Height of naivete

There’s apparently no end to the Indian government’s naivete even with a supposedly hardheaded Narendra Modi running the show. New Delhi discovered anew — surprise! surprise! — that the Big Three — the US, China and Russia far from helping lubricate India’s much-craved passage into membership of the UN Security Council, will actually go all out, use every means and underhanded stratagem, to ensure India does not get within even smelling distance of it. Originally, the MEA touted the adoption of a consensus resolution to use the long-in-the-works framework document laying out the case for the expansion of the Security Council by the UN General Assembly as basis for negotiation, as an enormous success and show of India’s diplomatic heft. Once it became clear to our diplomatic dunderheads — who cannot see the obvious barreling down at them — that it would be rough going with Moscow and Beijing, doing the dirty work also of the US, being intent on injecting some esoteric/tangential technical issues into the negotiating text to guarantee long many years of further frustrating (from Delhi’s perspective) negotiations before anything is brought to the main stage of negotiation, the MEA is now satisfied with having thwarted the Chinese-led moves designed to derail the consideration of India for a permanent seat in the UNSC. As victories go, this was distinctly minor stuff — more procedural than substantive — but not if you believe the MEA!

The real hard slog begins now. One hopes the Modi government is going into this with its eyes wide open and not with some fluff in their brains that the path is cleared for India to take its place at the apex level. That age when Nehru in the mid-Fifties was offered the Koumintang China-Taiwan’s seat in UNSC by both the US and USSR and which offer the Indian PM in a fit of extreme national self-abnegation summarily and contemptuously rejected, canvassing successfully to seat Maozedong’s China in the UNSC instead, is now long gone. But the ramification of that bit of extraordinarily foolish generosity is that the now ensconced China is determined to veto India’s entry and make it pay the full price and more for Nehru’s stupidity and/or cupidity. But the harsh reality is still not digested by New Delhi despite fifty years of evidence that the clear-eyed Chinese leadership will simply not permit India’s ascent. Why else would MEA and GOI persist in still trying to somehow wrangle UNSC membership? What the GOI and Modi don’t seem to understand is that in international affairs there are, in fact, no friends — “good friend, Barak” notwithstanding, only interests. And the collective interest of the Big-5 does not lie in letting India or any other country into UNSC. So, Washington will look on from the sidelines, watch China-Russia play the bad guys until they falter, when it will step in and finish of what slight chance remains. Remember how the Clinton Admin helped introduce the “rolling text” in the CTBT negotiations in Geneva in 1995-96, ultimately forcing Delhi to cry “Uncle” and Ambassador Arundhati Ghose, under express instructions from a strong willed PM, Deve Gowda, to tell the Big-5 where to get off with her stirring sign-off — India will sign the CTBT “not now, not ever”?

This analyst has been saying for over 25 years that a UNSC seat is worthless, specially one without the veto power which is the most Delhi can expect 20 years down the line!!! Mark my words. Shouldn’t this be a matter of national self respect and a time to resolve by way of policy direction that India, because denied the UNSC entry on merits, has no stakes in the UN body and its agencies, and that it will do all it can to undermine it, which threat it can then carry out without fuss and on the sly and sans any public hoo-ha, starting with ensuring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the Fissile Material Control Treaty are buried in the Committee on Disarmament.

The reason this won’t happen are twofold: Because (1) Modi exaggerates the power of his personal relationships — with Obama, Putin, Xi. So far it has fetched him nothing. But he will persist in the belief that he and India are something special!, and (2) MEA staffed by Indian Foreign Service officers will upend any such move because most of them aspire to service at the UN HQ secretariat or in some US agency where there is little work but fat pay-packet and tax-free pension. India will fall at these two hurdles and will continue to strive futilely for an UNSC seat while spurning the one way it would, in fact, be invited into that club — by moving fast and hard in doing things frowned upon by the Big-5 which would upset their applecart.

Such as resuming open-ended thermonuclear testing and transferring nuclear materials, natural uranium reactors and whole weapons and missile systems, along with expertise, to states in Central Asia and Southeast Asia on China’s and Russia’s peripheries and scramble America’s nonproliferation calculus — the sort of thing that will frighten all three into abruptly ceding ground. Sustained and stealthy acts of disruption — highly regarded, and cannily used, by Beijing and a wily Pakistan Army over the years — is India’s short-cut and ticket to great power. A North Korea or a Pakistan can’t pull it off. But, India can. Except Indian leaders are mostly big talk, not big action, lack the iron will and the guts. Besides, disruptive activity has never been appreciated by the MEA mandarins. Small wonder then that between our leaders and the babus the nation and its interests get shafted.

