Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Iran Nuke Deal

The nuclear deal between Iran and the P-5+1 have obviously received a lot of attention.  The general opinion in India and Asia appears to be favourable to the deal, as the Regional Powers Initiative (RPI) noted.  I am less impressed and I think this has potentially dangerous longer term consequences.  My take was published in Economic Times and is reproduced below.

Iran Nuclear Deal: Short-Term Benefits and Long-Term Consequences

US President Barack Obama has won a much-needed foreign political victory by sealing a temporary nuclear deal with Iran. But while there are some short-term benefits, the long term consequences of this deal are much more hazy and potentially quite dangerous. Equally worrying should be the consequences of the deal for nuclear weapon spreading in the Middle East and the larger political effects on America's friends and allies, especially in the region and in Asia.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The 'Manmohan Singh Doctrine'

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a speech recently to the annual conclave of Indian Ambassadors in New Delhi.  It was notable because it set out the principles of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's foreign policy doctrine.  His speech was commented on by Sanjaya Baru in Indian Express but outside of that, it seems to have passed without notice.  That's a shame because there are important pointers to the underlying assumptions of India's foreign policy in the speech.  And I would suggest that these are assumptions shared broadly in New Delhi, which makes it all the more important.  My critique of these basic principles was published by Economic Times last Monday (November 11).  I am posting it below.

The snag in the Manmohan Singh’s Panchsheel Doctrine

One of the central problems with the Indian foreign policy has been its refusal to understand the role of power in international politics. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech at the meeting of Indian ambassadors about the five principles of India's foreign policy shows that this unfortunate tendency continues.The PM correctly pointed out that the "single most important objective of Indian foreign policy has to be to create a global environment conducive to the well-being of our great country". The problem, of course, is how we go about creating it. The prescription from the prime minister was economic integration at the global and the regional level.  

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Avner Cohen on Israel's Nuclear Decision, October 1973

A nice essay by Avner Cohen on the Israeli decision-making during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.  The general sense until now has been that, facing an increasingly difficult situation on both the Egyptian and Syrian fronts, Israel readied its nuclear arsenal.  There was always some doubt about whether this was because Israel feared that it was about to lose the war and wanted to Arab states down with it if it came to that or if it was a signal to the US to come to its assistance.  Cohen suggests, based on interviews with insiders to the decision-making process and declassified minutes of key meetings, that with the exception of Moshe Dayan, the Israeli cabinet exercised restraint.  Dayan's proposal for a nuclear 'demonstration' was not followed through. What exactly that demonstration would have been is not clear, though Cohen speculates that it could have been a nighttime high-altitude nuclear airburst that would be visible from key Arab cities.  Though I have no expertise on Israeli nuclear issues, as an option, such a demonstration would appear to have been politically quite difficult.  Though Cohen discounts it, a more credible demonstration would have been an underground nuclear test.  But Cohen's essay also outlines some of the problems of oral history as also the absolute necessity of such research tactics especially where state secrecy on a subject matter is so great.  Anyway, a great essay by the key chronicler of the Israeli nuclear establishment.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

PM Manmohan Singh's visit to Russia and China

I am posting this almost two weeks after it was published, unfortunately.  This is essay in Economic Times of October 21, 2013 on the PM's visit to Russia and China.

Too many unclear policies in PM Manmohan Singh's holdall

Over the next few days, PM Manmohan Singh will summit with the leaders of Russia and China.  Along with his recent meeting with US President Barack Obama, it completes a trifecta of sorts. Unfortunately, in this great power trifecta, India appears to have neither skill nor luck. At the end of his term, the PM has the unenviable task of trying to climb out of the strategic hole into which we have dug ourselves.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The US and the Great Game

President Obama's decision to cancel his Asia trip has generated a lot of commentary about how the US is losing Asia to China (if you don't believe me, just take a look at Real Clear World for the last few days).  My take is that the key problem in Washington is one of willingness to play the 'Great Game' rather than any lack of capabilities.  And it is not as if the US is not doing anything: they just concluded an expanded military treaty with Japan.  But Obama seems to think that this is all a bit silly and somewhat old fashioned.  Reminds me of all the nonsense that PM Nehru spouted about the balance of power until, of course, it snapped around and took a big bite in October 1962.  Not that not playing the game is winning Obama any friends: the Hindu (and others of that ilk) will continue to whine about US policy irrespective of what the US does precisely because it is the US.  My take on the issue was published in Economic Times yesterday (Oct. 8, 2013) and reproduced in full below.

Twin Summits: Bali minus Barack Obama is just right for China as US tend to lose

By Rajesh Rajagopalan

Doubts about US willingness to play the great game in Asia have been around for at least a decade. With Barack Obama, these doubts have been growing. His decision to cancel his Asia tour because of the US government shutdown means that he will miss two crucial summits: the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit as well as the East Asia Summit. And it has let loose a storm of commentary about Washing-ton's loss and China's gain because Xi Jinping, China's new leader, has been talking partnership and winning friends even among traditional sceptics about China such as Indonesia.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Kiriakakis on the importance of questions

An inspired Kostas Kiriakakis comic about the importance of questions . . . (and thanks to Madhumita Das for sending this to me).

Friday, October 4, 2013

Rosa Brooks on "How to be a Foreign Policy Genius in 7 Minutes"

My students by now must be bored out of their minds by my constant refrain about professionals do's and don'ts, the stuff they need to do to be a good academic.  Many of these points are basic common sense, but often forgotten or ignored.  I just saw that Rosa Brooks has a nice essay on the Foreign Policy blog on "How to be a Foreign Policy Genius in 7 Minutes", which makes many of these points.  I don't know about 7 minutes; I think she meant more 7 steps.  Nevertheless, good advice for anyone wanting to be an IR scholar.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The 'Thank You and Farewell' Summit

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's US visit has been quite eventful, and not just in foreign policy terms, what with the Crown Prince on another of his occasional and typically disastrous forays into the family business.

