Less Moralism, Please K SUBRAHMANYAM
The Times of India LEADER ARTICLE: 30 Jun 2007
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reverted to his pedagogical role while recently releasing a book on the new Asian power dynamics. Singh emphasised that the international system was about power relations and was not a morality play. Soon after, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pointed out that after the end of the Cold War, non-alignment does not make sense. This reflects an inadequate understanding of international politics by our political class. Sixty years after gaining political freedom the PM still needs to highlight the real nature of international politics. This has become necessary because both in terms of expectations of the behaviour of other countries and New Delhi’s responses to it, there are totally unrealistic assumptions among sections of our political class. While practising ruthless realpolitik in domestic politics, they tend to expect unreal moralistic standards in respect to international politics. Such expectations tend to hamper flexibility in the conduct of India’s foreign policy. They raise unrealistic expectations about how other nations should conduct themselves and what New Delhi can achieve in its interactions with other powers. During the period of the freedom struggle, morality was a justifiable instrument of agitation against Britain, which was, in spite of its possession of the biggest colonial empire, a practising democracy at home. However, it was inevitable that once India became independent, foreign policy had to be based on our national interest. Jawaharlal Nehru highlighted this often to the Constituent Assembly and Parliament. Advancing India’s own national interest in a complex, variegated, iniquitous international system with nations of varying levels of advancement, capabilities and power involves bargains with different countries and groups of like-minded countries with mutual interests. From the very beginning, Nehru’s goal was to develop India to take its place as one of the four major powers of the world along with the US, Soviet Union and China. For him non-alignment was a strategy: an instrument of policy and not an ideology. In a sense, non-alignment was the balance of power in a bipolar world where the two major blocs could not go to war with each other because of nuclear weapons. In spite of the US tilt towards Pakistan on Kashmir and its military pact with Islamabad, India did not hesitate to accept PL-480 aid and technological assistance for the green revolution. In 1962, at the time of Chinese attack, India appealed to the US and western countries for military assistance. New Delhi had no reservations in accepting whatever limited assistance came. Though the Indian communists called Nehru a running dog of imperialism in the immediate wake of independence, he cultivated the Soviet Union for technological assistance. Subsequently, the Soviet Union was the staunchest supporter of India against Chinese aggression and became the largest supplier of arms. When the US-China-Pakistan axis developed in 1971, India countervailed it with its friendship treaty with the Soviet Union. Even while not endorsing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the US action against it, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi cultivated President Ronald Reagan and entered into a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in military technology with the US. Indo-Soviet relations flourished at the same time. We must also understand that there was a wide gap between India’s public espousal of nuclear disarmament and its quest for nuclear weapons and missiles.