Polaris A Takshashila Institution Blog on International Politics and Security

Visions and Revisions

07.27.2009 · Posted in Indian foreign policy

What are the distinct “schools” of Indian foreign policy thought? 

Rahul Sagar, a professor at Princeton and a rising academic star, has a bold piece in the most recent issue of International Affairs on Indian foreign policy. While a subscription is required to access the full text, a shorter version of his article also appeared in January on the CASI web site. In essence, Sagar argues that there are four broad visions of India’s foreign policy, of how Indian power and influence should be used. He labels their adherents “moralists,” who uphold the traditional Nehruvian vision, “Hindu nationalists,” “strategists,” and “liberals.”

I have a few reservations about Sagar’s breakdown. First, the Hindu nationalist view has not had a significant impact on policy, nor has it yet provided genuine foreign policy alternatives, not even during the six years of BJP-led rule (1998-2004). Furthermore, the BJP’s fortunes, India’s heterogeneity and the structural constraints of both Indian domestic and international politics make it increasingly unlikely that it will do so in the medium-term future. Secondly, those he cites as “strategists” are in fact a rather diverse group, whose philosophies and policy recommendations often conflict with one another. And third, the “strategists” and “liberals” are not really mutually exclusive groups. Indian defence experts have demonstrated a growing appreciation of the economic dimensions of India’s strategic policy, while security is widely seen as a necessary element of the economic development upon which liberals place emphasis. 

I’m consequently more partial to Kanti Bajpai’s decade-old trifurcation of the Indian strategic community. To my knowledge, Bajpai first articulated these divisions in a widely-cited (but, unfortunately, no longer web-available) article in The Hindu in November 1999, entitled “The Great Indian Nuclear Debate.” Three months later, in a lecture, Bajpai elaborated upon these schools of thought on nuclear strategy, expanding them into three broad policy “choices” on nuclear policy, grand strategy and political values (full text available here). He termed the three brands of grand strategy Nehruvianism, modernism and hyper-realism/hyper-nationalism. I’m uncomfortable with the terms he uses, but not with the essence and broad contours of each “choice.” 

Last year, in an article in Pragati, I elaborated somewhat on the “modernist” foreign policy vision (although I did not use that term). Its primary characteristics, I felt, included “a prioritisation of the country’s economic development, an emphasis on diplomacy, a strict maintenance of Indian sovereignty, a distrust of alliances, a consideration of balances of power, an abstention from direct interference in the internal affairs of other states, and a willingness to bilaterally engage all states, including those with competing interests.” I argued that this vision had been consistently pursued by both NDA and UPA governments since at least 1998. 

The visions articulated by the other two camps, in contrast, were unlikely to gain traction with Indian governments of the medium-term future, barring hugely dramatic and unforeseen changes to either India’s political structures or its international context.

On the one hand, you have hawkish nationalistic realists who place an emphasis on India’s military development and are dismissive of diplomatic and commercial engagement with other states. They frequently ignore economic considerations, the effects of globalisation and the changing nature of power in the international system. At the other end of the spectrum are idealists who prioritise multilateral policies, favour economic autarky, and are desirous of altering the world order rather than working within it. They overlook the benefits of economic development, downplay the difficulties of working against the prevailing world order, and view the world in Manichean blacks and whites.

By neglecting increasingly important economic imperatives, setting unrealistic objectives and regarding the world as essentially hostile, both world-views are ill-equipped for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. Moreover, both fringes have little to boast of in terms of political bases, and have even less cachet with the largely self-selecting upper reaches of the bureaucratic hierarchy. While their voices may continue to resonate loudly, and may continue to be used for domestic political purposes, they are unlikely to significantly influence key policy decisions by governments in power.

Yeah, We Get It…

Poor Harsh Pant. He’s one of the brightest and most prolific Indian strategic scholars of his generation, and I believe his book Contemporary Debates in Indian Foreign and Security Policy is a must-read. But he also has an unfortunate knack for belatedly analyzing Indo-U.S. relations.

