February 28, 2012

INDIA IN NO WAY A FREELOADER

Kapil Sibal,
Mail Today

India is criticized in US circles for its reluctance to take position on difficult issues facing the international community, for fence-sitting and avoiding decisions that could carry political costs. It is accused of piggy-backing on the exertions the West makes to uphold the international order, without assuming its share of the resonsibility. Many Indian commentators join in such disparagement of India’s foreign policy.

DISCRIMINATION

But is India really a freeloader on the international system, enjoying its benefits but shirking responsibility for sustaining it? India, in reality, has been discriminated against and even punished by those who created the system in 1945 and who still resist calls to restructure it to reflect contemporary shifts in global power. India’s permanent membership of the Security Council is still a far away prospect. Without this India’s role is to implement decisions, not shape them, apart from having to tolerate an inferior international status vis a vis China.

The international financial institutions are still dominated by US and Europe; the G-8 has been expanded to G-20, not to cede control of economic and financial levers but to preserve the exisiting system by co-opting a larger number of players, mostly allies of the West.

The NPT and the non-proliferation regime spawned by it, discriminatory ab initio against India, has been an instrument, bilaterally and through the NSG, to punish its nuclear sector with international sanctions for decades. The CTBT negotiations recall the animus in the international system against India’s nuclear posture. Our missile and space programmes have been targetted by technology denial regimes like the MTCR.

Changed international thinking on India’s nuclear programme has come at a price. India has had to accept onerous non-proliferation obligations not applicable to the five nuclear weapon states. India is still denied recognition as a nuclear weapon state; it remains outside the NSG and MTCR; its access to dual use technology is still a problem. The pressure on India to dilute its nuclear liability legislation shows that an independent approach to issues hitherto determined by the dominant nuclear power is not accepted.

By not joining any alliance system, India has tried to deal with its security problems on its own. Unlike many countries who by outsourcing their security to the US reduced their own defence burden and, as in the case of Japan and Germany, concentrated on building their economies that later challenged US interests, India has not benefitted from any such “free-loading”. It has received no military aid either. On the contrary the US has endangered India’s security by arming Pakistan- a massive “free-loader”- and winking at its clandestine acquisition of nuclear weapon technology.

China too has been a “free-loader”. It was built up strategically in the 70s by the US to counter the Soviet Union, with prodigious economic support from its allies as well. The US repeatedly overlooked China’s egregious nuclear and missile proliferation activities. Today China has become a strategic competitor of the US. It seeks to revise, not uphold the US built international system. India has neither enjoyed such latitude and support from the US, nor does it not seek to undermine US interests. So, in what way has India “piggy-backed” on the US?

ENERGY

The security of the sea lanes of communication in the Indian Ocean is critical for China’s trade and energy flows. The US, in mounting cooperation with India, is active in providing maritime security with its naval assets in the Indian Ocean. The US, it is argued, is underwriting the stability of the Gulf region, which is a vital source of energy for China, through its political and military presence there. Even as China benefits from the US security presence in the Indian Ocean/Gulf area, it is challenging the US strategically in the South China Sea before it extends its presence into the Pacific and the Indian Oceans to cause further strategic headaches to India and the US in the future. This is “free-loading”.

US is pressing India to downgrade its ties with Iran, and unmindful of India’s energy security, Iran’s oil sector is being targetted. US policies are exposing India to the double jeopardy of rupture of relations with Iran and a higher financial burden because of increasing oil prices. India can probably buy additional oil from Saudi Arabia, but at prevailing commercial prices, bringing India no benefit. India is not “free-loading”, it is bearing the costs of US policy.

INDEPENDENCE

The changes in the Arab world in the name of democracy or the Right to Protect are bringing to power Islamist regimes. US intervention in Iraq has brought neither democracy not stability to the region, even as it has strengthened Iran’s position. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been harnessed to lead the charge against the secular Syrian regime. The promotion of a Shia-Sunni conflict, with Iran and Saudi Arabia as protagonists and US and its partners playing a dangerously ambiguous game with Israeli prodding, imposes unwanted choices on countries like India that have no rational interest in choosing sides.

Demanding India’s support for dubious interventionist, regime change policies in which negotiations are excluded unless those targetted capitulate, and on not obtaining it to accuse India of “slapping the US in its face” is hectoring, not diplomacy. Why does India’s unwillingness to endorse questionable policies without demur mean “fence-sitting”? Is it advisable that we suspend our judgment on the merits of issues from our perspective to become eligible for rewards for opportunism? And if the US opens the space further for Islamism in our region, and this includes negotiations with the Taliban and exposing Afghanistan to an increasingly radicalized Pakistan, how will have India “piggy-backed” on US policies?

The writer is a former Foreign Secretary(sibalkanwal@gmail.com)

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