India must call out North Korea for its brazen attack and fully back Seoul.
Another day and another attempt at provocation by North Korea. Pyongyang launched an artillery barrage on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong, which resulted in the deaths of two civilians. Seoul put on a brave face, and the U.S. dispatched USS George Washington to the peninsula in a show of strength and allegiance to South Korea. The U.S., meanwhile, has called on China to restrain North Korea (a futile attempt at best, since China has no real interest in restraining North Korea, even if it could be restrained). Viet Nam has expressed outrage on the attack and unequivocally backed Seoul, as has Japan.
But today, we hear this from the Indian External Affairs Ministry:
The government of India has closely followed developments in the Korean Peninsula over the last two days…..We urge both sides to maintain peace and stability in the region, and stress the need to respect international obligations and for return to negotiations,” a statement by the external affairs ministry said today.
Urge both sides to maintain peace? You must be joking! It takes two sides, my dear sirs, to maintain the peace. At least one of the two sides in that equation wants anything but.
Hitherto, India’s foreign policy has favored the “middle path” on international affairs, not wanting to decisively back any one actor for fear of offending the other. Now, this “middle path” has paid India rich dividends, most noticeably in the Middle East, where it is able to pursue strategic ties with Israel and at the same time engage meaningfully with most Arab nations. This may continue to make sense to India under certain circumstances, but with its growing international political and economic clout, it will be increasingly forced to choose sides; and this is a challenge that Indian policy makers must not shy away from.
Ashley Tellis, Sr. Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, had this to say (LT @pragmatic_d) in response to a question about U.S. President Obama’s address to the Parliament about India “shying away from major international issues” :
[T]here is a strong feeling that India is punching way below its weight. India has become capable only recently and its institutional capacity and psychology has not kept up with its material transformation. The point the President is making is that there will come a time when you will have to make some choices. [Carnegie Endowment for International Peace]
Only last month, Defense Minister AK Antony and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh toured East Asia. In Hanoi, Dr. Singh talked about recalibrating India’s “Look East” policy and bolstering ties with Asia’s democracies. Here, I am reminded of a TS Eliot quote from The Hollow Man, “Between the idea and the reality…falls the Shadow.” That shadow was more than apparent in the External Affairs Ministry’s statement today.
India owes North Korea no lip-service whatsoever. North Korea is a rogue state and, along with Pakistan, is a participant in the international proliferation of missile and nuclear technology. Tougher test cases for the transformation of Indian foreign policy may indeed exist for our policy makers to contend with, but as far as North Korea is concerned, this should have been an open and shut case. The Government of India needs to call North Korea out for this brazen and unwarranted attack, and unapologetically back Seoul, as many other democracies in Asia have found the courage to do.