But beyond the comedy . . .

In addition to his summit meeting with President Obama, the PM also tried yet again to make peace with Pakistan. This effort was accompanied by the usual outrage New Delhi television studios, though no one who opposed the meeting could say what was to be gained by not talking to Pakistan.  My point was always that India should talk to Pakistan but that it should also be prepared to use force to retaliate punitively whenever the Pakistan army decided to use force against India either directly or thorough its terrorist proxies (I had posted an earlier Economic Times essay here).

As regards the Singh-Obama summit meeting, it was clear that there wasn't much of an agenda to begin with and that there was not much escape from what Raja Mohan has characterized as India's 'irresoluteness" on the world stage.  Dan Twining, over at Shadow Government, noted that "it may take new political leadership in both (capitals) to move the relationship to the next level." My own take was published in Economic Times and is posted below.  [One note: ET edited out a couple of crucial sentences in my essay which I have included below in square brackets and italics]

Recent Manmohan-Obama summit a 'thank you' and 'farewell' Affair

(Economic Times, October 2, 2013)
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington was not expected to yield anything dramatic. As the PM himself put it, "overall" he was there to thank US President Barack Obama "for all that he has done to strengthen, widen and deepen" US-India relations. Indian officials also made it clear that this was primarily a "review" summit, underlining that they had no significant agenda or expectations. 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Prof. Rajaraman on deterring Pakistan

I had written earlier (most recently last month in Economic Times and earlier for CLAWS) about the need to have an adequate conventional deterrence strategy to deal with Pakistan's provocations either on the border or through its support for terrorist attacks in India.  These had mostly been in the context of India's default option of stopping the dialogue with Pakistan after every outrage.  My sense was that while cutting off dialogue might win some support from the TV talking heads, they are strategically foolish and have never worked.  (An equally serious problem is the unnecessary euphoria after every diplomatic breakthrough.  An essay I wrote in the Hindu immediately after Vajpayee Lahore bus trip in early 1999 makes the point about inflated hopes - and of course Pakistan already had its forces in Kargil by this time.  The Hindu's archives do not go that far back, but I found a cached copy of that essay here)

Prof. R. Rajaram has an essay in Times of India two days back that also calls for a conventional deterrence strategy against Pakistan.  His argument is slightly different from mine, though equally valid.  He argues that India's nuclear deterrence will not work if Pakistani leadership does not believe that India will hit back.  As he puts it "Many in Pakistan (and even in India) believe India is too soft a state to actually go through with a nuclear attack which would decimate cities and kill lakhs of people."  Therefore, he proposes that "If despite our restraint so far yet another major attack takes place on Indian soil, funded, organised or masterminded by elements in Pakistan, we must seriously consider a counter-attack."  

The problem though is that I doubt if the Indian political and military leadership do much in terms of sitting down together and planning carefully for such an eventuality.  If they did, they would need to consider what India's options are, taking into consideration what the safe limits for operations are to prevent escalation and what will represent punishment for the Pakistan army to convince them to desist from such actions in the future.  My choice is an attack on PoK, as suggested in my Economic Times article.  Attacking in PoK reduces the chances for escalation because Islamabad will not fear (and cannot claim) that their survival is under threat, thus reducing the potential for escalation. Because India officially claims PoK, we are also within our legitimate rights to take territory there  and hold on to it (the problem with taking territory in Pakistan proper would be that everybody knows that we will eventually have to return it, reducing its value as punishment).  It will punish the Pakistan army because any loss of PoK territory, even small amounts, will represent a bloody nose for them.  Finally, it will strengthen the civilian leadership over the Pak military because it will demonstrate to the average Pakistani citizen that the army is incompetent even in the military field.  

Of course, doing all this requires planning.  The Indian civilian and military leadership will have to consider whether the Indian forces have the needed capability to carry out such an operation and if not, what equipment, forces, planning and so on are needed to make up that deficiency.  Then they will have to wait for the next opportunity, another Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attack or a serious incident along the LoC or the international border.  

And the chances that the Indian government is organized enough to do all this? Somewhere between nil and nothing.  My guess is that irrespective which party rules in New Delhi, we are destined to remain a soft state, with all that this implies for India's nuclear credibility.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Atul Mishra's comments on Pakistan and Syria

Atul Mishra, who teaches at Central University of Gujarat, (blogs here) responded by email to a couple of my essays in Economic Times which I had posted here.  [Full disclosure: We are academic collaborators and currently have a jointly-authored book manuscript under review].  With his permission, I am posting both his comments/questions and my responses.


About Pakistan. Don't our guys do the same thing across the LoC? They must be fools to not do it. And if they do, does it really matter whether our deterrence works or not? After all, we get our revenge. We can be seen to be doing more, having a strategy, but largely for domestic eyes; no? What is the point of going into PoK if not to recover it and cause Pakistan deep damage (read, break up)? 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Pragmatic Policy on Syria

I wrote this essay immediately after it became clear (I then thought) that President Obama had decided to hit Assad to punish him for his use of chemical weapons.  Now . . . who knows?  Maybe Obama will go ahead with his military plans but he increasingly looks like someone making things up as he goes along, a prisoner of circumstance and his mouth rather than someone who has any control over events.  Obama has been an enormously lucky politician and may be that will be enough still.

