Monday, June 29, 2009

DIPLOMACY CANNOT COUNTER CHINA'S CHALLENGE

G Parthasarathy, a well-meaning retired career diplomat, is considered a hawk by a lot of woolly-headed analysts. They continue to blindly believe that the interests of a nation as big and as potentially economically powerful as India will be best served by being a harmless dove in an international environment where the power of a large nation needs to be projected and protected by its military strength. While Parthasarathy does represent the somewhat more realist face of the foreign policy establishment that is trapped in a compartmentalised and Nehruvian mindset, there is little doubt that even he is somewhat stuck in the same dysfunctional mould that has prevented India from properly activating what it needs to, to even reactively face the challenges that it must successfully deal with.

Parthasarathy's column in the Times of India of June 29, 2009, exemplifies the deep-rooted disease that has enervated the Foreign Office which, like most other government departments, functions in splendid isolation and with a misplaced arrogance. Thanks to a colonial legacy, career diplomats, like their counterparts in the IAS, have placed themselves at a hierarchical rung at which they will not be found in any other modern nation. With most politicians of today having a zero or at best a unifocal world view, foreign policy formulation and response has fallen into the laps of career diplomats who themselves are not trained or equipped to holistically address all issues intimately connected to it. To make matters worse, they are focused on preserving and promoting their turf even at the cost of national interest.

China, as Parthasarathy brings out correctly, is of late displaying a "new aggressiveness" in its approach to India, including issuing of "not too thinly disguised warnings about its territorial claims to Arunachal Pradesh which it refers to as Southern Tibet". Even more ominous is the fact that it has now begun to display its proactively developed military might openly, going to the extent of asking the US to recognise that Indian Ocean is a "Chinese sphere of influence". It has also unilaterally extended its maritime boundaries with Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. There are other areas too where China is now aggressively working against India's interests. It may be recalled that last year it had tried very hard to prevent the Nuclear Suppliers Group from giving the required unanimous clearance for the Indo-US Nuclear Deal.

The latest agreement that China has signed with Myanmar for a 20 million tons oil and a 100 billion cubic meters gas pipeline, has not even been mentioned by Parthasarathy even though this is one deal that will not only take Myanmar firmly into the Chinese orbit, but will also, without a doubt, lead to the establishment of a Chinese military base in that country and open up an all weather route to the Brahmaputra Valley, making annexation of Arunachal Pradesh and a lot more easier for them. Having secured the deal with Myanmar, they have already started showing "growing aggressiveness" in their claim to the entire state of Arunachal Pradesh.

Was the Indian Foreign Office sleeping for all these years when China was working on Myanmar? Why was India looking west to that disastrous gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan when it should have done every possible thing to get the Myanmar pipeline and more that the Chinese have got, knowing fully well that China was aggressively expanding its military influence in the region and had been claiming an Indian state for decades?

The blame for this new game-changing threat rests solely on the shoulders of the Foreign Office and the NSA, both of which have to date shown little or no understanding of the strategic security threat that India faces from China. This absolutely straightforward and unbelievable deduction is based on the simple truth that India has neither developed a credible reactive response - proactive is not even on the horizon - nor has shown any intention of doing so till now.

See the irony which no one wants to even whisper about because it exposes this country's security apparatus completely? At the time of Independence, Tibet and Myanmar were India's buffers and its spheres of influence. In the background of the experience of the Second World War, India should have not only done whatever was needed to keep them in its fold, but should also have actively developed a naval capability to make the Indian Ocean it sphere of influence too. Tragically, India forgot it all. But the Chinese up north did not. So, 62 years down the line India has lost all three and they are now are almost firmly in the bag of a China that never forgot to see far ahead.

There will perhaps be no parallel in the world where such a tectonic shift has taken place in the balance of power with the adversely affected nation doing absolutely nothing about it at any stage. For this criminal neglect, one day we will have to pay.

These developments are serious enough to give sleepless nights to those leading India. But, thanks to the sedating advice they seem to be getting from India's babus, they are not even concerned. What, for example, is the solution being offered by Parthasarathy to "deal with the strategic challenge that China poses in our Indian Ocean neighbourhood"? Proactive diplomacy. Period. What else does he say? He advises Indian service officers that "mature nations do not speak strongly or publicly about military deployment on disputed territories"! The Chinese don't think so; they speak aggressively about their military ambitions and intentions and openly call Arunachal Pradesh "Southern Tibet".

Is Parthasarathy's advice meant for a "mature" nation or a "weak" one that obdurately refuses to learn lessons from its own history, thanks to its security and diplomatic structures being in the vice-like grip of strategy-blind babus? Come to think of it, is their anything else that he can suggest? No. His expertise as a career diplomat ends there. But the nation's interest does not. Unfortunately that is something that no one wants to admit and that is something that has not ever been holistically dealt with in a government that works in water-tight compartments stifled by generalist babus. That is why India has a cop as its NSA and, yes, a cop, in a global first, heading an elite military commando outfit called the NSG. The disease is very serious and terribly deep-rooted indeed.

Can a nation be really so dumb as to believe as a national policy that the growing might and aggressiveness of China can be contained merely by talking and writing papers high in moral content with no hard power to back them? Was 1962 not lesson enough? Why is the better informed and equipped military leadership quiet about this hijacking of the nation by a few timid and self-serving generalist babus who are intent only on increasing the power of their own cadres to the exclusion of all others, nation be damned?

With every passing day, the Chinese are tightening the noose around India, the one country that they think will be in a position to challenge their dominance in the long term. Could they have ever done, or even thought, what they have, had they had civil services cadres of the type that India has and pushed the PLA out of the highest decision making loop, as these services have in India to create their own empires?

India is on the verge of becoming a super power. We may not be able to see it but the Chinese saw that a long time back. And they took proactive steps to be in a position to counter our rise. That is why China is only going to get more aggressive in the months and years ahead and will, without any doubt, use its military to humiliate and put India back and into an inferior position as it had done in 1962, at a time of its choosing.

The only way, as even a child should know, to prevent that from happening is not through something as ridiculous and meaningless as proactive diplomacy but by enhancing something as real and substantial as military strength. Only that can make the Chinese understand that the result of 1962 cannot be replicated. Will India wake up to this reality before it is too late, or will it allow its nose to be put to the ground by amateur generalists who cannot see and do not know?

Image source: Social Earth
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Readers may also like to read:
1. Facing the challenge of China's military modernisation
2. China and India:winning wars vs defending the country
3. India's 'Power': weakness=virtue, strength=immorality
4. China and India: bully and forever bullied
5. Democracy, morality and national interest
6. Myanmar lost to China: India's encirclement complete