Shaped by the future

Shaped by the future

Bilateral issues will find easier resolution if Dr Singh and Obama spell out a shared vision

There appears to be excessive focus in the media on the transactional aspects of the forthcoming Manmohan Singh-Barack Obama summit. Perhaps the most appropriate way of looking at it is the one put forward by the National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon in an address to the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,Washington: “The visit offers us an opportunity to put into place a longer term framework for the India-US strategic partnership and add content to that partnership in several areas that are now ripe… In today’s international situation India-US relations are an important factor for world peace,stability and progress. An open,balanced and inclusive security architecture in Asia and the world would be a goal that is in our common interest. So too would be the rules of the road (or codes of conduct) for the global commons,developed internationally through a democratic process of consultation and negotiations… Traditionally India and the US have viewed each other across the Eurasian landmass and the Atlantic Ocean. We get a different perspective if we look across the Pacific,across a space we share and that is vital to the security and prosperity of our two countries. Apart from changing geopolitics the emergence of new transnational and global threats also brings us together.”

What are these transnational and global threats? Obama himself has highlighted that the risks of nuclear confrontation among nations have come down. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote in December 2005: “For the first time since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648,the prospect of violent conflict between great powers is becoming ever more unthinkable. Major states are increasingly competing in peace,not preparing for war.” Similar views about the impact of globalisation on the international strategic situation have been expressed by the Indian prime minister in successive combined commanders’ conferences. The transnational threats are religious extremism,terrorism in support of such extremism,organised crime including drug traffic,pandemics and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The challenge arising out of assertiveness and expansionism of a rapidly rising,non-democratic China feeling the pressures of enveloping international democratic culture on its own knowledge-acquiring population in the information age and its use of nuclear proliferation to counter the influence of democracies is coming into stark recognition. China proliferated nuclear weapons to Pakistan and North Korea and missile technology also to Iran and Saudi Arabia. In turn Pakistan has used nuclear deterrence as a shield to use terrorism as a state policy employing non-state actors against India,the US and the UK. Nuclear deterrence has been used by illegitimate regimes to resist externally induced regime changes. Attempting to counter the influence of India,the US,Russia and Japan in Asia and to emerge as the foremost power first in Asia and then in the world,China has used Pakistan and North Korea as launchpads for expanding its influence in South,West and Central Asia and on the Asian-Pacific rim.

There are threats also to various global commons,the international sea lanes and waters,cyber space and outer space. In an era with nine nuclear weapon states and globalisation,these challenges cannot be effectively responded to by military alliances of the NATO-type nor by unilateral military means.


India happens to be the arena where both the one-party authoritarianism of China viewing the pluralism and democracy of India as a challenge and religious extremism-inspired jihadi terrorism of Pakistan intersect and there have been expressions of views in both countries against the unity and integrity of India. The US,India,the European Union,Russia,Indonesia,Bangladesh,South Africa,Brazil,

Mexico,Canada,Philippines and Australia are pluralistic,secular democracies. Along with Japan and South Korea,which are secular democracies,these nations and a union (there may be other nations eligible to be included in this list) constitute half of the world’s population. This is the first time in human history that such a high percentage of the world’s population lives under democratic rule.

Manmohan Singh and Obama’s joint statement of November 24,2009 said: “The shared values cherished by their peoples and espoused by their founders — democracy,pluralism,tolerance,openness,and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights — are acquiring an increasingly greater prominence in building a more peaceful,prosperous,inclusive,secure and sustainable world… The two leaders resolved to harness these shared strengths and to expand the US-India global partnership for the benefit of their countries,for peace,stability and prosperity in Asia,and for the betterment of the world.” (Emphasis added.)

This is the core task that the two leaders should address in this summit. The success of the summit will depend on the progress they make in harnessing the shared strengths of the two countries for the defence of pluralism,secularism and democracy. The main hurdle they face is the Cold War-Non-Alignment mindset of the political establishments,bureaucracies,media and academia in both countries. Changing perceptions in India and the US that the security challenges in the 21st century are different from those of the 20th century and therefore the responses should be different is a time-consuming process,but it cannot escape having to be addressed. Many of the transactional problems between the two countries will find easier solutions if the politico-strategic establishments and bureaucracies on both sides realise that the US and India today share a common vision of a pluralistic,secular and democratic world order for the 21st century,and therefore have to formulate a common strategy for the purpose.

Towards this end,the democratic world cannot afford to allow authoritarian China to become the foremost power of the world overtaking the US. If the Americans do not want to lose their technological,financial and organisational pre-eminence (they cannot remain number one by GDP by 2050) they need a democratic and English-speaking partner which can offset the Chinese numerical superiority in outproducing the scientists,engineers and technicians in the coming years and act as a talent reservoir. That can only be India.

If India wants to narrow the gap with China it needs the same kind of support the US extended to China from the ‘80s onwards to make China the factory of the world. Clean energy generation,energy efficient products,energy conservation,green style of life and agricultural revolution necessitated by climate change together will call for a new industrial revolution in the coming decades. Knowledge will be the currency of power in that world. Pluralistic and democratic societies will have an advantage in terms of creativity and innovativeness. Formulating the first initial steps in the strategy of leading the international community towards that world order should occupy the joint attention of the two leaders in the forthcoming summit.

The writer is a senior defence analyst