Sunday, December 21, 2014

Mehta's essay on Pakistan: A brief critique

I generally enjoy reading Pratap Bhanu Mehta's essays, specially his always trenchant analysis of Indian politics.  His essay last week is a fine exemplar, outlining the deeper institutional difficulties that face Prime Minister Modi, which Modi unfortunately does not seem to be paying much attention to.  Mehta's position is always that of a true Liberal, and he appears not to take a position first and let the analysis follow, but decide on his position based on his analysis.  Such analytical commitment and honesty is rare anywhere but especially in India.

But Liberalism has serious flaws when it comes to understanding international politics. I had earlier posted a brief comment on another essay of his where I disagreed with his view of Indian policy on Pakistan, which he characterized as Realism.  His latest essay gives me another chance to provide a brief Realist critique of the Liberal view of India-Pakistan relations.

Friday, November 21, 2014

More Flux in South Asian Alignments

In July, I had written an essay in Economic Times arguing that closer Sino-Russian relations could spell trouble for India down the road.  As relations between the West and Russia tumble further, we can expect Moscow and Beijing to get closer.  This could have potential blowback on Russian-Indian relations.  Before his trip to US, Prime Minister Modi strongly defended Russia.  When he was asked by Fareed Zakaria about Russian annexation of Crimea, he replied in part:

"There's a saying in India that the person who should throw a stone first is the person who has not committed any sins.  In the world right now, a lot of people want to give advice, but look within them, and they, too, have sinned in some way.

Ultimately India's viewpoint is that efforts need to be made to sit together and talk and to resolve problems in an ongoing process."

Such support is understandable given India's long strategic association with Russia/Soviet Union. But this might become increasingly untenable, and New Delhi needs to be careful about how Russia's increasing closeness to China affects Indian interests.  India needs Russian support in a variety of international bodies, on a number of issues, from NSG membership to dealing with a post-American Afghanistan.  And of course, the Indian military is mostly still dependent on Russian arms. The question is whether Moscow's support to India on these issues will now weaken somewhat.

Now comes news that Russia and Pakistan are seeking somewhat closer military ties, news that has been largely ignored in the Indian media. The last time such ties developed was in the late 1960s, when the Soviet Union attempted a brief neutrality between the two countries in order to promote a South Asian settlement, hoping that a less divided subcontinent under Moscow's protection might help it against both Beijing and Washington.  That move went nowhere fast, annoying India without getting much out of Pakistan.  Maybe it will be no different this time either, but it bears watching.  President Putin will be in Delhi next month and it should give India some idea about Russian attitudes.  Of course, the fact that Modi has just invited Obama to be the Republic Day guest is not likely to go down well in Moscow. All in all, a period of greater flux and uncertainty in regional alignments.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

After Modi's US Visit

My assessment about the state of the US-India relationship has been put out by the East West Centre through its Asia-Pacific Bulletin series.  I argued that while there are some significant advances, the relationship also faces some problems, especially as a consequence of Obama's disinterest in the region, India repeatedly disappointing its friends in Washington, and New Delhi's continuing foolishness over the nuclear liability bill.  The essay is reproduced below.

US-India Relations after the Modi Visit

A decade back, US-India relations appeared finally to be ready to break from the traditional pattern of swinging between euphoria and exasperation.  But over the last several years, that pattern re-emerged as both Washington and New Delhi busily dug their relationship into a hole.  One state visit, even such a high-octane one as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s, cannot be expected to pull the two sides out of this hole, but it would be fair to say that the two sides have at least stopped digging.  But there is hard work ahead and the outcome is by no means certain. 