In the lead-up and immediate aftermath of Barack Obama’s election last year, plenty of commentators noted that Obama’s positions on several issues could run him afoul of New Delhi. Here’s C. Raja Mohan (Nov. 3) and yours truly (Nov. 8). Even The Washington Post (Nov. 13) picked up on India’s wariness, bless their hearts. For some reason, it took three months for Dr. Pant to stumble upon this (Feb. 1). By then, the Kashmir worries had died down substantially with Richard Holbrooke’s formal appointment (Jan. 22) and Obama’s protectionist rhetoric had subsided somewhat .

The initial concerns voiced about Obama gave way, soon enough, to worries that India was just not on his administration’s radar screen. It was simply irrelevant. Among plenty of others, Tunku Varadarajan raised this in Forbes (Feb. 16), as did Aziz Haniffa (Feb. 27), and even Polaris (Mar. 2) got into the act. By the time it was argued by Dr. Pant (Mar. 24), Obama’s “new-found” irrelevance had become a little “old-found.”

Well, now Dr. Pant uses Hillary Clinton’s recent visit as a hook to resurrect Indian concerns about Obama. Twice.

Update: I should clarify that no malice is intended here. As I said at the outset, I’m a big fan of Pant’s writings on Indian foreign policy debates in general. This is simply the product of several observations.

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Rihanna Explains Asian Security

One of the more unusual diplomatic traditions takes place at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). To break the ice, delegations put on skits as the final dinner comes to a close, often involving song and/or dance. This can sometimes lead to some awkwardness on the parts of stuffy diplomats, as entertainingly described here.

So given that this is the message being sent by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the lead up to the ARF summit in Thailand—

The United States is back…I believe strongly the United States has to be involved in this region…There is a great sigh of relief in some places…We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment: that if the United States extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to develop the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it is unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer.

—she could do a lot worse than this as her routine:

You have my heart/And we’ll never be worlds apart
Maybe in magazines/But you’ll still be my star
Baby cause in the dark/You can’t see shiny cars
And that’s when you need me there/With you I’ll always share
Because when the sun shines, we’ll shine together
Told you I’ll be here forever/Said I’ll always be a friend
Took an oath I’ma stick it out till the end
Now that it’s raining more than ever
Know that we’ll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella (Ella ella eh eh eh)
Under my umbrella (Ella ella eh eh eh)

Special envoy for climate change Todd Stern could even do the Jay-Z rap intro:

No clouds in my storms/Let it rain, I hydroplane in the bank
Coming down with the Dow Jones/When the clouds come we gone—
we Roc-A-Fella
She fly higher than weather/And G5’s are better, you know me
An anticipation, for precipitation/Stacked chips for the rainy day
Jay, Rain Man is back with little Miss Sunshine/[Hillary] where you at?

A bonus treat would be the Pakistani delegation performing “Disturbia” (lyrics here). On second thought, perhaps the verisimilitude would be too much. Just check this out:


The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Husain Haqqani
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Joke of the Day

Update:  The bloggers at Passport, I see, are also Rihanna fans.

Climate Change Heats Up

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India has lent considerable attention to climate change as an area of discord in the bilateral relationship, resulting (most notably) in this showdown between her and Jairam Ramesh:

The disagreement between the two states on tackling climate change has hints of both the nuclear disarmament stand-off from the 1960s to 1990s (similar aims but different methods, and the perceived inequality between ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’) and the ongoing Doha Round of the WTO negotiations (the ability to threaten India’s development and the livelihoods of a large segment of its population).

Environmental enthusiasts have taken the occasion of Clinton’s visit to voice some of their concerns about India’s position. For a sampling, see editorials in the Financial Times (“Delhi is right that the rich nations must do far more to reduce carbon emissions than the poor. The rich created the problem. But India is irresponsible in flatly rejecting any global targets.”) and The New York Times (“[India] needs to do more…as a major contributor to global warming — to join the developed countries in cutting greenhouse gas emissions.”),  and op-eds in the FT and The Wall Street Journal.

