Does India’s neutrality really “irritate” the west in geopolitics?

In this article…

Post the second world war, two important events started taking place in India and the world – (1) Recreating modern India after centuries of humiliations and colonialism at the hand of foreign invaders, and (2) An ideological battle was started between two superpowers in the face of the cold war. Indian leadership knew the ground realities and prioritized India’s national interest accordingly. Pundit Nehru adopted a realistic approach by setting up a third pole – The non-alignment movement (NAM) to realise sovereignty and freedom in the true sense.

India’s stand on the cold war as non-alignment “irritated” the west. Especially the US didn’t like India’s stand of sitting on fence. Later, Henry Kissinger admitted in his book ‘World order‘ that “though NAM was irritating for the USA, yet it was the best course of action which India could’ve followed”. A similar kind of pressure is being created on India amid the Russia-Ukraine crisis to side with the US camp. Even though India doesn’t have a direct linkage in the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the US is chasing India to isolate Russia since India is one of the emerging power in Asia.

Economic sanction: A matter of the past

Since the cold war, the US relied on two means – (1) Sending troops in the concerned area, and (2) Making alliance with the smaller countries in the neighbour of the concerned area so that it could get consent for troop deployment and use their resources to fulfil its own interests. The economy of a country has a direct relation to the country’s strength in general and military strength in particular. Thus, the US started using the tool of economic sanction to coerce a nation-state to agree to the terms of the US. These tactics worked for the short term but backfired in the long run.

The experience of the US in Vietnam and Afghanistan taught her not to send troops on foreign soil. That’s why the US has rejected the option to send military support in the first place with respect to the Russia-Ukraine crisis. So, the US is left with the unilateral instrument of economic sanctions. But this means to deal current world order has become a matter of the past, but the US is yet to be realized the same. After globalization and the transfer of technology, the nation has become sovereign conscious.

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With the surge of social media, nations have become conscious of sovereignty because two-level game theory (Robert Putnam) has become reality now. It indicates that ‘domestic constituencies’ have a greater say in today’s foreign policy. Leaders can’t make unilateral decisions in world affairs, at least in a democratic society like India. People are closely looking at the issue and at the same time discussing it on social media. People understand ‘economic sanction’ as unjust, and unilateral which violates sovereignty too. It also lacks the collective consensus of the UN. Today no country is ready to suffer for the interest of the US.

Unconvincing arguments of the west

The US is using all means – ‘threatening of consequences’, and personal diplomacy by sending officials of Indian origin to persuade India. One of the weakest presidents in US history, Joe Biden tried to “threaten” India by saying that ‘India is an exception among Washington’s allies with its “shaky” response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine’. Intellectuals like Fareed Zakaria criticized India – “India has become so inward-looking and obsessed with its own issues and divisions that it has not spent enough time thinking about its place in the world”

But the west also knows very well that India can’t sacrifice its national interest for the interests of the West in general and the US in particular. India also doesn’t want to be part of the beggar-thy-neighbour policy – addressing one’s own domestic problems at the expense of others. In this context, India’s foreign minister S Jaishankar in a conversation with his British counterpart Liz Truss at the India-UK Strategic Futures Forum rightly defended a ‘good deal’ for energy supplies amid volatility in the global markets.

When the world was facing the COVID-19 pandemic, the US leadership was seen nowhere. Instead of creating friction in trade and economy through sanctions, it should obey the ‘Dharma’ (duty) of being one of the greatest power to help in rebuilding the world in the post-pandemic era. However, Instead of imposing unilateral dictums, Washington should make the energy fuel price cheaper than Russia by giving ‘loss subvention’ and making fuel prices competitive.  Otherwise, it would seem a mere ‘oxymoron’ since the principle of the west led liberalism is based on competition and not unilateralism.

Understanding India’s national interest

In international politics, perception matters more than posture. The US obsession to persuade India to agree to the US terms has less to do with the economic value but more to do with the political value. It is because, in the same interview with Liz Truss, S Jaishankar pointed out that India imports merely 1% of India’s crude oil purchase from Russia and nearly 8% from the US. Major buyers of Russian oil and gas were from Europe. Another layer of Hypocrisy is found in the report that like-minded partner of the US, ‘Europe has bought 15% more oil and gas from Russia in March than in February’.

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India is standing strong against the political pressure of the west. India is not interested in making the time tested ally, Russia unhappy. Any kind of adversity against Russia will disturb power dynamics in South Asia. It may bring Pakistan closer to Russia and strengthen the Russia-Pakistan-China axis. Apart from this, Thucydides Trap (Graham T. Allison) – A war is inevitable between the status quoist power (US) and revisionist power (China) – suggests that open support to the US would be costly affairs for India in long run. It is because India shares a major land boundary with China and Pakistan.

The US is seeking unconditional support from India without substantive offers for India. India’s main security concern currently is China and Pakistan. The US always takes a diplomatic stand on Pakistan – ‘We are closely looking’. Is the US committing to take F16 back or stopping the supply of parts for the F16? Is the US openly supporting India’s notions on Kashmir? Is the US is extending any direct support to India against China? What action the US is going to take against Pakistan sponsored terrorism in Kashmir? Then, why India should stand for the US against Russia?

India is not Pakistan

The US tries to create a sense of fear in India similar to Pakistan when US deputy NSA Daleep Singh says – “India shouldn’t expect Russia to help if China violates LAC”. A similar kind of narrative was created in Pakistan when Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979. It was widely popularized the notion that Russia being a communist country is antithetical to Islam and would make the region of ‘non-believers’. Subsequently, Pakistan being a ‘crackpot’ in south Asia blindly supported the US by sponsoring terrorism through Mujaheddins.

The US should not expect a similar facility from India because India is neither a ‘superfluous entity’ nor a ‘beggar’. “Beggars are not chooser” may fit for Pakistan but not India. India has developed its ability to choose since the inception of modern India after colonialism. If Russia is not coercing India to stand against the US, the US should also not pressurize India to stand against Russia. Ideally, India should stand with Russia because Ukraine betrayed India in the UN, and gave weapons to Pakistan. In fact, India’s neutrality is an indirect support to the west.

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Apart from this, the US has lost credibility in the eyes of its allies. During the Vietnam War, the US supported South Vietnam but began secret talks with North Vietnamese representatives in Paris. Pakistan was part of SEATO but didn’t help Pakistan in the India-Pakistan war in 1971. Consequently, Pakistan formally left SEATO in 1973. It has left Kurds in Syria, and the National govt under the leadership of Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in their own fate. Thus, the US should read the room so that the world knows the credibility of the US as a partnership.

In conclusion

Thus, there is no point to trust on the US at its face value. It would also not make sense to create an adverse relationship with Russia. Russia has been one of the time tested allies of India during the war against Pakistan. India has a strategic interest with Russia in long term in terms of nuclear cooperation, defence exports like Brahmos, and India-central Asia foreign policy with respect to Uranium.

As far as security concerns with respect to China, India is not dependable for self-defence on any other country. India has been firm in exercising strategic autonomy. If India abstains from voting in the UN against Russia, it is India’s strategic choice and expression of the sovereignty of India. Instead of threatening, India’s freedom of choice should be respected by the West in general and the US in particular. Thus, India doesn’t irritate any country in the geopolitical arena because India exercises its sovereign power to stand for its national interest.

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