Thursday, March 15, 2012

Nonalignment 2.0 - Playing ball with the empire

As a young officer serving onboard Indian warships, I observed two kinds of commanding officers. The first - more prevalent kind – drove their ships’ company to ‘look good’ to the outsiders – they often added layers of paint to their deck without chipping and priming it for a fresh coat. This variety of commanding officer was in a perpetual state of paranoia, focusing their entire energy on ceremonials, and the size of the chicken legs to be served at parties onboard. The second variety - few in number – were generally ‘captain cool’ - saw navy as a subject of study and their ship as a tool to practically comprehend the maritime dimensions of modern warfare. Such commanding officers encouraged their ships’ company to be innovative and function as a well knit team. 

Now, when I look at the strategic thought processes in India, I find the prevalence of a similar divide between the strategists who see India through the eyes of the developed world and the minority view that insists on making India strong internally before venturing out to showcase the country. The former school of thought, firmly believes that the “success of India’s own internal development will depend decisively on how effectively we manage our global opportunities in order to maximize our choices”. This viewpoint has once again been reiterated in the recently released Nonalignment 2.0 – a document prepared by eminent scholars and intellectuals from the field of economics, media, military, security and strategy. 
The basic premise underpinning the document is that global power structures are fragmenting, giving India the space and scope to indulge in being a ‘king maker’ between China and America through “skilful management of complicated coalitions and opportunities.”

The realist dogma 
The classical realist paradigm that considers national strategy as “a chess grandmasters’ game… played as part of a long strategic interaction,” is based on the flawed assumption that international relations is an elitist game involving adroit maneuverings on the global chess board, earning a few brownie points for the nation. A document that defines the parameter under such a narrow theoretical framework cannot claim to define national strategy over an extended period. At best, such a study can only recommend some moves that may have to be made to solve immediate problems, and that is exactly what Nonalignment 2.0 aims to achieve. 

The study group has blatantly tried to use the sex appeal inherent in the term ‘Nonalignment’ to create a façade that hides their natural tilt towards America and at the same time gives them the leeway to showcase the inevitability of conflict with China. The document neither believes in nonalignment as a policy nor does it fully repose its faith in the concept of strategic autonomy to prescribe any strategic solutions. It is a document that once again reinforces our strategic bankruptcy.  

The Indian strategic community seems to have been indoctrinated to believe that a game of chess requires an opponent and China offers itself as a perfect enemy. As Nonalignment 2.0 suggests, India’s China strategy “is perhaps the single most important challenge for Indian strategy in the years ahead.” China is big, moneyed and in the neighborhood, it gives Indian ‘chess players’ ample opportunity to display their proactive skills by inducing forced errors into Beijing’s global game plan. 

The Indian strategic community wants to emulate Pakistan in devising a strategy vis-à-vis China that would make India do exactly the same things that Pakistan has been doing to us for the past 60 years. Just as Pakistan was propped up to be a nuisance for Indians, the Nonalignment 2.0 unashamedly suggests, “The fork in the road we need to choose is the politico-military strategy of quid pro quo and asymmetry as a means to defend our borders with China.”

According to the realist proponents, all those who ask as to why India and China cannot be partners in redefining the global political economy are dismissed as utopian dreamers. Even if such India-Sino cooperation is good for 99% of the Indian population, it has to be branded as non-strategy, mainly because it does not conform to the role that Western think tanks have envisaged for India. It is perhaps for this reason that Non-alignment 2.0 devotes much larger space to confronting China than building a coalition that would remove the last vestiges of Anglo–American imperialism from the Asian region, making it more stable and prosperous. Logic suggests that the Asian continent does not need more wars between themselves to appreciate the criticality of peace in furthering prosperity. Therefore, it is all the more important to ask some questions: 

(a)    Should disputed borders be the sole criteria of judging China’s intentions?
(b)   Is an attitude of confrontation the only way to move forward?     

