Cold War II on cards

Accession of Crimea

A world that had become unipolar after the breakup of the USSR in 1991 would now become bi-polar once again with two distinct powers.

Crimea, a part of Ukraine since 1954, in the recent referendum conducted there has voted to join Russian Federation. When Crimea officially joins Russia, we can expect more economic and political sanctions against Russia by the Americans and Europeans. A second cold war would begin. A world that had become unipolar after the breakup of the USSR in 1991 would now become bi-polar once again with two distinct powers – the West and Russia and its allies. For India, it would be a tough call on its external affairs policy.

After the World War II, the world got divided into two groups: During the short interlude between India’s independence and 1964, India under Pandit Nehru followed a non-alignment policy and took a leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement. However, after the China war of 1962, India got rattled to the core and during the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi, the nation’s foreign policy tilted clearly towards the USSR which viewed China and US with equal disdain.

During the 1971 war with Pakistan, USSR had been very helpful. After the breakup of USSR, India went back again to its favoured non-alignment mode and made amends to the US and Europe in terms of easing the earlier trade and other restrictions. The post-1991 emergence of the single power centre in the West and the 1991 economic literalisation in India have to be seen in the same continuum. Now the world is again likely to get bipolar. When there are two power centres, it is always worrisome for the others. What should India do? Should it tilt towards the West or towards Russia? Should it get back to non-alignment?

We have discovered - particularly after the jolt of the 1962 China war - that non-alignment policy provided us with no real friends, friendly nations on who we could bank upon during armed conflict or during economic predicament. When India was non-aligned, the West and the Soviet group had both been distant observers during our problems on our borders with China and Pakistan. In fact, they seemed to join hands to scuttle Indian initiative whenever it showed any signs of development in nuclear or space or some other technology.

Countries like Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland may be good examples of non-alignment where the policy of distancing has kept them away from trouble. Their particular geography and their long-standing peaceful coexistence with their neighbours are the reason for the positive results from their guiding principle of non-alignment.

However, the history of India has burdened the nation with congenital problems of boundary and area disputes – some at the time of independence and others inherited from the British rule a century or more ago. To provide immunity from trouble from others and to uplift the nation from abysmal poverty, a non-alignment external policy is futile. Non-alignment is suited neither for a fledgling nor for a weakling. It is in India’s interest to clearly join a super-power group.

The power centreLet us look at Russia as the power centre. During the earlier 1971 Pakistan war, USSR helped India politically. In every subsequent tricky international situation, USSR and Russia have bailed us out. The latter is also a major arms supplier for our defence needs. Almost two-thirds of our military equipment is bought from Russia; that the quality of the equipments is lower than desired is a different question. Brahmos missiles, fighter aircraft, transport aircraft, production of Sukhoi-30 aircraft and T-90 tanks are examples of such support received by India in the field of defence.

India and Russia have high levels of mutual collaboration in almost all areas including political, security, trade and economy, defence, science and technology and culture. Russia is its time-tested trusted ally.

However, today India’s priorities are: prevention of terror from across its borders, containment of China in its geo-political expansionist designs and most importantly sustaining of economic development. In the fight against terror, mostly from the Af-Pak region, Russia is of very little utility today. With China, it may have a soft corner as a compatriot socialist who is trying to make good in a capitalist world economy. Russia may have little to say if and when any armed confrontation would occur between India and China. Indo-Russian trade is $11 billion of which India’s exports are $3 billion. This is not much to tilt the balance in favour of the Russian block.

The Western block is a solid market for Indian goods and services. India exported goods worth $36 billion and commercial services worth $17 billion to the US in 2011. IT services and BPO services from India are substantially used by the Western block of countries. Much of the technology input in the IT and other technical services area comes from the West.

If India takes care to nurture this market, it will grow considerably. Of course, the recent indications are that the US is getting disenchanted with India. American Food & Drug Administrator came to India and complained about quality of Indian pharmaceutical and food products. In a seemingly unrelated field, India’s embassy official Devyani Khobragade is now once again indicted. These are rumblings below the surface. It may be a show of discontent over India not being sufficiently friendly to the US block.

In India’s fight against terror, US could be a valuable partner as both are fighting for the same cause. If a sizable border skirmish were to occur with China, US may use its economic influence with China and thus help India. Chinese and American economies are now quite intertwined and hence the possible influence. But for US and EU to hold interest in India, the latter will have to do some homework.

It has to tidy up its governance systems. When the second cold war happens, it is in India’s interest to take a clear stand to be with the democratic forces, whatever their flaws.(The writer is a former professor at IIM, Bangalore)

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