Will India be up to it? – OpEd – Eurasia Review

By Amb Amit Dasgupta (retired)

We live in difficult times. The global community faces extraordinary and unprecedented turbulence that has divided rather than united it. The world order is increasingly characterized by deep insecurity, which translates into polarization, insularity, instability and xenophobia.

Conducting foreign policy in such a scenario can be daunting, especially for developing countries like India, which need to tread carefully to avoid being caught in the crossfire between opposing powers. New Delhi is well aware that a strong foreign policy, based on the pursuit of national interests, will be increasingly difficult. The Russian-Ukrainian war, for example, tested India’s ability to maintain its strategic autonomy. In the process, New Delhi was able to import much-needed S 400 missile systems and energy resources from Russia. But while it was in India’s general interest to gently convey its apprehensions to President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Modi did so, when the two leaders met on the sidelines of the Organization of Shanghai Cooperation (OCS) in Samarkand.

By refusing to take sides in great power rivalry, New Delhi has retained its flexibility and, more importantly, its ability to persuade where others have failed. Putin understood that Modi was speaking as a friend and sympathizer. Quiet diplomacy is often much more persuasive than aggressive posturing.

Perceptions matter

In a deeply divided environment, India knows that the cold calculation of diplomacy must be based on realism, pragmatism and perceptions. Human behavior is largely a derivative of perceptions, which, in turn, are based on experiential evidence. This, in turn, impacts expectations and ultimately production.

Consider New Delhi’s perception of Pakistan, for example. Decades of cross-border terrorism, the death of innocent civilians, the terrorist attacks of 26/11 in Mumbai, the revelations of the arrested terrorist Kasab and a whole series of other acts committed with the full support of the Pakistani government and army create naturally the perception that Islamabad is driven by an anti-Indian psyche. This perception is based on experience and would necessarily have an impact on expectations. In other words, it would influence the idea that dialogue with Islamabad would be unproductive. The output, therefore, is the status quo. Indeed, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee once said that it was difficult to speak with someone who shakes your hand above the table while kicking you from below.

India realizes that despite global condemnation of terrorism and Islamabad’s poor record in this regard, Pakistan enjoys strong support from Beijing. China, for example, suspended a US proposal to the UN Security Council to designate Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) manager Sajid Mir as a global terrorist. China now accounts for 72% of Pakistan’s main arms supply. But then, US stocks are just as strange. In a bizarre move recently, as Pakistan reeled from devastating floods, Washington supplied it with F16s.

Take the case of China. The perception from New Delhi, which is shared by the global community, is that under Xi Jinping, China has become belligerent, antagonistic and hegemonic. Several countries, ranging from the United States to Australia, recognize that a rising China would threaten the world order. Yet they do business with them, as does India. Australia’s two-way trade with China is $250 billion, compared to $25 billion with India. In 2020, two-way merchandise trade between the United States and China was $560 billion. According to data from India’s Ministry of Commerce, two-way trade in 2020-21 between India and the United States stood at just under $120 billion, almost equivalent with China, which stood at $115 billion. .42 billion.

China is matching its economic weight with its military ambitions. The South China Sea dispute, its treatment of the Uyghur Muslim population, its crushing of internal threats and dissent, its unequivocal support for Pakistan, its wooing of India’s neighbors and its August 2020 misadventure for changing the status quo on the border with India are prime examples of China’s perception of its national interest. New Delhi is well aware that it lives in a troubling and troubled neighborhood. Credible perceptions of Beijing’s behavior, past and present, make it clear that dialogue between the two countries must be based on pragmatism and limited expectations.

National interest and ethics

The national interest has always been at the center of foreign policy, especially of the great powers. Developing countries, on the other hand, have been forced to compromise and adapt to externally imposed decisions or face disastrous consequences, including the assassination of their leaders and the replacement of their governments. by a more flexible direction. CIA activities in this regard are well documented.

While no country will admit to pursuing an unethical foreign policy, the fact is that national interest and ethics are not always compatible. Great champions of democracy, for example, prefer to deal with dictatorships and autocracies and accept extreme violations of human rights and civil liberties. US involvement in Vietnam, the imposition of ruthless dictators in Latin America, regime change in Iraq, the hasty and unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan, to name a few, can hardly be called ethical. or morally justified. Indeed, even a former British prime minister was frustrated enough to call the US exit from Afghanistan “foolish”. Similarly, US President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia for talks with the monarchy, despite CIA reports that the crown prince was personally involved in the assassination of the Washington Post journalist, a native US citizen. Saudi Arabia, reflects the primacy of the state interest. Ethics play no part in this and are, at best, a disadvantage.

India realizes that in the fractured world we live in, the strength of a nation lies in its ability to protect its national interest. India refused to outsource this and therefore is not a member of any security alliance. If there is military aggression by Pakistan and China, India has to rely on its own resources. As part of its national interest, India must therefore strengthen its military capacity while maintaining open channels of communication to ensure that armed confrontation can be avoided or engaged only as a last resort.

Safeguarding the national interest requires that threats to the national interest are minimized and ultimately eliminated. Therefore, the main focus of Indian diplomacy has been to win friends across the world. This, in fact, has been the cornerstone of Indian foreign policy since independence. It has served us well and continues to be relevant.

Leadership in a messy world

The world is in chaos and faces a leadership vacuum. American influence is waning and it is no longer seen as a reliable partner. Russia seems on the verge of collapse. The rise of China is increasingly seen as a global threat. Europe remains disunited. The UN has, for all intents and purposes, outlived its usefulness. Uncertainty hangs over the global community like a shroud. There is, therefore, concern about how to stem the prevailing turmoil, particularly in the face of multiple challenges and new threats.

About a hundred years ago (in 1923), the British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote in one of his essays: “America controls the world and will continue to do so, until Russia is prosperous and Europe united”. This prediction is increasingly being denied. Today, several other countries are gaining respect and acceptance in the community of nations. India is certainly one of them. What is perhaps likely to happen is that global leadership would be a shared responsibility. During the pandemic, for example, India established its leadership role, earning it the title of “pharmacy of the world”.

In terms of solar energy, India has made a leap forward and is preparing to achieve ambitious goals. When it comes to semiconductor manufacturing, recent moves suggest that India may well overtake China as a global supplier. At the same time, New Delhi is aware that a successful foreign policy depends entirely on the number of friends it has around the world.

These are difficult times for any country and shaping its foreign policy on complex and complicated terrain will be difficult. It takes patience and perseverance. As the grand master of chess, Alekhine once said, “When you make your first move on the chessboard, you must already know how you plan to end the game.” A strong foreign policy requires a long-term vision, essential to how a nation projects itself and is perceived by others, both in terms of domestic policies and governance, and its conduct in the international arena and world affairs.

*About the author: The author is a former Indian diplomat. This article is based on a lecture he delivered on August 29, 2022 at Christ University, Bangalore, at an event sponsored by the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India. Views are personal.

Source: This article was published by South Asia Monitor

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