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Nonalignment 2.0: India’s ‘new’ grand strategy? April 18, 2012

Posted by sandygordon in : India, Pakistan , trackback

Guest author: Aditya Parolia

The quest for an overarching foreign policy template or a grand strategy for India in the twenty-first century led to the publication of a recent report, entitled Nonalignment 2.0. Drafted under the aegis of the Centre for Policy Research and National Defence College, the report is authored by eight eminent Indian intellectuals, namely: former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, Sunil Khilnani, Rajiv Kumar, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Lt Gen (Retd) Prakash Menon, Nandan Nilekani, Srinath Raghavan, and Siddharth Varadarajan. The report has generated a much-needed debate on India’s foreign and strategic policy.

The report has also received attention outside India. Initial reaction to the report in the US has largely been critical. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace held a seminar on March 12, 2012. Presenters included Ashley Tellis, Teresita Schaffer, Richard Fontaine, and Sadanand Dhume. In the print media, The Wall Street Journal ran a piece by Tom White, entitled, “Non-alignment rising from the dustbin of history”. Expressing his disappointment outright, Wright wrote that “India’s foreign policy community of retired diplomats and generals can at times seem like they are living in the past.” http://blogs.wsj.com/indiarealtime/2012/03/22/non-alignment-rises-from-dustbin-of-history/So why is there hullabaloo about the report?

Whether India needs a grand strategy or not is debatable, but that it needs more debate on its foreign policy has clearly been indicated in the wake of Non-alignment 2.0. The term non-alignment is anathema to scholars and analysts advocating deepening and widening of the India-US ‘strategic partnership’. The report confirms that India’s suspicion of alliances – especially one with the US – is not just confined to the Left parties as was seen during the nuclear deal debates. An India “allying with none” was and likely continues to enjoy acceptance within India’s foreign and security policy establishment. This likelihood is no music to American ears. Although the US government has not responded to the document, consternation among American analysts and scholars is obvious. After all, US partnership with India constitutes a significant element in its policy in Asia. Accordingly, the report has generated enormous interest in the US, indicating how closely think-tanks in Washington are following the developments in India’s strategic thinking.  In fact, the report led one analyst to quip, “US had barely gotten over non-alignment 1.0; and non-alignment 2.0 is already here”. So what exactly does the document say?

The lack of a grand strategy in Indian foreign policy thinking has been felt since the end of Cold War. Arguably the three most significant shifts in Indian foreign policy since the end of Cold War – the 1990-91 economic reforms, 1998 nuclear tests, and 2005 nuclear agreement – were unavoidable responses induced by either crises or necessity, rather than driven by enlightened national interest. Non-alignment 2.0 for the first time formally delineates basic principles that should guide India’s foreign and strategic policy in this new century. The report discusses threats, opportunities, and goals – both internal and external – facing India in the 21st century. It advocates a new version of nonalignment that India should adopt to tackle those challenges and meet its objectives in an uncertain world. So, exactly how “new” is the Non-alignment 2.0 compared to the Nehruvian version of Non-alignment?

The report shares some of Pandit Nehru’s ideals. The commonalities include the goal of making India a great power by setting-up new standards of moral leadership. The report also maintains a hint of Nehruvian mistrust in India’s dealings with the West.  According to the report, “strategic autonomy has been the defining value and continuous goal of India’s international policy ever since the inception of the Republic.” Nonetheless, it diverges in the “means” to achieve those ends. Dr Ian Hall of the ANU argues that “despite the title, Nonalignment 2.0 looks quite different to Nehru’s original”. Indeed, the authors explicitly acknowledge the dramatic shifts in the international order and the need for Indian foreign policy to evolve accordingly [see paragraph 10].

Contrary to the socialist tendencies of the Nehruvian era, the report advocates that India should strive to maintain an ‘open global order’ [see paragraph 11]. The need for widening and deepening economic interdependence is recognized along with the imperative to strengthen democratic institutions in India. There is also a strong desire among the authors to promote India’s developmental model as a symbol of Indian exceptionalism. According to the authors, India’s pursuit of its values and interests in the international system depends on the success of its model that uniquely combines a rapidly growing free-market economy and robust democratic institutions [See paragraphs 2, 3, and 28]. Moreover, the authors also believe that India’s greatest asset is that it is not seen as a belligerent power by any country [See paragraph 20]. Accordingly, it is the soft power of India’s example that the authors believe has been underutilized.

The report identifies China and Pakistan as India’s main security challenges in the twenty-first century. Interestingly, the traditionally predominant Pakistan problem is increasingly being seen as part of the larger challenge posed by China [See paragraph 58]. Assessment of the Chinese threat is candid and realistic.  The prescriptions to address these threats include rapid normalization of relations with Pakistan and building of ‘asymmetric capabilities’, including in areas of cyber technology and naval power [See paragraphs 54 and 175].  Multilateral institutions are identified as crucial in not only addressing trade and currency issues but also in managing the rise of China [See paragraph 101]. Sufficient attention is also paid to internal security challenges. The report is surprisingly, and refreshingly, blunt about the failures of the Indian state. It berates internal security forces for acting as “predators” rather than protectors of Indian people [See paragraph 184]. Accordingly, it calls for a conflict prevention approach to dealing with internal threats.

Overall, the report raises more questions than it answers. There are lacunae in the document. For example, the report paid little attention to India’s most important ‘strategic partner’ – the US. The report embraces greater economic integration citing changes in the international landscape. Nonetheless, it does not similarly buy into the notion of creating greater strategic inter-linkages in order to deal with emerging military challenges.  The use of the term non-alignment certainly arouses curiosity but it does not necessarily impart clarity to India’s strategic goals and means. There is no mention of India’s substantive role in the emerging world order other than being a source of moral leadership. Prominent international relations scholars such Ian Hall and Ashley Tellis have questioned the moral weight of India’s example. While India has the largest and the most diverse functional democracy in the world, its democracy is also flawed by corruption and populism. Arguably, India will not be able to maintain “strategic equidistance” and lead only by the “power of its example” in the face of 21st century economic and military challenges.

The big question that the report overlooks is this: given increasing international uncertainty and domestic political fragmentation, will India have the resources and strategic space required to realize the bold agenda of the report without special partnerships? To my mind, the report does not answer this satisfactorily.



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