Book Review: INDIA’S FOREIGN POLICY
India's Foreign Policy - Coping with the Changing World by Muchkund Dubey Pearson, New Delhi, 2012 306 pages Foreign policy lessons This book is refreshingly different from what most other retired diplomats have written. There is no sharing of personal experience or boasting of being present on momentous occasions. There is no attempt at esoteric theorising. The author shares with the reader his lucid thoughts on the evolution of India’s foreign policy. He also makes cogent recommendations for action. The title says it all. Is not foreign policy all about how the country copes with the changing world around it and takes care of its interests? The author is much more than a retired diplomat. After retiring in 1991, he was Professor at the School of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University for eight years. He is an economist and is quick to spot the economic considerations behind foreign policy decisions. There are 12 chapters in all. The author himself says that the first one, “India’s Foreign Policy: Underlying Principles, Strategies, and Challenges Ahead”, is the most important one. The fundamental purpose of India’s foreign policy, and for that matter of any state, is to promote its national interest. But, there are complications. There is no single national interest. There are many. There is a hierarchy of such interests. By pursuing a particular interest, a state might reduce its ability to pursue another. Security is the pre-eminent national interest. But the author, with his background in social sciences and his abiding commitment to the poor, takes care to define security in a holistic manner. Security has military and non-military dimensions. Economic security, energy security, and environmental security, to name only a few, are important. The author brings in social inequalities, poverty, and denial of human rights in the consideration of national security. He is one of the very few of our thinkers to take such a holistic view of security. The foreign policy of India should contribute to world peace and prosperity. The author does not agree with the view that working for world peace might hurt the national interest. He points out that in the medium and long term, India will gain by having a peaceful and more just world. The “sheet anchor” of India’s foreign policy was non-alignment. The “most significant strivings” of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) have been in the areas of “development, peace, disarmament, decolonisation, the establishment of a just and equitable world order and the strengthening of multilateralism under the United Nations”. The reader will note the word “strivings” showing the analytical sharpness of the author. For years since independence, India’s foreign policy “admirably” served its interests. It gave India a higher profile than warranted by its economic or military strength. India chaired the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission following the armistice in Korea. It made a signal contribution to bringing about the 1954 Geneva Agreements on Indochina. But starting from the latter years of the Nehru era, it became evident that the policy had lost its “elan and effectiveness”. The military defeat in 1962 was a major setback; “semi-permanent” hostility with Pakistan had a “disabling effect” on the conduct of policy. By the mid-1960s, other countries had overtaken India in terms of economic development. India’s stature, particularly among the developing countries, declined. The trend was reversed starting from the early 1990s. India’s crushing defeat by Japan in the 1995 election to the Security Council dramatically demonstrated the country’s low standing in the comity of nations. The situation improved following the success of the economic reforms and the heightened growth rate of the economy. The 1998 nuclear tests also helped. Foreign heads of states came in one after another. The author shows his ability to look at the big picture when he draws the attention of the reader to the “domestic constraints” on foreign policy: poor infrastructure, poor performance on the social front, particularly health and education and similar factors. Analysing the major changes between 1980 and 1995, the author starts with the end of the Cold War. The good developments include the fall of the apartheid regime in South Africa, the restoration of the U.N. to its legitimate role and the progress in arms control between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, there was a marked decline of multilateralism under the U.N. The end of the Cold War did not lead to the emergence of a peaceful world order based on trust and cooperation among the great powers. NAM relevant The author does not agree that NAM has lost its validity in the post-Cold War world. Nor does he accept the argument that India should get out of G-77. For long, the developed countries have been trying to undermine and divide G-77. The “struggle for hegemony” did not disappear with the Cold War. The world order needs change. The essence of NAM is to judge issues on merit and not in the interest of a power or a power bloc. The major powers continue to try to impose their views on developing countries on issues such as trade liberalisation and climate change. Therefore, NAM and G-77 remain relevant. India is at the “receiving end” of the world order and should work for changing it. India focussed too much on its search for a permanent seat on the Security Council and neglected other reforms of the U.N. meant “to dilute the domination of the major powers”. The author even proposes the creation of a U.N. Rapid Deployment Force for peace-keeping. The reader might agree on the desirability of such a force even while doubting the chances of its actual formation. Big power domination is built into the charter and the big powers are in no mood to surrender their advantages in any substantial measure. He notes that IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) is the “most cohesive and natural grouping for economic cooperation”. BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) can