Saturday, June 25, 2016

Non-Alignmet 3.0?


   Even the votaries of non-alignment have either forgotten or don't seem to understand the original concept. It almost seems to have become a mantra which is chanted periodically. It is a concept developed in the context of the Cold War between USA and USSR that followed World War II. The battle lines were drawn between the USA and its non-Russian WWII allies and the USSR and its acquired territories in Eastern Europe. India and other newly independent countries were not the object of hostility from either side. They were however being asked to join the "Cold War" on one side or another. The issue of joining one side or the other and fighting the Cold War or joining neither side and staying out of the Cold War were genuine issues. The Cold War ended with the collapse of the USSR in 1990 as did the issue which it addressed.

Non-alignment post 1990

  With the Cold War ended, what was the war that anyone was aligned for against or neutral towards. The "Non aligned Movement (NAM) " became a secular mantra for the left, socialists and communists. For a wide swath of intellectuals it become a substitute for rethinking their foreign policy in the light of a changing India and changing world environment. Indian growth accelerated sharply during the 1980s and further after the 1990s reform. As India's economic heft in the global economy increased during the 2000s it became impossible to resist a re-evaluation of India's foreign policy. The response of our ruling intellectuals was a hybrid called Non-alignment 2.0, an attempt to disguise the evolution of foreign policy in the 1990s & early 2000s, and reassure the left that the pre-1990s Bipolar World was alive and well, with their favorite socialist country as one pole. 
   The geopolitical situation had, by 2007-8 been completely and fundamentally transformed from the perspective of India and several Asian countries, though perhaps not for many Latin American, Caribbean, and African countries. Even these countries have been actively making deals with old and new powers, while continuing to use this forum to have a voice in the multilateral institutions. For a while the four largest non-G7 countries tried to do the same through the informal grouping named BRICs. China's global stance started changing from passive to aggressive around 2006 and more so since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. This has transformed it into a protagonists of the US over the last five years, with the US responding with its "Pivot to Asia". The anticipation of an emerging cold war between China and USA has revived the outdated & irrelevant concept of non-alignment in India. 
      But this is not some distant war fought in the battle fields of Europe, but an expansion of a war that has been fought against India by one of the protagonists China for more than half a century, while the other protagonist USA did everything it could for 30 yrs to help this protagonist become economically strong. Belatedly the USA recognizes the threat to itself from China, a threat India has faced with varying intensity, for decades. China has continuously endeavored to undermine our security since 1960s by proliferating nuclear and missile technologies to hostile neighbor Pakistan (and other terrorist nations). It's hostile actions since 2006 are too many to list in this short note, but a significant one was the declaration of Arunachal Pradesh as South Tibet and the personal abuse of the President of India for speaking there(by the Chinese Ambassador to India).  

 National Interest and Beneficial Deals

   How can one be "non-aligned" between a country willing to help us strengthen our economy, defense forces and strategic presence (albeit at a price) and a country working to undermine our national security (while extracting economic gains through non-market means).  The mind boggles at an attempt to define the concept of non-alignment between a group of friendly countries and another group of hostile countries.  Unless of course the underlying idea is to appease ones enemies to avoid getting too close to anyone we dislike for ideological reasons, even if it professes friendship. 
   The issue here is not the 1950s issue of alignment versus non-alignment, but of how best to use the capabilities of a super-power to accelerate our economic growth and strengthen defense and strategic capabilities, while minimizing any adverse reaction from an aggressive, hostile power which happens to be our neighbor.  This requires using our rising economic & strategic power to make deals that further our national interest (economic, technological and strategic) and promote our security. Doing something merely to avoid getting punched by the local bully is appeasement not mutually beneficial deal making.


  Foreign policy starts with a clear definition of national objectives and a realistic appraisal of which countries interest are most closely aligned with ours (potential friends)) and those countries which are most hostile to our interests (potential enemies). One cannot be non-aligned between friends and enemies so defined. One can however promote overlapping interests together and make deals with all countries (friendly, neutral, hostile) if and only if they promote these identified national interests. Constantly looking over our shoulder at what our enemies will think and not doing deals that provide an overall net benefit to us merely because the enemy will react negatively, is appeasement, not pragmatic promotion of one's interest in peaceful developmen.
A version of this note appeared in DPG Policy Brief Vol. I No 5 at

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