Maoris, Morioris and projection of power

Quoting Jared Diamond

According to Wikipedia, Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel “attempts to explain why Eurasian civilizations, as a whole, have survived and conquered others, while attempting to refute the belief that Eurasian hegemony is due to any form of Eurasian intellectual, moral, or inherent genetic superiority. Diamond argues that: the gaps in power and technology between human societies originate in environmental differences amplified by various positive feedback loops; and that, if cultural or genetic differences have favored Eurasians (for example Chinese centralized government, or improved disease resistance among Eurasians), it is only so because of the influence of geography.”

It has an account of an encounter between two Polynesian groups that nicely illustrates why “projection of power is necessary to create the conditions for human development”.

In the Chatham Islands, 500 miles east of New Zealand, centuries of independence came to a brutal end for the Moriori people in December 1835. On November 19 of that year, a ship carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs, and axes arrived, followed on December 5 by a shipload of 400 more Maori. Groups of Maori began to walk through Moriori settlements, announcing that the Moriori were now their slaves, and killing those who objected. An organized resistance by the Moriori could still then have defeated the Maori, who were outnumbered two to one. However, the Moriori had a tradition of resolving disputes peacefully. They decided in a council meeting not to fight back but to offer peace, friendship, and a division of resources.

Before the Moriori could deliver that offer, the Maori attacked en masse. Over the course of the next few days, they killed hundreds of Moriori, cooked and ate many of the bodies, and enslaved all the others, killing most of them too over the next few years as it suited their whim. Continue reading “Maoris, Morioris and projection of power”

Less than three seconds, actually

To realise that some people don’t get it.

Dilip D’Souza disagrees with the view that “”projection of power is necessary to create the conditions for human development through trade and culture”. He cites a small sample of countries that, according to him, have succeeded in spite of not projecting power.

According to Dilip, these countries are: “Iceland, Singapore, Korea, Norway, Taiwan, Japan and Germany after being devastated in WW2, arguably even Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Botswana until it was hit by AIDS a decade ago.”

Let’s see if they really meet his own definitions:

1. Iceland, successful, but member of NATO. NATO, it turns out, is an organisation invented to project power against a neighbouring superpower. Realpolitik suggests that tiny Iceland could hardly ensure the well-being of its people if it did not “hold its own” against the Soviet Union, and since it was too small to do it alone, it joined NATO, for collective security.

2. Singapore, successful, but not projecting power? It consistently spends over 5% of its GDP on defence, among the highest in the region, has compulsory military service for all adult males, and provides naval bases for the region’s big powers. For good reason: “by holding its own”, its armed forces and strategic partnerships deter adversaries who might interrupt with “ensuring the well-being of its people”. According to one of its founding fathers: “The war-making potential of a small, vigorous, well-educated and highly motivated population should never be underestimated.”

3. Korea (err, which one?). The successful one that could focus on the development of its own people by “outsourcing” its strategic security to the United States? Or the failed one that concentrated solely on holding its own, but neglected the development of its people? [Note the difference: no one argues that merely holding one’s own is sufficient, rather that it is a necessary condition] Coming under a superpower’s security umbrella, like joining an alliance like NATO, is not a rejection of power projection. Rather it is an acceptance that such arrangements are necessary, at a particular period in time, to “hold one’s own”.

4. Norway, successful, and like Iceland, a member of NATO.

5. Taiwan, successful, and like Korea, under the US security umbrella. And if it is not holding its own, why is the People’s Liberation Army not liberating it?

6. Japan & Germany. After the World War II, both Japan and Germany came under US protection. But the story of Japan and Germany’s rise to the top league of human development hardly started in 1945. It started at least a century earlier.

7. Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. These, according to Dilip, are examples of success of delivering development and well-being to their people. Really? It is easier to argue—as is commonly done in Colombo and Dhaka—that they owe their failures, at least in part, due to being at the receiving end of Indian hegemony. The Sri Lankan government can’t buy weapons to fight the LTTE without running the risk of rubbing India on the wrong side.

8. Botswana. That’s one example that proves exactly the opposite of what Dilip would like. It started out with no army at all. It was only after it realised that this provided an invitation to South Africans and Rhodesians to attack that it set up its own armed forces. And how much does Botswana spend on defence? A whopping 8% of its GDP. That’s excluding a security relationship with the United States.

Realpolitik merely suggests that a stable balance of power creates the conditions (of stability and security) that best allow states to pursue their domestic goals. But Dilip confuses the “projection of power” with the aggressive use of military force. Perhaps because he spends only three or four seconds thinking about it.