play an important role in G-20. But the underlying differences among the members of the group need to be noted. China does not support the bid of India or Brazil for a permanent seat on the Security Council. The latter two are concerned with the undervalued yuan and the nature of China’s economic engagement with Africa. G-20 is important, but it is wrong to say that it has replaced G-7. Only issues for which cooperation from countries such as India, Brazil and China is required will be brought to G-20, which is used as a forum to get decisions taken elsewhere ratified. Countries such as India, Brazil, China and South Africa can be “scarcely expected” to demand a change in the world order. The 173 states outside the G-20 have an equal right to be at the decision-making table. The committed democrat in the author comes out strongly and clearly through his insightful observations. He urges developing countries, including India, to work for the strengthening of the U.N., a new international financial architecture and a nuclear weapon-free world, to combat protectionism and neo-protectionism, and to form a united front at the climate-change negotiations. Asia started forming new regional groupings starting from the 1980s, but India “found itself marginalised”. It took the initiative to get associated with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). India should not expect to be a full member of ASEAN. The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) should become a full-fledged regional grouping by moving towards a free-trade area. South Asia Free Trade Area (SAFTA), which came into force in 2006, is “deeply flawed”. The time target is too distant. The negative lists of exempted items are too long. India tried a sub-regional option by forming the South Asia Growth Quadrangle (SAGQ), consisting of the north-eastern region of India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. It made good sense, but there was too much opposition and it has not delivered so far. It was difficult to raise the money needed to improve the infrastructure. There is also the Kuming Initiative, linking the Yunan Province of China, the north-eastern region of India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Laos and Thailand. It has not taken off because India is “over-cautious” and has an “inferiority complex” vis-à-vis China. As regards the desirability of seeking foreign investment and the general question of globalisation, the author cautions India against rushing “headlong towards integrating with the world economy”. If India rushes in that direction, it will not be able to retain an independent and flexible foreign policy. Even China, much more integrated with the world economy than India, has “fully retained control over the strategic sectors of its economy”. Capital account convertibility should be avoided. Similarly, import-intensive production structures and import-based consumption patterns are not to be encouraged. Turning to military security, he says India “faces a direct and immediate threat” from Pakistan. India should note that Pakistan maintains its claim on Kashmir and has never given up the option of war to gain territory in Kashmir. Pakistan has harboured and trained terrorists carrying out terrorist acts against India. It has been raising the water issue even though the Indus Waters Treaty, according to many observers in India, is “tilted decisively” in favour of Pakistan. China poses another threat. At least a part of the medium-range missiles in Tibet are targeted at India. India should not be lulled into a position of “military unpreparedness vis-à-vis China”, he says. Source of threat The military bases and the deployment of nuclear forces of the extra-regional powers in its close vicinity can be a source of threat to India’s security. India cannot forget that the U.S. warship Enterprise came to threaten it in 1971, during the Bangladesh war. Given the threats mentioned above, India has to bolster its security, conventional and nuclear. India went overtly nuclear on account of the imminent threat of Pakistan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Both Pakistan and China have been augmenting and improving their nuclear arsenal. India should speed up its programme for minimum nuclear deterrence and second strike capability. But, India need not enter into any arms race with China or any other country. The author is broadly supportive of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). He supports and hopes for a nuclear weapon-free world in the future. He is a realist who does not abandon his dreams. The author is of the opinion that India tends to rely too much on the U.S. to solve its problems with Pakistan. Russia is important and relations with that country should be strengthened. On China, the author argues that India cannot afford to have hostile relations with it. Having normal relations with China can free vast resources that are currently devoted to defence. But does China want normal relations with India? He does not explore the option of India working together with the U.S., Japan and Vietnam in the context of the tension in the East China Sea and the South China Sea. But he has promised to write more books to deal with such matters in detail. Coming to neighbours, almost all neighbours “suffer from an identity crisis vis-à-vis India”, he says. At times India is overbearing and its policies are short-sighted. India should never interrupt dialogue and people-to-people contacts should be encouraged. The prose is pellucid and it is a delight to read the book. It should be read by the general public interested in foreign policy, especially the young people. Scholars and practitioners of diplomacy will benefit from the book. For the young diplomats in India and in other SAARC countries, it is essential reading. Finally, this is not Professor Dubey’s first book. We expect many more as he has promised, and that too, soon, dealing with matters not fully dealt with in the present one. This is one of the few books that describe the past and the present and at the same time prescribes for the present and the future.