It is the last article in the WSJ that is in many respects the most thought-provoking, as it addresses the core issues being contested by India and the United States on climate change. The author argues that just as the developed countries did not consider the environmental problems associated with industrialization until recently, the developing countries did not anticipate the complications associated with population growth. The developed and developing countries therefore should share the blame and responsibility for the environmental problems of the present and future, as they contributed to both the pollution and the number of polluters.

Okay. But there is an important difference. It is one thing for governments to have provided legislation to curb environmental degradation, especially for the industries most responsible. Legislating for consumers has proven (and will prove) much, much more difficult, most notably because it restricts personal choice. For similar reasons, legal restriction on the rights of citizens to reproduce has been, and will be, all but impossible in a liberal, democratic society. China did famously enforce a one-child policy, but when Sanjay Gandhi attempted population control through sterilisation in India, it was clearly unacceptable. The piece, therefore, betrays an unappreciation of basic liberal democratic values.

Secondly, if you were to use the article’s arguments to fashion a workable climate regime, one that results in a legally binding structure that falls short of per capita emissions, you would end up in a situation whereby a resident of India would legally be more restricted in his or her ability to produce emissions at the same level as a resident of the United States. Whether this is based on 1950, 2000 or 2050 population figures is almost irrelevant; a state-based regime will be inherently unequal to certain groups in certain states. All this means is that: a) it will be rejected by those countries and populations it does not favour, probably more vehemently than even the non-proliferation regime, since people’s livelihoods are at stake, and b) it will increase the pressures of migration to places where individuals will be less restricted in their ability to develop and prosper.

So by furthering an argument that is both unreasonable and unworkable, the environmental lobby is just shooting itself in the foot.

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My Latest in IE

As Hillary Clinton arrives in India on a three-day visit, I write in The Indian Express that merely setting a good diplomatic tone is not enough, given the developments in the Indo-U.S. bilateral relationship over the past decade. 

The run-up to Clinton’s visit suggests a varied agenda, from well-trodden areas of long-standing divergence to little-explored pathways towards closer collaboration. Clinton, naturally, inherits some initiatives from the previous US administration. The expected announcement of two sites for American nuclear power plants (possibly in Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh), specific cooperation on civilian space activities and the highly-anticipated End-User Verification Agreement meant to facilitate defence commerce would all fall under this category.

Other breakthroughs unveiled on this trip are likely to involve major symbolic or organisational changes, which need not automatically generate material benefits despite the considerable fanfare accompanying them. This could characterise what could be the most headline-grabbing announcement of her trip: a six-pillared bilateral strategic dialogue…

Lastly, three areas provide room for substantive advancements in the months and years ahead: agricultural productivity and rural infrastructure, education and human development, and climate change and environmental issues. Clinton explicitly mentioned all three in the lead-up to her departure. The last will be one to watch out for. The Obama administration is eager to develop a workable mechanism to tackle climate change, and Clinton has repeatedly mentioned the need for a “win-win solution” to the problem for the United States and the major developing economies, such as India. The secretary of state is even being accompanied to India by her special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern. Her Indian interlocutors could use the opportunity to articulate both their concerns and their willingness to play a constructive role in fashioning a workable climate change protocol.

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It's Not Cricket

07.16.2009 · Posted in Cricket, Uncategorized

Roger Bate of the American Enterprise Institute has a trite, meandering article  in The American on cricket, which came to my notice only because it was featured on Arts & Letters Daily. On top of the illogical comparisons between cricket and baseball, which are reminiscent of the idle chatter of adolescent public school layabouts (“Tendulkar would make a reasonably good baseball player.” “Ryan Howard of the Phillies might be able to play for a decent cricket team, but his immobility would make him a liability.”), I was mildly taken aback by this sentence:

While there is no love lost between Red Sox Nation and Yankees fans, India and Pakistan almost went to war over cricket (and who knows, they still might). 

