02 January 2005

India and the World: Four preconditions for greatness

2 January 2005
Sunday Magazine, The Hindu

Four preconditions for greatness


THANKS in part to physical size and the sheer weight of its population, its rapidly growing economy and its technological and military profile, India is today undoubtedly a power to be reckoned with in world affairs. What gives India added currency is that the world itself is in a state of flux. The core achievements of the United Nations system — including respect for state sovereignty, the Geneva Conventions, the ban on aggressive war and military intervention — are being undermined as the United States attempts to rewrite the rules of the international system on the basis of its military, economic and political strength. At the same time, the U.S. is finding that its ability to impose its own will on the world — whether under the guise of promoting democracy, opposing terrorism or stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction — is limited. It had the power to override the world on the question of invading Iraq but it has not succeeded in stabilising its control over Iraq. It can incite international opinion against Iran and North Korea on the nuclear weapons issue but it does not have the ability to wage a war against these two countries.


A technological and military profile that is respected.

A choice before India

What these examples tell us is that India today faces a choice. It can either accept the unipolar world order being fashioned — crudely and unsuccessfully — by Washington and seek accommodation within it; or it can help in the construction of a world order that recognises the limits of American power and seeks to build, on these limits, an international system that is genuinely multipolar.

In practical terms, this means India's principal foreign policy challenge will be to engage with the reality of U.S. power while, at the same time, acting in concert with other countries and powers to contain and limit the expression of that power. The balance called for is a difficult one. The Vajpayee government erred on the side of excessive engagement, especially when it endorsed Washington's destabilising missile defence programme. The Congress (I), on the other hand, which, while in opposition, acted as if it understood the need for the containment of U.S. power, is today not deviating significantly from the foreign policy of the previous government. There is clarity on some fronts, such as recognising the significance of the European Union's Galileo satellite positioning system and signing India up for it, but not on others. There is, in particular, unwillingness in New Delhi to recognise just how cynical and self-serving Washington's war on "terrorism" or the spread of nuclear weapons really is.

Engagement with the world

Apart from rationally structuring the terms of its engagement with the U.S. so that its short-term policies contribute towards the strategic goal of building a multipolar world, there are three other steps India must take to ensure its rightful place in the international system.

First, it must be at peace with its neighbours, and particularly Pakistan. If this means making unilateral trade and economic concessions, so be it. Allowing Pakistani manufacturers duty free access to Indian markets will give a big boost to bilateral relations, as will taking a liberal approach on the question of trans-Asian energy pipelines that traverse Pakistani territory before entering India.

Second, India, which is a reluctant nuclear weapons state, should continue to leverage its nuclear status in order to push for global disarmament and the criminalisation of nuclear weapons first-use under any circumstances. This would also involve being at the forefront of international attempts to prevent the spread of the arms race to outer space, something the U.S. very much intends doing under the guise of missile defence.

Finally, India must think of globalisation in a multidimensional manner. Of all the possible spatial and factor-of-production axes along which international economic collaboration can take place, the West has imposed an unequal bargain, in which developing countries must open their markets to foreign investment and products while being unable to export labour or many categories of products to the developed world. This is not just unfair but irrational as well, especially given the greying of populations in Europe, Japan and North America. In the next 10 years, then, India must take the lead in pushing for easier international labour migration norms, as well as in establishing new and mutually beneficial circuits of trade and investment within the developing world — with Africa and Latin America, in particular.

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