[dropcap]D[/dropcap]iplomatic orthodoxies get built up over time, but they are also forced to change with circumstantial reassessments, sometimes quite dramatically. Today, India stands on the threshold of momentous inclusions, and long desired access, to large parts of the denied and restricted world of high technology trades. Why were we excluded before? Because India blatantly aligned with the Soviets and their Cold War worldview, while pontificating about so called non-alignment, and lecturing the West on much else, from our imaginary high moral pulpit.
Our military machine to date is largely Soviet era, partially obsolete, with some continuity, perforce, due to familiarity, spare parts etc. from successor Russia. But in this modern era, we have to buy from it, at negotiated market rates; no more deferred payments, grants, and rupee trades, prompting us to look around. We now buy armaments and systems from Israel, the US, France, Britain, Italy, and the list is growing to include new sources, like Sweden, Germany and Japan.
It’s not that Russia does not make state-of-the-art armaments; and we are both buying them and attempting to collaborate with it — and others — in ‘Make in India’ defence projects, just beginning to take off. Russia’s new defensive shield surface-to-air rapid deployable mobile missile system, the S-500 Prometey (Prometheus), for example, is considered to be the best in the world, and many, including India, have placed orders.
But overall, there is a big difference in our policy stance today. In Modi’s India, we take a less partisan position, and are nobody’s satellite, not even America’s. We don’t use a pompous and hectoring tone with the world. We judge things from an India first position, and buy from whomsoever we like. Nobody minds that. But we do not lecture the world from the perspective of a grandstanding internationalism any more.
That sort of a thing, from the land of Mahatma Gandhi, was designed to champion the whole of the third world, many recently emerged from colonial rule, and turn our prime ministers into statesmen. But we embarrassed many, on whose behalf we spoke, without their explicit permission, more often than not with the unwanted attention; they disagreed actively with us sometimes.
The United Nations General Assembly of today, let alone the Security Council, really has no use for that foreign policy of old India. No use for the vanity of Jawaharlal Nehru, his alter-ego Krishna Menon, and the supremely insecure Indira Gandhi, bringing us up right to the mid-eighties. And it is doubtful that if it ever did.
Today, we take afarmore pragmatic view of things, and others, in a position to help us, find that refreshing. India’s recent admittance to the 34-member Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), a year after we applied, is a proud and enabling thing. It will help us improve the quality of future missiles produced, and allow us to import Predator drones from the US, used most effectively in the border areas of Pakistan-Afghanistan, against the Taliban.
Prior to joining this club, India has been unilaterally adhering to the MTCR guide lines anyway, and has also signed ‘The Hague Code of Conduct’, against ballistic missile proliferation. The acceptance of India into the MTCR is a precursor to being let in to a number of other important and exclusive high-technology and security sensitive groupings, including, the Australia Group, the Nuclear Suppliers Group we are hearing so much about, and the Wassenaar Arrangement. Again, even the MTCR entry, would not have been possible, without strong US backing.
We are presently knocking on the door of the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG). America, which is selling us six Westinghouse nuclear power plants, for a start, now that the accident liability issues have been resolved, is our champion once again.The plenary session in Seoul, is on the 24 June. It might just decide to admit India. If it does so, it will once again be mainly due to America, looking for a responsible counter-weight to China and getting China to agree to it! One of the persuaders may be a covert promise that Pakistan will also be admitted, sooner rather than later.
America has various domestic legal obstructions in how it can ramp up military cooperation and sensitive equipment transfers with/to India, indeed any country which is not part of the NSG, and needs us to be a fully paid up member of the NSG, to remove those constraints. There has already been a preliminary meeting of the 48-member group on 9 June in Vienna when India’s entry, having applied in May 2016, was discussed, with most of the group in favour of letting us in.
However, NSG membership can only be obtained with unanimity. And China has objected, on points of order, involving the test ban treaty and the nuclear proliferation treaty, neither of which India or Pakistan has signed. Neither can afford to do so, at this stage, as their military nuclear weapons programmes would be impacted.