In an essay in the Economic Times, I argued that India should adopt a pragmatic policy on Syria because India does have an interest in ensuring that the taboo against chemical weapons use is not eroded.  Since then, the External Affairs Minister Khurshid as well as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have decided that it is the UN that should take the lead.  Apparently it is not just economic policy that smells of the 1970s around here.  I will have more on this later, but below is my take on the crisis.

India needs have pragmatic policy on Syria, not its traditional default option

It seems reasonably certain now that the US and its allies will launch a military assault on Syria to punish the Assad regime for using chemical weapons. The strikes are likely to be limited with the objective of deterring further Syrian use of chemical weapons rather than to change the regime.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Dialogue-No Dialogue Tango with Pakistan

Most of the debate in the aftermath of the border clashes on the LoC have been on familiar lines, with one corner doubling down on 'dialogue' with Pakistan (without explaining why that has not worked over the last decade) while the other wanted dialogue to stop (without explaining why that has not worked over the last decade either).  There was a refreshing essay in the Times of India by Pavan Varma about India's lack of strategy on Pakistan.

My own take was published in the Economic Times, and reproduced below.

Fearing nuclear escalation, India limits its response to Pakistan’s provocations

In the aftermath of yet another Pakistani transgression, we are back to the tired old arguments about whether or not India should be talking to Pakistan. Proponents argue that nothing has been gained whenever India stopped talking to Pakistan, as it did after every major provocation. Their opponents argue that dialogue has not stopped Pakistan's provocations.

IDSA Discussion on India's Iran Options

I participated in a roundtable at IDSA on Iran's nuclear imbroglio and India's options along with a bunch of foreign office heavy-weights, which included five former Ambassadors, including the Chair Amb. Arundhati Ghose.  This seemed like a good time to discuss the issue since Rowhani is just about to take over in Iran and there are murmurs of movement on Iran's negotiations with the P5+1 about the nuclear issue.

We discussed various possible scenarios and what India's options were under different scenarios (status quo, a mutually acceptable solution, or Iran becoming a nuclear power).  Of these scenarios, I felt that the status quo was not really stable because it was constantly changing.  As Iran's enriched uranium stockpiles increase, something will have to give.  Moreover, both Iran's stockpile as well as Iran's capacity to increase the stockpile (new centrifuges as well as the number of centrifuges) was increasing with each passing month.  Iran has been careful to maintain its quantity of 20% enriched uranium below the Israeli redline of 240 kgs but it is quite close.  Iran appears to have deliberately taken steps to not cross that line, down-blending some additional 20% enriched fuel and converting some.  (Iran actually produced more than 300 kgs overall).  The six tons or so of 5% enriched uranium is probably sufficient for about two bombs, I think, assuming it is enriched further.  But that 5% stockpile is growing too, quite rapidly, as the May 2013 IAEA report makes clear.  So I sam not sure there is any such as a status quo currently.

Monday, July 22, 2013

More on 'Soft Alliances'

In my latest essay in EconomicTimes (see also my previous post), I argued that the US and India need to develop a ‘soft alliance’ in order to have a steady relationship that is not bogged down every time there is an election campaign in either country or whenever political attention flags and the bureaucrats take over.  Since I could not define the concept in an opinion piece, I am outlining my view of the concept here.  By ‘soft alliance’, I mean a partnership short of a formal military alliance but one of long-term strategic empathy in which the partners act to support each other other militarily, diplomatically and politically, both in direct confrontations with other states as well as in other circumstances. 

There are a number of examples of such soft alliances.  Because most people in Delhi would be most familiar with it, I cited the Indo-Soviet/Russian partnership as an example.  Going back to the early 1960s, and continuing in a thinner form even today, Moscow and New Delhi have supported each other almost instinctively.  And they supported each other even when they disagreed with each other, keeping their disagreements to their private dialogue rather than outlining it in public.  For example, the Soviet Union was embarrassed about having to repeatedly cast vetoes on behalf of India during the 1971 India-Pakistan war because much of the rest of the world wanted a ceasefire, but they did it.  Similarly, the Soviets were strong supporters of nuclear non-proliferation but they muted their criticism (at least in public) when it came to India’s refusal to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).  India returned the favour, repeatedly supporting Moscow on issues such as its invasion of Afghanistan even while New Delhi expressed its displeasure privately.  We did have a ‘Friendship Treaty’, of course, but most of the support they gave each other was almost instinctive rather than contractual, which is what I mean by strategic empathy.  And this relationship remains one of India’s most valuable even today, though Russia’s dalliance with Beijing (being driven by foolish American policies – but more on this later) might unfortunately end this in the coming decade. 

My essay on an India-US soft alliance

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden is on a visit to India, and the state of U.S. India relations is again being debated.  C. Raja Mohan has a typically insightful essay in Indian Express which he outlines five guidelines to make the relationship robust and enduring.  Ashley Tellis argues that it is not such a bad thing if the relationship has reached a plateau if it means stability and predictability.  Kanwal Sibal, India's former foreign secretary, wrote last week in the Hindu that despite some convergences, there are still "significant divergences emanating from huge disparity in power, different priorities, conflicting regional interests and differing views on structures of global governance."

My own take was published in the Economic Times today.  I argue that India and the US should aim to create a relationship similar to what India and Soviet Union had during the cold war, which I characterize as a 'soft alliance'.  I will shortly post another essay on what I mean by the concept, which, for obvious reason could not be included in the ET essay.  Below I have posted my essay as it appeared today.  

Why India-US should look at developing a soft alliance

Rajesh Rajagopalan

If high-level visits were a positive indicator of the state of bilateral ties, India-US relations would be in fine shape.