Interestingly, the rise of China in the Indian strategic landscape has coincided with the sudden fall of Pakistan as India’s chief adversary. Discounting Pakistan as a major threat is based on the assessment of the growing distance between Washington and Islamabad that has rendered the Islamic republic a non-entity (this inadvertently acknowledges the dubious role that the West has played in keeping India and Pakistan at loggerheads).  

The myth of strategic depth
Much like Pakistan that was obsessed with discovering strategic depth in Afghanistan and using its geography to locate its relative importance in the global geo-political game, majority in the Indian think tanks too intend to leverage India’s proximity to the Indian Ocean mainly to open an arena that offers them much larger space to dream big and confront Chinese interests on home turf. But what we conveniently forget the lessons from history. 

For more than six decades Pakistan has lived under the illusion that “America needs Pakistan more than Pakistan needs America.” A misperception that led Jinnah to smugly assert in an interview to Life magazine, “the frontier on which the future position of the world revolves... Pakistan is the pivot of the world.” Using Russian communism and Indian hegemony as a pretext, Jinnah and successors in Pakistani polity willingly collaborated with the upcoming imperial power. 

The Pakistani landed gentry happily aligned with the Western elite even going to the extent of placing their military in American hands. The Pakistan realpolitik experts kept explaining the American military aid and arms in terms of geographic attractiveness of Pakistan to the US. The US was happy supplying F-16s to Islamabad to make money and destabilize New Delhi in more ways than one. What this strategy has achieved for Pakistan is visible to all. Yet, we are getting entrapped in doing to China what Pakistan did to us. 

Acknowledging hegemony
The realists brand the entrapment angle as conspiracy theory, mainly because the stark reality of ‘hegemony’ in world order is anathema to their ‘tool-set’. Hegemony, according to realist school of thought is simply about dominance derived from military and economic power. However, a more nuanced approach to understanding of hegemony comes from the critical school that sees hegemony as the power of ideas and institutions engaged in “opinion moulding activity”. The best examples of such activity are from current history, when neo-liberalism and “Washington consensus” came to occupy dominant discourse in the post cold war era. Richard Falk identifies this trend among the global political elite as ‘globalization-from-above’ or “the collaboration between the leading states and the main agents of capital formation” (transnational capital and transnational political elites). Combined, these actors “create a powerful momentum that leaves behind high degree of seemingly functional integration and at face value, homogenizing habits that make all other cultures submit to the pervasiveness of the West’s perception of the world and its conception of lived reality.” The erudite and intelligent scholars from all schools of thought do realize the way consensus is build around the world to push agendas and ideas. 

The realists too understand the speed with which the world is made to switch over from suicide bombs to ‘sticky bombs’ - and how in a span of a few years, India is transformed from being a chronic ‘argumentative’ to being a ‘reluctant’ power - but they do not acknowledge it - because, such naked analysis exposes the true role that the national and regional elite play on the global stage. It shows to the nation that their elite are not a part of the playing eleven but mere ball boys running up and down collecting balls hit beyond the boundary line. Much like the Indian princes and maharajas who according to Patrick French had lined up for “King George V’s coronation in 1911… filling Westminster Abbey for a seven hours ceremony… This was the age of high imperialism, when brute force was to an extent forsaken in favour of pomp as a means of asserting authority.”

Dubious wars and treacherous elite 
The involvement of the CIA in Tibet prior to the commencement of hostilities between India and China are too well documented. Nehru’s frantic letters to the US President asking for supply of arms during the India-China war are also now well known. Similarly, K Subramanyam in one of his columns in the Times of India wrote that while browsing in a London used book store he picked up an American book, Crisis Game by Sidney Giffin that revealed that Pentagon and Harvard University had played a war game at the Institute of Defence Analysis, Washington, DC, in March 1965. The war game and its results were available in a book, by the spring of 1965. The war game concluded that in case of a war, Pakistan would win. The fact is the Americans were fully aware of all the moves much ahead the date of commencement of war. As the doyen of Indian strategy K Subramanyam wrote, “The Americans were well informed about the possibility of Pakistani infiltration into Kashmir and the subsequent offensive months in advance, as has been recorded by the then Central Investigative Agency operative in India, Duane Claridge, in his book, A Man for All Seasons. The story about a CIA mole working from inside the Indian cabinet during the 1971 Indo-Pak war is also not refuted with a sense of purpose by many people who have been involved with the running of the establishment.

