May 18, 2021
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Lost In The Din Of Democracy

What explains the global media's lukewarm coverage of Indian politics in general and the current elections in particular in stark contrast to their intense scrutiny of the Chinese Peoples' Congress a couple of months back?

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Lost In The Din Of Democracy

For the last 60 years or so, Indian foreign policy has not performed too badly. We survived a war with China and four with Pakistan. Our country possesses nuclear weapons outside the NPT regime and has yet managed to sign an Indo-US nuclear deal, inevitably getting recognition as a de facto nuclear weapon state. Recently, the Goldman and Sachs report, the US National Security Strategy, and the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2025 have recognized India along with China as two of the most important Asian actors in the international system. 

But despite all these pronouncements, global channels like CNN or BBC and newspapers like The New York Times, The Washington Post, or The Guardian are lukewarm at best in their coverage of Indian politics in general and the current elections in particular, in stark contrast to their intense scrutiny of the Chinese Peoples’ Congress (March 5-13, 2009), which was telecast live on both channels followed by detailed analysis in these papers. 

Why this focus on China followed by neglect of India? Is it because the Chinese issue White Papers on their policies towards their neighbours and clearly state their comprehensive national security goals generating interests globally whereas India takes great pride in ambiguous national and foreign policy approaches? Or is it because realistically speaking, the Chinese policies have a far greater impact on the world stage while India remains entrapped in the quagmire of India-Pakistan relations (driven back almost by 10 years after Mumbai 26/11) and a seemingly unstable neighbourhood? 

These are tough questions for us. An ambiguous foreign policy approach in a bi-polar world order dominated by the US-USSR rivalry was at best necessary to distance the newly established Indian state from the high voltage super-power rivalry, though our tilt towards the USSR was more than apparent. Nevertheless, the ambiguity which manages to creep into our foreign policy postures even now (be it concerning Iran or the US, pre-Indo-US nuclear deal or India’s uncertainty whether to support the King or the democratic forces in Nepal; or in addressing questions on whether India should support the Indo-Pak peace deal with or without US backing), "are understandable but intellectually misguided sentiments" unacceptable in the changing context of multi-polarity. 

Viewed through largely western international relations concepts, especially realism (based squarely on European military history), it would seem, Asia is destined to engage in a devastating war due to competition over resources, ownership of sea-lanes of communication, and the logic of "the victor takes it all". However, the history of Asia, preceding the two World Wars, unlike European history, is instructive. The trauma of Western imperialism/colonialism equipped Asian civilizations with the art of "wary cooperation", which could perhaps inform their own foreign policy behaviour even today and result in cooperation instead of destructive Europe like competition.  Wary co-operators act with a "glance over their shoulder" and adjust behaviour according to the context. This is a prudent conceptual paradigm for India to consider in its relations with countries like China and the US, who are viewed as potential competitors for resources like oil and gas, and sea passage in the India Ocean Region (IOR). 

In light of the above, the classical alignment of states based on "balance of power" can be avoided. Indian foreign policy must be critically responsive to the ever changing reality of international politics. Offered below is an Indian foreign policy vision 2020 for India based on "wary cooperation" instead of competition. 

India’s Foreign Policy Vision—2020

The Global Financial Crisis
The global financial crisis largely propelled by the neo-liberal policies of the West based on the logic of free market and deregulation of the banking system is threatening the international economic system with collapse. Despite the crisis triggering off in the US, countries around the world have been affected due to the interdependent nature of the global economic system. The Indian and Chinese system of "economic liberalisation tightly controlled by the state" is a good and wise policy step in this context and should be continued. However, since the international economic system is inter-dependent, by 2020, India must develop a robust reserve system as well as insist that the US monitor its markets and banks, and ensure that the dollar remains stable. It is also perhaps wise to have a global economic institution based on BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) where what these countries say on global economic issues will be taken seriously rather than the current World Bank or the International Monitory Fund biased heavily in favour of the West. Into this alternative institutional mechanism, smaller countries in Asia, Latin America, East Europe and Africa should be roped in to provide a "cushion-effect" against the kind of economic crisis that the West has landed the world in due to its unregulated and vacuous credit system. Imagine a BRIC Monetary Fund, with headquarters in Beijing, New Delhi, Moscow or Brasilia! It will be an exciting alternative support structure for the BRIC populations, which account for more than 45 per cent of the world’s population. 