American Vice-President Joe Biden arrives in India on Monday and it comes barely a month after Secretary of State John Kerry came for the India-US Strategic Dialogue. Last week Finance Minister P Chidambaram was in Washington, and in September Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will travel there. Moreover, both sides have set an ambitious agenda for themselves, including untangling the nuclear commercial issues by the time the prime minister goes to Washington.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Trayvon Martin Case

It is impossible to get away from the Trayvon Martin case, even sitting in India.  Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager, was shot and killed by George Zimmerman, a 'Neighborhood Watch' volunteer in Sanford, a small town in the US state of Florida.  It was apparently a rainy night and there was no single witness who saw the entire event clearly.  We have only Zimmerman's word and forensic evidence, and the latter is open to interpretation.  Zimmerman claims self-defense from an aggressive Martin.  Protests from African-American political leaders (even Obama sympathized with the Martin family, which gave the case added publicity) and others have made the case a supposed example of continuing racism in the US.  In all the hyperbole, it is easy to forget the essence of the case: two individuals, who were both scared of each other but equally apparently unnecessarily aggressive (and one had a gun) for different reasons, got into an unnecessary confrontation and one ended up shot and killed.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Ice cream sale and crime

Whenever I am lecturing on or discussing Waltz's chapter on 'Laws and Theories' (in Theory of International Politics) in an IR theory class or my part of the methodology course, I am fond of repeating an example a Professor of mine mentioned (a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far way) of the correlation between ice cream and violent crime.  The punch line is of course that correlation is not causation and that correlation requires an explanation before pure correlations make any sense.  I didn't realize that this particular example was very popular, nor that it had any basis in any real study.  I used it assuming it was just a social science equivalent of an urban myth.  Apparently, the example is quite popular and even has some empirical support.  Nice story in Slate.  

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The China-India Talks

Another round of China-India talks have taken place along with a meeting between the Indian and Chinese defence ministers.  Doesn't seem to have stopped the occasional eruptions at the border, though.  My take on the issue was published by the Economic Times yesterday.

Look At What Lies Beyond the McMahon: China and Russia Getting Cozier

The back-to-back talks between India and China appear to have satisfied both sides. Coming after the Depsang incident, the talks focused on border management mechanisms in the form of a Border Defence Cooperation Agreement (BDCA). Though the talks reportedly made good progress, the BDCA has not yet been signed. There are already existing mechanisms for management of issues relating to Indian and Chinese forces on the border, but these clearly failed in the case of the Depsang intrusion. A new agreement might help avoid future crises of this nature. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

More on India's response to Snowden

I should have included these in my last post.  More Indian reactions on External Affairs Minister Khurshid's characterization of what NSA has been doing as 'not snooping'.  Khurshid is wrong.  It obviously is snooping.  That is the NSA's job, just as it is the job of all intelligence agencies around the world to snoop on all important players, friends and enemies.  Intelligence agencies motto might be a slight modification of the Godfather's dictum to keep friends close but enemies closer:  keep both friends and enemies close.  If anyone needed any example of how unrealistic a lot of commentary is about this whole affair, two examples from The Hindu should suffice, in addition to their editorial.

More on the NSA's Snooping

India's Minister for External Affairs (EAM) Salman Khurshid has set off a small domestic storm with his comments that the US surveillance program run by the National Security Agency (NSA), much in the news after Edward Snowden's exposure, is not really snooping.  It is difficult to make out what the Indian government is up to in this whole episode because, as usual, different ministers are speaking in different voices.  But the Indian government has refused Snowden's request for asylum.  Rightly so, because there is little reason why India should antagonize other powers when there is little that New Delhi stands to gain.  Not surprisingly, the communist parties are livid.  I had earlier written in the Economic Times about this whole ludicrous story and how all governments spy.  Now, here are a couple of nice (and humorous) essays from the Foreign Policy blog that make more or less the same point.  One, by Denis MacShane, is on European spying activities.  Another, by Gareth Harding, asks what is one of the most pertinent question in these stories: why, oh why, would anyone bother snooping on the EU offices?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

India at the Conference on Disarmament

Meant to post this earlier but better late than never: Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai made a speech at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) which set out India's position on some of the key issues facing the CD and global multilateral arms control and disarmament agenda.  There were no major surprises here but still an important and authoritative statement of India's views.  The key bits that struck me had to do with the debate about the CD as a forum (India supports the current format) and on the FMCT (India does not want any change in the mandate for FMCT negotiations).  Below are some quotes from the the speech on these two issues.  You can read the full speech here.

On the CD forum:

The CD fulfils a unique function by bringing together all the militarily significant states. It is also a forum that brings together all states possessing nuclear weapons. (Para 1)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Democracy on the Net?

Hardeep S. Puri, India's former Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, has an interesting essay in the Indian Express today on the need to democratize the internet.  He argues that the "US is clearly determined to continue its relentless pursuit of the current model of global internet governance, for preserving its economic and strategic interests. It is unlikely that there will be any change in its policy even after the Snowden disclosures."  

