chapter  9
17 Pages

Global threats and India’s quest for strategic space SIDDHARTH vARADARAJAN

One of the characteristics of the post-post-Cold War world order is the progressively rapid transition from one seemingly steady equilibrium to the next. Each successive order proclaims its own set of norms, hierarchy of threats and opportunities, and preference for certain instruments over others, only to generate new forms of instability and crisis. The post-1990 “unipolar” moment1 wedded the United States’ immediate strategic aim of preventing the re-emergence of a new global rival2 with the re-tasking of anachronistic institutions like the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and NATO.3 Well-established legal norms on the use of force and non-interference, which survived their frequent violation by the two Superpowers during the Cold War, gave way to the doctrines of preemption, humanitarian intervention and the “responsibility to protect.”4 Concerns about the nuclear arsenal and doctrines of the US, Russia and other “official” nuclear weapon states – a staple of Cold War-era discourse on arms control – were transformed into generalized fears about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) by “rogue states” and, later, non-state actors. Terrorism, which countries like India were quietly condemned to suffer throughout much of the 1990s, got elevated to the status of a “global war” once the US found itself on the receiving end of devastating attacks in Dar es Salaam, Nairobi and, most tragically, in New York City in 2001. The multilateralist “unipolar” order, which began with Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and the imposition of sanctions and “no flight zones,” reached its apogee with the 1999 NATO-led attack on Yugoslavia during the Clinton administration. This order ran aground soon after when Old Europe joined hands with Russia and China to begin seeking an end to the UN-imposed sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. What followed, eventually, was the US-led invasion of that country in 2003, though Washington was forced to rethink the doctrines of pre-emptive war and regime change, as well as its preferred instrument of unilateralism, in the face of the post-war challenges it faced in Iraq. Confronted by the limits of American power, George W. Bush, in his second term as president, tried to effect a course correction. The National Security Strategy of 2002 had always spoken of the need for cooperation between the Great Powers. True, it also remained focused on preventing the rise of peer competitors, but Bush and his advisors quickly grasped that the most effective way to prevent the emergence of a challenger might well be to induce cooperative behavior

between the US and other rising poles of the world system. Gaddis argues Bush correctly surmised from the first flush of global support for the US war on Afghanistan after 9/11 that Great Powers “prefer management of the international system by a single hegemon as long as it is a relatively benign one,” and one that is able to associate its power with “universal principles.”5 The Iraq War and its aftermath – like the exposure of torture at Abu Ghraib – had destroyed America’s ability to portray its power as benign and its conduct as representative of common values. A fresh pitch for managerial rights to the international system had to be mounted. The Bush administration did this by forging issue-specific, US-driven coalitions with both mid-sized and major powers – Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Brazil and Europe – to push for solutions to challenges as diverse as energy security, the North Korean and Iranian nuclear issues, free trade and climate change. It is not a coincidence that the strategic partnership with India – one that was centered around the Indian desire to rid its nuclear energy sector of sanctions, and the American desire to cultivate a rising power as a market for military and civilian goods and services, and as a potential outsourcer of hegemonic power in Asia – crystallized precisely in this post-Iraq War period.6 India had heralded its arrival on the world stage in 1998 by conducting a series of nuclear tests and attaining a high rate of economic growth despite the sanctions that were imposed on it by the US and a number of countries. President Bill Clinton began the process of engagement with India soon after, but it was the Bush administration that saw an opportunity to manage New Delhi’s “peaceful rise” and ensure that it acts like a “responsible stakeholder.”7 Pushing through an exception for India from the restrictive guidelines of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) – the 46-nation cartel whose rules prohibit the sale of nuclear equipment and fuel to countries that are not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – may well have been the last triumph of American unilateralism. But the effort would not have succeeded without the strong backing of Russia and France, both of whom had compelling economic and strategic reasons for opening the doors of nuclear commerce for New Delhi. Toward the end of his second term, Bush better understood what the rise of China had done to the world but failed to build a constructive relationship with Beijing because he was more interested in hedging against, rather than engaging with, Chinese power. As for Russia, his administration was never able to come to grips with what the re-rise of Moscow under the presidency of Vladimir Putin meant for the international system. The abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2001 and the aggressive promotion of missile defense, including the proposed location of early-warning radars on the territories of Poland and the Czech Republic, reduced Washington’s leverage in Moscow at a time when it was most needed. Had the US been willing to engage in good old-fashioned dialogue and diplomacy to deal with real and perceived challenges to its interests that emanated from Iran, North Korea, Syria and the breakdown of world trade talks and the growth of terrorism, this inability to forge genuinely cooperative Great Power relationships might not have mattered. The combination of these two mistakes, however, would prove costly as coalition-based solutions which initially seemed

within grasp started slipping away. The most dramatic demonstration of this problem came with the 2006 nuclear test by North Korea. When Washington scrapped the Agreed Framework in 2002, the assumption was that China and Russia would work closely with the US to ensure Pyongyang did not go nuclear, but that did not happen. As in the case of Iran, Beijing and Moscow remained suspicious of US motivations and wary of the consequences of escalating the punitive measures they had already reluctantly agreed to at the Security Council. In both cases, the US found itself unable to “punish” the willful defiance of its demands by the North Koreans and Iranians. The presidency of Barack Obama is likely to see a fresh and more purposeful attempt to reconcile the American wariness of potential peer competitors with the urgent, practical need to cooperate with them. Bush’s failure to do so was ironic because nobody understood the tension between political cooperation and strategic competition better than his Secretary of State – Condoleezza Rice. For those tempted to argue that the fundamental challenge facing the international community, in the wake of Iraq, was how to tame American power, Dr. Rice sought to drive home a picture of world order in which “new threats” like terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and pandemics posed a common danger to all countries, big or small. In this narrative, every challenge to the interests of the US and its allies was represented as a global threat. The Iranian uranium enrichment issue, for example, which was more a product of unresolved tensions between Washington and Tehran and the fragility of the wider Middle East Peace Process, and which needed to be resolved within that framework, got repackaged as a problem of imminent nuclearization. In a major speech to the United Nations General Assembly on the occasion of the UN’s sixtieth anniversary in 2005, the US Secretary of State claimed that the emergence of new threats had shifted “the very terrain of international politics . . . beneath our feet.”8 In the old world – starting from 1945 and presumably ending with the demise of the Soviet Union – “the most serious threats to peace and security emerged between states and were largely defined by their borders.” Today, however, “the greatest threats we face emerge within states and melt through their borders – transnational threats like terrorism and weapons proliferation, pandemic disease and trafficking in human beings.” In a highly influential newspaper article later that year, she made the link between these threats, and the need for a new concert of powers, more explicit. “For the first time since the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, the prospect of violent conflict between Great Powers is becoming ever more unthinkable,” she wrote:

Major states are increasingly competing in peace, not preparing for war. To advance this remarkable trend, the United States is transforming our partnerships with nations such as Japan and Russia, with the European Union, and especially with China and India. Together we are building a more lasting and durable form of global stability: a balance of power that favors freedom.9