By Krishna Koundinya Mothukuru
Geopolitics does shift gears. The strategic priorities change with the changing socio-economic winds. But, winds being winds are capable of abruptly changing both their magnitude and direction. That being the case, are the think tanks of nations supposed to blindly follow the winds or are they actually supposed to read the winds and curate the sails accordingly, to avoid smashing into the oncoming rocks? The answer is obvious.
The era of Non-Alignment
Post-colonial India in all its wisdom had resisted the alluring charms of aligning with the newly emergent super powers. Our then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru pioneered the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) with likeminded nations like Indonesia, Egypt etc. Keeping the developing nations from the spheres of influence during the Cold War has actually saved these nations from assured socio-economic devastation. Much to the frustration of US, India being the largest democracy, with secular and humanitarian credentials tried to be nonaligned and slowly gravitated towards the Soviet bloc for which it is not entirely responsible. However, India did have the sense to not get into any military agreements and associations for they would mark the irreversible departure from “non-alignment”. From being offered a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council to near alienation by US, the diplomatic relations have undergone a tectonic change. The death knell was sounded when India signed the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 1971. It was this treaty of friendship, and its military clauses that made US gravitate towards Pakistan, making it a part of CENTO, pouring billions in aid and a frontline state for its Afghanistan Operations. It is no secret how that turned out for India. Our brother-enemy ended up being a toxic jelly state (as MJ Akbar remarks).
The lesson to be learnt is that it is better for a country with a tough neighbourhood like India to stay away from military alliances.
From Non-Aligned to Multi-Aligned Stance
Fast forward to the post LPG days where new power centres emerged and Non Aligned transformed to Multi Aligned. With Gujral Doctrine, Look East, Look West, BRICS, Connect Central Asia, Act East policies, India, for some time displayed the maturity of a responsible “big brother”.
As George Santayana says, “Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.”
Did we really forget the lessons taught by history?
Entry into Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which is a military organisation, may be justified on economic and strategic grounds. India’s ambition of being a “net security provider” is bolstered by the US allegation of India being a free loader in terms of security by punching way below its weight. But India is definitely a sovereign nation whose foreign policy should be guided by “India First” dictum as touted by our PM Narendra Modi. If that is so, the citizens would definitely look for its reflection in actions taken, but they do seem otherwise especially the recent Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA).
The US has pressured India since 2004 to sign the three “foundational agreements”- Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA); the Logistics Support Agreement (LSA); and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). All three are military in character. The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) is a tweaked version of the LSA. The UPA government back then did not succumb due to the fear of being misconstrued as being drawn into a military alliance by India’s strategic partners.
Shashi Tharoor in his book Pax Indica says, “amateurs talk about strategy, rank amateurs talk about tactics, and true professionals talk about logistics.” Thus, logistics is vital for any military agreement, cooperation or organization and is usually the first step for a military bloc or alliance. With LEMOA, US and Indian forces can support each other by berthing & refuelling aircrafts & warships. It provides an agreeable framework to govern the exchange of logistical support, supplies & services. India has “agreed in principle” to LEMOA and the agreement would be signed in weeks to come. The only saving grace here is probably that it does not directly impinge on India sovereignty by creating dedicated exclusive US military bases and stationing US troops on Indian soil. CISMOA would provide the US military, access to Indian communications regarding its military operations. As of now, there is no clarity on CISMOA and BECA from the Defence Ministry.
The new Chinese defence White Paper 2015 shows its ambitions of foraying into the “Zone of Peace”- the Indian Ocean. India already conducts Malabar naval exercises with US and Japan, much to the displeasure of China. US replaced Russia as the largest arms exporter, a fact that frustrates Russia, our oldest ally. There is a lot on incongruity in policy formulation and subsequent actions on the ground.
A toxic cocktail of muddled thinking, short term benefits maximization and divorce from ideals in favour of economics driven pragmatism will prove to be costly in the future, if not tomorrow. India should learn from its own past if not others’ past.
Krishna Koundinya Mothukuru is an entrepreneur and writes on Foreign Policy, Economics and Law.