimless spending…

It has been three weeks since my last blog entry, ooops. Holiday season.

Obama last week announced changes to the US defence strategy. Among other things, the new defence review mentioned a cut in conventional military forces, and a focus on the Asia Pacific – read, China. The announcement led to much editorial/op-ed activity in India. Many noted that India is right to increase defence expenditure and others  that Delhi has been caught sleeping, and must wake up to the new strategic reality in its neighbourhood. ( see article by C. Rajamohan). Will India strengthen relations with the US, to become a key economic and security ally – as Washington hopes? Or, will it remain aloof under the name of non-alignment? ( see Harsh V Pant piece) How will it accomodate the rise of China, with its sea of pearl strategy? And, as few relations are purely  bi-lateral, India’s response to these questions will also shape its relationship with  the Middle Eastern states. If India becomes the strategic ally that Washington hopes for, to what extent will it tow the washington line in its relations with Iran? All these questions suddenly seemed to have received  much attention since Obama’s new defence review.

And, the answer to all these questions, it would seem, is yes, lets keep increasing military budgets.

Foreign Policy’s top story to watch out for 2012 was Indian military spending.A study released by the Deloitte consulting firm last summer noted that “India’s defense spending is growing significantly and at an unprecedented rate…. India is becoming one of the largest military spenders in the world, with the third-largest defense procurement budget in Asia.”  The study highlighted that the country is “expected to spend nearly US$100 billion on military procurement during the current five-year plan (2007-2012) and US$120 billion in the following five-year plan period (2012-2017).”

A few points.

The US defence strategy, at least as it stands, is not that new. The strategy speaks in general terms – ‘rise of china’ ‘american dominance’ ‘Iran threat’ ‘strategic ally’ etc. But, it does nothing to specify – who is the enemy/ why are they the enemy… More than anything else, it seems to suggest a  change in tactics – counter terrorism, not nation building, drones, not boots on the ground, rather than a grand ‘strategy’. The idea seems to be that America should be prepared ( over prepared, even), in the event of any and all strikes. ( see al jazeera video report)

India seems to suffer from a similar problem. A lack of strategy, and no  clear articulation of threats. ‘Threat from China’ ‘Regional Balance of Power’ etc.  are phrases that are thrown around all the time. But, these are just ideas – in themselves they will not cause armed conflict. We need to specify the exact pathways through which any of these are a potential threat. Only through such specification can we devise strategy. And, as Chinese military theorist, Sun Tzu noted,  tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

China,with its so called string of pearls, had a plan, and the expanded military helped execute the plan. But the strategy came first. We are going about it the opposite way. Just military, not strategy. Military capabilities have to be converted to strength,  and conversion requires strategy (and leadership).

Such increase in spending seems pointless as long as we continue to be plagued by a lack of strategic thought.Yet,we surge ahead.

India has been noted, and criticized, for its lack of political leadership on defence, derived from its doctrine of strategic restraint. The lack of political leadership in defence matters persists even today.

Stephen Cohen and Sunil Dasgupta argue
‘ India has been one of the biggest importers of advanced conventional weapons in the last thirty years, but this sustained rearmament has not altered India’s strategic position. The armed forces push for modernization, but do not have the authority to mount the national campaign necessary for transforming the security condition of the country. Budget increases delivered by a rapidly expanding economy and access to western technology previously denied to India have led to optimism about Indian military power, but the dysfunction in India’s civil-military relations reduces the impact of rearmament. Arming without aiming has some purpose in persuading other great powers of India’s benign rise, but it cannot be the basis of military planning.’ ( read more here)

So, we are once again at the same spot – we decide to increase military spending, everyone jumps on to the band wagon, but none of this will mean anything without clear problem identification, identification of path ways and scenarios, and then a strategy on how to meet the expected challenged.

But, to define these, we should not fall back on realist vaccous terms such as ‘power’, ‘security’, ‘interest’ – these need specification. And the specification and answers to these questions is not just about capability – but about identity – about the kind of global power India seeks to be and what that means for how it orients its foreign policy. Without a clearly articulated idea of the role India sees itself playing on the world stage, it is difficult to even know when we have won or lost particular global policy battles.

Finally, given the dismal year it has been for governance in India,  countering the China ‘ threat/rise’ needs a multi-hatted strategy, key to which is surely governance and economy. Thats where we really need to catch up. Not military spending per se.

Cohen and Dasgupta also argues that the restraint is deliberate and reflects india’s belief in a benign international environment/ prioritizing development spending over defence/ commitment to non-violence in wake of colonial legacy. India has, they argue,  ‘ a remarkable preference for strategic restraint. Indian leaders simply have not seen the use of force as a useful instrument of politics.But, surely it is worth asking – why is this restraint a bad idea? Three neighbouring nuclear power states seems like reason enough for restraint. Moreover, India’s strength is its soft power, not hard power, something that we would be wise to capitalize on. (We should in fact try and sell the idea that force is not a useful instrument) But the past year has been marked by poor governance by UPA-II, petty coalition politics, with important policy debates amounting to little more than opportunistic opponent bashing by  our political leaders.

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hello president…

two articles caught my eye today. one by swapan das gupta on the frequent disruptions in parliament. He argues that fault lies not only with the BJP and allies, but with the Manmohan Singh government.

The Government, whose parliamentary majority rests on maverick and demanding allies, is always anxious to prevent any discussion that involves voting…[but] negating all voting is tantamount to shortchanging the electorate.’

‘ Had the government agreed to a voting resolution on FDI in retail, there would have been no logic to the disruption of Parliament. Instead, we had the bizarre situation of the Government taking a major initiative, its coalition partners and the opposition opposing it bitterly, and it finally doing a U-turn, without the matter reaching parliament at all.

‘ How will parliamentary institutions be strengthened if the Prime Minister, the UPA chairperson and the heir-designate are uncomfortable participating in the proceedings of Parliament?’

the other was by shashi tharoor. tharoor argues  that pending bills, disrupted sessions of parliament, declining growth rates, the on-going triumph of politics over governance means its time for a presidential system.

 ‘…our parliamentary system has created a unique breed of legislator, largely unqualified to legislate, who has sought election only in order to wield (or influence) executive power. It has produced governments obliged to focus more on politics than on policy or performance. It has distorted the voting preferences of an electorate that knows which individuals it wants but not necessarily which policies. It has spawned parties that are shifting alliances of individual interests rather than vehicles of coherent sets of ideas. It has forced governments to concentrate less on governing than on staying in office, and obliged them to cater to the lowest common denominator of their coalitions. It is time for a change.’

Tharoor has a valid point.  It is time for governance; pluralism for the sake of pluralism is  an inadequate defense. But the question is whether it is realizable; we cant get an anti-corruption bill through parliament, what are the chances of being able to change our whole political system? Jai Hind.

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Good going, have a look at this.  The Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons refuses CNN-IBN’s nomination as ’ Indian of the Year’  as ’ architects and ambassadors of Brand India.’

Once again, CNN-IBN makes me want to vomit a little bit.

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india’s military buildup


…the number one story of 2011 on Foreign Policy.

India is now the world’s largest weapons importer, according to a 2011 report by arms watchdog SIPRI, accounting for 9 percent of the world’s international arms transfers — most from Russia — between 2006 and 2010. India will spend an estimated $80 billion on military modernization programs by 2015

But, how real/large is the China threat?


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November 29, 2011 · 10:39 pm