Indian Foreign Policy:
Perils of a US-Israel-India Axis
-- Dipankar Bhattacharya
During his recent visit to Washington, India’s National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra openly advocated the idea of a US-Israel-India axis. Addressing the annual dinner of the American Jewish Committee, Mishra said India, US and Israel were all faced with the common threat of ‘modern day terrorism’ and hence should form ‘an alliance would have the political will and moral authority to take bold decisions in extreme cases of terrorist provocation.’ He further added that such an alliance ‘would not get bogged down in definitional and causal arguments about terrorism.’ According to him, India, the United States and Israel have some fundamental similarities and stronger India-U.S. relations and India-Israel relations therefore have a natural logic. He even took this opportunity to announce that the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was expected to visit India later this year.
This is not the first time that the idea of an axis between Washington, Tel Aviv and New Delhi has been mooted. But as has become the wont of Indian leaders and officials, the most candid confessions are made on the American soil. It is in America that Vajpayee bares his RSS soul. Brajesh Mishra too lets out the defining vision of the NDA’s foreign policy while addressing his American audience.
During the Cold War period, Indian ruling classes had phrased their foreign policy as one of non-alignment. This description was considered enough in the context of a bipolar world. But as was revealed time and again, this was by no means an independent foreign policy. In real life India continued to oscillate between the American bloc and the Soviet bloc. In the 1950s and 1960s Indian positions often converged with American positions while in the 1970s India tilted quite close to the Soviet bloc. More often than not it was India’s limited capacity to bargain between the two conflicting camps that was sought to be passed off as a policy of non-alignment based on independence and anti-imperialism. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the underlying dilemma of Indian foreign policy has become quite obvious.
Instead of trying to make common cause with the developing countries and become an integral part of an Asian assertion, India in the 1990s opted for a distinct pro-US course. The attempt has acquired a feverish pace in the wake of September 11, 2001 with New Delhi going out of its way to curry favour with Washington hoping to use its status as a junior partner or regional ally of the US as the best defence against Pakistan or China. Ironically, this has precisely been the juncture when America has had to treat Pakistan as a crucial component of its war campaign and all India’s attempts to manoeuvre Pakistan out of America’s favours have only increased India’s own dependence on, and vulnerability to, American calculations.
It is true that the world today is not a bipolar one like in the Cold War era. At the same time, the world is also not in a steady unipolar state. Bush’s Iraq war has highlighted the acute isolation of the Anglo-American axis from the rest of the world. Trends towards a multipolar, or maybe again a bipolar order, are now quite discernible. While this present period of transition is opening up more and more space for foreign policy initiatives, the NDA government remains firmly committed in favour of a US-dominated unipolar world. This has pushed India into a tight corner, drastically limiting the range of foreign policy initiatives. We have seen the implication of this essentially one-track pro-US foreign policy during the entire course of Iraq war. Indian foreign policy remained singularly paralysed while the US shelved every tenet of international law to impose a completely illegal and unjust war on the people of Iraq.
The much debated ninda prastav (resolution condemning the war) came so late in the day that it could well be described as a condolence resolution about Indian foreign policy. In fact it was not just a case of a thoroughly inadequate response – too little, too late – but to tell the truth, the resolution condemning the war in Hindi (and merely ‘deploring’ it in English) was not intended as a foreign policy statement at all. It was just a statement made to accommodate the anti-war sentiment of the Indian people, a statement born out of domestic political compulsion and not foreign policy choice.
Arguably, some foreign policy initiatives have also been undertaken that if pursued consistently and logically can chart an alternative course for India’s foreign policy in the present period. There are some attempts to improve our ties with China, Russia and European powers like Germany and France. Recently in the backdrop of Bush’s Iraq war, Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes went to SARS-hit China to lay the ground for Prime Minister Vajpayee’s visit in June. Only time will tell whether the Fernandes mission managed to weaken the Chinese memory of his 1998 characterisation of China as India’s enemy number one or it merely served to reopen the wound. Prior to his visit to China, the Prime Minister is also expected to visit Germany and Russia apart from attending the G-8 meeting in France.
The point is in a world of intensifying international contradictions – between imperialism, especially the American superpower, and the developing world on the one hand and inter-imperialist rivalry on the other – there is enough scope for a range of bold and new foreign policy initiatives. But such initiatives can only be unleashed if India identifies herself as a leading developing country pitted against the might of the American superpower and imperialist globalisation. India’s growing identification with American and Israeli interests can only be a recipe for a foreign policy paralysis.
Indeed, India’s dependence on, and loyalty to, the US has grown so enormously during the last few years that it overshadows India’s relations with other major powers like China, Russia or the European Union. For the Vajpayee government, ties with non-US powers constitute merely a minor extension of the US-oriented Pakistan-obsessed core of Indian foreign policy. Occasional speculations about an India-Russia-China axis notwithstanding, the dream of playing second fiddle to a US-led coalition, a US-Israel-India axis for instance, has come to stay as the defining vision of India’s foreign policy.
The threat of another WTO round may be staring India in the face, but for the architects and managers of Indian foreign policy, the biggest challenge at the moment appears to be securing a share of the Iraq reconstruction bonanza. But there is a little catch.
Washington has invited New Delhi to be a part of the multinational “stabilisation” force that the US is planning to set up in Iraq. It is reported that Albert Thibault, Deputy Chief of Mission, and Steve Sboto, Military Attache at the US Embassy in Delhi, met the Indian Army brass recently and discussed the “stabilisation” force proposal. Ambassador Robert Blackwill has also floated the issue at the highest levels besides with Defence Minister George Fernandes. Thibault hinted to the top brass of the Indian Army that Washington was planning to bring a resolution in the UN Security Council and there was even a possibility of New Delhi administering one of the four military sectors in Iraq.
Incidentally, the US has already circulated a draft resolution for discussion in the Security Council that gives sweeping powers to Washington and London as “occupying powers” and wants the UN to play the role of a coordinator for humanitarian relief and setting up of Iraqi police. Sending an Indian division as part of this Anglo-American occupation arrangement in post-Saddam Iraq will be a completely different proposition from the earlier cases of Indian participation in UN-sponsored peacekeeping forces in countries like say Somalia or Mozambique. It will invite still greater isolation for India from the Arab world and bracket India truly with the US-led mercenary coalition.