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.
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12 Responses to Height of naivete

  1. Satvinder Singh says:

    Mr Bharat I have been regularly reading you for a long time and very often I feel like stopping. ! But kudos you got this one as good in prose as in content.
    Strategy as a concept is as alien to us Indians as hands on everyday life tech to Indian men.
    Been there and seen it up close to realise that we often forget that change is not only constant but adapting to changes is the key to solve the crystal maze.
    Though I often wonder at your simplistic solutions to IAFs requirement but couldn’t have agreed more on this write up.

    • What you consider simplistic, re: the Rafale-buy, presumably, is actually the only genuinely affordable way out of a corner GOI and IAF have painted ourselves into.

      • Satvinder Singh says:

        Well we’ll get into an altogether new debate.
        Trust me Mr Karnad. Flown Migs and Jaguar for many yrs.
        Wish i can really tell u what i want to.
        Though i took premature separation from service couple of yrs back but something holds me back from sharing my experiences
        Suffice to say mantra of modern battlefield is technological adaptability to our environs and realistic training. I am afraid both are costly options.

  2. sriramdatla says:

    Sir ARC is being closed and handed over to IAF and NTRO. Don’t you this is a bad decision since ARC was in direct control of R&AW and didn’t have bureaucratic interference. What is your opinion sir?

  3. Guru says:

    Sir, in this analysis, you have got it bang on. Hard nosed Realism dictates that India does not pull in its punches. As you have brought out, narrow personal ambitions of a few MEA manadarins must not come in the way.
    One must go the whole hog and stop being a troop contributing country. Let the US, Russia and China deal with it. At the end of the day, what has sending our troops to various hot spots in the world brought us??? International respect? Kudos to our troops? Sure, all of it but apparently nowhere near influencing a decision!!!!
    Can we even think of such a step? What will the likely response of the MoD??
    Your views please.

    • The incentive for participating in UN peace-keeping, mainly for the Indian Army, is in the higher emoluments everybody earns — which can amount to a nice little nest egg. But the armed forces, I am sure, will happily forego this option for the national good if only a steel-spined govt made that call.

  4. Shiva says:

    India needs to piss on UN tent for so long and so deep that Permanent 5 are forced to have India inside the tent pissing outside rather than the other way out. That’s the only way for India to have its seat at the big table. A $10 trillion dollar economy, half a dozen aircraft carriers, a thousand 5th gen fighter planes and more importantly the will to use force is what makes India a truly superpower. Intense covert warfare in Pakistan, nuclear and missile arming Vietnam, obstructing US-led world order at every stage until they would let India inside to frame the rules – these are the things that will take India to UNSC, not some legal mumbo-jumbo at UNGA. And definitely not the childish media projection of ‘spilling the diplomatic blood’ at General Assembly to secure some ‘victory’.

  5. siddappa says:

    nice write up. to quote Sanjeev Sabhlok… “have to break free of Nehru” mode of idealistic thinking.

    all the big brains in external affairs ministry have been wired to thinking about soft-power person to person relations & foreign visits.
    Not once, we’ve heard or read a sentence mentioning advantages in clear terms.. all those long editorials in need papers or TV talk shows are at best ornamental..

    hazy words are all we get from any one who is IFS. Their oratory & charm are so good that they could convert the “Modi of masses” into one of their class.

    Indians are soft targets for kidnap all over the world, but there is no policy on how to handle it.

    is all this a problem also because our PM’s are always over enthusiastic super foreign ministers too? (including the current one)

    nice to see a good word on much maligned ex PM Devegowda. his work on farakka waters & ctbt are mostly neglected.

  6. archit says:

    and now that the russkies are selling Su’s to pakis, its time to upset them a bit too. The UN gig of the Indians must end too. Too bad for the world, will liberate some forces for our own use back home.

  7. Vihan says:

    Dear Bharat,

    An excellent piece as always!

    I would include strategic weapons co-operation (fig leaf included) with not just Vietnam and Central Asia but also Ukraine (which would welcome it with even more open arms than Vietnam) and even perhaps Mongolia to greatly upset the very big 3 of the big 5. As sad as it makes me to say it, raising hell seems to be the only way we can secure our interests because its the only alternative and we have cornered ourselves into is to do nothing and taking it lying down. After we have raised hell, and secured our interests, we can and should certainly start talking meaningless platitudes after all that’s the one thing we have sadly excelled it.


    – vihan

  8. archit says:

    Then why not Taiwan? That should work too

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