Bullying the Indian Elephant

A recent article in Foreign Policy titled ‘The Elephant in the Room‘ talks about how India gives ‘Global Governance the biggest headache’.   It tries to make some rather provocative assertions:

1. India has stubbornly refused to sign the NPT and started an arms race in Asia by testing nuclear weapons in 1998.

2. India single-handedly killed the Doha round negotiations at the WTO.

3. India also flat-out rejected the proposal to accept any binding emission targets with regard to climate change.

4. Paul Wolfowitz was removed from the World Bank by conspiring Indians because he turned his attention to corruption in World Bank projects related to India.

5. India is not a “liberal democratic paradise” because: (a) It limits outside assistance to nongovernmental organizations and most educational institutions; (b) It restricts the work of foreign scholars (and sometimes journalists) and bans books; (c) India also regularly refuses visas for international rights advocates. In 2003, India denied a visa to the head of Amnesty International, Irene Khan; (d) “In the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Human Rights Council, India votes regularly with human rights offenders, international scofflaws, and enemies of democracy.”

This leads the author to conclude that India’s claim for a seat on the Security Council is rather doubtful because of its petulant track record in international fora.

I do not claim to be very knowledgeable about foreign policy, but even at the outset, the article seems to be ranting against all things Indian.  Is India’s democratic credential the real issue here, or is it India’s posturing in International affairs?  Does corruption in implementation of World Bank Projects have anything to do with India playing spoiler in WTO negotiations?  Does India’s faulty human rights record have anything to do with the claim for a permanent seat in the Security Council when countries which were at war and kept invading each other at various points of time in the last century are on the Council too?

For a person who writes for a prestigious magazine, the author seems to have forgotten that national posturing at international negotiations is based on (1) safeguarding national interest, and (2) promoting national interest by developing greater clout at the international level!!

1. Non-proliferation:  If signing the NPT is the litmus test for proof of non-proliferation, why hasn’t the US (which has recently been yelling about ending nuclear weapons and so on) signed the NPT?  India’s stance is perfectly that: abide by the standards you seek to impose, and if there is consistency in state practice, India will follow suit.

2. Trade and climate: Again, I am not an expert on trade negotiations and climate change, but why should one particular country be pin-pointed for the lack of development of an international consensus?  The two largest emitters of Greenhouse gases are unwilling to accept binding targets for reducing emissions, transfer of funds under technology transfer agreements under the Kyoto Protocol has been abysmally low, Kyoto Protocol targets have not been met by almost any developed country, and yet India is expected to be the sole paragon of virtue by accepting emission targets?

3. Corruption: India is corrupt.  There is in fact large-scale diversion of funds.  India must do better.  But to argue that the Wolfowitz was thrown out by conspiring Indians smacks of naivete.  Had Wolfowitz not acted in a thoroughly unprofessional manner himself, what would the Indians have conspired about?  The author seems to suggest if not that, the conspirators might even have created grounds for him to be removed based on his choice of pyjamas.

4. Human rights: India’s human rights record is far from perfect and there have been way too many incidents of communal, sectarian and ethnic violence for a successful democracy to live with.  However, Indian democracy is all of six decades old.  Its development as a democracy since independence has been largely peaceful considering most successful democracies have been established after revolutions, war, repression, and genocide against native populations.  And in all these cases (please note also, all these countries had a remarkably homogeneous population), it has taken generations, in every case, to heal divisive wounds.  I do not recall having heard of any of these countries displaying humility and regret at the international stage.  That is not say India should not be doing more. I merely make the point that protecting human rights come at an economic cost, and for the state to have the capacity to create more efficient systems, it needs to have more money and more muscle.

At an international fora, countries come together to benefit from each other and to arrive at a consensus for mutual gain.  All countries exhibit a tendency of being defensive about their own faults and try to cover them up.  India cannot even be called a rude negotiator when numerous US delegations have simply folded their papers and walked out of crucial negotiations inimical to their interests.  Is India expected to behave like a good boy and show the other cheek when its interests are clearly not being protected?

In short, a ‘liberal democratic paradise’ does not exist.  Anywhere.  And all countries claim themselves to be shining beacons of virtue only to increase their bargaining skills.

7 thoughts on “Bullying the Indian Elephant

  1. Thanks for an interesting article!
    India is unknown territory for me – but very interesting both culturally and geopolitically. A few questions; Who are India’s friends in the neighborhood? Seems like both Pakistan and China wants to nuke them? How are Indias relations to the Middle East and the Us? This whole Iran-China-Russia axis and the SCO-stuff, it must be terrifying for India?
    One gets quite a few drips about indian politics on Cnn GPS, but not quite enough to get a fulfilling picture..


  2. Hi, thanks for the thumbs-up. As for your questions, I can only answer from my reading of the newspapers here:
    1. India has friendly/big-brotherly relations with Bangladesh, sri lanka, nepal, bhutan, and to some degree, Burma. The exact dynamics of course keep changing from time to time. For example, the Maoists in Nepal hate India, and the previous government in Bangladesh was pretty much the same.
    2. Pakistan feels it has an existential threat from India and so maintains nukes as a deterrent. Some people in both countries would like to nuke each other, but it seems unrealistic. As for China, I don’t think we’re going to be at war with them. Both countries have a lot of trade with each other, and it would be stupid for them to have a fight over border issues when there is so much money to lose in the process.
    3. I have very little idea about India’s relations with the middle-east. I don’t think we are at loggerheads with any of them, but over the years, we have shifted our allegiance to Israel. Also, while we were friends with Iran, we have recently voted against them in the IAEA.
    4. I don’t think anyone in India is terrified about an Iran-Russia-China axis. We are not important enough yet to be a major issue for Iran, we have had very very cordial relations with Russia for nearly 40 years, and we are trying to resolve our differences with China. So while there are allegations of China covertly helping Pakistan with arms and weapons, no overt threat has been made by China.


  3. Interesting, thanks!
    I think I’ll have to follow your blog from now on, and find some good books on the subject. India is so fascinating and colorful, with warm and smiling people. Though I’ve never been there – yet.
    Keep it up!


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