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THE EURASIAN IMPERATIVE

While everyone in India has been obsessing with the state assembly elections, I have had a rather “European” fortnight, with a week in Germany and then a long encounter over a freewheeling dinner-seminar with the president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, and his commissioner for external relations, Chris Patten. Rather irresponsible of me, you might with justification think, but I did do my two-bit election campaigning in Delhi and Madhya Pradesh and, in any case, the country must go on, elections or no.

So, in this pregnant interregnum between the casting of the votes yesterday and the counting of the votes on Thursday, spare a moment, if you will, for developments in foreign policy half a world away which might have the most profound implications for the external dimension of our internal sovereignty.

The differences over Iraq have only brought to the surface deeper forces that are at work in a Europe that is united as never before in history, integrating as never before, without enemies as never before, and mind-bogglingly prosperous as never before. And then ask yourself, as the Europeans are asking themselves, whether their profile and posture in the world order should not in the 21st century be rather different to what it has been in the last half-century of the 1900s. And then ask yourself what there might be in it for us in India as we drift from the comfortable anchoring of the non-aligned movement into the uncharted seas where we find ourselves in an unaligned world, with neither the steering wheel in our hands nor a sure hand on the rudder.

Ever since the end of World War II, and the descent of the Iron Curtain, and the proliferation of nuclear weapons from America to the Soviet Union, Britain, France and China (the Big Five in both the Security Council and the Club of Nuclear Blackmail), we in India have fashioned our place in the world’s sun by saying a plague on both your houses, then playing the one off against the other to protect our sovereignty, proclaim our independence, and promote our prosperity (or at any rate, palliate our poverty).

The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and then the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 changed all that. Or did it' Of course it changed everything in East-West relations. But what did it change for the South' Almost nothing. None of our critical problems was solved, some were aggravated — the threats to our sovereignty, integrity and independence; our security imperatives; our economic needs; our resistance to the quest for domination; our striving for a democratic world order.

Through the Nineties, both Europe and India remained virtually frozen in the mindsets of the Cold War era. Far from dismantling the North Atlantic Treaty Organization now that there was no Warsaw pact, NATO was expanded and its reach extended so far from the Atlantic that it stretches now to Afghanistan. And the hegemony of a single power was welcomed by Europe almost with relief. We continued to chant nonalignment, if with increasing lack of conviction, while Jaswant Singh, in the manner of his royal Rajput ancestors, tried to lead us into a relationship with Washington which William Bentinck would have instantly recognized as a 21st century “subsidiary alliance”.

The time of transition is, however, over for us both, Europe and India. Next week, December 10, an apostate Europe is going to embark on a heresy unthinkable even a few years ago: consideration of the Javier Solana paper on European defence and security which might yet come in history to be equated with Martin Luther nailing his theses on the doors of the cathedral at Wittemburg, the start of a Reformation in international relations which might yet signal the new world order after Bush and Blair.

Most of the European establishment is, of course, terrified at the thought of having to think for themselves instead of letting the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom decide what is good for Washington and, therefore, good for the world. “Effective multilateralism”, they say, but not “effective multipolarity”. No, they would rather stay with a world order in which the super-duper Americans are Numero Uno, with themselves as Numero Secundo, while the rest (read you and me, dear reader) are thrown the occasion crumb from the table or even, on special occasions like Vajpayee at St Petersburg, invited like serfs by the Lords of the Manor to partake of a toothsome turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas.

Not only should this be unacceptable to any self-respecting Indian (and there are many to be found outside our present government and the mandarins of South Block), it is also found unacceptable, I am delighted to report, among a vast swathe of Europeans, the French, of course, but increasingly the Germans and even the Brits, who are at long last beginning to see that Europe, as the Solana paper says, has “new neighbours”. From Washington, Tehran is a long way off; for Europe, Iran’s or Syria’s missiles programme is happening next door. On Israel, while Washington looks to Manhattan for inspiration, Europe sees Al-Naqba unfolding at its doorstep, on the other side of the lake called the Mediterranean. And as for friends, R. Rummel, the head of Germany’s leading think-tank on international affairs, remarked at my meeting with him, “For the first time in its history, Germany is surrounded by friendly neighbours”, to which I could not help wickedly responding, “And for the first time in history, your neighbours are confronted with a friendly Germany”! But jokes apart, it just is true that for the first time in history, Europe, the most bloody continent in the world, is so much at peace with itself that there is not a foe to be seen from Lisbon to Vladivostok. Yes, they share some of the paranoia of the United States of America over global terrorism à la Osama bin Laden, but increasingly they find they must fight the twin menace of terrorism and nuclear proliferation their way, not the way indicated by a US which, to quote Rummel again, is “short-sighted” and prone to “military solutions”.

Thus the Solana paper is no paper tiger. Europe has begun to think for itself. Europe is already beginning to talk of a European defence force independent of NATO. And official Europe will realize tomorrow, even if it does not wish to do so today, what its “armies of the night” (Norman Mailer’s phrase for agitators of civil society) have already discovered — that “effective multilateralism” requires the diffusion of power and, therefore, a plurality of Powers. The new Europe will also progressively wake to the realization that the terms “Europe” and “Asia” are an artificial imperial construct, a colour divide. The line separating Europe from Asia, drawn hitherto along the ridge of the Urals, has no anthropological authority or geographic sanctity or even historical validity.

We, Europe and Asia share a single continent. Our ancients called this continent “Jumboodweep”, invoked at the sankalp when a Hindu begins his prayers by indicating to the Almighty where the supplicant is situated. Jumboodweep is Eurasia, a landmass stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic, on the other side of that other continent which stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, North America.

The reconceiving and relaunching of the non-alignment movement as the movement for multipolarity, or, at least, the movement for multilateralism, must begin with the recognition that there is scope for a restructured non-aligned movement and the post-Solana European Union to make common cause. And it is for India to seize the initiative at this turning point of history.

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