Saturday, November 16, 2013

The 'Manmohan Singh Doctrine'

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave a speech recently to the annual conclave of Indian Ambassadors in New Delhi.  It was notable because it set out the principles of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's foreign policy doctrine.  His speech was commented on by Sanjaya Baru in Indian Express but outside of that, it seems to have passed without notice.  That's a shame because there are important pointers to the underlying assumptions of India's foreign policy in the speech.  And I would suggest that these are assumptions shared broadly in New Delhi, which makes it all the more important.  My critique of these basic principles was published by Economic Times last Monday (November 11).  I am posting it below.

The snag in the Manmohan Singh’s Panchsheel Doctrine

One of the central problems with the Indian foreign policy has been its refusal to understand the role of power in international politics. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's speech at the meeting of Indian ambassadors about the five principles of India's foreign policy shows that this unfortunate tendency continues.The PM correctly pointed out that the "single most important objective of Indian foreign policy has to be to create a global environment conducive to the well-being of our great country". The problem, of course, is how we go about creating it. The prescription from the prime minister was economic integration at the global and the regional level.  

Hidden behind this prescription is the assumption that economic integration is the solution to not only the problems of development but also of political differences between various countries.

Wishful Thinking

Economic integration is without doubt a necessary condition for growth. But even contemporary developments tell us that economic integration is not sufficient condition for peaceful foreign relations.

The PM is not alone in such wishful thinking. Japan and the US have for decades proceeded on the assumption that closer economic ties with China would make it a responsible partner in political relations.

But though all sides have benefited economically from closer trade ties, it has not prevented China from becoming increasingly aggressive towards Japan and other Asian countries nor prevented Beijing from continuously undermining US's global role.

India's trade with China has also grown enormously over the last decade, but again without any commensurate political benefits for India. China continues to prop up Pakistan in order to balance India and undermines Indian efforts in important international fora such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) which India is keen to join. Such Chinese manoeuvres require a hard-headed response, not wishful thinking about economic interdependence.

But such response will not be forthcoming as long as New Delhi insists on "mutually beneficial relations with all major powers", another principle that the PM underlined. Over the last decade, as American power has declined in relative terms with China, the competition between the two has intensified. If this trend continues, international politics is bound to become much more competitive, irrespective of the state of trade relations.

CHOGM Message

Nonalignment, India's preferred fence-sitting strategy, will not work even if the world should again become bipolar. During the Cold War bipolar period, nonalignment worked to a limited extent because we had no active disputes with either the United States or the Soviet Union.

But if China joins the US as the two main global powers, we cannot afford to be nonaligned because of our border dispute with China as well as the underlying political conflict with Beijing. Such blindness towards the changing power equations in international politics can be dangerous and damaging to the developmental priorities that the PM himself said was our fundamental objective.The PM also emphasised regional integration as another principle, but again narrowly in the economic rather than its political sense, or at least without seeming to understand the distinction between the two. The current brouhaha over India's CHOGM attendance indicates the disconnect in Delhi. How is India supposed to promote closer ties with its neighbours if it cannot stop reminding them of the enormous power disparity between us?

Whether the PM attends the CHOGM or not, Sri Lanka as well as India's other neighbours have been reminded that for all the talk of the Gujral doctrine — the fivepoint agenda to build trust between India and neighbours — India's giant shadow looms over them. If our neighbours then seem reluctant to share our vision of an integrated South Asia, can we really blame them?

Because we do not accept the reality of power in foreign policy, we neither understand how others can hurt us nor how we hurt others. And sadly, we do not seem to learn with experience either.

1 comment:

  1. Absolutely! I think the five guidelines for IFP are not only wishy-washy but also repetitive, and as you said, by and large without cognizance of the reality of power. I think there was also a point about upholding and defending the values that India stands for. But do we ourselves know what these 'values' are? Without defining these core element, I guess IFP will continue to be just as rudderless as before, notwithstanding the 'Singh Doctrine'. To be fair to him, I think MMS has done a decent job of conducting foreign policy affairs, on balance, but he really did not have to go and pin it down to 5 points.