Wingless dreams

Reform of Security Council

The outcome of the visit by the United States President Barack Obama shows that the two countries took pains to balance their respective interests. The Indian ‘sherpas’ did well.

Now, as the carnival gets over and the morning-after dawns, it is time to reflect on the journey ahead. The sobering reality is that all three gains of the Obama visit are ‘conditional’ and the Washington bureaucracy is known to drive hard bargains — US endorsement of India’s bid for UN Security Council permanent membership, amending the so-called Entities List and support for India’s membership of international technology control regimes.

Make no mistake, the US’ own ‘check-list’ is still intact: 3 pending military agreements and the Nuclear Liability Bill, which has got to be watered down to accommodate US business interests.

With regard to Security Council, a hiatus already exists. The Indian estimation has since been forcefully articulated: “We are entering the Security Council (in January as a non-permanent member) after a gap of 19 years... We have no intention of leaving the Security Council. In other words, before we complete our two-year term, we will be a permanent member.”

Pat came the response of the US state department: “I would caution against expecting any kind of breakthrough anytime soon… I think the president and others have made it clear that this (UN reform) is going to be a long and complicated process and that we’re committed to a modest expansion both of permanent and non-permanent seats.”
Actually, the Indian optimism is intriguing — and worrisome. There is worldwide acceptance of the need for UN reform, but forming a reform package within a two-year period and getting two-thirds majority in the General Assembly seems improbable. The recent RIC (Russia-India-China) foreign-minister level meet at Wuhan retracted from its relatively favourable position at the Bangalore session last year.

Russia has added a caveat to its earlier support for India — an international consensus — and China remains ambivalent. The five permanent members aren’t in any hurry to erode the exclusivity of their club. Then, many countries with vaulting ambition like India, are convinced of own credentials: Japan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Germany, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and so on.

So, how much to expand, who all should come in, whether it should be on regional basis or rotational, what about Islamic world, who should have veto power — these remain intractable questions. Finally, Pakistan will do its utmost to frustrate the Indian bid, since if India’s bid succeeds, its strategic pre-eminence in the Indian Ocean region becomes unstoppable.

RIC meet

Unfortunately, Security Council membership dream has become the leitmotif of Indian diplomacy. The RIC meet witnessed an uncharacteristic Indian display of muscular diplomacy. The RIC, of course, is an entity that the US loved to strangle in its cradle. But we have no reason to serve as Uncle Sam’s instrument. Like any serious regional power, India would rather aspire in today’s fluid international situation to optimise its regional networking instead of rendering ineffectual the potentially useful forums.

Obama exhorted the Indian elites to ‘engage’ the Asia-Pacific, which is code word for joining the US strategies toward China. There are ‘hawks’ within the Indian establishment who would respond to Obama’s call, assuming it is an invitation to the barricades. (They already did once in 2005.) But what is the essence of the US’ new power game in the Asia-Pacific?

China has integrated far more than India into the western-sponsored global trading and financial system and its economy is closely intertwined with the US — Beijing often speaks of ‘mutually assured dependence’ betwixt the US and China. Without doubt, Washington will roll out the red carpet for the state visit by Chinese President Hu Jintao to Washington in January and make it a ‘historic success,’ as secretary of state Hillary Clinton promised. The ailing US economy needs a big hand from China.

The US works for a close and productive relationship with China while keeping other Asian powers as standbys (‘hedge’) to meet contingencies that may arise when China emerges as the world’s largest economy. On the contrary, India has specific interests with regard to China and has a highly problematic relationship — and we aren’t lacking in expertise on Sinology.

Again, the joint statement on Obama’s visit fudged our position on the Iran issue — namely, the issue should be settled at the IAEA (rather than Security Council); Iran has the right to pursue a nuclear programme; and, the sanctions route is avoidable — and instead it reflected the US stance focusing on Iran’s unilateral compliance. It also overlooked the contradictions over David Headley.

As regards AfPak, the government agreed to ‘coordinate’ with the US on Afghanistan. Yet, the grim reality is that a long-term US military presence is heavily predicated on the cooperation of the Pakistani military, which remains rooted in its ‘India-centric’ mindset. These are worrying signals and are inconsistent with the prime minister’s open statement regarding the ‘terror machine’ in Pakistan.

Having made the UN Security Council issue the leitmotif of foreign policy, the government may count on launching its millennium dream on American wings. But in international diplomacy, there is nothing like free lunch. The optimism of Indian diplomats that their government’s dream will materialise by end-2012 gives cause for serious concern.

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