This is not the only example of why and how wars are fought between lesser mortals.Take another example of how the empire manipulates the ruling elite in the less developed world. The recently published memos of Vladimir M. Vinogradov – a seasoned Soviet diplomat who had served as ambassador to Cairo from 1970 to 1974 bring out the truth about the 1972 Yom Kippur War. Here all the major protagonists, Egypt as well as Israel worked in tandem to fulfill the US dream of making a re-entry into the middle east. According to Israel Shamir, an ex-Israeli Para trooper, who is involved in publishing Vinogradov memos, “Anwar al-Sadat.., entered into conspiracy with the Israelis, betrayed his ally Syria, condemned the Syrian army to destruction…, allowed General Sharon’s tanks to cross without hindrance to the western bank of the Suez Canal, and actually planned a defeat of the Egyptian troops in the October War… He was not the only conspirator: according to Vinogradov, the grandmotherly Golda Meir knowingly sacrificed two thousand of Israel’s best fighters – she possibly thought fewer would be killed – in order to give Sadat his moment of glory and to let the US secure its positions in the Middle East.” 

Strategic Autonomy
One needs to understand the meaning of strategic autonomy to be able to achieve it. Nonaligment 2.0’s understanding of strategic autonomy remains limited to India being able to decide which way to vote in the United Nation and at most, to preserving Indian’s nuclear weapons. Strategic autonomy does not come from playing a few moves on the chess board, by signing some deals with the empire and by placing ones military on the negotiating table. Strategic autonomy results for a country that can exercise certain degree of control on its money supply in and out of the country and also by keeping its military at a distance from the empire. 

In both cases the Indian record over the past two decades has been dismal. We often cite China’s pragmatism in embracing the US at the height of Cold War, but what we tend to overlook is that China got close to USA in early 1970s but they never let America use Soviet Union as a common enemy that had to be militarily fought, in the entire process, the absence of Chinese military in all Sino-USinteracctions was conspicuous. In the late 1970s, Regan’s supply side economic policies were the order of the day, but the Chinese adopted their own version of economic reforms - they developed state capitalist structures that have stood the test of time even in times of collapse of classical capitalism. The Chinese had done the same when in 1950s they had developed communism with Chinese characteristics ignoring advice from Soviet Union. 

During all these years, the Chinese have never been flamboyant to display their ambition to be global leaders. They have been moving cautiously making sure that they are seen as purely economic players with no political ambitions. The increase in the Chinese defence budget indicates their ambition or fear is a question that strategists must take into consideration, but one thing is sure as of now, the Chinese have displayed no signs of floating any new idea. India on the other hand is more flamboyant. India may have graduated from a ball boy to being a 12th man in the global eleven, but that certainly does not offer reason enough to stand on ones toes and clap at every ball that the American empire bowls.

A couple of months ago, an American magazine, Diplomatic Courier (DC) released a ‘new list’ ranking the top think- tanks across the world. As expected the top think tanks guiding not just their governments but global international political economy are housed in the USA and UK. According to the DC, “In Brazil, India, China, Russia, and South Africa—the large developing BRICS countries, the number of think tanks more than doubled between 2008 and 2011 from 419 to 985. Brazil and India’s think tank numbers doubled, while Russia and South Africa saw only incremental increases. Despite the large increase in think tank numbers in BRICS countries, only the Academy of Social Sciences in China was represented among 2010’s Top 25 Global Think Tanks.” India has registered a 100% growth in the number of think tanks but their performance is far below the global standards, As the GC says “despite the pervasive poverty throughout India, development and domestic economic policies have not been shown to be a priority for Indian think tanks.”