Wadekar Test Fifty? Pray tell, Mr. Bate, when exactly did the two nations come to the brink of war over a bat-and-ball sport? Was it, by any chance, a byproduct of cricket diplomacy? Were East Pakistani refugees fleeing a post-match lathi charge? Was 26/11 simply a few firecrackers gone wrong at the Brabourne? 

India and Pakistan may at times be petty and vengeful, but Lilliput and Blefuscu they are not. The spreading of such misinformation (which, in some hands, is disinformation; I give Bate the benefit of the doubt) is reprehensible, not to mention irresponsible.

As Nitin quips:

I recall the USA and USSR went to war over Cuban cigars.

Hillary Clinton on India

Hillary Clinton’s ‘landmark’ foreign policy speech on the eve of her trip to India had little, in fact, to do with India. She made only three mentions in her prepared remarks, only one of which was of any significance: “This week, I will travel to India, where External Affairs Minister Krishna and I will lay out a broad-based agenda that calls for a whole-of-government approach to our bilateral relationship.”

She did get asked one question, though, by former U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka Teresita Schaffer (who, incidentally, just came out with a good book on U.S.-India relations). As it hasn’t made it to the State Department web site, let me post the full text from the transcript below (emphasis mine):

QUESTIONER:  You’re about to go to India, and I wanted to ask you about what you expect to get out of the trip.  Presumably, a lot of it will be on the bilateral side, but I wanted to ask if you could focus a little bit on the foreign policy and global part of your agenda. 

Are there issues where you see a real prospect of working together with India?  Are there others that are tougher?  And, what do you see as the entry point there? 

CLINTON:  Well, Ambassador, we are delighted that our two countries will be engaging in a very broad, comprehensive dialogue.  It’s the most wide-ranging that I think has ever been put on the table between India and the United States. 

It has six pillars to it, one of which, of course, is foreign policy, strategic challenges, along with, you know, other matters like health, and education, and agriculture and the economy.  So, I don’t want to, you know, prejudge, but it is clear that everything is on the table to discuss. 

We believe India has a tremendous opportunity and a growing responsibility, which they acknowledge, to play not just a regional role but a global one as well.  How they choose to define, that we will explore in-depth during the course of our discussion. 

But, obviously, there are a number of areas where we would welcome Indian leadership and involvement that are difficult.  There’s nothing easy about nonproliferation.  Anybody who ever read Strobe Talbott’s book, “Engaging India,” knows that it’s a very difficult issue.  But, we want to look at new ways for global and regional regimes on weapons of mass destruction, particularly nuclear. 

We’re very interested in the role that India sees for itself in the immediate area — you mentioned Sri Lanka, what are the, you know, military and particularly naval implications of decisions that India is making going forward? 

The economic actions that India is taking — they weathered the beginning of the recession better than many places, what are they going to do to keep generating growth, lifting people out of poverty?  The Congress Party made a number of, you know, important campaign promises to the poor, particularly the rural poor. 

When I’m there I will visit the first LEED-certified building in India to talk about climate change and clean energy.  We know that India and China have understandable questions about what role they should be expected to play in any kind of new global climate change regime. 

Our special envoy for climate change, Todd Stern, will be with me.  And, you know, it is our hope that we can, through dialogue, come up with some win-win approaches.  And this LEED-certified building is a perfect example of what India would be capable of doing. 

I will also be visiting an agricultural facility because, you know, India is, you know, really hoping to continue to expand agricultural productivity.  But, then they have to create an infrastructure so that the crops get to a market.  We have to have farm-to-market roads.  You have to have storage and refrigeration facilities. 