Why Ramachandra Guha is wrong

And why the accumulation and good use of geopolitical power is necessary

We discussed Mr Guha’s long essay in Outlook earlier this week. Mr Guha’s argument that India should not even attempt to become a superpower is just about as wise as his hero’s, who had declared that India didn’t need an army.

Harsh Pant has the necessary rejoinder. Excerpts:

What is disconcerting about the piece, however, is the negligible space Guha gives to foreign policy apart from an odd reference to Pakistan and China. It may be that he thinks the domestic challenges facing India are so formidable that only once India had tackled them should it start worrying about the rest of the world. Or what’s more likely is that he thinks if India is able to take care of its internal problems and becomes successful in living up to the highest aspirations of its founding fathers, foreign policy will take care of itself. A truly liberal, democratic, secular India will garner the respect from the rest of the world that it would most certainly deserve.

It is this understanding (or should we say misunderstanding) that leads him to make his subjective desire known — that India should not even attempt to become a superpower because in his view, international relations cannot be made analogous to competitive examination. The problem with this argument is that states do not attempt to become superpowers. They are superpowers, or great powers or major powers by virtue of their capabilities — economic, military, technological, societal — and, contra Guha, international relations is indeed analogous to a competitive examination because only the most capable states in an international system, defined by its anarchical nature, are the ones that are able to keep their citizens most secure and retain their autonomy in foreign policy. States seek power not to become superpowers per se but to survive in a world that is nasty and brutish, to maintain their territorial integrity and the autonomy of their domestic political order.

Guha is right: India is a unique nation and it should be judged in light of its norms and ideals. But all nations think they are unique, that their norms and ideals are the most superior. Only those with adequate capabilities are able to effectively leverage their norms and ideals on the international stage. Guha’s discomfort with power is palpable throughout his essay. In domestic politics, too much power with any single institution is most certainly a recipe for disaster. But foreign policy is not merely an extension of domestic politics and therefore, power needs to be understood differently in the context of international politics.

***

Guha is probably right, India will never become a superpower. But he is wrong to suggest that it should not attempt to be one because that implies that Indian policy-makers should not be working towards improving the material capabilities of its citizens, that they should not be concerned about making India more secure and autonomous.A weak and powerless India will continue to be on the periphery of global politics and it is doubtful if Indians will be satisfied with being a Switzerland or a Madagascar. Indian policy-makers should be working towards the acquisition of greater material capabilities for the welfare of their citizens, for a more prosperous, more secure and more autonomous India. It is in such an India that Guha’s dreams about a more equitable socio-economic order are more likely to come to fruition. And if that ends up making India a great power or a superpower, well, Indians, I am sure, can live with that. [Outlook]

Sunday Levity: Two papal emissaries to China

They didn’t do too well

No, not quite laughing matter, but amusing nevertheless. Here are some excerpts from Harry Gelber’s readable account of China’s relations with the (western) World, from 1100 BC to the present:

One Christian embassy was entrusted to the Franciscan, John de Plano Carpini, a provincial of his order at Cologne. He set out in mid-April 1245, a mere eighteen years after Ghengis (sic) Khan’s death, carrying a letter from Pope Innocent IV. Carpini must have been a very brave man. He set out in his sixties, unfit, without knowledge of Asian languages and with no idea what his reception might be. Perhaps he would just have his head cut off by the first Mongol patrol he met? In the event he was hustled through Asia for weeks on horseback, to his total exhaustion, and arrived at the Mongol centre of Karakorum in time to witness the coronation of the new Great Khan, Guyuk, another of Ghengis’s grandsons. He delivered his letter and returned in 1247 with the Mongol response. Guyuk simply said:

‘… Thou, who art the great Pope, together with all the princes, come in person to serve us. At that time I shall make known all (our) commands…Now you should say with a sincere heart: “I will submit and serve you.” …If you do not observe God’s command, and if you ignore my command, I shall know you as my enemy. Likewise I shall make you understand…”

***

The empire continued to see itself as the centre of the civilised world, to which properly brought-up foreigners should pay tribute. The reception ceremonies which lay at the core of Chinese diplomacy, with everyone kow-towing in the presence of the emperor, remained more or less unchanged until the nineteenth century.

In 1687, five French fathers arrived and one of them managed to cure the (Manchu emperor) Kangxi of malarial fever by using quinine. In 1692 came an edict of toleration that allowed the Jesuits to build churches. When the Jesuits ran into trouble it was not with the Chinese but with other Christian missionaries. For instance, they claimed that it was entirely justifiable for missionaries in China to adopt any prudent adaptation to Chinese customs in order to advance the faith. That aroused strong opposition from Dominicans and Franciscans as well as groups in France itself.