There is enough blame to go around for the state of the relationship, though New Delhi has to take a bigger share.  Immediately after the US-India nuclear deal was concluded, the UPA government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in a hurry to distance itself from the US, frightened about the domestic political consequence of its closeness to Washington.  What followed was India’s Nuclear Liability Bill (which essentially negated the key benefits of the US-India nuclear deal), its decision to reject American combat jets for the Indian Air Force, its abstention from the Libya vote in the UN Security Council, and a downgrading of military ties.  On the US side, President Obama started out as other Democratic presidents have, wanting a special relationship with China and seeking to push a Kashmir negotiation between India and Pakistan, both key red flags for India.  More fundamentally, Obama’s apparent desire to pull back from America’s global commitments led to concerns in Asia and in India about Washington’s dependability just as China was asserting itself in Asia – concerns that have yet to subside despite Obama’s Asia ‘pivot’ and ‘rebalancing’. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rhetoric, Capability and Credibility in Indian Strategic Policy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi definitely has a lot of advantages over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, especially when it comes to foreign and security policies.  Unlike Singh, he doesn't have to constantly look over his shoulder to make sure his party leaders are supporting him (remember the nuclear deal?).  Equally importantly, within the government, Singh was constantly second-guessed by other Congress big-wigs who appear never to have forgiven him for taking the top spot.  In addition, Modi comes from a very different background, from outside the New Delhi IIC culture, and appears less concerned about mouthing empty left-liberal slogans about peace and disarmament.  All this might explain why he has been much more willing to unshackle the security forces on both the Pakistan front and the China front.  Moreover, can anyone imagine Singh talking about 'vistaarvad', especially while on a trip to Japan?  [And for those who think that this was a one off, or that he wasn't referring to China, Modi had used the same word during the election campaign, while in Arunachal Pradesh, and it was a direct reference to China].

Having said all this though, there is also a danger about rhetoric running ahead of actual military capabilities.  Credibility is important in international politics and it is better to bide your time while building up your capabilities rather than let your mouth back you into a corner.  So, while Modi's firmness is welcome, I worry that New Delhi hasn't prepared for what might happen if there is an escalation.  This is particularly worrisome with regard to China, but also a problem with Pakistan. My essay in the Economic Times outlines these concerns, and is reproduced below.

Indo-Pak border skirmish: India needs to be firm & careful in its response

India's unusually tough response to Pakistan's border infractions appear to have silenced Islamabad. At least for now. Much to its own detriment, India has rarely considered military force as an element in its strategic tool kit. If India's response now signals a change in how it combines diplomacy and force, it can only be welcomed. But the harsh political rhetoric that accompanied this apparent change in strategy has its own pitfalls that New Delhi needs to consider with care. US President Theodore Roosevelt is credited with the aphorism 'Speak softly and carry a big stick'. This reflects a happy synergy between political rhetoric and practical capacities, but one that is rarely forged in foreign policies. India's leaders have been particularly inept in understanding this relationship.

Monday, September 22, 2014

New Book

I and Atul Mishra are proud to announce that our book Nuclear South Asia: Keywords and Concepts has now been published by Routledge.  This was several years in the works and at one point, I had even given up on completing it, until Atul came on board to rescue it.  The project started as a dictionary series, which I agreed to join with considerable reluctance and with good reason: a project like this requires great discipline and I wasn't sure I was up to it.  After some initial work, I realized that my original doubts were well founded: I would not be able to do this on my own and I was ready to junk it.  That was when Atul agreed to join the project and breathed fresh life into it.  This was a huge burden for Atul because he was still writing his PhD thesis and this was a subject way beyond his PhD thesis topic. Nevertheless he not only agreed to join but gave me sufficient hope that I could get back to working on it.  Once we were finished with our initial draft came the next obstacle: because most of the other authors contracted to write dictionaries on other topics in the same series failed to finish their manuscripts, the entire series was shelved by the publisher.  We understood the publisher's point of view -- you cannot have a series with just one manuscript, after all -- but this left us with a more or less complete manuscript and no publisher.  We had some interest from at least one other publisher, but they required significant additions and both I and Atul were too exhausted to consider it.  Eventually, after more than a year of sitting on the shelf, Routledge finally expressed an interest but because a couple of years had passed since we wrote the manuscript, it required significant updating.  After this long journey, I think it would be fair to say that both of us are at least as much relieved as excited that it is now out.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Handling Great Power Relations

The Asian security situation is slowly deteriorating, the consequence of both China's rise as well Washington's seeming fickleness that is sending its allies such as Japan looking for new allies in the region.  But its not just Japan that is feeling the effect of insecurity: Vietnam (where Indian President just completed a state visit) and Australia (whose Prime Minister Tony Abbot also was in Delhi recently) are also worried, as are others which have territorial disputes with China, such as the Philippines.  But China is taking efforts to prevent these Asian powers from coming together, primarily focusing on India and Australia.  That is smart and prudent strategy.  President Xi visit to India this week has to be seen in this light.

