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New Geopolitical Great Game of Indo-Pacific: Challenges and Options for India

Dr. Bawa Singh

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During the Cold War geopolitics, the Indo-Pacific region had not been part of Indian foreign policy. Most of the countries from the Asia-Pacific region and India have been remained in the opposite groups and the historical and civilizational relations had become enervated.

Until the 1970s, Indian foreign policy makers considered this region as economically less developed and thus was not attractive for trading and economic partner. Moreover, the   India’s colonial links and its ruling elite’s western orientation thinking further drifted the region from its geopolitical and geostrategic calculus. Sikri (2009), has argued that India’s Fabian socialism policy made it more insular and protectionist.

In the post-Cold War, Indo-Pacific has figured prominently in Indian Foreign Policy due to several dynamics such as end of the Cold War, breakup of the Soviet Union, Chinese assertiveness in region and the Indian Ocean, regionalization trends, India’s own political, economic, security situations and Southeast Asia’s economic and geostrategic problems were some of the important factors responsible for the changed geopolitical landscape in both the regions. Look East policy was launched in the post-Cold War in order to reorient the region in Indian foreign policy. Though, this policy has been started paying the dividends, but still Indian foreign policy has been facing myriad challenges in the Indo-Pacific region.

Indo-Pacific: A New Concept

The term of Indo-Pacific, was used by a strategic thinker Khurana (2007) for the first time, in one of his articles, “Security of Sea Lines: Prospects for India-Japan Cooperation”. According to him the meaning of this term, was a maritime space stretching from the littorals of East Africa and West Asia, across the Indian Ocean and western Pacific Ocean, to the littorals of East Asia. This concept was further strengthened and defined by the speech of Japanese Prime Minister in the Indian Parliament (August 2007), in which he commented that the “Confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans” as “the dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity” in the “broader Asia”. Bajpaee (2014), has argued that the Indo-

Pacific as a geographical region has been a new geopolitical concept. These arguments on part of the above scholars and politicians was echoed by Scott, in his article “India and the Allure of the ‘Indo-Pacific’”, written for International Studies, 49 (3&4), has found setting in the geopolitical interests. The term Indo-Pacific been started using by the India’s apex political leadership2010 onwards. the strategic analysts, high-level government and military leadership of countries like Australia, Japan and the US, started using this term in their formal/ official documented articulation. In the recent past, the US officials have begun using the term “Indo-Asia Pacific” for maintaining its geographic inclusiveness in the new coinage of ‘Indo-Pacific’.

Geopolitical Great Game

On account of geostrategic, geo-economic and geopolitical salience of the Indo-Pacific, the region has been becoming a battle field for a new geopolitical great game among the regional and external powers. Moreover, some of the scholars (Hoge Jr 2014; Bishoy (2005), have argued that the transfer of power from West to East is gathering momentum on account of its geostrategic salience. Regional and external powers have been competing with one another to counter and to expand their own influences.For their geopolitical and geostrategic interests, the external and regional powers have been following special policy frameworks like the US’s Asia Pivot policy, The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), The Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), China’s Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB), Maritime Silk Road (MSR), Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); the Russia’s Asia Pivot and India’s Look East Policy (now Act East), policies respectively.

David Michel and Ricky Passarelli (2014) have highlighted that the Indo-Pacific region has been facing a number of maritime challenges and opportunities. Another expert of the region, Mohan (2013) has argued that the Indo-Pacific region has also been entrapped in increasing maritime and geopolitical competition between the two Asian giants China and India in the region. Singh and Pulipaka (2013) have explained how the metamorphosis of multilateral relations took place among India, the United States (US) and Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) in the Indo-Pacific region. Cronin (2012) has highlighted that Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea (SCS) along with aggressive assertiveness throughout the region has been encountering with the vested geopolitical and geostrategic interests of the other countries such as the US, India, Japan, Australia and other regional powers such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Korea etc. Against this background, it can be safely presumed that the Indo-Pacific would remain a battlefield for the major and regional powers throughout the 21st century.

