Indian foreign policy: “alliances are burdensome”

There is a very interesting article on the United States Naval Institute (USNI) News website by John Grady, a veteran military and foreign affairs journalist, about changes to India’s foreign policy.

India’s foreign policy has been complicated from the very beginning (1947) of its modern independence. India has (almost) always been a proud, more-or-less liberal democracy. But it lives in a rough neighbourhood and from the beginning it has tried to walk a difficult path between being friendly with other liberal democracies, especially Australia, nehru_portrait2Screen Shot 2019-10-04 at 13.43.42Britain, Canada and, with more difficulty, America while being open to having friendly relations with dreadful, cruel dictatorships like Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China and, especially, being friendly to other newly independent states, especially in Asia and Africa. In the 1950s, with considerable Canadian diplomatic support, India, led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and his brilliant deputy V.K. Krishna Menon, created the “Non-Aligned Movement”  which has over 120 members.

PM_Modi_Portrait(cropped)Subrahmanyam_Jaishankar_2019Now, under a new, and almost aggressively Hindu nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, the new Indian External Affairs Minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, has outlined, in Washington, a renewed quest by In dia for a foreign policy that allows, in his words, for “greater customization.” This matters, a lot, to the whole world, especially to Canada, because India is a rising “great power.” It is the main force containing China in South Asia, and it intends to be a major force in Asian affairs.

“The game has become one of positioning,”” Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said, and, he added of “finding ways to cooperate on broad issues from maritime security to counterterrorism to climate change;” and, he said “it is something not peculiar to India … [but] … India wants to “reach out in as many directions as possible,” he said.” This is, in some part, a reinvention of the Non-aligned movement’s thesis: countries could and should cooperate with East and West, as they were then and, arguably still are now. Nehru and Krishna Menon wanted to find a way between the US-led West and the USSR led “East.’ Modi and Jaishankar are looking for a trickier path between the (still, sort of) US-led West and the Chinese-led East and the many and varied “independent” powers like Russia, Iran and the (sometimes united, often not) Arab League while still remaining respectful of the aims and ambitions of e.g. Africa and Latin America.

The article explains that “As an example of that, he said India’s relations with Iran are far different than those between Washington and Tehran. India needs “affordable predictable access to energy,” which its agreements with Iran and other Middle East nations provide, he said. To ensure the flow of energy for its industries, India has sent its navy into the Straits of Hormuz to show its concerns to all parties in the Persian Gulf. At the same time, India also “operates a port in that country that services Afghanistan,” important for that land-locked country’s access to materials. On the other hand, the United States has imposed tough sanctions on Iran and also on nations trading with Iran .. [and] … A similar divide between Washington and New Delhi is occurring over India’s purchase of the Russian-built S400 air defense system. When Turkey, a NATO ally, bought the same system, the United States wrote it out of the F-35 program as a buyer and parts manufacturer.

Mr Grady reports that Subrahmanyam Jaishankar “cited the Malabar maritime exercise as an example of India working with the United States and Japan on Indian Ocean security and the successful discussion between foreign ministers of India, Japan and Australia with the American secretary of state over regional security issues, particularly China’s assertiveness … [saying that] … “These are the kinds of situations I spoke about” in describing these shifting coalitions … [and] … On Afghanistan, Jaishankar said the United States recently has been consulting more with India, and New Delhi has been talking with Russia and China on the progress of peace negotiations to end the decades-long conflict. “We see the American dilemma” after 18 years of war. “We also recognize the American achievement at great cost to themselves.”” The shifting sands of international diplomacy are treacherous, even for a rising great power like India. They are more treacherous for Canada, especially since America can no longer be assumed to be the ultra-reliable guarantor of our sovereignty and security.

The article concludes by saying that “Jaishankar described this diplomatic approach as “greater customization” and several times during his remarks and in answer to questions, he used the word “frenemies” to describe these ad-hoc coalitions. He noted these short-term relationships are growing because some nations believe “alliances are burdensome” … [he said that] … All these changes are taking place because the promise of globalization and technology as being key to the future is being challenged as is rules-based order dating to the end of World War II … [and he added] … “Things are happening beyond” the scope of established institutions like the United Nations and World Bank that challenge these institutions’ legitimacy and vitality in an environment where the behavior of China and the United States “will change the world” but along the bipolar split of the Cold War … [and] … Because of this, there are a host of new players, such as India and Brazil, who “demand a larger voice.” Later, he suggested making India a permanent member of the Security Council as a recognition of its population size and strength of its economy … [and, finally] … Jaishankar described these changes as being similar to “playing Chinese Checkers with many more participants” while also debating the rules of the game. The result is the “entrenched order is open to more players.”