Rise of Asia
The rise of Asia is one of the most powerful developments in the 21st century. It is also a dramatic rise because two emerging great powers in the international system, China and India, are located in it. As a result, there is an urgent requirement by both countries to articulate their foreign policy vision in order to reassure not only each other but their much smaller neighbours about their political intentions and military capabilities. Though Western sceptics have raised their voices against China’s "peaceful rise" foreign policy discourse, arguing that the Chinese are just biding their time, East and South East Asia seems to gradually view China favourably as the "big brother". The present Western mainstream discourse is also projecting a certain India-China showdown due to their unsolved border areas but given the history of cooperative behaviour between the two nations (save 1962), the future does not appear so bleak. India must however, articulate that its cooperation with China hinges on China recognizing Arunachal Pradesh as integral part of India. By 2020, India should also envision strong institutional political, economic and cultural links with ASEAN countries and East Asia propelled by its own "Look East" policy. 

The Indian Ocean Region (IOR)
According to a recently published Foreign Affairs article by Robert D. Kaplan titled Center Stage for the 21st Century: Rivalry in the Indian Ocean,  India and China’s dramatic economic and military growth "based on their great-power aspirations and their quests for energy security have compelled the two countries to redirect their gazes from land to the seas". Kaplan asserts that in this unfolding drama of destructive China-India competition, the US will have to keep the peace and safeguard the global commons like interdicting terrorists, pirates, and smugglers, providing humanitarian assistance and managing the competition between India and China as an "off-shore" balancer. While this prediction by Kaplan foretells disaster for the huge Chinese and Indian population base, he seems to have ignored the fact that India and China are not juvenile civilizations and cultures. Both enjoy centuries old evolution maps, knowledge base and rich ideas of statecraft based on empire building by their ancestors. Both also realize the devastation that a war in the IOR could bring upon them given their sophisticated weaponization, including the possession of nuclear weapons, large conventional armies, and geographic proximity. 

Hence, while keeping a watchful eye on Chinese behaviour, India needs to envision by 2020 a cooperative institutional mechanism for the IOR -- call it IOR Management Association (IORMA) -- involving all the IOR states as members and the EU, Russia and the US as observers. The preamble of this institution could include: safeguarding trade and energy lines, anti-piracy and sea based joint counter terrorism, and managing great power conflict (especially India and China) through dialogue. This could deter the West especially the US strategic community’s predictions that India and China are destined to clash in the IOR from becoming a self fulfilling prophesy. 

Decline of the US
Powerful empires and nations in world history starting with the Roman empire, the Mauryan and Mughal empires in India, the Ming Dynasty in China and the British colonial empire reached the zenith of their power and then declined; inevitably, the US will also decline. Reaching the zenith of its power in 1989-91 after the fall of the USSR, the US has gradually started declining. Economically, it is already under challenge from the EU and China followed subsequently by India. Hence, both China and India need to have a collective vision of the future international order and global institutions least the leadership of the world passes on again to the West under the guise of the EU. It is one thing to talk of Asia’s moment in history; it is another to realistically seize leadership of the future. India’s democratic ethos provides it with a clear advantage over China as a future global leader of knowledge and ideas. However, following the advice of one of its most renowned strategic thinkers, Kautilya in the Arthasastra, that a country’s external relations is dependent on its internal strength, India needs to strengthen its own internal health by 2020 regarding Naxal violence, insurgencies in the North East, terrorism, Kashmir, its public welfare systems and infrastructure before it can take on the mantle of world leadership. Enough has however been written about the problems within India while very little has been offered in terms of truly visionary solutions. All of us as stake-holders need to contribute to the process of nation-building. 

Nuclear Proliferation
India has historically leaned heavily on the side of global disarmament. However, the more urgent issue today is that of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism. India is most vulnerable on both counts due to the fact that the AQ Khan nuclear proliferation network originated in Pakistan and the unstable nature of this nuclear armed neighbour is creating fears of plausible nuclear terrorism. US assurances that the Pakistan Army is in control of its nuclear weapons is therefore not enough to safeguard India’s security. What India needs to do is to cooperate with other Asian countries including China, Iran and Pakistan towards envisioning a world where nuclear weapons are not only tactically obsolete but also strategically numbed. By 2020, India’s foreign policy vision should ideally include a framework for cooperation regarding nuclear technology in Asia in order to bring about more transparency and stability. 

Reforms in the UNSC 
By 2020, India needs to ensure its permanent membership in the UNSC. Alternatively, if it is denied membership by that year, India needs to articulate globally the consequences to world order if it is not a part of the UNSC. By then, India will be the third largest economy in the world and a strong military power. Its knowledge industry will also reach a position of global influence. Consequently, international peace and security will be served better by an Indian permanent UNSC membership. India should start articulating its views on UN reforms at regional bodies like ASEAN, East Asia Summit and SAARC. Also, at the level of BRIC, India should convince countries like Russia and China how its UNSC membership will be beneficial for them. India also needs to point out to the US that without the latter supporting India’s UNSC membership, the US cannot count on India’s support on other global issues like terrorism, nuclear proliferation or renewable energies. Such behaviour falls squarely within the "wary cooperation" model where actors are willing to cooperate but are highly sensitive to non-reciprocity. 

