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An Editorial and Its (Mal) Contents

Dr S. Samuel C. Rajiv is Associate Fellow at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
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  • July 25, 2009

    An editorial in the New York Times on July 18, 2009 ahead of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India - ‘Secretary Clinton goes to India’, has generated a lot of interest. A prominent Indian-American Democratic politician from Maryland, Kumar Barve, who is also a Majority leader in the House of Delegates, criticized the tone and tenor of the write-up as “haughty”, “condescending”, “arrogant”, and “patronizing.” Barve points out that the editorial’s first sentence, which defines India as “a longtime nuclear scofflaw,” is factually incorrect, as India had never violated any nuclear agreements it has signed.

    The editorial goes on to describe India as a “major contributor to global warming,” which again can be contested very convincingly. India contributes less than 4 per cent of global emissions, and has one of the lowest per capita emissions in the world (less than 2 tonnes of CO2 per annum). The United States and China on the other hand are together responsible for 40 per cent of global emissions. In the same paragraph, it calls on India “to do a lot more to constrain its arms race with Pakistan and global proliferation.”

    India and Pakistan are neither involved in any competitive arms racing nor can Pakistan afford to do so and go down the route of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Indian’s defence budget as a percentage of GDP has come down from over 3 per cent in 1988-89 to under 2 per cent in 2008-09. This has to be seen against the background of defence budgets in India’s neighbourhood – nearly 5 per cent of GDP for Pakistan and 7 per cent for China. Given the lack of transparency in these figures, compounded by a whole range of internal and external security threats, arguments in favour of increasing India’s defence budget have actually more weight.

    Urging India to take “more responsibility internationally,” the supporting arguments the editorial gives in favour of this ‘advice’ is the strong mandate secured by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the fact that the country has weathered a global recession better than others. The reasons responsible for the re-election of Dr. Singh are varied. This writer is not sure if taking on greater responsibilities overseas was a factor for the Indian electorate to choose him. To do more internationally to help the world ride out the financial storm is labouring the point. Despite the size of its economy (worth more than a trillion dollars), India still has a negligible share of world trade. Its strengths have primarily been its growing domestic demand, a high savings rate, among other factors, which have helped weather the crisis that has gripped the rest of the world.

    The editorial then calls on India to help allay Pakistani fears, without defining what those fears are – a grand Indian design to break up the country may be! The editorial does make the right noises about Pakistan and the need for the US administration to keep the pressure on it so that it prosecutes those involved in the heinous Mumbai terror attacks. The K-word however does find its customary place, as it perhaps should in any discussion involving the two countries. But the editorial notes the possible difficulties in finding a solution to the issue “while Pakistan is battling the Taliban.” It can actually be argued that this is the right time for Islamabad to face the reality of the dangers from the Frankenstein monsters operating with impunity within its territory and strive for a negotiated settlement to the vexing issue rather than otherwise. The organic linkages between the demons that the Pakistan Army has taken on in certain parts of its territory and the pervasive culture of ‘jihad’ that official instruments of the state continue to employ to bleed India are ignored.

    The argument about Kashmir also does not take account of the fact that it is just a symptom of the disease between the two countries and not the cause. The raison d’etre of Pakistan as a separate and distinct homeland of the major minority religion of the Indian sub-continent is too stark a reality to be ignored. The same logic is extended to imply that a functioning, stable, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and diverse India is an anathema to the very existence of Pakistan. Pakistani society is in itself a hotch-potch of mutually antagonistic ethnic and tribal groups seemingly held together by artificial hatred towards India. These tensions threaten to rip the country apart any time soon. Ignoring these factors to imply that all will be hunky-dory between the two countries if Kashmir were resolved is at once naïve and immature. The argument also resounds with similar such formulations that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root cause of all that is wrong in the Middle East, ignoring such facts as the Iran-Iraq war, the cruel lack of development of economic and human resources, heavy-handed dictatorships and autocratic regimes, lack of freedom and democracy, among other factors.

    On the issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the editorial reiterates the contention aired by the paper earlier as well as by non-proliferation ayatollahs that it frees up India to use its domestic sources of uranium solely for weapons production. It therefore urges the Obama administration to press India to cap its production of fissile material so that Pakistan can be pressured to do the same. Secretary Clinton is also urged to press India to pursue regional arms talks with Pakistan and China and sign the CTBT. This, at a time when the US has still not ratified the CTBT, a point acknowledged by Clinton in her interactions with the media on her visit here.

    The agreement between Presidents Obama and Medvedev in Moscow to undertake further cuts in their weapons stockpile is held as an important negotiating point to convince India on this score. While the sequel to the START-1 treaty needs to be appreciated, as also the new administration’s right noises on disarmament, Indian concerns regarding these issues remain. Achieving comprehensive and universal nuclear disarmament is still a long way to go, despite the personal interventions of the US President who has made disarmament one of the pillars of his administration’s foreign policy. Continuing and robust nuclear force modernization programmes of nuclear weapon states are a huge stumbling block in any effort to convince New Delhi of the merits of arguments regarding FMCT and CTBT. Most reports also indicate that Pakistan has a greater stockpile of weapons material and more bombs in its arsenal than India, though it may not have as many delivery systems.

    The editorial then derides India and Pakistan for not being able to define what they mean by a ‘credible, minimum’ nuclear deterrent. The US (and the then USSR) lurched alternatively from having a credible deterrent to massive retaliation to flexible response, all the time building thousands of weapons and delivery systems worth many billions of dollars without exactly seeming to know the exact numbers required to keep each other at bay. Concerns about the ‘missile gap’ (which turned out to be untrue in the first assessment carried out by the ‘whizkids’ led by the then Defence Secretary Robert McNamara) illustrate the difficulties in deciphering what the other person is up to in the nuclear realm, given the inherent nature of the nuclear weapon as not a war-fighting tool but a war-prevention ‘asset’. This is not to argue that India and Pakistan need another 50 years to figure out how not to fight a nuclear war but to keep things in perspective given the nature of the issues involved.

    On Iran, acknowledging India’s “grudging” support to earlier UNSC Resolutions, it urges India to do more and hopes that India’s “arm will not be twisted this time around” in order to get this support. India has already stated that it is not in its interest to see any more nuclear weapon powers in its neighbourhood. At the same time, it has upheld Iran’s right to peacefully exploit the power of the atom. Given its strong civilisational and trade links, and Iran being Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s neighbour – both countries of concern and vital interest to it, coupled with its energy requirements, it will be difficult to expect India to be more strident on the issue than what it has already been. Engaging and assuaging the Iranian regime’s sense of security and convincing/forcing it to give up its nuclear weapon ambitions, if any, through diplomatic and economic sanctions, seem to be the only way forward on the issue.

    The editorial ends by lecturing India to “stop its pretensions to non-alignment” and calls on Clinton and Obama to encourage India to “behave” like a vital partner of the US “in building a stable world.” At the end of it, one begins to wonder if talking out loud, shooting with the mouth (or pen/keypad) and carrying a big stick (‘danda’ in Hindi) are the only characteristics of a great power. By the way, these are usually the defining hallmarks of a typical local cop in Delhi.