But from India's perspective, it has to be clear-eyed about how the game is played.  There is no reason to unnecessarily antagonize China by trying to create an Asian alliance against it, but neither should New Delhi let Beijing dictate how it plays the game.  In the long-term, India's strategic interests are not compatible with China.  Once this simple strategic truth is accepted, all else should fall into place. The reason why India's strategic interest are not compatible with China is because India, like other Asian and global powers, has no interest in seeing any one Asian power dominate the continent.  This becomes even more important if China's relative power continues to grow.  India, of course, has other serious disputes too with China, ranging for territorial issues to China's support for Pakistan. None of this means India should not talk to China or engage in trade or frequently exaggerate border incidents.  It does mean that India needs to both engage and balance.

President Xi's visit to India provided a good opportunity to write on some of these issues.  My essay was published in Economic Times, and reproduced below.

India needs to deftly deal with multiple strategic partners, and with China

Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to the US will cap a very busy three months for India's foreign policy. It has also been a heady period, with India being wooed by multiple strategic partners.

So, India faces a unique problem of plenty in strategic partners. This is a nice problem to have, but it's still a problem. While it is understandable that New Delhi might want to simply celebrate its newfound importance in the international arena, what it needs even more is clear and calculated longterm thinking to navigate this pitfall of opportunities.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Superb Essay on Obama, Bush and US National Security Decision-Making

President Obama's foolish foreign policy choices are finally coming home to roost.  The old saying about a stitch in time saving nine applies very well here: if Obama had provided better levels of support to more moderate Syrian rebels, the Islamic State terrorist might never have become the kind of threat it has in the region, which now requires much harder responses.  There is a lesson in here for Obama's larger foreign policy strategy of disengagement, which is that such disengagement can create conditions that are a lot more dangerous than engagement.  This is not to suggest that levels of engagement should not be carefully thought out, and disengagement might be appropriate under some circumstances, but that disengagement cannot be a doctrine -- especially for the world's most powerful state.

David Rothkopf, editor of the Foreign Policy group, has excellent essay on the decision-making styles of the Bush and Obama White House, which provides a very nuanced picture of the process in both White Houses and which, incidentally, is more objective in examining the Bush foreign policy especially in the second term.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Strategic Consequences of Russi-Chini Bhai Bhai

The continuing tragedy of the MH-17 shoot-down shows no sign of abating.  But there are deeper strategic consequences too of pushing Russia too hard, forcing it into Beijing's hands.  The point has been made before: Dr. C. Raja Mohan had an essay in the Indian Express in the context of Prime Minister Modi at the BRICS summit.  In a slightly different context in the National Interest, Dimitry K. Simes made a similar point but castigating President Obama's policies.

I wrote in the Economic Times that this might have direct consequences for India.  The essay is reproduced in full below

Sino-Russian Bonhomie Brewing; India Should Be Wary

The tragic shooting down of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine is likely to lead to further American pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The increasing US-Russia antagonism will have consequences and they will undoubtedly impact India.

There is enough blame to go around for the slow escalation of the Ukraine crisis. Putin's attempt to control Russia's so-called "near abroad" and prevent the expansion of Western influence towards the Russian border has been one element. This is an objective that Russia has pushed with little finesse. The reckless support for the rebels in eastern Ukraine, including the supply of heavy arms and equipment and Russian military forces, was no doubt the immediate cause of the tragic shooting down of the Malaysian airliner (even if it was unintended).

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Absurd UNHRC Resolution on Israel -- And the Equally Absurd Indian Position

