Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Powering India - In South Asia, as elsewhere, offense is the best form of defence.

+ In Bangladesh, we did not take suitable care of our friends, and did not commence offensive covert action after anti-India Khalida Zia came to power with her Islamist cabinet. While Zia refused Indian investigative assistance in the Chittagong arms haul of April 2004, the FBI, Scotland Yard, and Interpol are forcing a reopening of the case . +




Powering India - In South Asia, as elsewhere, offense is the best form of defence.

16/02/2005

The cycles of history, in relation to national powers, can rarely be altered. What goes up must come down. But sometimes, some powers understand the power matrix better, and work it to prolong their preeminence if not always glory.

The Twentieth Century was the American century, but the Twenty-first was not expected to be, but footloose America will still survive the challenges to its power, and remain a superpower for considerable more decades if not always a hyperpower. Iraq has blown its prestige somebit, and Iran would slide it down further, if it is mad enough to provoke a war there.

Britain was truer to the cycle of history, or rather couldn’t counter it, when the sun set on the empire soon after World War II. The Soviet Union collapsed to Russia at the end of the Cold War, and as the former Axis powers, Germany and Japan were militarily bridled, and they have reached the top economically, and it is now gradually downhill for them, the erstwhile East Germany taking down one, while Japan remains economically overheated.

The greatest survivor and prosperer of the Eighties-Nineties, and the early Twenty-first Century, is China, which has outpaced everyone in significance among the NPT powers, bar America. Such is it perceived as a countervailing force to the United States that Russia and France have decided to rearm it in a major way. China itself has broken its silence of decades by taking the opposite line of the US on Iran, incidentally the only big power to do so forcefully and publicly.

If you study the powers which have survived and prospered, examine those which have clawed their way to the top, or scan the others who have thrown it all away, you can make out somethings, but the most important is to have a complete and realistic understanding of national interests. Those who have grasped at their national interests completely and realistically, and pursued it to the end, have survived and prospered better than others, and this is truest in the case of the US and China.

To put it in crude terms, there has very rarely been a mismatch between American economic and military power, one always complementing the other. And China, which started out wretchedly poor at the close of World War II, also, through misses and hits, understood the crucial correlation between a powerful economy and a powerful military.

The UK, depleted at the end of World War II, could never stand on its own, not on the same pre-war terms, that is, and has survived since in the shadow of America. A sort of US pro-consul, if you like. It is in that capacity that it is now urging Pakistan to go democratic. In Germany and Japan’s case, their tragedy was historical. For having provoked World War II, they were barred for a specified time from rearmament, and it built enormous defensiveness into their collective psyche.

For Japan, this has turned out worse, because despite its obvious economic muscles, it has willy nilly accepted Chinese hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region. Occasionally, it does stand up to China, as it did in a recent case of Chinese submarine intrusion, but this is like a fleabite to China, because China has won the war, so to say, blocking off Japan from permanent membership in the UN Security Council with veto power. Germany, on the other hand, has had to play second fiddle to France in Europe, if you assume Britain to be in the US camp. Also, Germany has lost its chance to get to the top power table, denied the permanent Security Council membership like Japan and India.

What of India? How has it fared in the power game? The cycle of history has taken it to where it is now, but much more individual and institutional efforts are necessary to take it to the top, and keep it there for a respectable length of time. For that to happen, and for individuals, governments and institutions to help, India has to imaginatively, openly reexamine its national interests all over again, and determine the best ways to achieve them.

In the full grid of national interest, India and its role in South Asia forms a key component, and the foreign secretary, Shyam Saran, did some plain speaking on it two days ago . The plainspeak came in the background of criticism about India’s decision to stay away from the SAARC summit in Bangladesh, the provocation being King Gyanendra’s coup in Nepal, and Saran has admirably articulated India’s interests through it all.

But one thing is missing, or rather, not elaborated in his speech, understandably perhaps, which is India’s willingness and capability to advantageously change the environment in the neighbourhood. This is a prerequisite to great power status, and India cannot shy away from it. How this happens in case, for example, India wants democracy in the neighbourhood is by actively encouraging the pro-democracy forces, but if stability is sought, that has to be chased after separately. Indira Gandhi actively changed the environment by creating Bangladesh and annexing Sikkim, but the spirit has become less willing since, although the instrumentalities of change are stronger.

Without a suitably changed environment, India’s security cannot be guaranteed. The pressure on Bhutan and now Myanmar to squeeze North-East terrorist groups but mainly ULFA is part of this environment-control mechanism, but more needs to be done. In India’s present ranking as a “super regional power”, Gyanendra should not have been allowed his coup, if the Royal Nepalese Army, essential to the king’s power, had been consistently cultivated and won over. In Bangladesh, we did not take suitable care of our friends, and did not commence offensive covert action after anti-India Khalida Zia came to power with her Islamist cabinet. While Zia refused Indian investigative assistance in the Chittagong arms haul of April 2004, the FBI, Scotland Yard, and Interpol are forcing a reopening of the case .

Today, security cannot be gained by turning inward and hiding behind a fortress. As for fortresses, the German forces outflanked the great Maginot Line in 1940. Defensive security is meaningless in an age of smart munitions, long-range missiles, and human bombs masquerading as international travelers, and offense remains the best form of defence. The sole surviving superpower, the US, and the emerging great power, China, are absolutely fiendish and offensive about their security and national interests, and they are clear about sanitising the environment, near and far. So should India be.