A new day in Asia

India seems to be the only country that gives precedence to ideology over issues.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published on:December 2, 2013 5:01 am

Rapidly unfolding developments to our east and west — the unexpected détente between the United States and Iran and the growing confrontation between China and Japan — demand that New Delhi discard its traditional impulse to view Asia through the anti-Western prism. The idea of Asian solidarity against the West,developed during the colonial era,has long been presumed to be a fundamental principle of India’s foreign policy.

Despite repeated challenges to this proposition from the real world,Delhi pretends that nothing has changed. Unlike in the past,India’s reluctance to confront the sources of Asian geopolitics will involve many costs. A globalised Indian economy today is very sensitive to regional developments,and ideological posturing meant for domestic politics could complicate the pursuit of India’s national interests in Asia.

At the same time,given its size and the relative increase in its regional weight,India is in a good position to shape regional outcomes. But only if Delhi is ready to shed some of its foreign policy shibboleths. India must come to terms with the fact that some of the major certitudes that guided global politics since the end of the Cold War are beginning to fade way. Post-Cold War triumphalism in America gave birth to extraordinary hubris. Both the left and right in America believed that US power is inexhaustible and can be deployed to change the world. This delusion translated into profound tragedies in the greater Middle East. The hope that America can promote democracy,rebuild failed states and roll back the spread of advanced technologies across the developing world has come a cropper in the Middle East.

After two exhausting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,US President Barack Obama has become the biggest champion of a restrained foreign policy for America. In avoiding a military involvement in Syria and actively seeking a modus vivendi with Iran,Obama has invited the wrath of American foreign policy hawks. But his decision to put America on a less adventurous path in the Middle East and focus on nation-building at home has much popular support. Many people in the world,including in India,who agonised about unrestrained American power,must now come to terms with an America that is ready to downsize its global role.

Obama’s realism was not enough to produce the interim nuclear accord with Iran; it needed pragmatism in Tehran. President Hassan Rouhani,backed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,has challenged the powerful domestic proponents of a permanent confrontation with the US. While the effort by Rouhani and Obama might yet fall apart,there is no denying that anti-Americanism is no longer politically chic in Asia. Few countries in the world have had so many real reasons to be anti-American than the Islamic Republic of Iran — from the CIA coup against an elected leader in 1954,to support for an authoritarian monarchy that lasted many decades,to an intense hostility to Tehran since the revolution of 1979. In seeking political accommodation with the US,which has been long demonised in Iran,and offering significant nuclear concessions,Rouhani and Khamenei have buried the logic of anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

If the …continued »

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