China is also concerned that if India gets into the NSG first, it may well block Pakistan’s entry. China would ideally like the entry of one to be contingent on the other. Ironically, and further to the permanent UNSC seat for India Nehru turned down in the fifties, and offered it to the Chinese instead; in 1963, President Kennedy offered to help India detonate a nuclear device, over-ground in the Rajasthan desert, before the Chinese, who were getting ready to do so. JFK wanted to help India on the strength of our being a democracy and admit us to the nuclear club before Communist China. But Nehru, in his wisdom, said no, once again.
The NSG of today, coincidentally, was formed in 1974, after India unilaterally tested its first nuclear device underground. It now has 48 members, all of them suppliers of some of the various highly specialised parts necessary; without all being nuclear powers. For nuclear weaponised states, however small or big their stockpile — and however sophisticated; it is definitely a zero-sum game. Non-nuclear weapons’ states too, tend to be allied to one big brother or the other — as in Assad’s Syria and Putin’s Russia, for example.
This, much to the chagrin of the US and the NATO powers! The US wants Bush-like ‘regime change’ in Syria, and the Assad dynasty out. ISIS, in the meantime, is in many parts. There’s the ISIS that leans towards the Americans and NATO, and is trying to overthrow Assad, while being pulverised by Russia; and the ISIS that is fighting this other ISIS, and is on Assad’s side, just like Vladimir Putin.
And while Israel is both militarised, feisty, bristling with nuclear and other state-of-the-art weapons, it has a force multiplier via a near infinite level military back up and commitment, from America.
In this by-no-means-exhaustive scenario of military strength and alliances, consider the efficacy of India joining the NSG, by virtue of American ‘persuasion’ to turn the nay-sayers — China, Turkey, New Zealand, Austria — but without any concession regarding Pakistan’s entry. China says, if India gets in, and not Pakistan, the balance of nuclear and other high-tech weaponry and technology power in South Asia will be disturbed. And it has a serious point.
In any case, there is no keeping Pakistan out of attaining parity with India, via China. Consider that in the years after India signed the nuclear power deal with the US in 2008, after getting a waiver from this self-same NSG; Pakistan has obtained, in principle, just as many nuclear power plants, from China. And this, in contravention of NSG rules to boot, flouting them with impunity.
India, meanwhile, has come a long way, from a prickly non-alignment leaning towards the USSR, while Pakistan sat basking in America’s favour for the duration. From there, to the point where the prime minister called our relationship with America indispensable, just days ago, standing on US soil. America, in turn, appears to be endorsing India as a newly significant partner — maybe an ally in near future.
But to quell Chinese concerns, why shouldn’t India call for Pakistan’s application and entry into the NSG as well? Sure, our Pakistan policy has been full of flip-flops, both sides making and reneging on commitments, and very low on mutual trust. But through it all, every time, the spoiler has tended to be the Pakistan military, its ISI intelligence network, and its non-state terrorist outfits.
Today, if India welcomes the idea of Pakistan joining the NSG, irrespective of whether the 48-member NSG can bring itself to ignore Pakistan’s sponsorship of terrorism, on top of its proliferation record; then we will effectively remove objections to our own bid. And if the 48 member NSG rejects Pakistan’s bid, it won’t be India’s fault, or China’s!
Meanwhile, Modi has just spoken to Russia for support, and will meet both Putin and Xi Jinping separately on the margins of other conferences before the NSG meets at Seoul on 24 June.
India, it has just been announced, is also likely to be admitted as a full member next year to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) where it is presently an observer. Pakistan, likewise, is going to be made a full member too. The SCO currently is a 6-member political, economic and military alliance, led by China and Russia.
India is already allied with China, Russia, South Africa and Brazil in BRICS, and runs the newly formed BRICS Bank with them all, locating it in China.
America, meanwhile, the most powerful country in the world, is coming to terms with the limits of that immense power. It has realised that its sanctions and prescriptions, its military alliances, even its own overwhelming conventional military might, can be flouted. And so, it has re-engaged with Iran, notwithstanding the latter’s stubborn refusal to drop its nuclear ambitions, ostensibly to generate clean electricity.