Indian Challenges

In the present scenario, India has been recognised as the potential power in economic and strategic terms. India has been endowed with energetic culture, multi-ethnic and multi-religious democracy. Having geo-cultural and historical relations and extended neighbourhood, the Indo-Pacific region holds a very important place in Indian foreign policy on account of geostrategic and geopolitical dynamics. Peace and stability are the major concerns of India. In order to enhance economic and strategic engagements with the Southeast Asia, India has launched Look East policy in the 1991 which is rechristened under the new government of NDA-II under the stewardship of PM Modi. Bilateral engagements with Australia, Japan and Vietnam have been intensified to counter China’s assertiveness in the region.

Among the other major interests of India in the Indo-Pacific region are to check the Chinese assertiveness in the Indian Ocean in order to endure the freedom of the navigation. That’s why South China Sea dispute has paved way for increased Indian role in the Southeast Asia and Asia-Pacific. The South China Sea (SCS) is the lifeline of Indian economy as far as the flow of trade and energy are concerned. Whereas on the other hand, China has been making full use of its energy to block India’s passage to economically viable East Asia and the Pacific. Therefore, India’s top priority is to get SCS dispute solved amicably and peacefully. Rajendram(2014) has argued that   China and India are the largest trading partners in the region but both have been engaged in a sort of proxy war to strengthen their respective positions in the Asia-Pacific region.Apart from these challenges, India has been failed to exploit the soft power diplomacy and the ethnic Indian are losing contacts with India. Most importantly, India has been failed to get the membership of the regional organization like APEC.  

Options for India

Facing various possible challenges and paradoxes in the Indo-Pacific region, India has been making reorientation towards the region. India has been making efforts to be a partner of the regional players like the US, Japan and Australia to check the major challenge from China. Several policies, programmes and memorandum of understanding have put in place to enhance engagements in the region.Baru(2001) has noted that India has become a strong maritime and strategic partner of the US, Japan, South Korea and Australia to protect the freedom of the navigation. In order to protect its economic interests, India has also signed free trade agreement (FTAs) with several countries like ASEAN, Korea, and Japan. Scott     (2012) has argued that the US perceives India as a lynchpin for its Indo-Pacific policy to maintain the balancing mechanism among various strong economic players active in the region. The incumbent government of India has been making efforts to strengthen its influence in the Indo-Pacific region.The growing economic , security and maritime ties between India and Japan are moving in this direction. Similarly, India and Australia have been coming closer in terms of strategic relations. Australia has responded very positively to Indian endeavors. The US wanted to play a bigger role in the Indo-Pacific region.

Conclusion

In the post-Cold War, the Indo-Pacific region has been given an important place in the Indian foreign policy. India has geostrategic and geopolitical interests in the region. In the 21st century, the power shift has been moving from West to East. With the rise of China and emerging India, the Indo-Pacific region has become a battle field for great game. Several major powers have been competing with one another and to counter and expand their influence in the region. Due to China’s aggressiveness and assertiveness, the Indian interests are at stake. In order to protect its interests, some policy frameworks, FTAs, memorandum of understanding with the major powers and regional powers have been put in place. Though these measures have been paying dividends, but still India has been facing a number of the challenges in the region. It has been failed to exploit its soft power diplomacy, ethnic Indian have lost contacts with India, and membership of regional organization have not been extended. Against this background, India has to make sincere and consistent efforts to protect its interests in the region. India should enhance its strategic partnership with the notonly major powers but also with the regional powers like Japan, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and Korea etc. India should make full use of its soft diplomacy and strengthen bounds with the ethnic Indian.

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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Into the Sea: Nepal in International Waters

Sisir Devkota

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A visit to the only dry port of Nepal will immediately captivate busy scenes with hundreds of trucks, some railway carriages and huge Maersk containers at play. Trains from the Port of Kolkata in India carry tons of Nepal’s exports every week. Every year, Nepal is fined millions of rupees for overstaying its containers at the designated dock in Haldiya Port of Kolkata. Nepal pays for spaces inside Indian ships to carry out its exports via the sea. This is the closest Nepal has come in exploiting economic opportunities through sea waters. Prime Minister KP Oli went one step further and presented an idea of steering Nepal’s own fleets in the vast international sea space. While his idea of Nepal affording its own ship was mocked; on the contrary, he was right. The idea is practical but herculean.

