The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
- India can't afford to be na'vely subservient to Pax Americana

Swapan Dasgputa's article, 'On another plane' (Dec 3), argues that 'India will be better served by carving out our own definite space within Pax Americana'. But this increasingly prominent position in Indian policy circles is politically na've, strategically inept and based on an astonishing historical amnesia that does grave injustice to India's potential and objectives. Mr Dasgupta is right to point out that a knee-jerk anti-Americanism would be a serious mistake and a symptom of political adolescence. Anti-Americanism in India is currently the lowest it has ever been, despite consternations about the Bush administration. This opens up the political space to treat each American proposal, whether it is the selling of arms or the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership, on its own terms. But a careful consideration of these proposals would suggest that America seeks to bind us more than Mr Dasgupta is willing to acknowledge.

It has become fashionable to deride Indian anti-Americanism in foreign policy as a product of a combination of hypocritical idealism, socialist piety, misplaced moralism and a hangover from the Cold War. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Our stance towards America was always rooted in our strategic interests. Our anti-Americanism in foreign policy came from the following sources. First, for much of the last fifty years we sincerely believed that America was closer to our strategic rivals. Second, that Pax Americana would allow no room for independent action. Every nation (with the exception of Israel) from Japan to Europe that has struck a formal alliance with the United States of America has given up its capacity for independent military action. Third, the application of American power overseas, outside the context of Europe and Japan, has generally been an unmitigated disaster bringing numerous countries to humanitarian and political ruin. Fourth, it is easy to forget that there was a period in American foreign policy when any hint of ideological deviance would invite covert operations from the CIA.

American intervention in the political economy of west Asia to Chile, the war on drugs to military presence in south-east Asia have had immeasurably deleterious social consequences. One does not need to be a supporter of Indira Gandhi to acknowledge that the ghosts of Allende loomed genuinely large in the Seventies. Finally, American alliance patterns were not based on principle but opportunism on a global scale. If in international politics there are no permanent friends or enemies only permanent interests, why ever commit to a power that itself seems to believe this dictum'

The suspicion of America could sometimes take a pathological form and slip over into a distrust of commercial and trade relations. And sometimes our relationship with the former Soviet Union was blind to the effects of the application of its power overseas. But the independence from an alliance with America allowed to us to maintain the nuclear option, it allowed us to undertake one of the more successful cases of armed intervention in East Pakistan, and did the salutary service of keeping American troops out of India soil. Our historical amnesia has propagated this bizarre myth that Indian foreign policy was subservient till the Bharatiya Janata Party gave it manhood during the mid-Nineties.

What the BJP did was made possible by the careful nurturing of independent options to which all our governments have been committed. Anyone who knows anything about 1971 will be hard pressed to make that argument that we have more capacity for independent action now than we did two decades ago. And if the Americans are courting us today, it is not because we lined up to be part of Pax Americana. On the contrary, it is precisely because we have displayed the capacity for independent action in a range of areas from trade negotiations to nuclear policy. And our emerging economic power, like China's, will give us clout that we would be foolish to fritter away for a little political attention and a few arms sops.

But then, the love of independence is not a sentiment Mr Dasgupta seems to understand. There is much euphoria in India about the NSSP being a framework for a special relationship between India and the US. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Progress in the NSSP will depend on India acceding to US conditions on technology exports from India, and may even pave the way for a monitoring of our nuclear programme that is more draconian than anything the IAEA would muster. We might have independently good reasons to curb our nuclear activity, but we should do it for our own reasons rather than America's.

Second, what is this 'space' that Mr Dasgupta is talking about' Pax Americana has the peculiar feature that it is a global empire. Every part of the world must be, through formal alliance or informal understanding, adapted to American interests. It is not a vision that will acknowledge that emerging powers should be given a space within their regions for autonomous action. The US is a power that will intercede to abridge the natural economic, geographic and cultural relations that characterize different regions. Will India be allowed room for autonomous action vis-'-vis west Asia' Will the US keep out of the Indian Ocean as a way of giving 'space' to India' The space that Mr Dasgupta yearns for does not exist, except as a sign of subordination.

Current geo-politics also belies Mr Dasgupta's argument. The US is in the enviable position that it can improve relations with all countries simultaneously. In that sense, everyone is carving out a place in Pax Americana. But precisely for this reason we are deluding ourselves if we think that we can acquire a special place. Any place we do get in Pax Americana will be like our place in a reformed UN. We will be invited to the table after all the cache associated with the invitation has disappeared. It's a place without much meaning and certainly no special privileges.

All this is not to suggest that we should not buy arms from the US or bring the relationship closer by intensifying trade. Many of us owe a good deal of our intellectual and moral capital to American ideals. We are not anti-American in that sense. But wariness of American state power is not a sign of anti-Americanism or moralism. It is, and should be, a counsel of prudence.

I would have thought that someone like Mr Dasgupta, who has so acutely diagnosed the moral psychology of colonialism and nationalism alike, would be more attuned to what's going on. America's placating both India and Pakistan with offers of weapons sales is the 21st-century version of imperial divide- and-rule. It is not a way of calming conflict in the region. It is a way of ensuring that India and Pakistan always remain edgy vis-'-vis each other. What is the American logic for pouring in arms in a region it describes as the hottest conflict-zone on earth' This edginess will make us both scramble to America. Pakistan's biggest tragedy is that dependence on America distorted its civil society, strengthened its military and irremediably warped its state structure.

Both India and Pakistan would be better off if the Americans genuinely kept out of the region. Pakistan would certainly be forced to confront its infirmities as a state more honestly. Rather than inviting America in, we should work to give our region the ability to repossess its own history. But the question Mr Dasgupta's article raises is this: Has Indian nationalism sunk so low that it would readily abdicate its independence for a place in Pax Americana' Is this all that is left of the muscular nationalism that Mr Dasgupta so endlessly propounded' We are in the position of maintaining our strategic and political independence, and it is na'vely subservient to think otherwise.

Email This Page