The UNHRC, that great defender of global human rights, has once again criticized Israel for the on-going war in Gaza, despite the fact that Israel has repeatedly accepted various ceasefires, while Hamas refuses to, even today.  But considering the general record of the UNHRC on Israel-related issues, this does not comes as much of a surprise.  And supporting the condemnation of Israel were some of the great defenders of human rights such as China, Cuba, Russia and Pakistan.  What was surprising, however, was the Indian position on the issue.  Though it was highly unlikely that India would have supported Israel directly by voting against the resolution -- such moral courage had long disappeared from our 'moral' foreign policy -- the hope was that there would be some adult supervision at the MEA under a Modi government and our diplomacy would not simply be about regurgitating our 1970s third worldist nonsense.  But the Indian statement does not even mention Hamas or the rockets raining down on Israel, hiding behind euphemisms such as 'non-state actors' who are supposedly 'creating obstacles to the peace process'.  Really?? Hamas rockets are just 'obstacles to the peace process'?  What was the 26/11 Mumbai attack? A traffic jam?? Even Navy Pillay -- no great supporter of Israel -- mentioned the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel in her statement.  India's spineless stand at Geneva has already come in for justified criticism.  The argument that the Modi government has not had sufficient time to revise policies is beginning to look increasingly thin.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The US-led Israel-Palestine Peace Process (2013-14) -- How (and Why) It Failed

Apropos my recent essay (previous post) on the war in Gaza, I had argued that Israel should do more to push the peace process with Palestinians, though I also argue that Israel is blamed disproportionately for the failure to reach a final peace agreement.  Now, in New Republic, Ben Birnbaum and Amir Tibon have written an excellent and fairly detailed account of last year's peace process in which US Secretary of State John Kerry tried hard to get the Israeli's and Palestinians to hash out a settlement.  They failed but once again there was plenty of blame to go around and I am sure partisans on all sides will argue for long about who was more to blame.  But they did seem to have come close and that makes the current situation even more tragic.  But this essay is essential reading for those who take simplistic positions on the crisis.

Friday, July 18, 2014

India, Israel and the newest Gaza War

The latest conflagration in Gaza has been accompanied by the predictable one-sided analyses of what is a very complicated problem.  Israel clearly has to do more to push the peace process but the reason why the process has not so far achieved a solution cannot all be laid at Israel's door either.  In this latest escalation in particular, Israel has been far, far more sinned against by any stretch of the imagination.  But those blaming Israel, including an essay in the Hindu by Vijay Prashad, are not above twisting the facts to make their case.  Prashad defends the terrorists of Hamas, writing that "[I]ts rockets fired after Israel began its aerial bombing of Gaza", a blatant distortion that even cursory research will disprove.

My essay on the crisis was posted on the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) website a few hours back. Posted below in full.  

India, Israel and the Gaza War

As the fighting in Gaza threatens to escalate further, the Indian government has taken the prudent and correct approach by refusing to be stampeded into foolish parliamentary resolutions that will do nothing to either help in resolving the crisis nor in advancing India's interests.

The Ministry of External Affairs had already stated that India was concerned about the situation, pointing to both the civilian casualties in Gaza and also the rocket attacks on Israel. Politicians might want to grandstand in the parliament for the benefit of domestic audiences by blaming Israel entirely for the current crisis. But
that would neither help Indian interests nor be accurate.

Monday, July 14, 2014

India and BRICS: Looking for Love . . . .

As Prime Minister Modi departs for the BRICS summit, I could not help recalling this old Johnny Lee country western song when thinking of Indian policy on BRICS . . .

But jokes aside, I was impressed that the Prime Minister's departure statement notably ignores some of the nonsense that usually finds its way into Indian foreign policy statements such as the mantra-like call for multipolarity.  The statement focused largely on economic issues, largely unobjectionable.
Now we need to see if PM Modi will push that pragmatism in the course of the actual discussions at BRICS, especially with Russia and China.  Both Moscow and Beijing have their own axe to grind with the US.  There is little reason why India should become part of their agenda.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Chris Ogden on Hindu nationalism and Indian security policy

The Book Review has just published my review of Chris Ogden's recent book on Hindu nationalism an Indian security policy.  The subject is under-researched though I know of at least two PhD's theses underway (including one of my students) on related issues and at least one other book also on a related topic in the works by a colleague in an Australian university.  Though I am somewhat critical of the manner in Ogden has used some of the concepts in his study, I do think that there needs to be more work on the substantive aspects of Indian foreign policy, both the making of it and in terms of explaining it.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

World War-1 and Asian Stability

In late June, SWP (Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik) and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation jointly organized their annual conference on Asian security, the Berlin Conference on Asian Security.  The theme this time was if the conditions that led to the First World War a hundred years ago are being replicated in Asia today.  The discussions were under the Chatham House rule, but Amitav Acharya, who was also present, wrote an essay in Economic Times on the same issue.  I wrote an essay in Economic Times too which appeared a couple of days after Amitav's piece.  We obviously disagree.  My essay is reproduced below.

