20 May 2004

The new government's foreign policy: The world's bigger than the U.S.

20 May 2004
The Times of India

Foreign Policy Choices
Look beyond Doc, India's world bigger than U.S.

By Siddharth Varadarajan
Times News Network

NEW DELHI: Within days, PM-designate Manmohan Singh will be confronted with a number of urgent foreign policy issues demanding virtually immediate attention.

Apart from the composite dialogue with Pakistan - scheduled to kick-off with foreign secretary-level discussions on Kashmir and 'peace and security' in "May/June" - the deteriorating situation in Iraq is making it inevitable that the US will again approach India with a request for peacekeeping troops.

How the new government responds to the US over Iraq and its aggressive agenda on nonproliferation will be key litmus tests for the future of the 'strategic partnership' between New Delhi and Washington.

The Vajpayee government prided itself on its supposed proximity to the Bush administration and went out on a limb to endorse some of its more controversial policies like missile defence.

At a fundamental level, it saw the enormous growth and frequent use of US military power - under the garb of the 'war on terror' and 'counter-proliferation' - as factors for stability rather than as sources of instability in international affairs.

Even if it disapproved of certain actions - such as the Iraq invasion - the Vajpayee government felt India did not have a stake in making common cause with those European countries which were more vocal in their opposition.

As for the growing American military presence in the Eurasian heartland and even South Asia, the outgoing foreign policy team of Jaswant Singh, Yashwant Sinha and Brajesh Mishra tended to take a benign view of this in the expectation that US would eventually take on Pakistan.

But even on that the government miscalculated: two years after Sinha called upon Washington to designate Pakistan a 'terrorist country', Islamabad was anointed with the title of 'Major Non-Nato Ally'.

If the underlying Indian foreign policy imperative is to extend the country's strategic autonomy even as it engages positively with all powers, including the US, then Manmohan Singh will find his first priority is to restore a sense of balance in our approach to the world.

In concrete terms, this will involve three ruptures with the thinking which dominated the Vajpayee government.

First, the new government must recognise that terrorism will not be eliminated by the kind of 'war on terror' the US has launched in which civilians have been killed in large numbers and prisoners tortured and humiliated.

Moreover, the US cannot claim it is fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and then encourage Ariel Sharon to intensify his attacks on defenceless Palestinians.

The Vajpayee government - key ministers within which shared the Islamophobia of the Sharon establishment - allowed relations with Israel to be driven by their ideological fixation.

The new government, therefore, will have to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the relationship in order to ensure that existing links, especially those in the military and intelligence field, are truly in the enlightened national interest of India.

Second, the danger posed by nuclear weapons worldwide is as much from their horizontal spread as from research and development of deadlier weapons and delivery systems by US, including missile defence.
The Bush administration is using the bogey of horizontal proliferation to justify a sweeping new regime of military intervention and wants India to sign on to its Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI).

Even as it studies the US proposals, the new government should not feel pressured to commit to the initiative, which would involve the Indian Navy, operating under US direction, interdicting 'suspicious' shipping on the high seas in contravention of international law.

For starters, the PM would do well to keep India away from the PSI meet planned for Krakow end-May.

Finally, the new government must realise the world is so much bigger than US. US is an important country for India and one with which we share much in common. But it is not the only game in town.

India must give as much priority to building a healthy relationship with the European Union, China, Russia, Japan, Korea and major African and Latin American countries like South Africa, Nigeria, Brazil and Mexico as it does to the US.

To a certain extent, Yashwant Sinha and Brajesh Mishra grasped this reality once Jaswant Singh left the MEA: the Vajpayee government's China and IBSA initiatives were bold and innovative, and need to be followed through to the end.

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