That created serious trouble, for the emperor insisted, as he was bound to do, on respect for the traditional Chinese homage to Confucius and the rites of ancestor worship. He demanded that the missionaries regard these as civil and not religious ceremonies, and that Christian converts should continue to practise them. The Jesuits were willing to accept that, but the Dominicans and Franciscans were not. The disputation was sent to Rome. Pope Clement XI sent out Bishop Maillard de Tournon, to investigate. He arrived in 1705 and was granted several meetings with Kangxi which ended in total disagreement. The issue, as the Church saw it, had ultimately to do with papal supremacy in matters of religion. From that point of view, the Jesuit willingness to accept Kangxi’s opinions amounted to a critical weakening of the fundamental claims of Catholic Christianity. In 1715 came a papal bull banning the strategy of accommodation and Maillard forbade Catholic missionaries, on pain of excommunication, to obey the emperor in this matter. But there was no possibility that the emperor could tolerate that.

Kangxi’s response was to therefore expel anyone who did not sign a paper accepting his view. The emperor had Maillard imprisoned in Macao, where he died in 1707 (sic).[Harry G Gelber/The Dragon and the Foreign Devils, pp74-75 and 120-122]

Related Links: Kerry Brown’s review at the Asian Review of Books

Your intolerance is scandalous

India’s First Amendment

A lurker on Atanu Dey’s blog pointed to two fantastic reports from TIME magazine’s archives.

May 28, 1951…Part of the Indian press, said (Nehru), is dirty, indulges in “vulgarity, indecency and falsehood.” To teach it manners, Nehru proposed an amendment to India’s constitution that would impose severe restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. He asked for power to curb the press and to punish persons and newspapers for “contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offense.” Nehru told Parliament: “It has become a matter of the deepest distress to me to see the way in which the less responsible news sheets are being conducted . . . not injuring me or this House much, but poisoning the minds of the younger generation.”

Nehru said his measure was aimed at Communist and Hindu extremist agitation. His real targets: Atom, Current, Struggle and Blitz, four Bombay-published sensational weeklies which have consistently attacked Nehru’s domestic and foreign policy, scurrilously attacked the U.S. [TIME]

In the event, parliament passed the first amendment that placed curbs on fundamental rights, including on the rights to speech and property.

June 11, 1951…A small but determined parliamentary opposition, led by Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, former Minister for Industry, bitterly attacked the amendment.

Mookerjee (to Nehru): You’ve got 240 supporters in this House, but outside in the country millions are against you.

Nehru (shaking his fists) : [Your] statements are scandalous . . .

Mookerjee: Your intolerance is scandalous . . .

Nehru (shouting): Any person who says that this amendment of mine curbs the liberty of the press utters lies . . .

As Nehru explained it: “We should not only give the press freedom, but make it understand that freedom.” There was a lot of doubt whether Nehru himself understood the meaning of freedom. His excuse for requesting the law: the scurrilous outpouring of Indian scandal sheets. But as the All-India Newspaper Editors Conference pointed out: there was nothing to prevent the government from using its new powers against the legitimate press when & if it chose. [TIME]

Nehru’s followers have been consistent in following in his footsteps. Dr Mookerjee’s modern-day followers would do well to heed the position of their political-intellectual forefather.

Pragati June 2008: The New Jihadis

Issue 15 - Jun 2008
Issue Contents

PERSPECTIVE

The New Jihadis
Local manifestations of a global pattern
Nitin Pai

Getting human rights right
Are human rights activists playing into the hands of
terrorists?
Sandeep Balakrishna, Salil Tripathi & Rohit Pradhan

Towards a cultural liberalism
Governments must stop siding with intolerant mobs
Jayakrishnan Nair

FILTER

A survey of think-tanks
Feline counter-terrorism; Measuring up against international human rights standards; On what makes foreign policy tick; Assessing energy security policies

IN DEPTH

Look before you hop

A discussion on strategic affairs with Stephen P Cohen
Nitin Pai & Aruna Urs

IN PARLIAMENT

A review of Budget Session 2008
Kaushiki Sanyal

ROUNDUP

Where is the financial superhighway?
Two reports later, there is still no movement on reforms
Aadisht Khanna

Improving economic literacy
Effective delivery of public services requires sound public policy education
Mukul G Asher & Amarendu Nandy

A food credit card scheme
How microfinance and the public distribution scheme can work together
Ankit Rawal

BOOKS

History is in the writing
The changing fashions of recording history
Sunil Laxman

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Sunday Levity: The Bappi Lahiri doctrine

Understand India’s foreign policy through its music

A grand popular narrative of Indian foreign policy has not yet been written. Here, offered entirely without such niceties as empirical evidence, is an attempt to reconcile two glorious traditions: Indian foreign policy and Hindi film music.

