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Archive | November, 2010

Pyong-ying-yang

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.

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Sensationalistan

Where the mind is without fear and the head is buried in the sand.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published its report on China’s nuclear forces ( pdf).  This is an annual report, and part of a series that the Bulletin publishes on the nuclear forces of other powers.  Nothing particularly earth-shattering for those that have been following China’s nuclear program, but I bring this up because of this little extract, pertaining to India:

In a section describing Chinese-Indian relations, the 2010 Pentagon report stated that China is using the more advanced and survivable DF-21s to replace DF-4s to improve regional deterrence. This was picked up by the Press Trust of India, which mistakenly reported that according to the Pentagon, China has moved advanced longer range CSS-5 [the DF-21 NATO designation] missiles close to the border with India. Not surprisingly, the report triggered dramatic news articles in India, including rumors that the Indian Strategic Forces Command was considering or had already moved nuclear-capable missile units north toward the Chinese border.

The Pentagon report, however, said nothing about moving DF-21 missiles close to the Indian border.  Instead,it described the apparent near-completion of China’s replacement of DF-4 missiles with DF-21 missiles at two army base areas in Hunan and Qinghai provinces,a transition that has been under way for two decades. The two deployment areas are each more than 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) from the Indian border. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists]

The Press Trust of India got wind of this “story” on August 17, and without anyone validating the statements in the article to the source,  announced:

China has moved new advanced longer range CSS-5 missiles close to the borders with India and developed contingency plans to shift airborne forces at short notice to the region, according to Pentagon.

Not to be outdone, Asian Age added in its own masala, about Agni-II being moved to the border to counter these imagined Chinese moves.

In the wake of a recent Pentagon report that China is moving advanced CSS-5 ballistic missiles to areas close to the Sino-Indian border, New Delhi is clearly taking no chances.

The government is also reportedly moving the strategic Agni-II missile inducted earlier to areas near the Chinese border. These have a range of around 2,000 km.

Asian Age ran its story despite the fact that it received official denial from the Army that missile units had not been moved to Eastern Command.  “News makers” indeed, quite literally.  The folks at the Bulletin were probably being kind by describing Indian media reaction as a “mistake.”  This is borderline warmongering.

Pity,  no one stopped to read what was written in the U.S. Department of Defense’s publication, or sought any clarification on what China was doing.  Had they done so, it would have become apparent that all the Chinese were doing was replacing their old liquid-fueled DF-4s with solid-fueled DF-21s in Hunan and Qinghai provinces (about 1,500 km from the Indian border).  The only reason the DoD mentioned India in this context was the upgrade was partly motivated by China’s desire to “improve regional deterrence.”  How this translates to “China moves its missiles closer to the Indian border,” only PTI can tell us.

But this is just symptomatic of a larger malaise plaguing large sections of our media: a flippant regard for facts, for corroboration, a desperate quest for sensational news items (even when none exist), for “dumbing-down,” and for drama above all else.

Were that not the case, stories such as this extraordinary piece about Mr. Obama’s visit to India would have never been published. Folks, 34 warships including one aircraft carrier is not a “presidential entourage.” It is an invasion. 

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About the Security Council

Step away from the NPT!

One of my favorite blogs,  Armchair Generalist,  has a blogpost out on President Obama’s endorsement of India’s bid for a permanent seat at the United Nations Security Council.  The blogpost, while appreciative of  India’s desire of joining other permanent members at the UNSC, disagrees with the decision, at this time.  It reads:

It’s just that this action, at this time, reinforces the concept that the price of influence in international politics is possession of a nuclear weapon. This directly counters the message that the nonproliferation community has been trying to set for the last decade or more.  If India is “rewarded” with a permanent seat while not having to comply with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, why should any nation – to include Iran and North Korea – think about joining the NPT community or stopping their efforts to build a nuke? It doesn’t make sense. If Obama is serious about changing the permanent membership of the UN Security Council, he needs to start with Brazil, Japan, and Germany. Reward those nations who want to follow international norms first. [Armchair Generalist]

Notwithstanding the tremendous odds that would need to be overcome for Mr. Obama’s endorsement to translate into reality,  I have several issues with the logic in the blogpost.

First, if the price of influence in international politics is indeed, the possession of a nuclear weapon, why haven’t similar cases been put forward for other nuclear weapons states? North Korea? Pakistan? Even Israel?  A country’s power and influence in international affairs is a function of multiple factors, –  economic, military and demographic – and all three have played their part in how India is viewed, by itself, and by the rest of the world, today.  Its growing economy has played a critical role in India’s elevated global profile — we’ve seen this at the more recent G20 summits, at Copenhagen and at the World Economic Forum. It is only natural, then, for India to want (and for its friends to support) a greater presence at the UNSC.

Second, about the NPT.  Armchair Generalist asks, “why should any nation – to include Iran and North Korea – think about joining the NPT community or stopping their efforts to build a nuke,” if India were to be “allowed” to join the UNSC without signing the NPT.

Well for starters, both Iran and North Korea were signatories to the NPT when they embarked on programs that violated aspects of it.  While Iran today remains a signatory, North Korea withdrew its membership when it became an inconvenience.  India, on the other hand, while never actually signing the NPT (more on India’s opposition), has strongly adhered to many of its core principles (even moreso than some, ahem, NPT/UNSC permanent members).

Moreover, India has indicated on multiple occasions that it does want to join the NPT as a nuclear weapons state (NWS).  Of course, per NPT, the status of NWS was only accorded to countries that had tested or possessed nuclear weapons as of 1968.  Convenient. The solution to this though, is to structurally reform the NPT to allow post-1968 nuclear powers to gain membership as NWSs, and not to plug away with demands that a country do what it has already agreed to do, in principle.

There is a bigger issue here, though.  Let us not turn every Indian attempt at playing a role in shaping the global order into a debate about whether or not it must accede to a structurally flawed nuclear non-proliferation regime.  When the UNSC was established, membership to the council was not awarded solely on the grounds of countries possessing nuclear weapons (none of the UNSC members, with the exception of the U.S., had conducted nuclear tests prior to 1946).  Nuclear weapons were not the sole indicator of power or influence in the world back then, and they certainly aren’t now.  To that end, India as part of the so-called G4, has been unequivocal in its support for permanent UNSC memberships for Brazil, Germany and Japan.  The U.S.’s own support for Germany and Japan’s permanent membership dates back to the 1990’s.

Similarly, and by extension, accession to non-proliferation regimes was never a requirement during the UNSC’s formation (NPT was only brought into force in 1970); it would therefore be wrong to make this a requirement for future members. New Delhi seeks an expansion of the UNSC because it believes that for it to be an effective body, the council’s membership must reflect the shifts in global power and influence from being concentrated in hands of one or two superpowers to the presence of multiple power centers, of which India is one. It would be wrong to suggest that India’s quest, and the U.S.’s subsequent endorsement, is anything other than a recognition of this reality.

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