Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Nonalignment 2.0

NONALIGNMENT 2.0 is so incoherent in setting out a foreign and strategic policy for India it made me wonder how the group that produced it had assembled and organized its work.

To find out, I called Prakash Bhanu Mehta, the head of the Centre for Policy Research in New Delhi that published the 70-page text. What he said confirmed my feeling that there was no clear conceptual underpinning for the paper. It had emerged gradually from various conversations among a number of people in Delhi. They had decided at some point – there was no Eureka moment – to constitute a group. Eight of them met regularly for over a year, with an agenda and notes for each meeting but without an overall plan or expert issue papers to define and analyze the very complex matters at hand.

Such a procedure could have arrived at important and insightful conclusions but unfortunately, it did not. The paper is most interesting for what it omits.

The eight co-authors (see list below) have weighty credentials in different fields but only two, former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran and CPR’s Mehta (who did a stint on the National Security Advisory Board), have any directly relevant experience.

Of the others, one at least, Sunil Khilnani of King’s College, London, should have been excluded from the group because his 1999 book, The Idea of India revealed such a blurred and derivative set of ideas as to indicate a fundamental alienation from the national spirit. When the group began its discussions Khilnani was on sabbatical in Delhi and after that ended he flew in for the weekend meetings.

Khilnani’s inclusion in the group points to what is perhaps the most difficult obstacle we face in charting a national strategy: there is such a moral disconnect in the policy-making and intellectual circles of New Delhi that they are unable to recognize and respond to lack of integrity.

To be successful abroad an Indian academic must adjust to the direction and force of foreign winds; he cannot be a nationalist. That is especially true in the ideological citadels of the West. Truth as an Indian sees it must be cozened to please sensibilities long conditioned to intellectual dominance. That is an unavoidable fact of NRI life. Even the brilliant eye of Amartya Sen cannot see as genocide the unprecedented string of man-made famines with which the British Raj killed, by the most conservative estimates, several hundred million Indians. He draws from that harsh Indian experience – shared by populations in every territory the British dominated – the gentle rule that famines do not occur where there is democracy.

Nonalignment 2.0 reflects fully the results of moral disability. Consider the basic recommendation of the paper, that India’s “strategic autonomy” during the Cold War should be continued into the 21st Century in our relations with China and the United States. To equate those two countries in the Indian world view is outrageous.

China’s murderous regime occupies a sizable chunk of Indian territory, and claims more. It has a long history of arming and funding insurrections in the North-East of the country, and is an “all-weather ally” of Pakistan, which it made a nuclear Power for no other reason than to contain India strategically. Beijing's claims to be “rising peacefully” are patent nonsense. China has an aggressive, and indeed, brutal record, both in domestic and foreign affairs. State policies have killed 30 to 40 million Chinese, and the murders continue today in torture cells and mobile execution chambers at a rate unparalleled anywhere else.

Beijing has resorted to war not only against India but against Russia, Korea and Vietnam. It has adopted a law requiring war if the people of Taiwan should assert their freedom. It is committing genocide in Tibet, a territory from which tribute was first exacted -- it was never ruled until Mao sent in the PLA -- at about the same time as Europeans were establishing their own colonial empires. It has threatened Southeast Asian countries that claim sovereignty over offshore islands in international waters. In any ranking of threats to world peace and order China tops the list; and it is at our doorstep.

The United States is a democracy that has supported India from the days of our struggle for independence: the pressure Roosevelt exerted on Churchill ensured that Gandhi did not die during his last imprisonment (1942-1946). It was America’s steady opposition to colonialism that forced European empires into retreat during the 1950s and 1960s.

During the “Cold War” the United States opposed a dangerous and insidious enemy with thuggish force in South East Asia and Latin America, and although India stood apart internationally for excellent domestic reasons, it was a major beneficiary. Since the end of the Cold War all of Latin America has become democratic, and as Washington pushes neo-colonial Europe out of Africa democracy is spreading there too.

American policies are now the most important reason China is not more openly militaristic and aggressive; that is widely recognized in Asian capitals, including New Delhi. To counsel equidistance from China and the United States at such a time is foolish.

How do the authors of NONALIGNMENT 2.0 justify their silly equation?

They don’t. This is the closest they come: “The U.S. can be too demanding in its friendship and resentful of other attachments India might pursue. The historical record of the United States bears out that powers that form formal alliances with it have tended to see an erosion of their strategic autonomy. Both India and the US. may be better served by being friends rather than allies. China remains suspicious of India’s partnerships, and in particular sees improved Indian ties with America and Japan in simple zero-sum terms. It follows that over the long run, the triangular relationship between India, China and America will need very careful management.”

And how are we to carefully manage that relationship? “On the political side, our posture towards China must be carefully nuanced and constantly calibrated in response to changing global and regional developments.” And what is it that we should be nuanced and calibrated about? “Our Tibet policy needs to be reassessed and readjusted. Persuading China to seek reconciliation with the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan community may contribute to easing India-China tensions.”

How exactly does India persuade China on Tibet?