While scholars have tried to explain Indian foreign policy through an examination of the personalities of prime ministers, priorities of ruling political parties and the exigencies of coalition politics, a cursory glance at the history of post-independence India—say through a thorough study of the dust jacket of Ramachandra Guha’s tome under the stimulating influence of IMFL—will reveal that it is through the music of the times that we can best understand it.

The state-owned broadcaster’s decision, in the 1950s, not to play O P Nayyar’s trendy melodies already gave an indication that the foreign policy course adopted by the Nehru government was not quite consistent with popular opinion. Throughout the 50s and the 60s, foreign policy—like film music—was beautiful and elegant, hopeful in general but well below potential. Like S D Burman’s music, non-alignment was almost designed to inspire nostalgia in future generations.

It was in the early 70s—under the R D Burman doctrine—that Indian foreign policy came into its own. It was a burst of energy: the power of which had global appeal, yet was a product of indigenous improvisation blending well with foreign technology. It was the music to win wars by.

By the late 1970s and 1980s the Alokesh “Bappi” Lahiri revolution had India in its grasp. Here was a doctrine that was amoral in the true sense of the word: it did not matter where something came from. What mattered was where it went. What mattered was how something could be used to hold the audience in thrall. The confidence and innovation of India’s foreign policy in the 1980s was wrongly attributed to the Rajiv Gandhi age. In reality, Mr Gandhi and his team were heavily inspired by the Bappi Lahiri doctrine—they were undaunted by the “not invented here” syndrome at a time when it was perhaps at its strongest. In a sense the Rajiv Gandhi team, like Mr Lahiri himself, was comprised of people with a solid pedigree in the classical, yet with a pulse on the modern. Like Mr Lahiri, they were often ahead of their times. [The Ilaiyaraja doctrine, meanwhile, quietly and unthreateningly expanded Indian influence in the Indian Ocean region.]

Isolated Anand-Milind’s and Raam-Laxman’s couldn’t rescue Indian foreign policy from the backlash against the Bappi Lahiri doctrine in the final years of the 80s. The murky Nadeem-Shravan business exposed the inroads organised crime-terrorism nexus had made into the country. Until A R Rahman arrived on the scene with a doctrine for the post-cold war world, there was generally a sense of drift. It was Mr Rahman who inspired a new confidence, bolstered by an India shedding many of its shibboleths—the economic and the political. The Rahman doctrine pointed towards new possibilities arising from globalisation; that not only could India hold its own, it could even shape—albeit in a limited sense—global developments. The zenith of the Rahman doctrine was India’s emergence as a nuclear power.

While the Rahman doctrine still animates much of Indian foreign policy, it also empowered several innovative doctrines: from Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s sophisticated coalitional cosmopolitanism, to the popularisation of Indian folk music through the specialist device of item numbers, and to the dogmatic, relentless nasality of Himesh Reshammiya. The definitive post-Rahman doctrine is still a work in progress: but it is abundantly clear that all these schools both advocate and reflect an India spreading its influence far from its own shores. If Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is about embracing globalisation and expanding India’s soft power, it is Himesh Reshammiya that stands for a more than minimum credible deterrence. Between the two they allow a thousand home-grown item numbers to flourish.

The attitude towards item numbers, perhaps, best demonstrates the attitudes towards realism. At one time item numbers were almost solely picturised on Helen, an actress who was always The Vamp. Today item numbers are picturised on the hottest stars, and doing an item number well is often a ticket to fame and fortune. In Helen’s days, the item number was seen as a necessary evil and projected as immoral. Today it is mostly celebrated. Yet, even today, item numbers constitute only five minutes of the entire 30 minute album, suggesting that there are limits to the acceptance of realist prescriptions in the foreign policy mix. That may well be the lesson for students of foreign policy.

