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LOOKING BEYOND IRAQ
- National interests come first in India’s foreign policy

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research and chairman, Central Electricity Regulatory Commission

The invasion of Iraq exemplifies the double standards that the world accepts as realpolitik. Our government’s reaction has been careful and rooted firmly in our self-interest. It does not, as in the past, take a superior moral stand and preach to the world. In earlier years our communists (as well as Jawaharlal Nehru and the Congress) did not condemn the invasion of Hungary and Czechoslovakia by the Soviets, or the Chinese takeover of Tibet. They sacrificed Indian interests for an apparent “moral” principle. For example, they said that Tibet belonged to China, British imperialism had denied it to them and China was right to take it back.

Communist and Congress parties have opposed the invasion of Iraq on moral grounds — that no country should invade another, even when the government is as illegitimate and cruel as the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. But they are willing to accept such an invasion if it has the fig leaf of the United Nations approval to cover it, knowing that UN resolutions are many times achieved by purchase of votes of small countries. However, despite a UN mandate, our communists supported the Chinese invasion of Korea.

The Tony Blair government’s stand is based on Blair’s belief that the United States of America’s status as the only superpower will remain for many years when it will have taken control of most of the oil-producing world. He expected the war to be brief, and the US to be in control of Iraq soon. Britain could share in that (what Lenin called the crumbs from the table of the imperial power). Two of the largest oil companies in the world are British — Shell and British Petroleum (Shell also has Dutch ownership) and their interests have to be furthered. That it is largely Islamic is a bonus because it gives the moral cover (after September 11) of a war against terrorism.

Blair also sees further economic benefits for the United Kingdom in reconstructing the war-ravaged countries. The stronger links with the US will improve the presently isolated British position in Europe in relation to France and Germany since the proposed new European Union members (ex-communist east European states) with equal votes and under US influence would support Britain in the EU.

The French and the Germans are reacting to the realities of a uni-polar world and making a determined stand to declare their individualism. There is no moral force behind their refusal to support an invasion of Iraq. The French after all have supported the vilest of African dictators — remember the cannibal dictator Bousaka and the killers in Burundi' — over the years with arms, money and refuge after the dictators lost power. As the US slowly takes over Iraq, they will backtrack to protect their oil and economic interests.

The Germans are no different. They prevented the world for long from stopping the Serbs in their killings of Muslims. Chancellor Schroeder had to go along with public feeling and join the French against the war. The French are their key to keeping the EU intact. The two might fall out if the French veto the old Soviet satellites joining the EU because they will be a drain on European resources. They have also supported the US invasion despite French opposition The Germans are all for soon enlarging the EU.

The Chinese complain about the invasion but have done it repeatedly themselves, in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Tibet. As their economy has grown, they are using other means, like giving missile technology to North Korea and nuclear technology to Pakistan and then encouraging the two to exchange with each other. Their actions escalate defence expenditures in south Asia, weaken the economies of India and Pakistan and hold them from reaching their potential. This will reduce any possibility that south Asian countries could develop common interests and so balance the power of China.

The US has taken over a decade after the collapse of the Soviet empire to use its new status as the only superpower to forcibly recreate the world in its image. The Bush administration sees no need for justifying its invasion of Iraq or getting world approval for it. He has to consider only the support of his people, and as president he can manipulate that. America abandoned Vietnam because of public outrage in the US, the only force that can stop the new unilateral American belligerence.

Bush’s political opposition sees no virtue in opposing a mid-term president certain to win his war using the overwhelming might of the US. They know that wars help the incumbent in democracies to win elections (remember Roosevelt winning a fourth term during World War II, Margaret Thatcher after Falklands, Indira Gandhi — even Vajpayee then called her “Durga” — after defeating Pakistan and creating Bangladesh, or Ronald Reagan after invading and defeating little Granada).

George W. Bush’s election was deeply flawed. He obviously came determined to use any means to ensure a large majority for his second term. September 11 was a godsend and enables him to engage in serial wars against terrorism for many years to come. That the enemies are Muslim is a bonus to a born-again Christian fundamentalist who initially termed this a crusade. It also solved the problem that has bedevilled American presidents for over fifty years, of gaining better control over the greater part of the world’s oil and gas reserves than was possible through supporting venal kings and dictators whose people were against them.

All these leaders and nations put their countries first; sacrificing means to justify foreign policy ends. We should learn from Machiavelli and Kautilya and put India’s interests first. Vajpayee seems to disapprove of destabilizing governments by external force. He probably does not want Saddam Hussein to go since he and Iraq have been India’s principal Islamic supporters. But our new middle path and unwonted brevity in response are a recognition of the determination of Bush to change the Iraqi government.

Bush might well thereafter destabilize other fundamentalist Islamic governments, even Saudi Arabia, the most aggressive exporter of fundamentalist Islam. This will be to India’s advantage. India can also have a role in post-war reconstruction and as a policeman in the neighbourhood. At the same time, we cannot overtly support the invasion, given our own large Muslim population. Thus India’s cautious reaction to the invasion has a strong streak of self-interest above moral standards. This approach has rarely driven Indian foreign policy (except when going to war to create Bangladesh). We no longer want to be the moral policeman of the world.

There are more challenges to come as India charts a course through the realities of a unipolar world. There is no past to guide us. We can no longer play off one great power against another as during the Cold War. We must form coalitions for common purposes, mainly economic. This invasion makes it possible for nervous Asian countries to get together and protect their energy supplies. But all countries have to be wary of treading on the geopolitical interests of the US. The communists and the Congress label this approach as cowardice and self-seeking behaviour. So it is but it is in the national interest.

India’s need is for economic growth. We should not be diverted by events in Iraq or elsewhere except to use them to our advantage. Until we have strong growth and a different and more tolerant US administration, we would be wise to continue moderation in our rhetoric. India must come first in our foreign policy.

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