Much of the backbone of the current global internet system is based in the US and this does give the US some control, though many other states have shown that they have the ability to tightly monitor and control the net within their own territories.  Even India has shown, on occasion, that it can control internet majors.  But Puri's argument is about giving all states some control over the governance of the Net.  He writes:
"We need a dedicated group of people — within the establishment, industry, technical and scientific community, academia, civil society and media — who can reflect upon and define India's long-term interests in advancing the cause of democratising global internet governance and free ourselves from the current model where the space for discussion is arrogated by apologists for the current model of unilateral control.
The UN has launched a process for observing the 10th anniversary of WSIS in 2015. This provides an opportunity for India to work with other leading democratic countries like Brazil and South Africa within the IBSA platform and with other like-minded countries in the UN for democratising global internet governance to make it truly "multilateral, transparent and democratic", as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda."
The problem with this is not sentiment about democratizing the Net, but the lack of realism about how international politics works.  India has for long championed such efforts at democratizing global governance: remember the New International Economic Order (NIEO) or the New International Information Order (NIIO)?  There is little to show for such efforts because global politics are determined by power, not by justice or democracy.  Indian foreign policy mandarins only occasionally recognize this, and they mostly do not even understand the contradictions here.  For example, India has been campaigning assiduously for a permanent seat in UN Security Council.  (Indeed, Puri --who was then PR at the UN -- was quoted by Headlines Today (part of the India Today news group) in 2011 as saying that he expected India to be a Permanent Member of the UNSC by December 2012, latest.  Obviously, a Realist he's not).  The only basis for Indian claim is that it is a rising great power and that the UNSC should recognize the changed realities from when the UNSC was formed in 1945.  No talk about democratizing global governance here!  The point is that the US controls the internet because it is the prevailing global power.  May be someday this will change, and then so will control over the internet.  Until then, no amount of money-wasting UN conferencing will change who controls the internet.  Unfortunately, Indian foreign policy-makers continue to believe that they can talk their way to getting what they want.  Krishna Menon, after all, still holds the record for the longest speech ever at the UN (not that that worked either!).

Perspectives on the Kerry Visit and US-India Ties

Secretary of State John Kerry's visit has led to a good number of assessments of the state of US-India ties.  Now that I have posted my views (rather, my essay in the Economic Times), its time to post some of the other perspectives.  Several analysts who are sympathetic to improved US-India ties acknowledge that the relationship is not where it should be.  C. Raja Mohan calls on the Prime Minister to do what he did in his first term, to rely on his own judgement, in order to improve the ties:
". . . sections of the Indian establishment have deliberately sought to create some political distance between Delhi and Washington and sell discredited ideas from the Cold War past as great strategic insights. Singh nearly bought the crazy proposition that a bird in the hand was worth a lot less than two in the bush. The belief in Delhi that going slow with America might convince China to offer India a boundary deal now stands discredited, thanks to the Chinese military intrusion into Ladakh during April-May.Singh must rely on common sense rather than the overly clever theories that have derailed India's diplomacy in the second tenure of the UPA."

India and the US Must Return to What is Truly 'Strategic' in their Ties

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in India for the US-India Strategic Dialogue.  US-India relationship is going through one of those periods of drift and lethargy.  My take on the relations was published in the Economic Times and reproduced below.  

India-US must revisit what is truly strategic in their ties
By Rajesh Rajagopalan

Whatever adjectives are being used to describe the state of India-US ties — as Secretary of State John Kerry comes visiting —it is clear that the relationship is not where it should be or where it was expected to be. New Delhi has to share a significant part of the blame because in the years after the India-US nuclear deal, it has seemed much more uncertain about what it wants from the relationship and much more sceptical about its benefits.

These opinions are now being echoed in Washington. As the US withdraws from Afghanistan next year and the national election campaign kicks off in India, the prospects for any immediate improvement are dimming. It is time both sides returned to what is truly strategic in their relationship.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

NTRO's troubles

In my essay in The Economic Times on the Snowden affair, I had mentioned briefly, off-tangent really, about the disputes between the National Technical Resources Organization and other Indian intelligence agencies over control of various technical assets and equipment.  Now comes an Op-Ed in the Indian Express about the politics and other troubles in the NTRO told from the perspective of an insider to the Indian intelligence world.  Interesting stuff, especially because politics in Indian intelligence bureaucracy seems not very different from politics in other Indian bureaucracies.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Snowden's Run

Edward Snowden continues to run from US authorities, and is now presumably cooling his heels at the transit lounge of Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.  His flight path, according to news reports, takes him from China-controlled Hong Kong to Moscow and then towards Cuba and finally either Ecuador or Venezuela.  I am not sure why North Korea was off this list since it seems to match all of the key requirement that Snowden and his Wikileaks supporters seem to want: unlimited personal freedom, fast internet and limited government.

My take on the Snowden affair was published by Economic Times last week.  Took me some time to put it up . . . .

Rouhani's views on nuclear negotiations, c. 2005

Hassan Rouhani, newly elected President of Iran, is no stranger to nuclear negotiations as he was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator for a couple of years (2003-2005).  He also made a speech during this time, which has been public for some time but has obviously gained a lot of attention after he won the election.  It was an internal speech, which gives it considerable credibility, made while he was chief negotiator and sets out Iran's negotiating strategy.  It is now almost a decade later, but it still provides an interesting view into Rouhani's thinking.  The excellent analysis is provided by Dr. Chen Kane of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.  The essay is worth reading in full.

Monday, June 24, 2013

On the Iranian elections

There has been a good deal of commentary on the recent Iran elections.  My take, published in The Economic Times on June 12, is that this election will not be consequential irrespective of who wins.  The piece was published before the elections but though Hassan Rouhani -- the most moderate and prudent candidate in this limited field -- won convincingly, I would still stand by my original analysis.  Indeed, he might be even more of a challenge than Ahmadinejad both because he is and perceived as more moderate (but who is unlikely to give up Iran's nuclear weapons program) and because he is quite crafty.  Dr. Raja Mohan has a somewhat similar take in the Indian Express, obviously presented much better.  