To start with, Nepal has a landlocked right to use international waters via a third country for economic purposes only. Law of the Sea conferences held during the 80’s, guarantees Nepal’s right to use the exclusive economic zone all around the globe. Article 69 of the Law of the Sea convention states that Nepal could both use sea as a trading route and exploit the exclusive economic zone of its sea facing neighbors. Nepal’s closest neighbor, India has a wide exclusive economic zone which consists of 7500 km long coastline. The article also allows landlocked nations to use docking facilities of the nearest coastal nation to run its fleets. An exclusive economic zone in sea waters is designated after a coastal nation’s eleven mile parallel water boundary ends; which is also a part of the coastal nations territory. Simply put, Nepali fleets can dock at India’s port, sail eleven miles further into international waters-carry out fishing and other activities, sail back to the Indian coast and transfer its catches back to Nepal.

Floating Challenges

Before ships can carry the triangular flag into sea waters, Nepal will need treaties in place to use coastal nation’s water to take off and build shipment facilities. Law of the Sea convention clearly mentions that the right to use another nation’s coast will depend solely on the will of the hosting coastal nation. Does Nepal have the political will to communicate and forge a comprehensive sea transit agreement with its coastal neighbors? Nepal’s chance of securing fleets in and around the Indian Ocean will depend on whether it can convince nations like India of mutual benefits and cancel any apprehension regarding its security that might be compromised via Nepal’s sea activity. The convention itself is one among the most controversial international agreements where deteriorating marine ecosystems, sovereignty issues and maritime crimes are at its core. Majority of global and environmental problems persist in the high seas; ranging from territorial acquisitions to resource drilling offences. Nepal is welcome into the high seas, but does it comprehend the sensitivity that clouts sea horizons? Nepal needs a diplomatic strategy, but lacking experience, Nepal will need to develop institutional capacities to materialize the oceanic dream. Secondly, the cost of operating such a national project will be dreadfully expensive. Does the Nepali treasury boast finances for a leapfrogging adventure?

How is it possible?

The good news is that many landlocked nations operate in international waters. Switzerland, as an example might not assure the Nepali case, but Ethiopia exercising its sea rights via Djibouti’s port could be inspiring. Before Nepal can start ordering its fleets, it will need to design its own political and diplomatic strategy. Nepal’s best rationale would lie in working together with its neighbors. The South Asian network of nations could finally come into use. Along with Nepal, Bhutan is another landlocked nation where possible alliances await. If India’s coasts are unapproachable, Nepal and Bhutan could vie for Bangladeshi coastlines to experience sea trading. Maldivian and Pakistani waters are geographically and economically inaccessible but Sri Lanka lies deep down the South Asian continent. If Nepal and Bhutan can satisfy Sri Lankan interests, the landlocked union could not only skim through thousands of nautical miles around the Bay of Bengal without entering Indian water space; but also neutralize the hegemonic status of India in the region. If such a multinational agreement can be sought; SAARC- the passive regional body will not only gain political prowess but other areas of regional development will also kickstart.

Most importantly, a transit route (such as the Rohanpur-Singhdabad transit route) from Bangladesh to Nepal and Bhutan will need to be constructed well before ships start running in the Indian Ocean. In doing so, Nepal will not only tranquilize Nepal-Bhutan relations but also exercise leadership role in South Asia. A regional agreement will flourish trade but will also make landlocked Nepal’s agenda of sailing through other regions of international sea strong and plausible. A landlocked union with Bhutan will trim the costs than that of which Nepal will be spending alone. Such regional compliance would also encourage international financial institutions to fund Nepal’s sea project. Apart from political leverages, Nepal’s economy would scale new heights with decreasing price of paramount goods and services. Flourishing exports and increased tourism opportunities would be Nepal’s grandiloquence. Nepal’s main challenge lies in assuring its neighbors on how its idea would be mutually beneficial. Nepal’s work starts here. Nepal needs to put together a cunning diplomatic show.