India has been one of the worst sufferers of terrorism, be it externally driven or home grown. Hence, India needs to state rather strongly, as part of its foreign policy vision 2020, its zero-tolerance for terrorist activities. The Indian counter-terrorism policy must assert that any act of future terrorism against India, for which evidence is available that it has come from its neighbours or international networks, will be met with force as "first resort". To visibly demonstrate India’s intentions, a special counter-terrorism body at the central level needs to be established and policy documents pertaining to counter-terrorism routinely published. Such posturing signals a state’s intent rather visibly and deters both state and non-state actors from targeting its territory. China has a zero tolerance manual against terrorism, so do the US and EU countries, and all these have effectively worked as deterrence backed as they are by visible demonstrations of counter-terrorism forces existent in these respective countries. India should also aim to provide leadership in establishing an Asian counter-terrorism institutional mechanism by 2020.

Climate Change
Climate change is a growing area of concern. Given that the environment is an inter-related space, India needs to articulate its position on climate change vocally. Instead of being propelled into the discourse by Western ideas on climate change, India as one of leading actors in Asia needs to articulate the Asian vision on how to tackle issues of climate change and water scarcity. Its own neighbourhood is vulnerable to the vagaries of the weather, especially countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh, Mauritius, and Sri Lanka. Therefore, Indian climate experts need to articulate ideas in connotation with experts from the affected countries on how to tackle climate change at a regional level by 2020, and these ideas could be later utilized in symbiotic fashion with existing knowledge bases at the systemic level.

Energy Security
India is going to be the world’s third largest energy importers after the US and China by 2050. Hence, India has a huge stake in energy security. However, the current discourse on energy security is dominated by the realist school based on the European experience of conflict over resources and territory; Asia is however not destined to repeat Europe’s follies. Both India and China should together evolve a framework for joint energy procurement informed by the knowledge that conflict over energy is only going to be devastating for both. Russia’s friendship with India is a positive as Russia is and will be one of the largest energy exporters in the future. India also needs to articulate its support for renewable energy sources like biomass and solar. 

Middle East/West Asia
The Middle East or West Asia is of primary significance to India in terms of energy and in effectively countering terrorist financing originating from the region, an agenda which the US also aspires to. While India needs to cooperate with the US in countering militant radicalization in the region, it must be wary of US multi-layered agendas for the region primarily propelled by the "Israel lobby" and interest in Middle Eastern oil. Hence, while supporting the US, India needs to always articulate its views on the Middle East within the framework of a world body and support a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Second, India needs to argue that countries like Saudi Arabia, who fund subversive activities in Pakistan or India needs to be involved in discussions on terrorism to relate to it the ill effects of such unaccounted for funding

Indian peacekeeping forces are one of the largest in Africa. But that is not enough. India needs to articulate where it envisions African societies to be in the next 10 to 15 years. Also, it needs to effectively advertise the peace-keeping successes that its military has achieved in distant shores. Recently, China showcased its humanitarian ambitions during the 60th anniversary of the Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy on April 23, 2009 at Qingdao by parading a large new hospital ship in front of foreign dignitaries including representatives of the US 7th Fleet. India needs to articulate its own future plans for peacekeeping deployment and list out the reasons for such engagements. Also, Indian investments in African development need to be imaginatively conceptualized in a policy document. Otherwise, Indian presence in Africa is viewed by Western analysts as devoid of any compelling vision of its own but as a reaction to China’s African engagement.

Military Modernization
Indian military modernization is less problematic to the Western audience than China at the systemic level. However, at the sub-systemic level, Indian military modernization is being looked upon with suspicion by its South Asian neighbours especially Pakistan. Hence, India needs to articulate its reasons for military modernization. First, self defence. Second, safeguard sea lanes of communication. Third, countering terrorism and insurgencies internally. Fourth, great power ambitions. However, India needs to envision a situation by 2020-25 when it will make headway towards developing indigenous defence equipment and technology. Because as history would tell us, no country in the world has achieved "Great Power" status without its own defence technology and manufacturing infrastructure. 

South Asia
South Asia is one of the most volatile regions in the world with the recent developments in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the recent terror attacks in India. However, India has the biggest responsibility to navigate the course of cooperation in South Asia. Therefore, India needs to re-articulate its own vision for South Asia and revisit its "hands off" approach in its neighbours’ internal troubles. India needs to re-assure Pakistan the most that it has no invasion-oriented intention against Pakistan and respects the other as a full fledged state in South Asia and the world. India also needs to settle its porous borders with Bangladesh and Burma, check illegal migration and the flow of arms and drugs from Bangladesh and Burma into its vulnerable North-eastern states.

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