There has, of course been a debate a long debate, ever since the early 1990s, whether Asian multipolarity was going to lead to conflict.  Aaron Friedberg fired the first shot arguing that Asia does not even have some of the advantages that Europe had to ameliorate potential conflicts and that it was therefore 'ripe for rivalry'.  Other including David Kang and Amitav Acharya disagreed, suggesting different reasons why Asia was unlikely to replicate European patterns.  While much of the evidence appeared to support the anti-Realist case so far, I would think that the developments over the past few years definitely support the Realist case for pessimism about the prospects for stability in the region.

Is Asia Heading Towards World War-like Conditions?

On June 28, 1914, the crown prince of the Austro-Hungarian empire Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, starting a chain of events that directly led to the First World War a month later. The war had dramatic consequences, killing almost ten million, destroying several great powers, remaking the  global map, heralding the general decline of Europe and leading eventually to the rise of the US and the Soviet Union.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

An Agenda for the New EAM

This is the second essay I wrote in Economic Times on the new government's foreign policy, published on May 27.  Though rumors suggested that Sushma Swaraj would be the new EAM, it was not confirmed until Tuesday morning.  On Wednesday, Dr. Ashley Tellis wrote an open letter to the new EAM, which also makes interesting reading.  He stresses economic diplomacy agenda more than I did in my piece but there are some points on which our suggestions are similar.  Other interesting pieces included a couple by Dan Twining (here and here), a couple by C. Raja Mohan (here, here and here), and one by my CIPOD colleague Happymon Jacob.  Many more analyses out there of course, but these are the ones I think are must reads.

With Modi's Stress on Foreign Policy, Task Cut Out for External Affairs Minister

The new external affairs minister (EAM) has a long list of foreign policy challenges and very little time to lose. Over the past several years, Indian diplomacy has been hamstrung by ideological blinkers of another age, domestic political interference in foreign policy, and glaring institutional weaknesses. The new EAM needs to move with some alacrity in addressing these problems before they inflict more damage to Indian foreign policy.

Pragmatic Partner

First, EAM has to get right some key global partnerships. On top of that list is improving India's relationship with Washington that has suffered because of a number of irritants, the most recent of which was the unfortunate Devyani Khobragade incident. It is important that the EAM cut loose the Third Worldist ideological tendencies that have been binding Indian foreign policy and examine India's interests dispassionately.

What Should Modi's Foreign Policy Be?

I wrote two essays on the new Narendra Modi government's foreign policy.  This one appeared on Monday, May 26, the day Modi took the oath of office, in the Economic Times.  The second one appeared on Tuesday, and I'll shortly post that too.

Modi Must Drive Foreign Policy back to the Path of Realism

Narendra Modi has hit the ground running in terms of foreign policy by inviting the leaders of the SAARC countries to his swearing-in ceremony. Leaders of many SAARC countries will be attending, but much of the focus is likely to be on the India-Pakistan dynamic. This is a move reminiscent of AB Vajpayee's Lahore bus trip, which sought to remake Indo-Pak ties.

But Modi will be well-advised to remember what followed that particular meeting between Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif and an Indian leader. There are limits to what a weak civilian leadership in Pakistan can deliver in talks with India. This is not to suggest that Modi should not reach out to Pakistan. But engagement should not be the kind of one-sided affair that it has been over the last 15 years.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Post-Modernism vs. Realism . . . in the Game of Thrones

Well, maybe it is a bit unfair to use this.  After all, the Game of Thrones represents a world that is so Realist that it's almost a parody . . . a harsh and unforgiving environment where every moment could be your last and where, as one character declares, "you either win or you die." There are lots of dialogues and declarations that would warm a Realist's heart, many (as the one above) by the Queen of the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms Cersei Lannister, a woman whose only redeeming qualities -- according to one of her brothers -- is her love of her children and her cheekbones.  But I was particularly struck by another dialogue she features in because it so neatly captures at least one Realist response to post-modernist/post-structuralist argument about the relationship between power and knowledge.  A more sophisticated response would go back to E.H. Carr and other Realists who understood the material bases of knowledge-creation.  But I'll leave that for another post.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Opinion piece on small arms production

