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?