The inconsequential election of Iran could only spell further doom

By Rajesh Rajagopalan

The results of the Iranian presidential elections this Friday should be important because Iran is central to the stability in the region. Unfortunately, the heavily controlled election, in which religious leaders have barred any candidate who would present an alternative path, means that irrespective of who wins, there is unlikely to be a major change in Iran's policies. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Of Superheroes and Synopses

Posting below Kasturi Moitra's unusual take on Man of Steel.  I have not seen the movie myself but this is a good reason to see it.

Of Superheroes and Synopses

After watching the latest Superman movie — Man of Steel — I couldn’t help wondering how alarmingly akin the making of a superhero flick is to the writing of a PhD synopsis. Few reasons as to why I didn’t think Man of Steel was a good superhero film were: 1) The Superman wasn’t handsome enough 2) The villain in Superman was not formidable enough 3) The set-up was too fantastical (aliens!) 4) There was nothing new in the film. I realized to my horror that often our PhD synopses get rejected for the very same reasons! Behold.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Maoist Threat

A nice essay by Shekar Gupta in the Indian Express today about the India government's response to the Maoists attack on a group of campaigning Congress leaders in Chattisgarh.  As he correctly points out, not even the ruling party -- let alone the ruling coalition -- is united about how to fight the Maoists and indeed, apparently whether they should be fought at all.  Though many of the worthies in the Congress, including Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and even Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh attacked the Maoists and characterized them correctly as terrorists, others such K.C. Deo and Digvijaya Singh were true to form, making partisan attacks and looking for what Gupta calls 'root cause' theories.

Another indicator of the difference within the government is the viewpoint of the semi-government, leftist-National Advisory Council (NAC) which is supposed "to provide inputs in the formulation of policy by the government."  The NAC includes people who criticize the government for fighting the Maoists and are great exponents of the root cause theory.  Even when NAC members themselves are targeted, with Maoists letters openly threatening some of them, the first response from some of their sympathizers is that it must be either a mistake or because the Maoists have no control over their cadres.  

The point is that the Maoists have only one, and rather Quixotic aim: overthrowing the Indian state.  And there is only one solution to deal with them: militarily defeat and eliminate the hardcore so that the rest can be brought into the political mainstream.  This does not mean that there are no social or economic issues with regard to poor governance or the general condition of tribals and other disadvantaged groups in India's hinterlands.  The condition in which such disadvantaged Indians live, six decades after India's independence, should be a source of abiding shame.  But for the Maoists, they represent nothing more than an opportunity and an excuse.  The Maoists represent as much of a solution to the problems facing various rural communities as their cousins the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia.  But given the nature of centre-state relations which prevents proper coordination between different agencies and the poor quality of various paramiltary and special police forces (with exceptions such the AP Police Greyhounds), I expect that the situation will get a lot worse before it gets better.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Discussing Nuke Disarmament at Glion

The Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GSCP) invited a small group to discuss nuke disarmament at Glion, a small village about a hundred kilometers outside of Geneva (on Lake Geneva), Switzerland.

The discussions were under the Chatham House rule but I can report that it was a fairly useful and innovative approach, with a focus on how security might be maintained after nuclear disarmament.  We discussed some of the challenges, potential institutional and other other response measures and the prospects for stability.  My feeling was that the
insecurity of the weaker members of the current nuclear weapons club (and some of the potential members such as Iran) needed to be taken seriously, may be even more seriously than the concerns of the great powers.  I suspect that even if the major nuclear powers agree to give up nuclear weapons (!!), the smaller ones might be more reluctant because they (countries like Israel, Pakistan, North Korea etc.) pursued nuclear weapons to overcome significant disadvantages in conventional  military power.  Unless there are drastic reductions in conventional military imbalances (if then), it is unlikely that these weaker nuclear weapon powers will give up their nukes.  But it was a good exercise in imagination what might happen in one possible future, at a breathtaking venue.  And the thirty degree Celsius temperature difference with Delhi didn't hurt either!

On Premier Li's visit

Here's my take on the Premier Li's visit, published a few days back in the Economic Times

India need not sacrifice balancing China at the altar of better relations 

Despite the border intrusion, China has been making the right noises about improving relations with India. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will echo that theme during his visit to India this week. But New Delhi needs to look beyond the rhetoric and make hardheaded assessments about its relations with China.

This does not mean that India should not be open to Chinese efforts to improve relations or resolve the border dispute. What it does mean is that India should look to Chinese actions rather than its words.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Views on the Li visit . . . .

Lots of comment of Chinese Premier Li's visit to India.  Here are just a few . . .

I will shortly post my own take . . . 

AII-Lowy Institute Indian Foreign Policy Poll

The Australia India Institute (AII) and the Lowy Institute for International Policy have released a poll that largely (but not exclusively) focuses on Indian foreign policy attitudes.  This is very welcome: polls on attitudes towards Indian foreign policy among Indians are few and far between.  The full data and analysis are available from AII and from the Lowy Institute.  Amitabh Mattoo and Rory Medcalf wrote a short essay in The Hindu today outlining their key findings.  The report was presented earlier today in New Delhi at the Observer Research Foundation.

Some key points after a quick read:

  • Indians feel warmest towards the US by a sizeable margin and coolest (coldest?) towards Pakistan, again by a wide margin.  China is in the middle.
  • When asked to compare between US, China and Pakistan, fifty percent want to see ties with the US improve "a lot" over the next decade, while only 33% want for the same for China, and only 15% for Pakistan.  
  • Pakistan and China are seen as the most serious military threats by far
  • Indians generally rate environmental threats, water shortages and food shortage as higher threats than war

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Morning Reads . . .