“The initial soundings must be discreet and exploratory. And we must be mindful of the risk of hostile reaction, particularly from conservative sections of the People’s Liberation Army.” We also have to keep in mind that the “situation vis-à-vis Tibet has been complicated by the transition to a democratically elected Tibetan government-in-exile. The Chinese had, in part, expected that the Tibetan community would continue with its traditional method of selecting the Dalai Lama—a method that was amenable to manipulation by China. The Dalai Lama’s popular legitimacy among his own people is a fact that the Chinese government must acknowledge.”

These vaporous prescriptions have no reality beyond the fears and hopes of men who, with one exception, have spent their lives pushing paper (evidently without much comprehension of content). Nowhere is that more clear than in the following pathetic passage:

 “On the global canvas, China looks upon India not as a threat in itself, but as a ‘swing state’ whose association with potential adversaries could constrain China. The challenge for Indian diplomacy will be to develop a diversified network of relations with several major powers to compel China to exercise restraint in its dealings with India, while simultaneously avoiding relationships that go beyond conveying a certain threat threshold in Chinese perceptions. This will require a particularly nuanced handling and coordination of our foreign policy, both through diplomatic and military channels. If China perceives India as irrevocably committed to an anti-China containment ring, it may end up adopting overtly hostile and negative policies towards India, rather than making an effort to keep India on a more independent path.”

 What cowardice is in those words! What blindness to history! What profound ignorance of India’s manifold strengths and Chinese weakness!

In strategic terms India poses a formidable threat to China. The openness of Indian society, our individual liberties, our democratic governance, our ideals, are all anathema to the rulers in Beijing. If the Chinese people are infected with them it will no longer be possible for a small and brutal coterie to remain in dictatorial control.

To understand the full strategic significance of that difference we have to consider that all through history
Chinese civilization has stressed control and order above all things and India the free human spirit.

Control in China has always been brutal. The founder of the first Chinese dynasty found the teachings of Confucian intellectuals troublesome and dealt with it by murdering over a thousand of them and making great bonfires of their books. Over two thousand years later, a ruler of the last dynasty, the Manchu, also burned books and murdered writers. So too did Mao Zedong in the second half of the 20th Century.

Book-burning and the murder of writers are unknown to Indian history.

The different nature of the two countries is exemplified in what we have taken from each other down the centuries. We imported from China its silks and satins, camphor, cooking pots and peaches, and sent in return mathematics and philosophy, Buddhism and the art of unarmed combat. 

Both countries have been subject to invasion and foreign rule, China more frequently and for longer periods than India; but the responses of the two have differed dramatically.

In China the response was the Great Wall, a multi-generational expression of insecurity and fear. The Mongols took the country anyway, and their long humiliation of the Han majority – forbidden from inter-marriage with the conquerors, segregated to the Outer City of Beijing, forced to shave half their heads and wear a pigtail – continued from 1644 until the Europeans came with opium and added new layers of racial insult and indignity.

In India, invaders burned and pillaged as nowhere else, but if they stayed they became part of the society. No matter how bloody the initial encounter, the foreigner brought and received gifts: the tensile strength and free-flowing beauty of Urdu the “language of the camp” (urd); the fusion cuisine of Mughlai: the Sufi softening of Islam.

 In meeting the challenge of the West, the differences of the two countries once again became blindingly clear. India produced a long series of reformers and nationalists who quietly revolutionized society and in the final phase revived in Gandhi the best of its tradition.

In China a series of costly internecine wars culminated in Mao who murdered his way to power with military help from Stalin, and imposed on the hapless Chinese the nonsensical theories of a long dead German propagandist.

Mao brutalized Chinese society, unleashing massive famines and years of turmoil in efforts to make Marxist theory (and his own leadership) work. Predictably, China became a basket case and was headed for certain collapse when Mao’s successors, desperate to hold onto power, “took the Capitalist road.”

They succeeded in holding on with a vast flow of investments from Western corporations, but only postponed the crisis. As Prime Minister Wen Jia Bao told the long suffering Chinese last week, unless there is fundamental political reform, the country faces disasters comparable to to those of the Cultural Revolution. (No one asked why he had left that announcement to the end of his term in office.)

Whether such reform is possible or not, the “Chinese economic miracle” is coming in for a hard landing in the not too distant future. That will be bad news for the whole world; for India it brings a period of great peril. To pass through it safely we desperately need a national strategy grounded in reality and true to our traditions. Nonalignment 2.0 is not it.


The authors of NONALIGNMENT 2.0 are: Sunil Khilnani, Professor of politics, Kings College, London; Rajiv Kumar, Secretary-General, Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry; Pratap Bhanu Mehta, President, Center for Policy Research, New Delhi; Lieutanant General Prakash Menon (Retd), former Commandant of the National Defence College; Nandan Nilekani, formerly of Infosys, now Chairman, Unique Identification Authority of India; Srinath Raghavan, Senior Fellow at CPR and Lecturer in Defence Studies at King’s College London; Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary; Siddharth Varadarajan, Editor, The Hindu.

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