April 26, 2008Foreign Affairsforeign policygeopoliticsgovernmentIndiaRealismrealpolitik

The Second Delusion

The nation has charged far ahead of its foreign policy establishment’s mindset

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

A perspicacious piece by Ashok Malik on how the foreign policy establishment is yet to come to terms with India’s new reality (linkthanks V Anantha Nageswaran). First, there is a capacity problem. Second, there is the systemic incapacity to undertake a fundamental re-imagination of India’s role in the emerging world. Finally, there is the incessant feel-good Bollywood gives us global influence” fodder that lulls everyone into the Second Delusion. (The first was when the Indian government believed that it was a leader of the bloc of developing countries”).

Mr Malik’s antidote, therefore, is all too necessary.

In his inaugural speech, the Commerce and Industry Minister began by saying that he found the reference to India as a rising great power’ very uncomfortable” and proceeded to use that word five times. Two days later, the National Security Adviser was asked to speak on India’s equation with other great powers and said this was a delicate subject”. He then explained how India wanted good relations with everybody from SAARC to the European Union, Japan to West Asia, without really revealing much at all.

It led to one British delegate being quite frank in suggesting that India’s intellectual contribution to the conference was below expectation. Another delegate pointed out that the world had heard of great powers, superpowers and hyperpowers, but now faced the prospect of a nervous power”. Actually, what India is burdened with is an establishment nervous at the idea of power.

When asked to enunciate specific national goals and responses to well-defined challenges, Indian foreign policy interlocutors speak in platitudes without giving away anything. Actually, there is precious little to give away. Indian grand strategy is marked by its absence. In place of clarity, one is left with generalities.

At the IISS meeting, for instance, the Foreign Secretary spoke of India’s civilisational engagement” with ASEAN. The following day, the NSA spoke of Iran being an ancient civilisation”. Almost as a pattern, a few days later an article in a newspaper sought to date the India-Iran strategic partnership to the 16th century, when the ruler in Tehran lent his troops to Humayun to displace the successors of Sher Shah Suri.

This is plain humbug. In terms of hard power, India’s so-called civilisational engagement with a bewildering array of countries and regions has won it very little genuine influence. It is one thing to boast that Hindi films are watched halfway across the world and that Indian culture and soft power are geographically expansive. It is another to suggest that these can replace hard diplomacy, anchored in military and economy muscle and a trenchant security doctrine. [The Pioneer]

Related Links: The June 2007 issue of Pragati injected some new perspectives on India’s role in the coming decades. Read the piece on Soft Power, Hard Reality. Also see Rohit Pradhan’s pithy post on India’s attitude towards hard power.

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