Aaron Karp and I co-authored an opinion piece based on our recent paper for the Small Arms Survey, Geneva [please see the previous post] on Indian small arms production.  It was published by Economic Times on April 22.  But oddly, and much to my embarrassment, Economic Times listed me as the author and consigned Aaron's name to the end of the article. I do not understand why the editors did that or why they put it under my name, considering that the essay as sent to Economic Times listed Aaron as the first author and he deserves full credit for the piece.  Below, I have reposted the article, with credit duly acknowledged.
[Edited: Economic Times has now -- as of Saturday, April 26, 2014 evening -- corrected its online edition, acknowledging both of us as authors]

Defence Modernisation: A Revolution in Indian Defence Procurement

Aaron Karp and Rajesh Rajagopalan

Firearms often get overlooked in discussions of military procurement policy. But with the procurement of nearly 6 million Indian military and police weapons due, the total value is anything but small, as are broader implications for Indian defense policy.

In a study, we found the Indian government has roughly 5.6 million small arms; 2.6 million in the military, the others with police and paramilitaries.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Small Arms of the Indian State: Report Out

Aaron Karp and I have been working on an issue brief on Indian small arms for a while now.  The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, which commissioned it, has finally published it and it is available here.  My thanks to Aaron for inviting me to join the project.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Seriously P.O.ed . . . Can't find my name on the Electoral Roll

Despite having my voter ID card and every other Indian national ID there is, I couldn't vote today because my name was missing from the electoral roll.  This despite the fact that I voted in the 2009 elections with the same voter ID card.  So I am forced to sit out what by all indications is the most critical election in a generation.  Nice going, ECI!

Do We Need A New COIN Approach?

As India's six-week long national elections continues, Maoists in India's hinterlands have attacked yet again.  And yet again, there are claims of incompetence in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations.  But the problems with Indian COIN goes deeper than just soldiers not following SOPs.  I wrote an essay for the Observer Research Analysis (ORF) in New Delhi on some of these issues, specifically in light of a new book on the subject by General Nanavatty, and it is pasted below:

As the Indian general election begins, there are fears that Maoist insurgents might attempt to disrupt the polls in areas where they hold sway. Their threats have already prevented political parties from campaigning in these areas. The Maoist ambush in the Sukma district of Chattisgarh last month, which killed 16 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, indicates again that Indian security forces are yet to learn how to fight this scourge effectively. Temporary setbacks are inevitable in any war, but this is not as much a temporary setback as an illustration of continuing malaise in Indian security operations. Indeed, it represents a larger failure of Indian counter-insurgency approach itself. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The implications of the Afghan elections

With the successful conclusion of the polling phase of the Afghan elections, attention now shifts to who might win and what the winner might do regarding some key policy issues. Very (very!) early trends suggest that Abdullah Abdullah is the front runner, but it will be a while before the dust settles on this one.  

My take on the implications of the Afghan elections was published in Economic Times today and is reproduced below: 

Afghan Polls Hold Hope; Real Test To Come When Taliban Step Up Their Attacks

The just-concluded Afghan elections surprised most observers. The first surprise was that it was held at all because many had a sneaking suspicion that President Hamid Karzai would find some excuse to postpone or cancel the polls to hang on to power. He has already served two terms and, under the Afghan constitution, cannot have a third term.

Monday, March 31, 2014

An Important Post on the 'Impostor Syndrome'

This resonated with me when I read it, and I think most academics, colleagues and especially students need to read this about the impostor syndrome, which came to my attention by way of Steve Saideman over at the Duck of Minerva.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

India Gets It Right -- Mostly -- in UNHRC

The extent to which domestic politics and narrow sectarian interests sometimes dictate India's foreign policy to the detriment of the larger national interest was once again made clear when India decided to abstain from the vote on the UNHRC resolution in Geneva that targeted Sri Lanka.  It was absolutely the correct thing to do -- indeed, I would go so far as to say that India should have voted against the U.S.-sponsored resolution.  I had criticized India's decision in 2012 to support a similar UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka.