India is staking out a new claim on the global diplomatic map. India, the world’s greatest democracy, will not, it warns us, automatically, side with the democratic, US-led West. It will try to steer a middle course, between China and Russia and others and, indeed, between them and the West.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar is, I believe, looking out at about 2125 when he expects that India, along with China, will be one of the global superpowers. I suspect that he doubts, based on simple arithmetic, that America still will a hyper-power, as it is now ~ a great power, yes. Russia, 30 years after the collapse of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, is still a major power. America is vastly more powerful, in every respect, social, economic and military than Russia (or the USSR) ever was or could ever have hoped to have been. American power will endure for another century but he guesses, I think, that in 100 years both China and India will have eclipsed it and he hopes that India will have overtaken China, too. It’s damned hard to predict 100 years ahead; I’m much happier talking about the world 1,000 years from now because I have 5,000 years of recorded history to guide me and what 50 centuries of history tell me is that sometimes a lot or, often, just a little might happen in just 100 years … but India is making a bet on the future and I wouldn’t want to bet against a scholar a diplomat of Dr Jaishankar’s stature.

Every country in the world will have to make tough choices in the coming years and decades: America is not going away, but it’s not growing bigger and stronger, either. Europe and Japan are ageing and, while both are rich, now, they are in general strategic decline. The Islamic world, from Morocco to Indonesia is in varying degrees of turmoil and even chaos. Africa has not begun its inevitable rise; that’s something else for the next century. Where does the West turn: towards big, right, China? Or towards growing but still socio-economically troubled India? China is richer, now, but India has much, much better institutions, and almost every expert says that in the long term sound institutions are the key to increasing and maintaining prosperity and social harmony. Right now, China is making it easy for Canada to make a choice, but the Indians are not going to make it too easy for us.

First, we need to restore relations, once amongst the warmest between any Western nation and India to something above barely “correct.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has, in four years, undone ¾ of a century of aid and diplomacy thanks to his unerring stupidity ~ and, yes, dear readers, that’s the right word to use. It will take a lot of assiduous diplomatic work to restore relations … a lot of work and some adult leadership which Justin Trudeau cannot provide.

I don’t completely favour Andrew Scheer’s promise to cut foreign aid by 25% because I am 99.9% certain that the “aid industry” will want to retain it for the least deserving, which includes, for example, Mali, a desperately poor country that needs help but one which took a massive infusion of aid from many countries, including Canada, and then bought its president a new luxury jet plane. This map shows where Canada’s aid ~ $6.1 Billion in2018 ~ goes:

Screen Shot 2019-10-04 at 18.39.14

Africa and the Middle East and South-West Asia have huge problems but they also have dreadful governments. If we are going to cut aid then it should be government-to-government aid to despots. Most despots are found in, you guessed it: Africa, the Middle East and South-West Asia. I’m not suggesting that all aid should be cut but instead of sending aid to despotic, corrupt governments and to the UNRWA, Canada should send Canadians to build schools and teach in them ~ not just academics but trade schools, too. These should be long-term projects where Canadian money is spent by Canadians to make life better for people in Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, Djibouti, Ecuador and so on. We can spend less and do more.

We should not cut aid to India. Although it is a rising great power it is still poor and can still make good use of our help. Aid is, always, partly about buying favour. For the next generation or two or three, we will need India’s favour; we should be prepared to pay for Justin Trudeau’s bungling.

Despite my wishes in the matter, India is not going to take a leading role in any alliances. It will deal with Russia and China and the Islamic world and the West on an issue-by-issue basis, sometimes as a friend, sometimes as a diplomatic or even military foe and sometimes by trying to be, as Mike Pearson’s Canada was, once, a “helpful fixer.” My sense, from reading Dr Jaishankar’s ideas is that he doesn’t believe that the United Nations is the only or even the best way for the world to avoid war. He apparently believes that India can and will play a leading role in world affairs, but on its own merits and in its own interests … it sounds a lot like American foreign policy in the 20th and 21st century and British policy in the 19th and 20th.

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