Endless delusion

Come the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in autumn and there’s India, predictably making the same old pitch for a permanent seat in the Security Council as part of “comprehensive reform” of the UN. As in the past, this year too efforts of the G-4 (Group of Four – India, Brazil, Japan and Germany) to obtain permanent membership,  have tanked.  This despite a desperate need for re-organizing the UN to facilitate  graceful stepping-down of legacy great powers, Britain and France, and their replacement by new powers in the offing, among them India.

The G-4 aspirants alas have their separate detractors. Brazil is challenged by Argentina and Japan is vetoed by China. And then there’s India, whose candidature is at once the most credible and the least likely to fructify.  This anomalous situation is because India has all along approached the United Nations as a supplicant, one afflicted, moreover, with the entitlement syndrome. It is not clear on what basis India feels entitled to secure a permanent seat, considering its policy reach is confined to South Asia, it has botched the job of pacifying its neighbours, and hasn’t done anything of note in the international arena since leading the charge on de-colonisation in the 1950s.

The criteria of great powers shared by the five permanent members – the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and China – are, firstly, that they full-fledged nuclear weapons states with diverse nuclear and thermonuclear armaments of verified yields and reliable performance that can reach any point on earth. Secondly, they are managers of the global order, using coercive diplomacy, failing which deploying military forces to maintain regional balance and global stability. A third factor is that these  states are also the main pillars of the international system of trade and commerce. And finally, there’s a decisive quality to their foreign-military policies that is missing from India’s thinking – their belief in the efficacy of hard power.

Preparing to beat up on small countries, such as Pakistan, has actually hurt India’s reputation. If a country cannot distinguish the strategically consequential China threat from small time danger on its western flank, can it be relied on to make reasonable judgements on issues of war and peace that Security Council permanent members are called upon to do? Worse, India’s Pakistan fixation has permitted China, as an “all weather friend”, to intrude into South Asian affairs and shrink India’s natural sphere of influence. With India’s preening posture against Pakistan turning into a “tail between legs” attitude once China enters the scene, India’s image in the world has taken a hit. Pakistan may not have a veto but its patron, China, does and to date Beijing has exercised it cleverly. The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recently asked India to disengage from the G-4 effort as it involves Japan. Of course, should Delhi be foolish enough to follow the Chinese advice, Beijing will next stop India’s entry on the pretext of the unresolved Kashmir dispute. The hard-headed men leading China are not the self-abnegating kind and repeat the mistake made in the 1950s when, rather than grabbing Chiangkaishek-led Taiwan’s seat in the Security Council offered to India by the United States, Jawaharlal Nehru pleaded for China to be seated instead! In the event, India is in a losing position no matter what Delhi does. The obvious strategy of blunting Pakistan’s fear by reorienting the Indian military China-wards as a first step to co-opting Islamabad, has not occurred to the Indian government.

To revive India’s international leadership role, the Manmohan Singh regime once again dusted off the Rajiv Gandhi Action Plan for time-bound nuclear disarmament, which has about as much chance in the real world as a spit ball’s in hell.  But it is in line with the Congress Party government’s mindless strategy of keeping the Indian thermonuclear deterrent unproven, unreliable, and thus permanently on par with Pakistan’s nuclear weapons inventory. Furthermore, the Manmohan Singh regime alienated its strongest backers – the United States, by neither expending political capital to realise a substantive strategic partnership nor coming up with an alternative scheme, and Israel, the source of most of the Indian military’s advanced technology edge, by joining in the call for a sovereign Palestinian state instead of leaving it to the two sides to thrash it out in negotiations, in the manner Delhi would prefer the Kashmir issue to be settled. The result was President Barack Obama rejected a meeting with Manmohan Singh in New York, and Israel is hurt.

To be recognised as a great power, India will have to do what other great powers have done throughout history: Think big, act big, take risks, and  back up its diplomacy with force but only against an equal or bigger country, aggressively consolidate and extend Indian military influence into China’s backyard in the South China Sea and, landwards, in Central Asia, and secure the core wherewithal of hard power, namely, a versatile high-yield thermonuclear arsenal, which will require further testing, and Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles, in the face of American and Chinese pressure. Get the big stick first, talk softly later. An in-your-face attitude is more likely to get India an invitation to join the high table in the UN and elsewhere, than being agreeable. To believe India will attain great power by lesser means is to be delusional. Unfortunately, there is no dearth of deluded persons in Delhi who believe India’s “exceptionalism” is enough.

[published in ‘Asian Age’& ‘Deccan Chronicle’ on Sept 29, 2011, at www.asianage.com/columnists/endless-delusion-899 ]

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West. Bookmark the permalink.

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