  • From the Rising Powers Initiative Blog, a nice summary of various Indian and Chinese perspectives on Sino-Indian border dispute and relations.
  • Raja Mohan has a great essay on the Indian Express website on being realistic about Sino-Indian relations in the light of the Sino-Pakistan alliance.
  • Global Times clearly sees the Taiwan-Philippines spat as a way to bring Taiwan closer to the mainland
  • An Insight Crime analysis (via the Small Wars Journal Blog) by Steven Dudley and Viridiana Rios of the rapid expansion of the Zetas, the Mexican drug cartel.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Morning Reads . . . .

  • Two nice essays in the Indian Express.  One by Tanvi Madan argues persuasively that India shouldn't focus as much as it does on personalities in foreign policy.  Another by former Ambassador K.S. Bajpai calls for a "national consensus" about what to expect with China, pointing to some key geopolitical facts that cannot be overlooked.  A couple of key quotes from Bajpai:
    • "While nobody would help us in extremis, some would help us become strong enough to prevent extremis."
    • "We should not slur over unwelcome facts in determining policies, nor assume we are inevitably adversaries."

  • Couple of fairly hardline Chinese views on Manila's apology to Taiwan for the shooting death of a Taiwanese fisherman, though China Daily was relatively more sober than the Global Times, which called on Taiwan and the Mainland to "pursue 'complete victory' over the Philippines this time", whatever that means.  

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Remembering Kenneth Waltz . . .

More tributes to Kenneth Waltz (here, here, here and here).  This latest set is from Foreign Policy and includes a number of his former students, all of whom are distinguished academics themselves.  

And a couple more, one by Robert Murray in e-IR and another by Robert Powell in the Indian Express.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kenneth Waltz

As published on the IDSA website:

Kenneth Waltz R.I.P. (1924-2013)
May 15, 2013
Kenneth Waltz, probably the most influential international relations theorist since the late 1950s, died on May 13, 2013. I did not know Waltz personally and I only saw him once, when he was given an award for his achievements at the International Studies Annual Convention in 2010 at New Orleans. As the tributes to his life and contributions pour in, I wanted to set down a few thoughts about how much his work has influenced the field as well as my own intellectual development and ideas.
What I find most fascinating is how little Waltz has written when compared to the enormous impact he has had on the field. He has only three full-length books, spread over three decades and the last of these, Theory of International Politics, was written almost thirty-five years ago. Two of these books became classics and are still widely read, including Man, the State and War, the book that grew out of his PhD thesis.

Will Pak Elections Improve India-Pakistan Relations?

Colour me skeptical.  I gave my take on the elections in Pakistan and its impact on relations with Pakistan  in a brief piece in Economic Times.  Here's the link to the essay.  I argued that there was too much irrational exuberance and not enough realism in New Delhi about Pakistan.  Neither democracy nor good intentions alone are sufficient.  I am pasting the full essay below as published:

India seems almost as excited by Pakistan’s election results as Nawaz Sharif

By Rajesh Rajagopalan

New Delhi seems almost as excited by Pakistan's election results as Nawaz Sharif. Manmohan Singh's gushing letter to Sharif was probably to be expected. Even the BJP has joined the general consensus that the strengthening of democracy in Pakistan would improve India-Pakistan relations. But the India-Pakistan dispute was not caused by military rule in Pakistan and the strengthening of democracy, which this election surely indicates, will have only marginal effects on improving India-Pakistan relations.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Sixth India Trilateral Forum, Stockholm

Jyoti Malhotra, Abraham Denmark, Dan Twining, me and Francois Godement at the 6th India Trilateral Forum, Stockholm

I attended the 6th India Trilateral Forum in Stockholm recently (April 12-13, 2013).  The India Trilateral Forum’s are organized by the German Marshall Fund of the United States, with support from the Swedish, US and Indian governments.  I had attended the previous two meetings too and it is the only meeting that brings together such a diverse group: scholars, practitioners and some business people.  Since most of the academic meetings I attend include only the first category (and a sprinkling of retired members of the second group), this was an interesting change.  In previous meetings, I found business leaders more optimistic and somewhat less cynical than academics, and it was no different this time. 

The Real China Threat

As the border tension between India and China mount, Economic Times (New Delhi) published an essay I wrote on the issue.  I argued that India should focus on longer term issues about balancing China rather than get distracted by the border pinpricks.  The essay in full:

India should build up capabilities on border with China, exert its influence in the region

Reports of Chinese military intrusion into the Ladakh region once again highlight India's troubled relations with Beijing. While border incursions are no doubt serious, they should not be allowed to mask the real problems that India faces with China, which have more to do with China's growing power and what this means for India's foreign policy.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Pakistani Godfathers of the Taliban

As Afghanistan reaches yet another turning point with the withdrawal of American and other international forces, Pakistan's role becomes ever more crucial.  I have littledoubt that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and the Pakistan Army are calling the shots in Afghanistan (to the extent that any one calls any shots in Afghanistan) and that their control over at least the south of Afghanistan is fairly certain (though there is some Taliban presence in the north around Kunduz too, apparently, according to folks who know a lot more about this stuff than I do).  Here's a nice, brief essay by Adrian Hanni and Lukas Hegi in the Small Wars Journal on ISI and Pakistani links with the Taliban, going back to their origins.  Nothing dramatically new, but it puts together much of the story for a quick read.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Not exactly IR, more RM . . .

Another interesting essay I just read, by way of The Browser . . . 

