An unflattering assessment of India does not change the geopolitical rationale behind US-India relations
The United States and India have very little in common, argues Barbara Crossette on Foreign Policy magazine’s website, and a lot that could pull them apart. It’s a fallacious argument and fails international relations 101: because relations between states are determined by their interests, not popularity contests. So the ‘American love affair with India’, as Crossette calls it, is a side-show that decorates a mutual attraction based on an increasing congruence of national interests. That congruence—brought about by the geopolitics of the twenty first century-will determine the trajectory of India—US relations even if the ‘love fest’ itself were to come to an end.
But let’s look at Crossette’s arguments in some detail. First, she points out that the two countries are not natural allies. That’s right, they are not. “Natural allies”, like fairy godmothers, don’t exist. They just make the story interesting. Crossette contends that India saw the need to improve ties with the United States only after the Soviet Union collapsed. She does not mention that the United States saw the need to improve ties with India only after China’s rise became the dragon in America’s room. Hence the mutual interest in forging an alliance.
Shared interests do not necessarily mean identical positions on all issues. So it is entirely possible that India and the United States will differ over Iran and nuclear weapons. Partnership is about not allowing such differences come in the way of co-operation where interests do coincide: like on global terrorism, regional balance of power and trade. Crossette’s conclusion that the two countries are not natural allies, therefore, is beside the point.
It would even be excusable if the mistake arose from an incomplete understanding of international relations. But Crossette is a veteran journalist and Foreign Policy magazine is a reputable publication. So it looks like a deliberate attempt at misrepresentation (or at being provocative). Take, for instance, this sentence: “(the) father of its clandestine nuclear bomb, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, is now the countryâ€™s president”. Nuclear bombs, mercifully, are always clandestine. To call President Kalam the “father” of the Indian nuclear bomb is inaccurate. And so what if he’s the president?
Second, she rejects the notion that India is “a responsible world power”. To prove this, she plays fast and loose with facts. Indian meddling, she contends, created Bangladesh, leading to the death of ‘over a million people’ in the ‘bloody ethnic cleansing campaigns’ that followed. This is intellectual dishonesty. She deliberately fails to mention what America’s own diplomats said at that time. Indian meddling, in fact, put an end to the genocide and ethnic cleansing that the Nixon administration brazenly abetted.
Apart from dubious definition and intellectual dishonesty, what is “a responsible world power”? Most people around the world don’t think America fits that bill. They may fear and respect it, but few will agree China is responsible. It does not require sins of commission to be lose claims to responsibility. What do you call various European countries who failed to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons by Pakistan, while tolerating the presence of various international terrorist organisations, under their very noses?
Third, she predicts that India will not surpass China in anything other than population. Let’s say it will turn out this way. Is her argument that United States should not pursue better relations with India because it has far more poor and uneducated people than China? If this is the case, then Canada (if the Canadians allow), with its high rank on the Human Development Index should help America retain its influence in Asia. Or Kazakhstan, perhaps? And why are those rich, educated South Koreans chafing at American power in their midst when all the Americans are doing is protecting them. Besides, to look at population figures alone, without considering the differences in the future demography of India and China to miss an very important point.
Fourth, she rejects the belief that India is becoming a high-tech, middle class nation. The middle class is a minority, the IT sector employs 1 million people and accounts for 4% of India’s GDP and only 3.2% of the population has internet access. Again, Crossette misrepresents: isolated data points don’t tell the story, trends do. And the trends, as Goldman Sachs points out in a recent report, suggest that the Indian economy might even overtake America’s by mid-century. But again, even if the future is less rosy, will America walk away from India simply because of the number of internet users?
Finally, she disputes India’s reputation for tolerance. She might have had a point if she was referring to the creeping tendency of the Indian government to yield to competitive intolerance. Instead she tries to assess India’s reputation by just looking at one side of the story. That’s about as sensible as America’s reputation for justice merely by looking at the crimes committed. No account of India’s social ills is complete without also assessing the attempts redress them. So if courts are slow, they are also effective. If there is caste-based discrimination, there is also constitution-mandated reservations. If there are caste-related crimes, there is also national outrage. If there is communal violence, there is also communal harmony.
And then there is Kashmir, whose people, according to Crossette, ‘consider themselves ethnically and historically separate from India’. Was that before or after Pakistan-sponsored jihadis began the ethnic cleansing? Let’s not forget there is an democratically elected government running the state. And then there are human rights violations including extra-judicial killings by Indian security forces. A painless, discriminating way to fight urban terrorists and insurgents awaits invention. In the meantime, there can be nothing but contempt for those who suggest a moral equivalence between terrorists and those who fight them.
Barbara Crossette, clearly, is no fan of India. In her eagerness to criticise America’s “love affair” with India, she does little justice to the case she wants to make. She neither provides arguments to show why the two countries have little in common, nor does she offer evidence of the ‘lot that could pull them apart’. If her intention is to prove that the India-US relationship will weaken or prove short-lived, she would have to prove why their interests—which are more than current foreign policy positions—will diverge. A diatribe against India’s real and perceived ills is not a substitute for that essential calculus.
Related Link: Foreign Policy Naifs – splashy headline, faulty analysis
Update: After being alerted to this post, FP’s editors have amended the reference to President Kalam. They would also do well to correct Crossette’s misrepresentation of the Bangladesh genocide. See Wikipedia’s article on Archer Blood, the 1971 liberation war and Sajit Gandhi’s compilation of declassified US documents. The facts are well-known: The Pakistani army carried out a genocide in its eastern wing after elections threw up a result the junta didn’t like. The killings led to a refugee crisis which was the precipitate reason for Indira Gandhi sending in the Indian army. For the record, the India-Pakistan war started on 3rd Dec 1971 after Gen Yahya Khan ordered the Pakistan Air Force to conduct a pre-emptive strike against India. Crossette could hardly be aware of the sequence of events.