Tag Archives | UN

Living with a nuclear Iran

Dealing with a nuclear Iran is better than suffering an international war to stop it.

Led by the United States, much of the international community has tightened economic sanctions on Iran in an attempt to prevent it from building nuclear weapons. India and China are among the few countries that have stayed out of this initiative and have been criticised for it. In a piece in the Wall Street Journal that comprehensively captures the argument against New Delhi’s current policy of not participating in the sanctions regime, Sadanand Dhume argues:

An India that uses its oil purchases and diplomatic clout to create breathing room for Iran risks scuppering the notion New Delhi has benefited from for more than a decade: that India’s rise is beneficial to the West. By contrast, should India throw its weight behind a powerful anti-Iran coalition, it stands to gain by halting the further nuclearization of its neighborhood, blunting the spread of radical Islam and bolstering its credentials as a force for stability. [WSJ]

Mr Dhume makes an important point when he says that “India’s quest for security and prosperity is most effectively pursued in a predictable and stable US-led international order.” Yet there is room—and indeed, a need—for discrimination within agreement over this worldview. In the case of Iran Washington’s policy position is dogmatic to the point of rejecting without any consideration the benefits—to the United States and to the US-led order—of a grand rapprochement with Iran. In a recent article on FP, Neil Padukone, a new fellow for geopolitics at Takshashila, details the scale and the scope of this geopolitical opportunity. I have argued that New Delhi well-placed to lubricate this process.

We have to criticise New Delhi, but for a different reason. It did not even attempt to avoid being crunched by Washington on one side and its own interests with Iran on the other. The situation in Afghanistan can change dramatically if Iran and the United States could cooperate. Where we needed imaginative and deft diplomacy, we saw resignation and default. Opportunities to improve ties with Washington on issues unrelated to Iran—from the fighter plane purchase, to UN Security Council positions over Libya and Syria—were gratuitously squandered.

On the nuclear issue, if the question were asked at a time when Iran was far away from building a bomb, the answer to whether an Iranian bomb is in India’s interests would have been a “No.” But now, at a time when the only way to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon is a war, the answer is different. In fact, the question for governments around the world now is whether an Iranian bomb is worse than an international war to prevent it.

A military conflict against Iran is not in India’s interests. Not only will it further destabilise a region that is already in deep crisis, it will do so in a form where India will be directly affected. Fuel supplies from Iran and supply routes from the Persian Gulf will come under threat and could precipitate a domestic economic crisis with unpredictable consequences. Also, doesn’t a war with Iran once again provide the Pakistani military-jihadi complex, with the encouragement of the Saudis, to once again become a frontline ally in an American war? Washington’s predisposition to turn a blind eye to Pakistan’s shenanigans in the context of its own geopolitical projects was and will be expensive to India.

Those who have long enough memories will recall that General Zia-ul-Haq was in Washington’s doghouse until the United States had to intervene in Afghanistan. Those who have shorter memories will recall General Musharraf being in a similar place and his dictatorship getting a ticket to respectability when the United States had to do it again. The Pakistani military establishment used these periods to first develop and expand its strategic assets—nuclear weapons and jihadi groups. Another reprieve will be no different.

It takes a lot to believe sanctions can prevent a determined, modern state like Iran from building a bomb it wants to. The costs of these ineffective sanctions are subjective—and unless there’s a short-term way to ensure the long-term security of 11 percent of India’s energy imports—for New Delhi they are not worth incurring.

Where does this leave us? Well, with the reality of having to deal with a nuclear Iran, and consequently perhaps with an overtly nuclear Saudi Arabia too. This need not necessarily make the region more unstable, even considering a triangular dynamic that includes Israel. Let’s not forget Western nuclear deterrence theory has always lagged deterrence in practice—be it during the Cold War or in the case of the subcontinent.

This does not mean that the Iranian regime is all Persian fragrance towards India. It’s not. But you can’t survive as a regime or as a state—even a revolutionary one—without realism. There’s a reason why Mullah Omar had to flee on a motorcycle while the leaders of Viet Nam are now Washington’s strategic allies. Regimes devoid of realism write their own obituaries. The survival of the Iranian theocratic-democracy is evidence of there being an underpinning of realism. Iran’s realists, however, are eclipsed by fundamentalists like Ayatollah Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad who feed on hostility with the United States. To the extent that the hostility can be ratcheted down, the realists in the regime will be strengthened. Even otherwise, the Iranian regime, despite its foundations on the Shia narrative, is unlikely to desire civilisational suicide. [Update: How states act after they acquire nuclear weapons - on The Monkey Cage, linkthanks @chennaikaran]

New Delhi’s position might differ from that of Washington and Tel Aviv. But just as their positions are based on their perceptions of self-interest, so is ours. While there is no need to be apologetic about its positions over Iran, New Delhi must not lose other opportunities to strengthen its relationship with the United States and Israel.

