May 17, 2009Af-PakChinaForeign Affairsforeign policyIndiainternational relationsmedianon-proliferationNPTnuclear weaponsPakistanUnited States

What the UPAs election win means for foreign policy

Regaining lost ground on China, re-engaging the United States

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Mint’s Samar Srivastava & Tanmaya Kumar Nanda have an opinion round-up on the prospects for India’s foreign affairs under the second UPA government. They find that the UPA win (is) good for foreign policy, but (there are) clouds ahead”, and that the biggest of those clouds is China.

Most experts agreed that one of India’s largest challenges would come not from its west but east: China.

China is recalcitrant. Forget magnanimity, things are becoming frozen. China is signalling its unwillingness to accommodate India, that is more worrying,” said Amitabh Mattoo, professor of International Politics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi.

Kapur added India would have to take steps to increase its bargaining power. China’s approach is to speak softly but carry a big stick. India’s approach is to speak loudly and carry a small stick…. We haven’t even cultivated Taiwan or backed the Dalai Lama. As a country, we are apprehensive and insecure about China.”

Nitin Pai, editor of Pragati—The Indian National Interest Review magazine, agreed, saying India has done the worst in five years with regard to China. India needs to (sit) bilaterally with key players like Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Vietnam.” [Mint]The point I made is that while the UPA government did generally well with respect to relations with the United States and was so-so with respect to Pakistan, it lost the plot with respect to China. Whether this was due to the presence of the Leftists or a strategic naivete-cum-pusillanimity within the Congress Party’s own senior leadership, the objective fact is that India failed to even mitigate the rise of Chinese power in East Asia. Such was the neglect that even the band-aid, in the form of approval for infrastructure development along the India-China border, was applied after the elections started. The single biggest task—in the medium term—is to draw out a vision of India’s geopolitical role in the 21st century, and begin to take purposeful steps to get there. (From the way the article is written, it might appear that I agreed with Dr Kapur on Taiwan and the Dalai Lama. I didn’t mention them at all)

The UPA government and the Obama administration will have to work with each other at least for the next four years. Here, far from a sense of defensiveness over Washington’s vaunted/troubled Af-Pak strategy, the UPA government must understand that President Obama’s success or failure in Afghanistan & Pakistan (and second term in office) is to a significant extent contingent on New Delhi’s support. This doesn’t mean grandstanding: quite the opposite, it means a confident and constructive partnership. It means allowing and ensuring that the United States ends up doing the necessary—confronting the Pakistani military-jihadi complex—sooner rather than later.

What about nuclear weapons? It’s good to see President Obama agree with the age-old Indian position that the world ought to be free of nuclear weapons. As K Subrahmanyam—by no means an anti-nuclear weapons ideologue says—the first step is to delegitimise their use: non-use against non-nuclear states, no first use against nuclear states, and, for those with thousands of warheads, a reduction in their number. That said—there will be disagreement on the NPT and CTBT—where a change in the Indian position can only come after a substantial change in the structure of the treaties. Can Dr Singh not persuade Mr Obama that an unprecedented change in US position over nuclear weapons requires jettisoning Cold War era dogmas? Or should the world await a global nuclear crisis—like the economic one—before concluding that the G7 needs to expand into a G20?

None of this is incompatible with retaining a minimum credible deterrent in the meantime. Dr Singh should know better than anyone else that operationalising’ the India-US nuclear deal and the NSG waiver is the key to ensuring that the size of the deterrent is appropriate.

Tall order this, so it’s important to start right: can Prime Minister Manmohan Singh first appoint a good external affairs minister, a good defence minister and a good national security advisor?



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