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India Abstains on Syria

Longtime India watchers should not be surprised at this latest turn of events:

India worked hard behind the scenes on Friday to dilute a Saudi Arabia-drafted UNGA resolution, which severely indicted Syria for the situation prevailing in the country, but finally abstained from voting after the draft could not be rid of reference to the July 22nd League of Arab States resolution that called upon Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to step down.

India has a long tradition in foreign policy of supporting absolute sovereignty; like Russia and China, it does not want to see the ‘international community’ getting the right to overthrow governments—even bad ones—or to otherwise meddle in the internal affairs of states.

In India’s case, this is partly about suspicion of Western imperialism disguising itself as humanitarian intervention, and partly about not wanting the UN to acquire rights of meddling in disputes like the one over Kashmir.

These attitudes and concerns are deep set in the Indian bureaucracy and parts of its political class, and they won’t change overnight. Working out a new and closer relationship with India is going to require a deep and sustained engagement by US diplomats and others to find more common ground between Indian and U.S. approaches to global issues.

In fact, voting to abstain rather than voting ‘no’ showed some evolution in India’s position. In the past, India often defined its international position by being one of the toughest countries in the world against foreign and especially Western meddling. As a co-founder and leader of the non-aligned bloc, it stood firmly against any efforts to curb the behavior of third world tyrants in the belief that establishing and strengthening the independence of post-colonial countries was more important than enforcing international norms against them. The abstention suggests a softening in this position.

As so many U.S. cold war allies (especially in Europe) continue to cut defense budgets and turn inward, the U.S. needs to go back to the patient work of developing relations with the countries like India who will matter more in the next phase of world history. A vote like this one on Syria should remind us both how much progress has been made, and how much more work still remains.

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  • Anthony

    “Working out a new and closer relationship with India is going to require a deep and sustained engagement….” Yes.

  • http://knownofold.blogspot.com J R Yankovic

    “India worked hard behind the scenes on Friday to dilute a Saudi Arabia-drafted UNGA resolution, which severely indicted Syria for the situation prevailing in the country . . .”

    Am I also to understand that, among (I’m sure) MANY other considerations, India may have grounded, substantiable reasons for not altogether trusting the Saudis? Or is just that residual neutralist Indian treachery at work (ah, and didn’t the Trilateralists warn us time and time again that Pakistan, however “wayward” – “HUMOR them, for godsakes!” – must be the bedrock of our South Asian policies)?

    A pretty state of affairs, when precisely those Asian countries with whom we have the most in common re democracy and human rights are also the least trusting of us geopolitically. Say, but you don’t suppose it MIGHT have something to do with the complexion of a few of our “allies”? Meanwhile it’s those other Asian powers – the ones most programmatically hostile to democracy and religious freedom – who seem most securely in our Western pockets (or is it we who are in THEIR pockets? I’m confused).

    “As so many U.S. cold war allies (especially in Europe) continue to cut defense budgets and turn inward, the U.S. needs to go back to the patient work of developing relations with the countries like India who will matter more in the next phase of world history. A vote like this one on Syria should remind us both how much progress has been made, and how much more work still remains.”

    Thank you. And also for many other recent articles with a tangent message. Keep ‘em coming.

  • Cunctator

    The Indian abstention is undoubtedly a manifestation of a concern in many non-Western societies about the interventionist policies of the US/UK during the past decade or so. So, seeking the support of a country like India is best served by reassuring them that intervention is the exception, not the rule. Did we need to intervene in Bosnis – no, Kosovo – no, Libya — no, or now Syria – again no. It would be best just to let those countries sort themselves out when our own interests are not directly engaged. Were we to adopt such an approach, over time India et. al. would realise that we are not seeking to undermine their sovereignty — and they might then be more willing to support sanctions and other non-interventionist tactics that make us feel like we are doing something.

  • http://two-masters.blogspot.com/ Agim Zabeliz

    “U.S. cold war allies (especially in Europe) continue to cut defense budgets and turn inward…”

    It had not occurred to me before that the European (and American lefty) one-worlders are the most prone to demand universal conformity to their mores, while at the same time distaining any capacity to enforce those mores.

    Queer ducks, those one-worlders.

  • QET

    I am having a difficult time fathoming how in this case India’s rejection of a General Assembly (not known for its attachment to the US or US interests) resolution drafted by Saudi Arabia (hardly a US/UK lackey) can be interpreted as being motivated by suspicion of the West.

  • Eric

    India’s abstemption is almost certainly related to own various insurgencies, such as the Naxalite and Assamese insurgencies.

    India could not very well condemn another country for armed action against insurgents when they are doing this themselves.

  • http://www.joelshepherd.com Joel Shepherd

    India’s position? Which India? If the BJP and the NDA alliance were in power (and they likely will be in two years) likely they’d have voted against Syria on this one. There is no ‘Indian position’, any more than Obama’s White House represents the ‘American position’.

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