An interesting piece in Foreign Policy by Sadanand Dhume sounds an alarm: the kind of non-alignment that is hard to distinguish from anti-Americanism, a mainstay of Indian foreign policy during the Cold War, is still alive and kicking in parts of the Delhi establishment. India, notes Dhume, sided with Russia and China over most issues relating to Syria and Libya, and a 70 member trade delegation headed to Iran last week to explore new commercial opportunities. Dhume refers readers to a new report by some prominent Indian strategists and public intellectuals that calls for “Nonalignment 2.0” and argues that if anything, the neo-nonaligned are making a comeback.Read the whole thing. Dhume provides an excellent overview of some of the tensions that trouble relations even between countries whose strategic interests are as broadly aligned as India and the US. Different political traditions, cultural values and the hunt for foreign policy issues among a government’s opponents all make life difficult in many international partnerships, and the US-India relationship is no exception.A couple of points are worth adding: one is about India, one is more general. On India, it’s important to note that the big tension spots between the US and India that Dhume mentions are in the Middle East. To some degree, the Non-aligned 2.o crowd wants India to carve out an independent role in the Middle East as a way of compensating for its unavoidable cooperation with the United States when it comes to East Asia.There’s an additional factor at work here. Since independence and the first war with Pakistan over Kashmir, India has a political vulnerability: it fears the “Palestinianization” of the Kashmir issue. It doesn’t want its rule over a Muslim-majority province to become an albatross around its neck; both for domestic reasons (it has a large Muslim minority) and for international political reasons (why join Israel in the doghouse and face BDS movements every time its security forces get a little trigger happy in Kashmir?) India wants to look like part of the noble, post-colonial and oppressed Third World rather than like a collaborator with Washington and all its evil works.India’s sensitivity on this point is all the greater because it has excellent and growing relations with Israel. The two countries are a natural economic fit, and Israeli technology can help India build up its military forces and seek qualitative advantages over China.If anything were to happen to the United States, India is the most likely country to replace us as Israel’s natural great power ally.Flaunting its independence from Washington helped detoxify the Kashmir issue during the Cold War; the Non-Alignment 2.0 crowd (and others) no doubt believe that India needs to find some other ways to keep the Islamic world’s attention focused elsewhere now that the Cold War is over.This is a reasonable point, but India may want to take another look at the politics of the Middle East. Cozying up to Iran isn’t a way to endear itself to the Sunni majority — and the Arabs cheered when Qaddafi fell and most long now to see Assad killed as well. Siding with the dictatorships of the past may not be a good way for India to ingratiate itself with the post-Arab Spring Middle East.More generally, the political fight between Third Worlders and Transformers in Indian foreign policy reflects battles that are going on elsewhere around the world. The generation educated in dependency theory, neo-Marxism and the colonial theories of the 1970s still tends to see the world as fundamentally divided into a rich North led by the US and a poor South that is struggling to organize and break free. Both nationalists and socialists were often grounded in these ideas in the last generation, and their influence remains strong in many foreign and defense ministries and many parliamentary party leaderships around the world today.Americans often blithely assumed after the fall of the Berlin Wall that all this tedious and futile thinking had been discarded, and that everyone now understands that capitalism and good relations with the US offer the best path forward. This was never true, and the succession of financial crises (the Asian crisis of 1997-98, the dotcom bubble, and the global crisis of 2008-9) have revived an anti-capitalist, anti-American discourse that was never truly dead.This matters for several reasons; from the standpoint of US foreign policy the most important one may be the way these attitudes help shape political debates in some of the most important countries we want to work with. The continuing decline of Europe and Japan has forced the US to look for new partners as the old Trilateral club is no longer powerful enough to shape the world. This has involved a quest for new and deeper relationships with countries like India, Brazil and Turkey to name but a few. These tend to be countries where various forms of the old ‘southern’ school of thought still has legs, and the prospect of deeper engagement with the US has triggered serious debates in all of them.American diplomacy needs to be sensitive to these debates, and engage at an intellectual as well as a political level. The United States no longer heads or seeks to head a coalition of First World countries enjoying inherited privilege in a post-imperial world. Increasingly our foreign policy revolves around building a world order that meets the needs of new partners. During the Cold War, American diplomats and academic foreign policy experts became quite adept at understanding and navigating the cultural and political currents of our NATO allies; the same kind of engagement is required now as our relationships with a new set of (hopefully) rising powers become more complex and more important.
India-US Relations Aren’t All Sweetness and Light