If the great Scott Fitzgerald were to have walked into the grand plenary hall of the Durban climate conference in 2011 to announce once again, “show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy,” all fingers would have pointed to the tiny Indian contingent in the room. There, Fitzgerald would have caught a glimpse of the feisty Jayanthi Natarajan, Union Minister for Environment and Forests, holding the fort against attempts by developed countries to impose binding emission cuts on the global South. The “greatest tragedy of all time,” Ms Natarajan would herself acknowledge, would be for negotiators to abandon the principles of equity and Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). Two years later, this tragedy is imminent — only India’s heroism remains.
On India’s reactive climate diplomacy here.
I spent nearly a year as a student at a pre-eminent school of international relations before I realised I had come across little of Kenneth Waltz’s scholarship. In fact, I had studiously avoided being exposed to it. To me, this was a fair bargain since Professor Waltz had, for the most part of his life, steered clear of research in international law and organisations, which I was interested in. But in keeping away, I had merely reinforced a worrying trend in the graduate study of political science, where the application of theoretical concepts has been neatly stored in silos. I was more than happy to perpetuate this division because my indifference to Waltz was borne out of righteous self-indignation, and more importantly, fear.
I pay obeisance to the late, great Ken Waltz here.
(Image via The National Interest/ theory-talks.org/Peer Schouten. I hold no rights)
Samudra Manthan superimposes a paradigm that articulates developments from a Western perspective
In 2004, the Office of Net Assessment — a think-tank affiliated to the U.S. Department of Defence that specialises in “unlikely scenarios” — commissioned a consulting firm to study energy security in Asia. Analysts on the job, mostly 20-somethings just out of college, realised China was building several ports along the Indian Ocean coastline. They literally connected these dots on the map, suggesting them to be a “string of pearls” with which China would encircle and expand its presence in the region. Within months, the phrase became a buzzword. Never mind some of these “pearls” were cargo ship docks and civilian facilities: here was a term the ‘strategic community’ could put its finger on, while talking up China’s belligerent schemes on the world.
More dignified in its lineage but equally fanciful in scope is another phrase currently doing the rounds — the ‘Indo-Pacific.’ In one fell swoop, it brings together the Indian and the Pacific Oceans, and with it the maritime strategies of India, China, the United States, Australia and the ASEAN littoral states among others — countries which have vastly different blue-water orientations, objectives and not least, naval capabilities. C. Raja Mohan’s Samudra Manthan fashions the Indo-Pacific into an important “geopolitical theater” which will soon witness fierce maritime rivalry between India and China. Why so? Because, well, you know, both are rising powers and also, you see, globalisation is bringing countries in the region closer, and what’s more — here it comes — the seas are connected! Throw in the United States’ announced Asia “pivot”, a term that the Obama administration is yet to flesh out clearly and the stage is set for a grand tale about Great Power oceanic tussle, replete with nuclear deterrents in the high seas and the possibility of space warfare between India and China.
My review of C. Raja Mohan’s Samudra Manthan, for The Hindu is here.
A hundred years ago, anthropologists,led by the French ethnographer Arnold van Gennep, began documenting ceremonies that marked transitions in the social status of people or groups. These ceremonies, which van Gennep called “rites of passage”, usually represented the transformation of individuals from one status to another—from adolescent to adult, maiden to mother, or living to dead. In van Gennep’s classification, these rituals had three distinct phases: separation, transition and incorporation. First, the individual would break away from her group, by shedding its collective psychosocial characteristics. Then, a series of elaborate rituals would test her “worthiness” to join the destination-group. The final cycle of rites would completely assimilate her identity with that of a new and distinct collective.
Van Gennep’s rites of passage offer a useful analogy to understand the significance of India’s two-year term on the United Nations Security Council, which comes to an end this month. Between 1992, when India last served as a non-permanent member of the Council, and the beginning of the present term in 2011, the country’s rise as an influential voice in international politics presented an opportunity to break with the past.
My essay for Caravan Magazine, evaluating India’s tenure in the UNSC, is here.
French jets are zipping past northern Mali, bombing the region and with it, a participatory framework that had thus far allowed African states to troubleshoot what is first and foremost a regional political crisis. France’s aerial assault and imminent deployment of ground troops is a volte face from its original plan to offer “logistical aid” to African peacekeepers in Mali. For all of French President François Hollande’s promises to treat Africa as a partner and friend, his government’s military intervention in the Sahel is proof that Françafrique is alive and well. Its monopoly over the rapid deployment of military force allows France to sustain a relationship of dependency with the continent, at a time when governments in North, West and Central Africa are struggling to control armed rebels.
The oped, written for The Hindu, is here
I have an essay in the current edition of the EPW
What may follow the exit of the African patriarch may seem like a dystopic narrative but it is a plausible scenario within a decade or two, for most ‘stable’ sub-Saharan economies. It is verily a contingency that India’s business and foreign policy establishments must prepare for. I outline here a few steps that India-based MNCs and the government could adopt to buffer unpredictable developments in the political economy of Africa.
The UN’s Webcast of GA proceedings is here. India’s EoV, offered by Hardeep Puri begins at 1:00:41. The resolution adopted by the Arab League on 22 July 2012 - the UNGA draft’s reference to which is cited by India as the primary reason for abstaining - is here.
This is essentially a throwback to India’s position circa February 2012, when the first draft on Syria this year was presented at the UN Security Council. Props to our Mission for negotiating a watered down draft - going by reports, the initial text explicitly endorsed regime change and sanctions, which invariably would have led to Ch. VII measures under Art. 42 at the Council.
That said, the Indian position now has become quite fuzzy, to put it mildly. I’m not sure what we were gunning for when endorsing the last UNSC draft; that resolution backed Article 41 measures which may include the severance of diplomatic relations. Yet, in the GA India claimed today that “unilateral” actions which call for cutting off such ties are not warranted.
Rather than restating its known position at the GA, India should have invested its time in explaining this abstention specifically.
I’m on the fly now, more on this in detail later.
EoV of the Day goes to Guyana (A) - ”primary responsibility falls on Syrian authorities for cessation of violence and attacks against civilians […] but the international community cannot turn a blind eye to armed attacks by opposition groups and terrorist elements […]” this resolution raises the concern of “undue partiality to an amorphous and unknown opposition.”
For the student based abroad, independent research on India’s foreign policy involves a seasonal pilgrimage to New Delhi’s temples of intelligentsia. The pursuit of reticent bureaucrats, both serving and retired, to the far-corners of the city in sub-Saharan weather can be a near-religious experience. Few emerge from this ritual unaffected — the cost of “field” research is usually sunstroke, dehydration, and if you are lucky, weight-loss. In need of inspiration, therefore, I reached out to a venerable alumnus who had not only survived this ordeal, but in the process also churned out a magisterial dissertation that still tops the list of required readings on post-Nehruvian foreign policy.
Shashi Tharoor responded graciously (and promptly, it must be said) to my request for an interview, but upon one condition: that I read the relevant chapter of Pax Indica first, for it “might answer most of my questions.” I am evaluating India’s current tenure in the United Nations Security Council, and in particular, how some decisions made by New Delhi in this period reflect upon its status as a superpower-in-waiting. Pax Indica, from a veteran commentator, seemed a timely publication that could outline contemporary India’s rules of engagement as a model for the world at large. The book itself was so accessible that I read it cover-to-cover in the course of a train journey. Yet, sadly, it seems I may have to schedule that interview with Mr. Tharoor after all.
I review Shashi Tharoor’s latest offering here