Tag Archives: Non aligned movement

BRICS – India is the biggest loser

Guest post by Sumantra Maitra

Among other interminable dross that were churned in the recently concluded 5th annual BRICS summit in South Africa, was the idea of a Development bank, by the five ever-rising economic powers. Although the details are vague, like any other diplomatic summit declaration trying to obfuscate the deep fissures within this coalition of unequals, the fact that India agreed to this disaster in the making is a new low in the foreign policy of a country, which is not much known for rational and realistic choices. The idea behind the development bank is indeed noble, “to address…the infrastructure gap in developing countries…”, especially in Africa. But the intention to make it successful or meaningful or the national interest of each member of the coalition is not clear. One thing, which is however clear, is Indian ambivalent skepticism about bandwagoning with any power simultaneously coupled with the Nehruvian idea of being a “messiah of the mass” and trying to be a leader of the third world, which reflects the mindset of Indian bureaucracy and ruling elite, is increasingly drawing India into a dilemma.

The BRIC leaders

The BRICS is not an alliance. It is an arbitrarily formed group, mentioned in passing by an ex-banker, which was so captivating to the ruling elite of the grouped nations that they thought of formalizing it in an institution. Initially starting as rising economies, a perceivable counter balance to the G-8, these economies are no longer rising, with deep structural and institutional flaws, different modes of governance, deteriorating law and order situation and freedom of expression and censorship issues, different economic fundamentals and most importantly, absolutely different and divergent world view and interest. Joshua Keating pointed out why the BRICS couldn’t be more different than each other. The last addition to this coalition, South Africa, is the messiest of them all. The selection of South Africa is ofcourse controversial and political, regarded often as a quota position from the African continent, as it leaves out far more competent and growing economies like Indonesia, Turkey and South Korea. This comes when BRICS are accused of neo-imperialism, and banners like “don’t carve out Africa” were found everywhere near the summit in Durban.

It is well known, that the primary drivers behind the ideation in the BRICS are Russia and China. Russia wants to bandwagon with China to balance the influence of United States. The motivation and Great power nostalgia of Russian elite is simple enough to fathom. The Chinese interest is however far more complex. As a growing hegemon, China actually has interest in Africa, both geo-politically and economically. The resources of Africa are mostly still unexplored, and the market potential of cheap Chinese manufactured goods is enormous. This however comes at a time, when China is increasingly viewed with suspicion in Africa. The last couple of years have seen the murder of Chinese engineers by disgruntled and exploited African labourers, incessant strikes in Chinese operated industries and mines, and the now infamous op-ed by Lamido Sanusi, the governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, where he accused China of having neo-colonial ambitions. China now wants to portray itself as a benevolent and altruistic force, and therefore wanted to soothe Africa under the BRICS front. India, for all its independent and non-aligned foreign policy, is legitimizing Chinese actions.

It is puzzling to fathom why India is following Chinese and Russian lead. For a start, Russia is not what it used to be. It clearly views China as a far superior partner than India, and a market for superior weapons and technology, ironically at the same time when India received massive aid grant from Japan. India and China are not really partners, and as I wrote here before, will probably not be in the near foreseeable future. Nor is Indian business interest in Africa that important, scalable or maintainable. For example, assuming that India invests in some African country under the BRICS development bank, tomorrow if there is some kind of unrest, is India capable or willing to defend its business interest? India never showed any willingness to aggressively promote or defend its business interests, be it Afghanistan, Maldives, or South China Sea, and there is no reason to believe India would do that in Africa. India also lacks such far off power projection capability. Which brings us to question the wisdom; do the benefits of Indian investment in Africa outweigh the cost? What is the incentive of pledging tens of billions of dollars, all Indian taxpayers’ money, in a region which is beset by uncertainty, instability and conflict, or starting a monetary organization, potentially rival to IMF/World Bank which will not be of any direct benefit to the already slowing economy and growth rate?