But of course, a nuclear power plant is coterminous, by its very nature, with the ability to produce weapons grade material. Still America has settled, after long negotiations — in the face of a more obdurate line its all-weather ally Israel and the fearful Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia urges on it — for a reasonable monitoring and a transparency regime instead.
Sanctions are lifted. Iran has come back to play its part in the world unrestricted. India, on its part, has wasted no time in re-engaging with Iran in the Chabahar port project, and the continued purchase of its oil, dating back to the thick of the sanctioned period, flouting them quietly, also.
President Obama, has likewise opened the door to Cuba, even as the ancient but doughty Fidel Castro spewed anti-America rhetoric — this while Obama was meeting with his younger brother Raoul in Havana. The US embassy in Cuba is open. Americans can visit and buy Cuban cigars legally. Cubans can come to America. The old sanctions and embargoes, dating back to the fifties when the self-same Fidel deposed President Batista, are being dismantled.
But for India, the most important of similar shifts in policy will necessarily have to come with regard to neighbouring Pakistan and China. This government realised it early. It lost no time in reaching out to both, albeit with mixed, some would say, minimal results. But, the possibility of ramping up this fresh reengagement with some bold and dynamic initiatives, are much greater.
India’s relations with both China and Pakistan are highly self-conscious because the popular perception is that neither can be trusted. Nevertheless, the pace of engagement and confidence-building measures has, in fact, picked up. So has trade, in the many billions in China’s favour, but now also, a 100 Chinese companies are already working in India, albeit quietly. India, in order to mollify China to drop its objections to India’s NSG membership, has also lifted further restrictions on various types of visas to Chinese nationals, and removed other irritants.
Inward FDI from China too is increasing by the day. It can be argued that China is following separate tracks for its engagement with India and Pakistan, and is not hyphenating the two, after all. This despite differences over border and land issues, Chinese claims on territory, in Arunachal Pradesh, borderland Uttarakhand, in Leh-Ladakh. And the blatant backing given to Pakistan, wrong or right, with regard to India.
These issues are not sorted though mechanisms for an ongoing dialogue have been set up, and are working quite well. But yes, there was a new incursion in the backdrop of India’s own vigorous NSG lobbying. The intrusion, this time, was in Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims in totality. There were 250 Chinese soldiers that intruded into Indian territory, albeit briefly. This, after almost a year, without any such incident.
Meanwhile, with regard to Pakistan, the two present prime ministers have developed a degree of rapport. But the Pakistani military/intelligence apparatus, not to mention its swarms of ‘non-state’ detractors, are suspicious, and hostile to any truck with India. That is why Pathankot happened just days after Modi’s impromptu visit to Lahore, and effectively derailed the bilateral talks.
But, looking deeper, with all 3 countries being nuclear-weapon states, there is a strategic, if not tactical, parity that the troika implicitly recognises. Of course, problems could arise, from a deliberate refusal to understand, and playing at brinkmanship instead. But that is where the balance of power which allies provide comes in. Pakistan leans on China, like it once leaned on America, and still does, a little; and now India leans on both America and Russia and a host of other military partners. It has become, in terms of the strategic and tactical plot, a little like a Woody Allen film.
A key, if broader dynamic, in describing all of this in the global context are the compulsions that quite a clutch of declared, and undeclared, nuclear-weapon states impose. Together, they number well into the double digits, despite the apex UNSC still numbering them as 5. Great Britain, France, America, China, and Russia, have been in place from soon after WWII.
There is desultory lobbying from India to be included. Of course, Pakistan wants in too, even though it is called a rogue state, a failed state, terrorist central, etc. It’s got China backing it to the hilt. The losers of WWII — Germany and Japan — both non-nuclear states, indeed scarcely militarised even now, want in. To reflect their economic stature and importance. And finally, there are the remaining overt or covert nuclear-weapon states such as Israel and South Africa. There are, in fact, enough contenders to bring it up to as many as 15, from the cosy, all-powerful, Security Council of 5.
At present this expansion plan is hanging fire too. There is a clamour that the 15 would more properly reflect the present day balance of power. But, are the Big 5 listening? It is true though that when, and if, the UNSC is expanded, it will need to let in maybe 10 new members — simultaneously; Pakistan and India amongst them.