Why does it demonstrate the importance of domestic politics?  Because, whatever explanations the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) might come up with for the change in the vote this time (that this resolution was intrusive compared to previous efforts), the the key difference was that the UPA government is no longer being held hostage by Tamil politics parties and their one-upmanship on the issue.  This allowed New Delhi to pursue the national interest, which they had given the go-by the previous two years in the interest of coalition politics.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Crimean Crisis

The Crimean crisis might not be the beginning of a new cold war, but it clearly reflects some of the problems with Obama's foreign policy as I argued in a piece on Economic Times (online), pasted below:

Crimea Tilts Power Equations

The consequences of Vlamidir Putin’s ‘land-grab’ are likely to reverberate for some time.  Not even traditional friends and anti-Western compatriots like New Delhi and Beijing are entirely comfortable with Putin’s initiative.

India’s default option – to side with neither side in the dispute – might be understandable because on the one hand India does not want unilateral referendums to become an international norm considering its own position in Kashmir but on the other hand New Delhi’s natural political instinct is not to side with the West against anybody, especially a traditional friend like Russia.  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

International Politics and Security After Nuclear Disarmament

The Geneva Centre for Security Policy convened a conference last year looking at 'Security in A World Without Nuclear Weapons'.  One meeting was held in Glion, Switzerland last summer and the report is now out.  I contributed a chapter on "Power Balances and the Prospects for a Stable Post-Nuclear Weapons World."  I suggested that a post-nuclear weapons world will not be very different for most states because they were not really affected one way or another by nuclear weapons, except indirectly if a nuclear war took place which would affect everybody.  But nuclear disarmament would create issues for countries that were defended either directly or indirectly (i.e., with extended deterrence) with nuclear weapons.  In some cases, especially for states such as Pakistan, North Korea and Israel, all of which perceive significant conventional threats and for whom nuclear weapons represent the great equalizer, nuclear abolition would create serious problems.  I predict that they would be the ones most resistant to nuclear disarmament, should that become a serious possibility.  GCSP organized a public discussion in Geneva to launch the report in which I participated.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Limitations of an India-Japan Partnership

India invited Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to be the Chief Guest at India's Republic Day celebrations, signalling a new closeness in their ties.  Most of the commentary in India and around the world noted the strategic significance of the invitation, and the Indian commentariat was uniformly positive.  I am somewhat skeptical but not because I don't see the strategic value in the relationship, especially in balancing China.  It has to do more with my sense that both governments -- like democracies in general -- tend to look for short-term buck-passing solutions rather than real balancing, which requires a certain clarity, consistency and commitment.  A short essay that I wrote on this was posted a couple of days back on the Observer Research Foundation (ORF) website, and is reproduced in full below.   

The Limitations of India-Japan Partnership

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's short visit was high on symbolism but both countries need to carefully assess the utility as well as the limits of their partnership. While trade between the two countries have grown dramatically, the primary driver in the relationship has been strategic necessity, their shared concern about an increasingly strong but aggressive China. 

Monday, January 13, 2014

A ridiculous spat . . . now over?

The Devyani Khobragade incident now appears to be over, hopefully.  But I suspect that there are going to be longer term consequences.  To put what is India's most important bilateral relationship at risk over such an issue shows very little maturity or strategic sense.  Much of the commentary from retired IFS folks (many of whom I know and respect a lot) borders on hysteria and others of the Indian 'strategic' community appear to have joined in, though there was some push back, especially from the Indian Express and its editor Shekhar Gupta.  Meanwhile the Left couldn't seem to figure out whether to go after the American Imperialists or the Indian State, a target rich environment from their perspective.

On the other hand, a very unscientific survey based on the comments sections of essays and news items might suggest that the outrage on TV studios is not entirely shared by the rest of the country (or at least those who write-in such comments).  Though there was some outrage here too, I did find a significant amount of push-back about the ethical issues involved.  But, of course, I reiterate, an extremely unscientific survey.

My take was published in Economic Times as the controversy broke and it is posted below.

Delhi should avoid lasting damages to India-US ties

As the imbroglio over Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade's arrest in New York escalates, it is important that both Washington and New Delhi ensure that this row does not affect the strategic relationship that the two countries hope to build.