On the other hand, India will eventually be viewed as just another neo-colonial resource grabbing power like China, if it continues to be with the BRICS. The respect that India enjoyed in Africa, and the goodwill as a potential democratic competitor of China will fade away, with India just being a satellite of Chinese ambitions, a satisfied mid level power in an institution guided by Russian and Chinese geo-political interests. Nor is Indian interest, in the BRICS assisted conflict resolution in Central African Republic understandable. Again, the question is geo-political, what IS India’s interest? Tomorrow if Russia leads the BRICS into conflict resolution in Syria, will India be willing to commit its resources?

As this Economist essay explains, India is utterly confused about its growing clout and new found respect as a rising power, lacks a political will, strategic culture, a status-quo bureaucracy, and timely and fast decision making infrastructure. Added to that is the notorious ambivalence towards aligning with the West, even though being perfectly aware that in the great scheme of the game, China stands as the largest potential rival. This ambivalence and skepticism stems from the utterly discredited NAM mentality which is still somehow widely followed among the Indian foreign policy circles, and the moral, altruistic, socialist Nehruvian world view, without any long term planning or Realist Raison D’etat. With the BRICS now attracting countries like Egypt, a slow and painful repetition of the outdated Indian NAM policies are in the process. Everyone knows how NAM turned out. One can only hope that India’s policymakers realize soon where her interests lie.

(Sumantra Maitra is a freelance journalist from India and a tutor of New Zealand Foreign Policy and Theories of International Relations, at the University of Otago, New Zealand. You can follow him on twitter @dailyworldwatch.)

Why is the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) still relevant?

Even before the XVIth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement commenced in Tehran, there were fervent discussions and passionate discourses about the role, potency, and relevance of a movement crafted in a furnace so vehemently fueled by the Cold War. After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the USSR, the naysayers’ upped their ante on the prediction of doom of gloom for this still nascent movement. The experts speculated and suggested that the Movement has outlived its usefulness; it lacked clear vision; ailed from tentative and confused leadership; has achieved very little by way of tangible and palpable results, and ran parallel to the ground realities of the present world.

In keeping with these stark notional judgments of the past and present, the build-up to the Summit in Tehran was also marred by claims that the Non-Aligned Movement could be hijacked by the Syrian crisis or the nuclear standoff between Iran and the UN et cetera. There were also apprehensions that the Summit would be used as a propaganda tool for the Iran regime to cement its position domestically while it presents the successful staging of the Summit as a show of defiance and strength to all its perceived adversaries.

Accusation also floated around that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wanted to use the Summit as a plank for showcasing to the world that Iran’s allies stood shoulder to shoulder with them–although reluctantly so –even as the world was on an apparent crusade to marginalize them. Supposedly, Iran also wanted to make it evident that its diplomatic machinery is in the pink of health, and that all those sanctions, bans and restriction haven’t broken Iran’s morale and spirit to achieve whatever goals it had set out for itself. Owing to these factors, the Non-Aligned Movement Summit was paraded as an exercise in futility and supporting rogue intents even before it started – and though it is too early to comment on how the Summit went – things were certainly stacked against it.

These notwithstanding, many contentions still pesters regarding whether a group constituting 120 nations that represents a major chunk of the human population should be brushed aside so nonchalantly and treated so indifferently. Should its raison d’etre be put in doubt because some nations in its midst are considered, “unstable or fragile” – and whether in a multi-aligned world, does one need to write-off one of the oldest and most peaceful gatherings of nations at a time when member nations within the Movement – supported by “the powers that be” – need to work together and sort out issues that it was confronted with?  The question also remained whether the Group’s past leanings and performance should be considered as a precursor to what it could achieve going forward? Wouldn’t it have been worthwhile to work with the Group to explore probable solutions by creating a sense of acceptance and camaraderie? No matter what the answer may be, it is certain that the Non-Aligned Movement is capable of and is poised to play a pivotal role within the political and economic sphere of the developing world. It holds great promise in encouraging world equality in every meaning of the word and the only question is when the dystopian theorists and pessimistic leaders realize it and make amends.

