Monday, December 16, 2013
Align for a good cause
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Non-Alignment was a senseless policy adopted by Jawaharlal Nehru, It has harmed the nation immensely, writes Claude Arpi
To many, ‘Non-Alignment’ was a senseless policy adopted by Jawaharlal Nehru soon after Independence. During the Cold War years, the country pretended not to side with any of the two blocks, though for practical purpose India was ‘aligned’ with the erstwhile Soviet Union, at least for its defence requirement and the manner of managing a planned economy. Instead of pretending to be neutral, but betting on the Soviet support and then running to the US the minute it was attacked by China in 1962, India could have ‘aligned’ with both blocks.
In the book, Non-Alignment 2.0, edited by Shyam Saran, Sunil Khilnani et al, the authors admitted that some “commentators have questioned the wisdom of retaining a title that is allegedly outdated and associated in public perception with a failed foreign policy”. Non-Alignment is indeed outdated; the authors, however, believe that “the essence of Non-Alignment is India’s unwavering and continuing search for strategic autonomy”. Why mix strategic autonomy with non-alignment? General de Gaulle of France had an ‘autonomous’ foreign policy, while keeping France’s interests in view in his dealing with both blocks (and later China). The authors further explain that the famous principle: “Encompasses three core strategic principles that remain relevant to India’s engagement with the world: The need to make independent judgments in international affairs... the need to develop the capacity for autonomous strategic action to secure India’s own interests... and the need to work towards a more equitable international order.”
One can only agree with this perspective, but even if Shyam Saran and his colleagues distinguish between Non-Alignment and the fate of the Non-Aligned Movement, the choice of the title remains doubtful, being associated with too many blunders of independent India’s foreign policy.
Take the case of Tibet; though vociferous against colonial powers like Great Britain, France or The Netherlands, Nehru kept mum when Tibet was overtaken by a ruthless power. Why would India act ‘neutral’ in dealing with China, when its own ‘core’ interests were jeopardised? Sixty-three years later, one can still see the disastrous consequences on the Himalayan border (now a LAC). Non-Alignment has been too often synonymous with keeping India’s strategic interests under the carpet. This said, the publishing of Non-Alignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the 21st century is a most welcome development; one can’t call it ‘an addition’, because very little work has been done this domain. Thus, it is all the more remarkable. The authors speak of “creating the space that India has all along sought to pursue its own destiny”.
Setting up the landmarks for India’s foreign policy, the collective work asserts: “Under no circumstances should India jeopardise its own domestic economic growth, its social inclusion and its political democracy.” Perhaps more than the words or the principles expounded in Non-Alignment 2.0, what is important is the fact that a group of Indians have seriously and meticulously thought of the future of the nation, taking a panoramic look at the past decades and tried to project India as a power to reckon with, into the 21st century. Such reflection has been rather missing in India, where the leadership (perhaps genetically) has not been used to project itself into tomorrow.
This is particularity striking when one compares India with China. The Emperors of the Middle Kingdom and their advisors have always been able to plan 10, 20 or 50 years ahead (even if in many cases, their dynasty did not last that long). It was obvious in 1962, when India was attacked by Mao’s troops and found unprepared, lacking even proper warm clothing for the slopes of the Thagla ridge or the cold plains of Ladakh. From the Chinese side, the attack had been prepared for years in the minutest details. Even today, India could (and should) learn from China on how to make projections into the future as the Chinese are undoubtedly better planners than the Indians. Take the building of infrastructure on the borders; more than 50 years after the debacle, India’s infrastructure is still rudimentary.
Already when he was heir-apparent, Xi Jinping stated: “We must implement Mao’s strategic concept of the ‘unity between soldiers and civilians’ and both the army and regional civilian authorities should assiduously pool our resources in the preparation for military struggle.” What does it mean? It signifies that the civil administration as well as the private sector should participate in the nation’s preparedness to defend its borders. Civilian infrastructure projects such as airports, roads and railways should be designed to serve both peace and war needs. South Block has never thought like this.
While I was recently visiting Menchuka, the last big village of West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh, Beijing announced the opening of a highway linking Metok, located just north of the McMahon Line, with neighbouring Bomi town. Xinhua said that 117-km highway, costing $155 million will make the border town accessible for eight to nine months a year. Long ago, Beijing constructed a good quality Regional Highway S-306 in Nyingchi Prefecture. It runs parallel to the LAC (the McMahon Line) following the Yarlung Tsangpo river (known as Siang in Arunachal Pradesh and Brahmaputra in Assam). This road joins the 5,476 km National Highway G-318 which runs from Shanghai to Zhangmu on the China-Nepal border. That is planning and foresight.
Many points raised in Non-Alignment 2.0 hit the nail on the head; take this: “One of the great lessons of the late 20th century centred on the destabilising effects of asymmetries in power. The capacity of even small powers or non-state groups to generate effects disproportionate to their physical scale or their ostensible material power has become evident.” This basic truth should be taken into account for any policy planning.
One can only agree with the authors when they say: “China will, for the foreseeable future, remain a significant foreign policy and security challenge for India. It is the one major power which impinges directly on India’s geopolitical space.” They rightly suggest that India’s Tibet policy needs to be reassessed and readjusted and “persuading China to seek reconciliation with the Dalai Lama and the exiled Tibetan community may contribute to easing India-China tensions”. This type of projection, along with many other contained in the monograph, is what India needs the most today.