The focus of the Indian think tanks is climate change, infrastructural development and last but not the least great power games. The lopsidedness in the production of intellectual content in India is symptomatic of the deeper malaise afflicting the Indian strategic community – that continues to draw inspiration from the global and regional agenda points defined by the Western think tanks. Therefore, one often finds that the human rights parameters that the western think tanks apply to ethnic and economic conflicts in countries like Congo - are blindly aped by the Indian human rights activists working in Kashmir and other conflict areas in the country. A similar zeal is observed in churning out reams of paper on Pirates, the new poster boys for international security and insurance analysts.

In all the popular wars of 1990s and the first decade of 21st century, the most striking and obviously the most advertised aspect has been the brilliant use of technology by the Americans. Such has been the impact of precision guided munitions and GPS aided accurate bombing that the defence establishments of medium countries want to emulate the US armed forces. 

The lessons learnt from these wars have led the strategists to demand from their governments more money so that can at least become a miniaturized version of the USA military. But what is overlooked in the study of these modern wars is the fact all the countries, Iraq and Libya that were attacked found their best aircraft, ships, and submarines just incapable of taking or casting off in the light of overwhelming US might. That both Iraq and Libya were not small countries must force us to question the efficacy of the modern aircraft and other systems in preventing invasion and occupation. Is all that we buy from abroad meant only to fight limited wars that are far from being decisive and often end up in a tame draw?   

One wonders, if the purpose of Nonalignment 2.0 is actually to build a “unified approach to India’s international engagements” in order, to hide the inadequacies of the national elite to pursue national interest with “consistency and vigour.”  Therefore, when the document talks about India exercising power in the world through the “power of its example”, one wonders what example? If America, the biggest salesman of so-called democracy is in the mall, who will come out to buy the Indian example of democracy from a ‘Mom and Pop’ store? The Indian strategic community seems to be in too much of hurry to make India a great power. One fails to understand this fetish for being a great power, when more than half of your population is malnourished and lives below the poverty line. A national strategy for a nation as large as India needs to address following questions:

(a)  How to best use global conditions to ensure internal health   and prosperity of the nation 
(b)  How to draw the best from prevalent global ideologies while                       retaining ones originality of thought
(c)  How to keep a tight hold over the supply of money in and out of the country
(d) How to guard the national military from the prying eyes of the empire    
(e)  How to prevent the powerful elite that constitute less than 1% of the population from leading the rest 99% of the population into a frivolous war 
(f)   How best to equip the military and make it capable of preventing occupation of the country by a foreign power 
(g) Determine the right time to be politically active on global stage


  1. 1. Brilliant article; I liked both: the arguments and the expression. Foreign policy and strategy with more than an eye on "existing compulsions" cannot be called 'non-aligned' or 'independent. That we have never risen above these 'compulsions' say a lot about where we are.

    2. Intellectual hegemony? Well, indeed it is. I was accused of 'America baiting' when I aired the idea that the US in our vicinity - as (should be) seen by us - is not the solution but part of the problem. And, they used to talk about "indoctrination" of our officers and think-tanks by the Soviets!

    3. What the Chinese did to us in 1962 is drummed up infinitely to make us believe that there is never a whisper of rapproachment; foregetting the fact that Japan was mercilessly atom-bombed by the US but are still good friends as maritime neighbours. George Fernandez's "our real enemy is China" came about at a time when we were getting ready to invest large monies in defence imports. Any guess as to who benefitted; just as who benefitted in 'Homeland Security' exports after 26/11?

    4. We don't have a single homegrown news agency that independently covers maritime matters at sea. We are, therefore, entirely dependent upon western press to tell us what we should do at sea (piracy et al). Whatever, the western press brings out about matters of the sea are lapped up by our think-tanks into "analysis" of the real situation around us.

    5. Lastly, your fantasy about being "politically active on global stage" seems to suggest that after the domestic politics of caste, vituperation, corruption and crime, there is some left for the global stage too to make us win the Best Actor in Villanous Role award. Ha. In global affairs we think internationally as little as we think nationally in domestic affairs. I think we already know the result of Americans' latest arm-twisting us on Iran. It is alright for them to do business with a nuclear Pakistan but we are a "rogue nation" to do business with (a-not-as-yet-nuclear) Iran.