So, I think that this is an extremely rich area.  I’ve just touched the surface of it.  So, I’m excited.  I’m very much looking forward to my meetings with the prime minister, and certainly with Minister Krishna and others in India.  And, you know, we’re going to do everything we can to broaden and deepen our engagement.  [Council on Foreign Relations]

Update: Let’s not get our hopes up yet about the substantive developments that might be unveiled during the Secretary of State’s visit. From what I gather, and from her own words today, there is likely to be an announcement on a formal strategic dialogue led by the EAM and Secretary of State (which will no doubt be given a fancy name, hopefully better than the clunky Next Steps in Strategic Partnership). It will consolidate the thirty-odd dialogues currently underway between the two countries on a variety of issues, and is no doubt the same as the “whole-of-government approach” she alluded to during her prepared statement.

In addition, or as part of this overarching mechanism, there could be the announcement of (1) certain breakthroughs on the space cooperation front, (2) the formal disclosure of two sites for U.S. nuclear power plants (possibly at Mithirvirdi in Gujarat and Kowadi in Andhra Pradesh), (3) and—assuming it’s negotiated in time—the End User Verification Agreement (EUVA). Note that the advent of the strategic dialogue is a change more organizational than substantive, while the latter three are holdovers from the previous administration. 

Clinton’s vague reference to non-proliferation and its difficulties during her answer to Ambassador Schaffer may be cause for concern, and was slightly undiplomatic coming so soon after the G-8 statement on reprocessing (and surprising, given her good ear for India’s sensitivities). Her suggestion of consultation with India on climate change was a positive. Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised by her mention of agricultural cooperation in what was a relatively short list of agenda items. We’ll have to see if something concrete appears on that front.

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The Book of Recession

07.16.2009 · Posted in Global Economy, Religion, Singapore, Uncategorized

Singapore’s economy appears to have bounced 20.4% this last quarter. That may be good for the Little Red Dot, but it’s bad for God. Confused? So am I.

And it seem that many in Singapore are putting their trust in religion rather than governments to end the recession.

In the newly-extended Bartley Christian Church they have been praying for jobs and an end to the economic crisis.

Senior Pastor William Lee explained: “Whenever there is any natural calamity or financial crisis, the people will always turn to a power higher then themselves because they will realise that governments, too, may be confused, resources may be limited and when they are at the end of themselves there is the inbuilt, innate desire to turn to God.” [Euronews]

Check out the entire (bizarre) video report here. Only in Singapore!

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The Empress of Misunderstandings

07.11.2009 · Posted in U.S. Politics, Uncategorized

Alaska Governor and former U.S. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin has given an interview to Runner’s World, and—in a statement curiously consistent with her stance on climate change—she says she loves warm weather:

I think you guys who get a lot of warm weather take it for granted and you shouldn’t. I thought that was a great part of the campaign—we’d be out there at events or up there on stage just sweatin’ like pigs, and I loved it.

Comparing herself to a pig seems quite strange, given her campaign’s outrage at Barack Obama’s notorious ‘lipstick on a pig’ statement just ten months ago. Has she already forgotten?

When I run, I’m totally incognito because I’m not wearing the trough full of makeup. 


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Jumping Through Hoops

07.10.2009 · Posted in U.S. Military

The F-22 Raptor, lost in cross-court translation.

Over at Abu Muqawama, Ibn Muqawama comments on the bad news continuing to emerge about the United States’ F-22 multi-role fighter. Turns out it will cost American taxpayers $44,000 for each hour the bird’s in the air, because it can’t fly more than an average of 1.7 hours without experiencing a critical failure. At $350 million a pop, that’s clearly unacceptable.

Catching up on the increasingly one-sided F-22 debate took me back a few years, to an amusing exchange I observed between a senior representative of the American military-industrial complex and mid-level Indian Air Force officers in Delhi. The IAF officers were eager to understand the differences between the F-22 and the F-35. The American explained with a straight face that the F-35 was like a Michael Jordan, while the F-22 was more like a Shaquille O’Neal. The Indians, while perhaps cognisant of the two athletes’ names, were unfamiliar with the nuances of their playing styles, and their perplexity was evident to everyone but the American.

My question. Instead of a Shaquille O’Neal or Michael Jordan, would it not be best for the USAF to invest in a Shane Battier?

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