K Subrahmanyam: Beyond cold war paradigms

Last Updated: Sat, Nov 13, 2010 18:50 hrs

The ghosts of the cold war continue to haunt many in our political establishment and those who analyse foreign policy. These ‘cold warriors’ have expressed reservations about the India-United States strategic partnership time and again. They warn the country that this is no more than a clever move by the US to trap India into an anti-China containment strategy. They now point to the fact that US President Barack Obama has undertaken an "Asian tour" to India, Indonesia and South Korea — countries surrounding China — towards this end. They see Mr Obama’s reference to the need to involve India in East Asian structures as a trap.

It is amusing to recall that many of the same commentators strongly denounced the reference to China’s role in South Asia in the US-China joint communique, issued after President Obama’s visit to China last year. That was also the time when the concept of G-2 (US and China) managing the international financial system was popular among some Chinese and Americans. These critics were wrong last year, and they are equally wrong this time too. There is nothing odd about ‘global powers’ like the US, China and India having an interest in developments around the world. As members of the UN Security Council — and India will become a non-permanent member with effect from January 2011 — such interest in other parts of the world is natural.

The time has come for analysts and politicians to give up cold war theories relating to ‘containment’. In this new ‘globalised’ world, everyone is inter-dependent on everyone else. How can China be subjected to any containment strategy by the US when both are extensively integrated with the globalised world, largely due to US and western investments in China and their dependence on imports from China?

Today the US and China have a symbiotic financial relationship. In fact, what is being advocated in the West and resisted by China is increased engagement with China, which may, over a period of time, lead to China getting democratised.

The main problem today is that a ‘rising China’ is the only major power which has not accepted democracy. This combination of rising power and a non-democratic system causes concern to all of China’s neighbours.

The fact is that with the exception of India, whose power has risen after it became a democracy and is therefore viewed benignly by the rest of the world, all other ‘great powers’ (except the US) experienced their ‘rise’ as non-democracies — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Japan and, now, China. The rise of non-democratic powers contributed to great wars.

It is not surprising that China’s rise has led to tension with all its neighbours — Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Asean and India. China today is the number two power of the world, with aspirations to rise to the top. From the early eighties, China — at that time not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty — appears to have decided on nuclear proliferation as an instrument of expanding its influence and power.

China wanted to contain India within the subcontinent and therefore proliferated nuclear weapons technology to Pakistan. The US was permissive of Chinese proliferation at that time as the price of enlisting Pakistani support for the Mujahideen campaign against Soviet forces in Afghanistan. China also armed Pakistan with missiles.

A nuclear-armed Pakistan, in a position to exercise nuclear deterrence against any conventional threat, decided to use terrorism, a derivative of nuclear deterrence, as an instrument of policy. India became Pakistan’s first target. After 9/11 the US and UK also became Pakistan’s victims.

According to the account of two US nuclear scientists — Thomas Reed of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and Danny Stillman of Las Vegas Laboratory — given in their book Nuclear Express, China conducted a nuclear test for Pakistan in its Lop Nor test site on 26 May,1990. China proliferated to North Korea and in a preliminary way to Iran. North Korean proliferation was motivated by the desire to counter Japan. There was also a nuclear and missile proliferation relationship between North Korea and Pakistan.

This phase of proliferation was by states whose regimes had inadequate legitimacy and which were faced with the threat of externally-induced regime change. Pakistan, North Korea, apartheid South Africa, Iraq, Syria and Libya fall into this category. There are reports that the military junta in Myanmar may also try to acquire nuclear weapons for similar purposes.

While there is clear recognition that Pakistan poses a threat to Indian security, what cannot be overlooked is that Islamabad derives its capability to threaten India from China. The US has its share of the blame for being permissive of Pakistani proliferation. But the actual proliferator and continuing supporter of Pakistani nuclear and missile proliferation — and the source of 80 per cent of its conventional weapons — is China. Beijing has been assertive on the issue of Arunachal Pradesh and on the Line of Actual Control.

While there is no evidence of China supplying arms to Maoists in India, Kunming in Yunnan has a flourishing blackmarket for sophisticated infantry weapons, and some of the weapons of the Maoist groups in India have been sourced from there. China sells arms to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. There are recent reports that China is taking up a number of projects in Pak-occupied Kashmir and a large number of PLA-related personnel are working there.

China and its surrogate, Pakistan, have been attempting to contain India. China feels India’s pluralistic, secular democratic values pose a challenge to its single-party oligarchy, which emphasises harmony over individual human rights. It is also worried that India, with its youth bulge and a population that will overtake China’s, may become a major knowledge pool rivalling China. That appears to explain the direct and indirect pressures applied on India.

Some people are of the view that the primary conflict is between the US and China, and that India should be nonaligned in that confrontation. This is totally wrong. China, with its one-party authoritarianism, and Pakistan, its crypto-ally with its jehadi expansionism, are targeting India.

They seek to destabilise India through Islamic terrorism and left-wing violence. India is the battle field for this anti-democratic alliance. One can be nonaligned in somebody else’s confrontation, as was the Cold War, but not when one is in fact being targeted. How can you be non-aligned against yourself?

India needs strategic partnerships with all democratic, pluralistic and secular powers to counter the combined threat from an alliance of authoritarian and monolithic systems allied with jehadi forces.