Raja-Mandala: The final burial of non-alignment

Delhi’s new approach to defence diplomacy came out clearly in the comprehensive joint security agenda set by Modi and Cameron

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Published:November 17, 2015 12:17 am
Narendra Modi, David Cameron, Modi in UK, Modi UK visit, Modi UK, Modi visits UK, Modi Cameron, Modi 10 downing street, modi david, modi united kingdom, India UK relationship, India news, Indian Express, Colums, Editorial Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his British counterpart David Cameron at a press conference during his visit to UK.

India, which clung to non-alignment as its international identity since Independence, had little inclination for defence diplomacy with other nations — big or small. But consider some recent developments that underline New Delhi’s slow but certain movement away from a fastidious avoidance of military partnerships in the past to making security cooperation an important part of India’s foreign relations now.

During his visit to London last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled an ambitious framework for international security cooperation with Great Britain. Home Minister Rajnath Singh is heading to China to seek cooperation with Beijing on border management and counter-terrorism.

The army chief, General Dalbir Singh Suhag, is in Japan this week after holding talks with the vice chairman of China’s Central Military Commission, General Fan Changlong, in Delhi on Sunday. A team of senior officials from the ministry of defence (MoD) is in Washington, preparing for Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s first official visit to the United States next month.

At a gathering of Asian defence ministers in early November, Parrikar got much notice for wading into the territorial disputes between Beijing and its neighbours in the South China Sea. At the Africa Summit in Delhi at October-end, military and security cooperation figured prominently in Modi’s bilateral interaction with the continent’s leaders.

To be sure, it was PM P.V. Narasimha Rao who renewed Delhi’s defence diplomacy as part of restructuring India’s foreign policy after the Cold War. For PM A.B. Vajpayee, who believed in India’s great power potential, defence diplomacy was a priority. But it was PM Manmohan Singh and his first defence minister, Pranab Mukherjee, who shocked the political class and the bureaucratic system with a bold new framework for security cooperation with the US in 2005. Singh and Mukherjee also took the first steps towards purposeful defence engagement with other major powers, including Japan and China, and created the basis for active security partnerships in Asia and the Indian Ocean.

Mukherjee’s successor, A.K. Antony, who served nearly eight long years at the MoD’s helm, pushed the clock back by reviving Delhi’s ambivalence about international security cooperation. Under Antony, the MoD’s civilian bureaucracy reverted to limiting the external reach of the Indian armed forces and blocking attempts by the foreign office to make security cooperation a key element of India’s diplomatic toolbox.

Modi has begun to change all that. He signed a revised framework for defence cooperation with the US and put military diplomacy at the centre of his outreach to major powers as well as important regional partners. The current frenetic pace of security diplomacy is a consequence of Modi’s efforts to plug the gap between the growing international demand for security cooperation with India and Delhi’s ability to respond.

Rajnath Singh’s visit to China is the first in a decade by an Indian home minister. Although the ministry of external affairs has long believed counter-terrorism is a potential arena for cooperation with China, a number of problems seemed to limit Delhi’s enthusiasm for deepening security cooperation with Beijing. These included the PLA’s assertiveness on the long and contested border, Beijing’s all-weather friendship with Rawalpindi, and the Chinese navy’s growing activism in the Indian Ocean. Now, under Modi, there’s a growing recognition that Delhi must cooperate with China where it can and compete where it must.

India’s new approach to defence diplomacy comes out most clearly in the surprising expansiveness of the declaration on international security cooperation between Modi and British PM David Cameron. Although Delhi and London had proclaimed a strategic partnership some years ago, they had found it hard to make it meaningful. Modi and Cameron have now laid out a comprehensive agenda that ranges from defence production to counter-terrorism, cyber security to maritime cooperation. And with it, the two leaders helped India and Britain turn the full circle on security cooperation.

At the dawn of Independence, Delhi, in the name of non-alignment, rejected all British efforts to extend the India-centred Asian security order built in the 19th century into the post-war world. In the decades that followed, Delhi steadily distanced itself from Britain amid deepening differences on regional and global issues.

Modi and Cameron have reversed that by declaring that the “two countries face the same threats and challenges, including the scourge of violent extremism and terror”. “As countries that share a proud tradition of upholding a rules-based international system,” Modi and Cameron asserted, “India and the UK resolve to strengthen the international system and develop a deeper partnership to better combat global threats.”

This is very different from the language of non-alignment. If the colonial past had limited what Delhi and London could do in the defence realm seven decades ago, a rising India and a Britain adapting to decline can now be uninhibited security partners.
The writer is consulting editor on foreign affairs for ‘The Indian Express’ and a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Delhi

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  1. K
    K SHESHU
    Nov 17, 2015 at 3:31 pm
    Non-aligned policy drifted long ago when Russia was a superpower and sheltered India. Then, the US replaced Russia. The non-alignment became a farce right from the sixties . Now, it hs become an open secret which government is not afraid of divulging!!
    Reply
    1. B
      Balagopal
      Nov 17, 2015 at 6:03 am
      This sounds great! But Pentagon in US would never like India's rise as a military power and will do anything to thwart it. Arming stan has been its trump card since India's birth. India has never succeeded in thwarting stan's proxy war through terror due to its ambivalence and weak political leadership in dealing with that country. It is refreshing to see how PM Modi is slowly dismantling Nehruvian policies (like non-alinged movement that included dictators like Castro)that crippled India and kept it under-developed for decades.
      Reply
      1. R
        Rajesh
        Nov 17, 2015 at 12:53 pm
        Non-alignment is yet another failed Nehru policy. It left us with no friends and no influence on the world stage.
        Reply
        1. P
          PKR
          Nov 17, 2015 at 12:57 pm
          Thank Nehru for the non alignment policy.Else we would have been a stooge for different powers and ended like stan with a begging bowl.Atleast now we have gained some strength and can negotiate with the world powers much better.
          Reply
          1. S
            SS Kartar
            Nov 17, 2015 at 8:50 am
            As long as the Indian military is kept servile and subjugated by the IAS, India's strategic aims will never be realized. They have raise a generation of tactical generals who think of section battle drills instead of g strategy. Appoint a CDS, integrate MOD and think BIG. Otherwise you will end up with OROP bhikaris.
            Reply
            1. K
              Kamal
              Nov 17, 2015 at 10:03 am
              Modis foreign policy successes need to be replicated within India in internal security, defence, thwarting the evil designs of jehadis, missionaries and commies. Modi in order to sound and portray himself in vajpayee and hi mould is not doing justice to his country as PM. A strong approach is required to eliminate all 3 evils from India.
              Reply
              1. K
                Kautilya
                Nov 17, 2015 at 9:31 am
                The lack of co-operation with the British had very little to do with non-alignment and everything to do with trust. The fact that it took more that a year for a 'hawk' like Modi to visit UK inspite of being in the neighborhood on more than one occasion; compounded by the absence of any noteworthy deals and accentuated by deals with competing nations such as France and Germany, clearly demonstrates that UK has a long way at securing the confidence of India's policymakers. And rightly so!
                Reply
                1. N
                  Nas
                  Nov 17, 2015 at 2:31 pm
                  what a dumb comment. Non Alignment is one of the best Nehruvian policy. Who would you have supported and become a stooge of? How would you have come up on your feet, if you were the satellite country of a super power? Please think before you comment
                  Reply
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