By C P Bhambhri –
The real significance of this study lies in the fact that current American foreign and strategic policy concerns are fully articulated by William H Avery, who is not only a former diplomat but also belongs to an elite think thank that plays a crucial role in shaping America’s global strategies.
Avery establishes in nine extremely well-written chapters that America and India have a mutual interest in forging a “special relationship” to deal with the security challenges of the 21st century. “It should … be a leading objective of the American and Indian governments that their fraternal association be fully in place by 2020. That is the best way for the people of both nations to prevail in mankind’s brutal and, also, never-ending struggle for freedom,” he writes.
During the 18th century, he says, India’s stage of development was comparable to the European countries’. Under-development set in during the long period of colonisation because productive systems were subordinated to the needs of the industrialising colonisers.
The growth story begins after colonial rule. The post-Independence narrative is divided into two periods: 1947 to 1991 and 1991 to 2011. It was only when the Narashima Rao-Manmohan Singh team broke with the model of economic planning and “opened” the economy in 1991 that India arrived on the international stage with faster growth and globally recognised technical talent.
This is a familiar story relayed by many Indian and foreign analysts; only the author does not accept that the 1947-1991 phase was a “dark age” for India. As he observes, “when the License Raj was dismantled after 1991, India enjoyed the best of both worlds. A large number of healthy companies that had grown to critical mass under government largesse, mixed with an open system that fostered free competition, and allowed dynamic new entrants.”
Avery has painstakingly worked to substantiate the fact that post-1991 achievements were the result of strong industrial and technological base laid down in the 1947-1991 phase, the idea being to lead up to the question of how an emerging power could be oblivious to its own security concerns. With some prescience, in the light of the current controversy in the defence establishment, he says, “India’s armed forces and its foreign service are underfunded and inadequate to the needs of a regional power….”
How to bridge the deficit? First, “it will need a second army, staffed by the Indian multinationals of tomorrow”. This is essential to mark India’s economic presence in Africa, Latin America, even Europe. India should be noticed as an emerging economic power and a global player. Second, India “must abandon its decade-old timidity in foreign affairs and invest in defence and, where necessary, shed blood to prevent emerging threats”.
Avery may be right when he says model state systems cannot avoid “security threats from other countries”. But his identification of China as India’s major adversary is problematic, to say the least. He says that China is extending its foothold in Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and Pakistan to limit the power of confrontation, even postures of threat from India. He has painted an alarmist picture by saying Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port is part of China’s larger geopolitical strategy to encircle the only country that can threaten its complete dominance of Asia.
The author bemoans that “India, by contrast, does not have a geopolitical strategy. It has, at best, a regional strategy. That strategy … could be summarised as ‘keep Pakistan and China at bay’…”.
How should India go about attaining its grand global goals? “Building stronger defence ties with the United States (and its allies) is the only way for India to create the defence industry it needs.”
He draws attention to the threat posed by terrorism as dramatised in Mumbai on November 26, 2008 and America’s war against terrorism after September 11, 2001 and concludes that those incidents make India and America partners for sharing intelligence against terrorism.
Avery suffers the same disease that policy study experts suffer when they act as self-appointed “friends” of policy makers. India needs, according to Avery, America’s help because it has inadequate equipment to collect intelligence and America is well-placed in global intelligence-gathering gadgets and spies. The American author wants to make India the mirror image of America, which is highly militarised because of its threat perceptions.
This approach is full of pitfalls. If India treats China and Pakistan as its biggest enemies, and is prepared for military solutions, the need for diplomacy is redundant. But India’s diplomatic approaches in finding solutions to disputes with China or Pakistan are much more meaningful than getting involved in mindless arms race. America should not be a role model for India; many political parties may be concerned about security but do not support militaristic and jingoistic foreign and defence policies.
India and China are competitors in Asia, but contrary to Avery’s diagnosis, these two large Asian neighbours cannot play the role of destabilisers. Their own interests would be hurt if an Asian cold war breaks out.