Pragati April 2008: Give them their freedom

Issue 13 - Apr 2008

Issue Contents

PERSPECTIVE

The unkindest cut Salil Tripathi
The loan waiver keeps poor farmers where they are

Waiver of mass debt Vijay Mahajan
How that money could have been used to really change lives

Concerning senior citizens Mukul G Asher &? Deepa Vasudevan
Budget 2008-09 and the implications for a greying population

Waiting for modernisation Sushant K Singh & Nitin Pai
The dismal state of long term defence procurement planning

Letters
On the arms race in outer space

FILTER

Foreign aid to Afghanistan; Water and climate change

IN DEPTH

Dealing with China’s power projection Harsh V Pant
A rising China will not tolerate a rising India as a peer competitor

ROUNDUP

It matters what generals say K S Madhu Shankar
The army chief’s worrying remarks on the India-China border

Options in Sri Lanka T S Gopi Rethinaraj
And the risk of Sri Lanka falling sway to outside powers

New language formulas Sujay Rao Mandavilli
From an unsatisfactory compromise to a liberal decentralisation

BOOKS

Tagore in China Stephen S Hay
Edited excerpts from Asian Ideas of East and West

Subscribe | Download

Remembering the East Pakistan Genocide

Truth and reconciliation elude the victims of the 1971 mass murders

Thirty eight years ago this day, the Pakistani army’s tanks moved in to Dacca (now Dhaka), the capital of East Pakistan, as part of the General Yahya Khan-led junta’s plan to bring the autonomy-seeking province to heel. “We have to sort them out” said Colonel Naim of the Pakistani army’s 9th division, “to restore the land to the people, and the people to their Faith”. Operation Searchlight officially got underway on March 25th 1971, although in his memoirs, Major General Sujan Singh Uban writes that the Pakistani army had begun repressive measures a few days earlier.

Thus began the genocide.

It was perhaps among the few in recent decades that did not come as a surprise, not least to the victims. It accompanied the birth of a new nation leaving horrible birthmarks that disfigure Bangladeshi society to this day. Bangladesh in 1971 was the site of multiple conflicts: a civil war between the the two wings of Pakistan, communal violence between Bengalis and non-Bengalis, a genocide, an guerrilla war, a conventional war and a counter-genocide. In each of these conflicts perpetrators, victims and onlookers often exchanged roles. Here is my essay (PDF, 200kb) that examines the causes, course and results of one sub-conflict—the genocide against Bengalis by the West Pakistani army—and attempts to explain it through a Realist perspective.

In A Problem from Hell, Samantha Power indicts the realist underpinnings of US foreign policy for its indirect complicity or reluctance to intervene in several 20th century genocides—including those in Cambodia, Rwanda and Bosnia.

While that may indeed be the case, the events in East Pakistan between 1970, when Bhola struck, to 1974, when India, Pakistan and Bangladesh arrived at a tripartite agreement to close outstanding issues, present an interesting case of how realpolitik considerations of the states involved explain why genocide was carried out with impunity, why it was permitted by international players, why it was halted by the Indian intervention and why the perpetrators were never punished. It is not a normative discussion to study how genocides may be prevented, but rather an attempt to explain the role of Realist foreign policies of states during the episode. (The essay contains a small section disagreeing with Sarmila Bose’s recent revisionist study that concludes that the term genocide was a product of exaggeration.).

Download the essay here

From the archives: Archer Kent Blood, RIP; Who claimed Bangladeshi independence?; Indira called Nixon a…?; Bangladesh celebrates victory day; Children of a failed theory; Foreign Policy Naifs (Barbara Crossette edition)

Sunday Levity: An Iranian crore and other numbers

Do the differences count?

It turns out that the Iranians used the word crore in their old numbering system. But to denote 500,000. Was this the result of Iranians being shortchanged by a shifty Indian trader several centuries ago? We don’t know, but it turns out that the Iranians stopped using the term a few decades ago. (They finally realised they’ve been had?)

The Swahili speaking Africans still use the word laki to denote 100,000, a legacy of historical trading relations between India and East Africa.

Two more interesting asides about numbers. Shinji Takasugi has a wonderful site comparing the complexities of numbering systems of various cultures.

According to him, the simplest is Tongan, where you would say “4” “2” (fa ua) for the number that is the answer to life, the universe and everything. The most complex is Huli, a language spoken in Papua New Guinea (a country the size of a small Indian state, but with perhaps as much linguistic diversity as the whole of India). In the quindecimal (base-15 system) you’d have to say “the answer is ngui ki, ngui tebone-gonaga hombearia“, that is “(15 × 2) + (12 object of the 3rd 15)”. Mr Takasugi deems Hindi as the fourth most complex. That’s a little questionable, because though the names are slightly irregular, the pattern is not too hard to discern. The answer, as you know, is bayalees.

The Balkan-Romanis (popularly known as the Gypsies) count their numbers as jekh (yake), duj, trin, štar (char), panc (panch), šov (chov), eftá, oxtó, enjá, deš (dach) and biš (for 20). The answer according to them is saránda-te-duj. The Gypsies, being the impatient sort, must have left India after six, and made up the rest as they went along. [That doesn’t explain why they got des and bis, but this is a Sunday Levity post. It need not make sense]