As a result of the tirade against the Summit, the early casualty of all the negative publicity was a certain nullification of the positives that the Movement had committed itself to and what formed the crux of its founding principles, which meant that the Summit made news for all the wrong reasons. The good intention of the Summit was in sharp contrast highlighted by the speech that India’ s Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh gave to the gathering of NAM leaders that spoke of global peace, all-round development, promoting democracy, pluralism; combatting terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; tackling the menace of maritime piracy, the threat of cyber security; pursuing ecologically sustainable development while ensuring energy, water and food security – which were in essence stymied by all the hype and hoopla surrounding the rampant negatives rants.

Throughout the history of NAM, many critics have pointed out that the Movement still has to overcome its colonial and polarized mentality – which analysts see as primarily anti-West and mainly targeted against the U.S. – and is one of the reasons the Group is seen as regressive and ineffective. This is where India comes into the picture. India has established strong relationships with some of the oldest and strongest groups/entities in the world as part of its, ‘multi-aligned,’ approach as stated by Shashi Tharoor in his book, Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century. Today India is part of the G-77, G-20, G4, IBSA, BRICS, RIC, BASIC, WTO, NAM et cetera as part of India’s flourishing, “Look East” and “Look West” policy, which puts it in an ideal position to make the NAM work – maybe not in a leadership role but from more of a coercive facilitator perspective.

With the growth of India’s economy and its growing stature around the world, the world has become more welcoming and receptive to India’s active engagement, and has since encouraged India’s participation in resolving issues that are crucial to maintaining a peaceful and stable climate for every country to grow and flourish in. Thus far, India has been a reluctant leader, choosing not to meddle in external matters as long as it doesn’t affect it, but the fact remains that the world would much rather prefer India – which takes great pride in calling itself the largest democracy in the world and a pacifist nation– to an aggressive imposer with possible clandestine motives. India could be the link that brings NAM into the new age and break the clichés that has tarnished its image over the years.

Now, the partnership between India and the United States is also very crucial to bring the rest of the world together with NAM and make them work for the greater good of all. The flourishing Indo-US relationship and India’s current working relationship with Iran, its understanding with members states of NAM, along with its rapport with other countries around the world, could well prove to be the elixir that the, “all but doomed negotiation,” with Iran and the UN Security Council lead agencies – made worse by Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei slamming the ‘overt dictatorship’ of the UN Security Council – needs in order to get things back on track. Eminent states of the NAM, along with India, US, and the UN, can also play a constructive role in the deteriorating situation in Syria, and help in taking the stalled negotiation for a Palestine homeland forward in urgency among many other prospective area of collaboration.

India also attaches great strategic importance to a safe and flourishing Iran vis-à-vis India’s growing energy needs. India is safeguarding its interest in the region through the development of the Chabahar port in Iran to help facilitate Indian logistics through to Afghanistan and Central Asia — and in apropos – developing the infrastructure needed therein. All these unravel into nothing if any conflict arises that might destabilize things so close to India’s borders, which is a very real possibility as things stand now. India, along with key NAM nation, could play the role of an impartial friend who acts as a go-between in the negotiations concerning the Iranians and the Security Council; the Syrian government and its people; and be a voice of support for the Palestine people et cetera, which will turn out to be a win-win situation for all concerned parties. It will allow space for a foolproof plan to be implemented in due course as per the will of the masses. This will therefore bring long-term closure to disputes in an amicable and acceptable manner.

In closing and before making any calls on NAM’s future, we would perhaps do well to remember that nations within the Movement have a great stake in what transpires in the world and should be looked at as a facilitator rather than a hindrance. NAM can be the umbrella under which all the parties — in its area of influence — that currently don’t look eye to eye can work together. India’s political diversity and growing stature means that it has to take the most just and equitable stance – and with NAM, India, the US, UN and other eminent nations putting peaceful resolution first – the threat of a Israel versus Iran, Islamic versus non-Islamic, Sunnis versus Shias, republicans versus monarchy conflicts can be averted – which I think is ultimately the whole point of today’s diplomacy and defines world politics in its simplest form.

So, for those who are keen on downplaying the importance of NAM – there could still be some use for the Non-Aligned Movement yet.