    1. Dear Sir agree with you with don't set the agenda on global stage but before that we must be independent enough to set the agenda at the national level.

  2. We may believe it to be in the interest of China and India to cooperate and act in tandem against the West. Thats the mistake Nehru made and we learnt to our cost that powers looking for a bigger role have only permanent interests and if there is any possibility of any other power challenging them in the future its best to grind it as early as one can. Therefore rolling over for China will still not do us any good as they will continue to screw us any and every way they can. Its better therefore to get your act together, see where we want to go and then use every means available to reach there, wether it requires us to be friends with the US and Japan or not.That is all that has been suggested in the paper. As regards the title, non alignment has been a brand name tagged to our foriegn policy over the years and to use the brand to propgate something new is justifiable.

  3. Dear Deepak, Thanks a ton for reading my article and raising some very relevant questions. Should we be like Nehru and let China roll over us? Should we not make China learn some lessons? My contention is:
    Why should we imagine and have a firm belief that China can never be our friend?
    Why do you assume that befriending China automatically means that we don't prepare our armed forces?
    We don't need a war because there is army that needs some vocation.

    We need to get over some myths that have been implanted in our minds over the years and move beyond the cliched thinking on 62 war that is rooted in Relaist paradigm of understanding relations between two countries and these are:
    In India, the 1962 war discourse is largely personality oriented – devoid of any in-depth theoretical analysis of the event. The narrow theoretical underpinnings in the narrative revolve around:
    The realist paradigm based on national interests and understanding of international relations embedded in “territorial trap”
    It was a war between two independent nations embroiled in a border dispute.
    The war was preceded by negotiations and diplomacy at the highest level; therefore, it was ‘continuation of diplomacy by other means’.
    You may like to read my earlier essay on Krishna Menon and 62 war to understand my thought process better on why the war happened.

    1. Atul, the point you make about the need for the Army to be prepared is exactly what the paper says. The last thing anybody would suggest is for two nuclear powered nations to go to war and fighting a war because the Army is lloking for a job is probably not something the Indian Army looks favourably at... all those who have been in it for the last twenty- thirty years have lost friends and colleagues and understand what that implies to families and units.
      Again your point about 1962 that it was a continuation of diplomacy by other means reinforces the argument that we need to take action in terms of building up capacity to be able to resist another attack. Yes, I think the Govt has learned one lesson(which the media has not) that bluster does not win arguments but instead of building up capacity in the interim the Govt has taken the easier course of covering its head in the sand and hoping things sort themselves out and off course rolling over and accepting whatever the Chines do.. wether it be building dams on the Bhramaputra, incursions, opposing our attempts to get into the UNSC etc etc

  4. We should see that India should not fall prey to diplomatic entrapment laid by other big players. India should try to maintain better relations with its neighboring countries and promote and strengthen political stability. This in turn will ensure peace and stability in India that is essential for social and economic growth. The powerful western world has its own game plan of hegemony and economic exploitation of developing and least developed world earlier by colonization and now in name of globalization. And if some countries in Asia or other parts of world are politically and economically rising, they try to pitch one against other in that region so that development of both could be contained and their economic and other strategic interests are met. We need to learn lesson from the World War II that those who actively got involved from the beginning, they lost their power even after winning the war and relatively took backseat in the game of power. If we look long back to history of our relations with China, except 1962 war we do not have any other historical baggage of animosity or conflict with China. Misunderstanding of 1962 can be put aside by both countries and both can pursuit their developmental goal. And I am confident that China as a responsible nation also understand that any military misadventure with India will not be in interest of China.
    Having said above, it does not mean that India should compromise on its military preparedness. Rather, India should be fully prepared by continuously upgrading it military capabilities to preempt any eventuality and also apply its soft power for its strategic needs.

  5. Dr D. Gnanagurunathan, Research Fellow, ICWAApril 18, 2012 at 12:08 AM

    Sir, your commentary on Nonalignment 2.0 is one of the best I have read out of the 30 odd articles published. Its comprehensiveness, sharp analysis, historical contexts makes is enriching. Perhaps, I shall follow your blogs. Thank you.