Comments { 3 }

Blue helmets all at sea

India must rethink the use of force, not expect the UN to defend its national interests

The clear stream of reason, unfortunately, has lost its way through the dreary desert sand of dead habit. Instead of rethinking the use of military force in securing India’s increasingly global interests, the Indian government appears to want to make emerging realities fit its long-held dogma. We are, of course, referring to India’s call for an international maritime peacekeeping force under the United Nations. (linkthanks: Pragmatic & ST)

That dogma is that India’s overseas military deployments have to be under the UN flag. This is a an undiscriminating bureaucratic position. It never made sense—because UN interventions must be mandated by the Security Council; and the Security Council as it should be to clear to people who follow the news, serves the interests of its five permanent members. So, to expect a UN maritime peacekeeping force to act to secure India’s interests is not only lazy fantasy, but an abdication of a responsibility to protect India’s interests. Why? Because as long as there is no such force, individual states, and coalitions will take action to secure their own interests. But once such a force comes into being, they will have to wait for the wholesomely incompetent UN machinery to swing into action. That’s not all, unilateral or coalition actions will take on a degree of “illegitimacy” if carried out without UN authorisation.

Countries that do not have the capability to defend their interests naturally seek the UN’s help. India is not one of them. Between the UPA government’s general pusillanimity and the bureaucracy’s policy ossification India has taken a unwise position. It must be quickly reversed.

Comments { 7 }

Debating UN peacekeeping

Addressing Anit Mukherjee’s rebuttal

Anit Mukherjee disagrees with the argument that India should reconsider its policy of contributing troops for UN peacekeeping operations. In addition to rebutting four arguments from the case Sushant Singh and I made in our op-ed in the Indian Express last week, he offers three arguments of his own in favour—-that involvement in UN peacekeeping contributes towards India’s soft power; that our arguments can be extended to justify pulling out from the UN as a whole; and that India need not demonstrate the same apathy towards UN peacekeeping as other great powers.
Continue Reading →

Comments { 13 }

My op-ed in the Indian Express: Bring the troops back

The case for India to scale down its UN peacekeeping contributions

Sushant K Singh and I argue that controversy in Congo is a wake-up call for India to review its policy on UN peacekeeping. A slightly edited version of the following appears in today’s Indian Express.

A recent investigation by the BBC’s Panorama found that Indian peacekeepers were among those engaged in smuggling drugs, arms, gold and ivory at the UN mission in Congo. In a recently released report, UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) found three army personnel guilty of minor charges but did not find evidence on the more serious ones. (Indian Express, 11 June).

To be sure, Indian blue helmets were not the only black sheep. But the fact that India finds some of its troops in the dock along with those of the Pakistani army should provide little comfort to defenders of India’s continued involvement in the poorly equipped, poorly mandated and poorly governed operations that characterise UN peacekeeping.

In response, the Indian government has reflexively tried to put a brave face over the allegations, pointing out that the offences are trivial, and that disciplinary action will be taken against those found guilty. Now, the UN itself has little incentive to pursue the allegations aggressively. Given that there is more demand for peacekeepers than its member nations are willing to supply, it is hardly likely to do anything that will embarrass countries—most of them from the developing world—that do contribute troops. So it was perhaps the outcry over the Congo episode that compelled it to announce that “the same (Indian) peacekeepers will not be accepted in future missions”.
Continue Reading →

Comments { 16 }

And now, the Pope talks human rights at the UN

Intervention and sovereignty

Benedict XVI probably gets to address the United Nations by virtue of being the head of the Vatican state. Not because he is a Pope. But when he speaks of “the action of the international community and its institutions . . . should never be interpreted as an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty” he sure is voicing the opinion of the leader of an international religious institution. For the history of Europe for over a millennium has been one of a contest between an ‘international institution’ and the sovereign state. So you would expect him to say what he did.

But the Pope is wrong. Foreign intervention is always a violation of sovereignty. Now, under the UN charter and international law, it is legitimate to violate sovereignty if authorised by the Security Council. The question of interpretation does not arise with respect to the violation, but arises with respect to its legitimacy. The Pope is right to criticise the UN Security Council for its failure to intervene to protect human rights. But to seek to justify foreign intervention while arguing that sovereignty is not being violated is like arguing that an omelette can be made without breaking the egg.

The Pope would have a perfectly sound moral argument if he had said that violating sovereignty is acceptable if basic human rights are at stake. But then he would have sounded like the leader of an international religious institution and not a head of the Vatican state. But such an argument is not too practical. The international community that the Pope puts so much faith in (if you pardon the pun) can’t possibly be counted on to even define what those human rights are.

The rogue UN Human Rights Council has already made insulting religion a violation of human rights. If the Pope’s argument is stretched to the extreme—as it will probably be—it will never be an unwarranted imposition or a limitation of sovereignty for the international community to intervene to protect people’s religious sensibilities from being hurt. That’s not a recipe for good things.

Comments { 1 }