I usually say something about the whole 'dark matter' controversy in my Research Methodology (RM) class.  I am no theoretical or astrophysicist, and any of you who know more on this (or not!!) are welcome to correct me or comment.  (Here's the Wikipedia link on dark matter).  But in simple terms, there is way more gravitational pull in space than is accounted for by the amount of matter available.  Since no one knows where the excess gravity is coming from, they simply call it 'dark matter' (. . . and they sneer at social 'science'!).  The problem is that no instrument has so far detected it.  But scientists who question the theory are cast out into the netherworld.  As Fry points out, "Astrophysicists who try to trifle with the fundamentals of dark matter tend to find themselves cut off from the mainstream."  Remember Kuhn's 'normal science'?  As Fry suggests, no one wants to say there is something wrong with the theory, because it will be too "drastic".  "Physicists could take non-detection as a hint to give up, but there is always the teasing possibility that we just need a better experiment."  I wonder how they would do in the social sciences!! 

Here's the link:

Hope you enjoy it.

Updated on May 2, 2013:

After I emailed some of my graduate students this essay, I had an exchange with one of them, Kasturi Moitra.  I am pasting the relevant part of our email discussion (with her permission) because it carries the discussion forward.

More Bad News from Afghanistan

I had written sometime back about the bad news coming out of Afghanistan.  My expectation is that Karzai and the Afghan National Army (ANA) would not fare well after the international forces pull out of Afghanistan.  Now comes a story in the New York Times that Taliban attacks are increasing and that the ANA is bearing the brunt of the attacks as the international forces increasingly leave their combat role.  It is not clear how the ANA is doing in these attacks, but the limited data in the story does not sound good.      More ANA soldiers seem to have died last year than the year before.

India, Russia and maybe even the US and Iran need to focus on rebuilding some opposing forces that can counter the Taliban when -- not if -- they take over.  The nucleus of a new Northern Alliance can be parts or elements of the current ANA, but unless this is done before the international forces withdraw, it will be quite difficult to do much.  But the political paralysis in all these capitals on the issue is a huge stumbling block.  The attitude appears to be to hope for the best and prepare for nothing.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

On Reinhold Niebuhr

Will Inboden has a nice blog entry over at Shadow Government on Reinhold Niebuhr, the American Realist, a summary of the points he made at the recent International Studies Association convention.  I have not read enough of Neibuhr to make a critique of Inboden's points but I was curious about his final point about Neibuhr's opposition to pragmatism.  I had always identified Realism with pragmatism and as a key Realist, I would have assumed that this was a value that Neibuhr supported.  The essential point is that I need to read more Niebuhr to fully understand the relationship.

I would also particularly recommend one of the links in Inboden's essay to an essay by Paul Elie in the Atlantic a few years back on the Niebuhr.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Review of Gilboy and Heginbotham's book on Chinese and Indian Strategic Behavior

My book review of George J. Gilboy and Eric Heginbotham's Chinese and Indian Strategic Behavior: Growing Power and Alarm has just been published by Contemporary Security Policy.  I liked the methodology and rigor of their research but it was let down by what I felt was their preconception about how China is blamed for behaviour that India gets away with, such as in military spending.  I felt that while they were not wrong about the similarity in Indian and Chinese strategic behaviour, the difference in the US attitudes towards the two is easily understandable because China is a much more powerful state and more likely to have adversarial relations with the US.  

Monday, April 1, 2013

On China . . .

A number of interesting essays over the last week on China that are worth reading.  Dr. C. Raja Mohan had an excellent essay on how India should approach China, arguing that “a healthy respect for China’s power . . . rather than romantic notions about building an Eastern Bloc against the West, must guide Indian diplomacy.”  Romanticism unfortunately dies hard in Indian foreign policy tradition, so we will have to wait and see how far his advice finds resonance in Delhi. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Shall We Bank on BRICS, A Coalition of Unequals?

I wrote a short opinion piece on the politics around the BRICS Bank for the Economic Times.  I argued that China is likely to dominate the BRICS because of the disparity in wealth between China and the other BRICS.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Steve Earle and Power Transitions

I am not much of a music fan but if you have to drive 40 kilometers everyday through South Delhi traffic, and you don't want to give in to the dark passenger beside you who wants you to run over the next moron who insists on cutting you off, you definitely need something divert your attention.

I came across this song by Steve Earle recently, via The Shield.  I liked it partly because some of the lyrics reminded me of the rise and fall of great powers.  But Earle was writing this I think more as a standard American liberal critic of America.  Any way, I enjoyed it.

Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s Essay on Institutions

I find Pratap Bhanu Mehta one of India’s most readable scholar and commentator.  His latest essay in the Indian Express is a particularly good one.  He points to the manner in which institutions have been eroded by India’s political class.  A more important point he makes is that the the "vast majority of our politicians simply do not understand the meaning of one word: institutions." 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Afghan End Game

The Chuck Hagel visits illustrates the state of the end game in Afghanistan.  My take is somewhat pessimistic, but The Economic Times published it yesterday.  A copy is available after the jump-break.  And here's the link to the essay . . .

Saturday, February 23, 2013

On Iran's Nukes

I made a presentation about Iran's nuclear weapons program and its likely consequences at IDSA's annual Asian Security Conference. IDSA has now posted a video of my presentation.

Attempting a Blog . . . . Again

Here I go with my second attempt at creating a blog.  I maintained one a few years ago, but did not update that for several years and finally decided it would be better to start a new one rather than attempt to restart the old one.  I intend to try and keep this updated at least once a week.  I also intend to do something slightly different this time.  With my previous blog, I mostly posted essays that I published elsewhere, or links to my publications.  This time, I plan to also write specifically for my blog, both my responses to others as well as to developments that motivate me to write.  I do welcome comments, but I will moderate them.

So here goes . . .