A fisking of Barbara Crossette’s piece in Foreign Policy
Foreign Policy‘s online editors invited me to rebut Barbara Crossette’s piece on India being the baddest boy of global governance. You can see the published version on their website. This is the original draft.
Making room for India
Contrary to Barbara Crossette, India does the global governance thing
According to Financial Times’ Lucy Kellaway, “Elephant in the Room” was the most popular cliché to appear in major newspapers and journals in 2009. It is perhaps appropriate then, that Barbara Crossette’s latest diatribe against India appeared in Foreign Policy under that headline. While it claims to show that it is India that causes the most “the most global consternation” and “gives global governance the biggest headache” it is merely a series of rants and newsroom clichés selected entirely arbitrarily in order to support the author’s prejudice.
It is unfathomable how Ms Crossette can declare that it is India that causes the most consternation and the biggest headache—among Afghanistan, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Pakistan and China—merely by listing its alleged failings. Without an attempt to compare the failings across countries—and why only these countries, why leave out the West and the rest?—it is logically impossible to arrive at a conclusion that one of them is the biggest culprit. But once you trade logic for hyperbole, you can fit just about any animal you like into that room. For Ms Crossette’s, it is the pachyderm.
The only country to have militarily intervened to halt an ongoing genocide is India—in East Pakistan/Bangladesh, 1971. After the December 2004 tsunami, it was the Indian Navy that was the first international responder, deploying within 24 hours and delivering humanitarian assistance to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives. It subsequently coordinated operations with the United States, Japan and Australia. India has been involved in UN peacekeeping since the very beginning and remains one of the biggest troop contributors to this day—often putting its soldiers in danger in conflicts that have nothing to do with its interests. Indian naval ships are involved in maritime security operations from Somalia to the Straits of Malacca.
This is just a partial list, but enough to show that India has long been committed to providing international public goods. Ms Crossette entirely ignores this side of the story, perhaps because it just doesn’t support her view that India “is a country of outsize ambition but anemic influence.”
Let’s examine Ms Crossette’s rap sheet. First, quoting an article that appeared in a journal that advocates arms control—hardly an neutral source—she contends that India’s refusal to sign the NPT and the CTBT makes it “comparable to other defiant nuclear states [and] will undoubtedly contribute to a deteriorating security environment in Asia.” She doesn’t explain how, because she would be hard pressed to prove that India’s ‘contribution’ is comparable to that of China—which put the bomb in the hands of the likes of Pakistan—or North Korea, that brazenly violated the treaty it signed. Actions matter more than signatures.
Second, on the Doha round of trade negotiations, Ms Crossette blames India for single-handedly foiling a deal that “nobody loved, but one that would have benefited developing countries most.” (Does she know better the developing countries themselves? It seems weird that they not love a deal that would benefit them most.) Meanwhile, others have a different view. Gideon Rachman argues that “the Doha round ultimately broke down because of a stand-off between the United States, India, China and the European Union over agricultural trade.” It turns out that it takes more than one hand to wreck a multilateral deal.
It is on the third point—climate change—that Ms Crossette’s penchant for being selective with facts stands out most. She mentions the Indian environment minister’s refusal of binding carbon emission targets five months before the Copenhagen talks, but ignores his statement in parliament five days before the negotiations: 20-25 per cent carbon emission intensity cuts on the 2005 levels by 2020. Non-binding yes, but nevertheless a serious commitment. She also ignores that in the end, the Copenhagen ‘deal’ came about in part due to India’s bridging of the differences between the United States and China.
Fourth, on the basis of one data point—the Paul Wolfowitz affair–Ms Crossette alleges that India “attacks individuals.” Mr Wolfowitz, she says, was ousted “not because his relationship with a female official caused a public furor, but because he had turned his attention to Indian corruption and fraud in the diversion of bank funds.” It is undeniable that there is corruption in India—but Ms Crossette glosses over the fact World Bank employees were involved in it too. What Steve Berkman (who she quotes) actually said is that ”the international bureaucrats who run the Bank and are the ones who conspired to nail Wolfowitz using the mini-scandal with his girlfriend to call for his ouster.”
Fifth, while there is a case for India to be more liberal in its visa regime, the country does not lack robust, committed and vocal human rights activists. Tune in to any Indian television channel. On the other hand, the UN Human Rights Council is not quite a shining example of how the international community protects human rights. Domestic activism and the liberal democratic setup that allows it is perhaps far more effective.
Ultimately, Ms Crossette’s suggestion that India is presents a ‘headache’ for global governance is a manifestation of an outdated mindset. It ignores the growing convergence of interests between India and the United States on the biggest challenges of the this century: from establishing a liberal, democratic order, to managing the rise of China, to containing jihadi terrorism and to addressing climate change. But make room if you don’t want to be squeezed.