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hug Diplomacy Fails

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s enthusiasm is only to capture power; the same, however, cannot be said of foreign policy administration, especially in dealing with our immediate neighbors, and China. The best examples of his policy paralysis are the way in which demonetization and GSTs are implemented, or his sudden visit to Pakistan in December 2015. He is always in election mode. During the first two years, he was in the humor of a general election victory. Thereafter, he has spent much of his energy in establishing himself as the sole savior of the BJP in state elections, and this year he will turn his attention to the 2019 general elections.

Two years ago, without doing any homework or planning, Modi travelled to Pakistan from Afghanistan to greet his counterpart, the then Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, to wish him well on his birthday. He hugged Sharif and spent only two hours with him to try to sort out the 70 year outstanding divergence between India and Pakistan.

Modi strategically hugs fellow world leaders. He has no strategic perception. He believes only in the power of his personal charisma in dealing with foreign policy matters. This strategy has failed considerably with China and with our other immediate neighbors, but he neither intends to accept these mistakes, nor is he interested in learning from them. More importantly, an alternative diplomatic strategy is necessary to maintain our international position; through prudent policy articulations. Let us examine the impact of his hug diplomacy.

During the 2013/14 general elections campaign he attacked the Congress-led UPA government on multiple fronts, including towards former Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh’s policy on Pakistan. He proposed that the BJP government would have more guts to better deal with Pakistan. Under his administration, we lost numerous soldiers in fighting with Pakistan terrorists, experienced a 100-day shutdown in Kashmir, blindly allowed a Pakistan team to inspect our Pathankot Air Force Station, and generally continued down a visionless path in foreign policy. These indicate that Modi’s defensive and offensive strokes against Pakistan have failed completely, including the most politicized ‘surgical strike’ that did not contain the terrorists from Pakistan. Today, the Modi government is searching for policy directions in handling Pakistan, but sat in a corner like a lame duck.

In the beginning, when he took office, Modi perhaps believed that ‘everything is possible’ in international affairs simply by virtue of occupying the prime minister seat. Further, he thought that all his visits abroad would bring a breakthrough. His hugs with counterparts, various costume changes, and the serving of tea, indicate that our prime minister is using soft power approaches. These approaches were used by our first Prime Minister Nehru whilst India did not have a strong military or economy. However, India is not today what it was in the 1950/60s. Presently, hugging and changing costumes will not necessarily keep India influential in international relations, especially at a time when the world is undergoing multi-polar disorder. However, he is in continuous denial that his paths are wrong, especially in dealing with our neighbors.

What is the BJP led-NDA government policy on Pakistan? Does this government have any policy for Pakistan? Since 2014,Modi has not permitted the Minister of External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, to contribute to any foreign policy articulations. As long as Sushma fulfills the duty of Ministry of Indian Overseas Affairs she will receive praise from the prime minister’s office.

During 2015 he met Sharif at his residence in Islamabad to give him a hug. This happened exactly two years ago. Further, this is a very serious question that the Media and Modi-supporting TV channels forgot to raise. Instead, without hesitation, they praised him for touching the sky, and described the moment as a diplomatic initiative for a breakthrough with our neighbor Pakistan. The Media will realize this mistake when their traditional viewers switch over to other channels to get centrist news.

What are the outcomes of Modi hugging Sharif at his residence? The results are terrible. India’s relation with Pakistan touches the lowest ever level in a history of 70 years. The Mumbai terror attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed was released from house arrest and has started a political party to contest the general elections in Pakistan next year. This government does not have the guts to put pressure on Pakistan to provide the evidence – as requested by the Pakistan’s Court – essential to keeping the trial alive against Saeed. Modi has often preached that his government succeeded in isolating Pakistan in the international domain. The reality would be as much India diplomatically isolating Pakistan from the international community as the vacuum has been comfortably filled by China without any difficulty. These are the achievements that Modi’s hugs have brought to India.

The stability of Afghanistan is in India’s long-term strategic interest. India’s ‘aid diplomacy’ to Afghanistan in various fields has been increasing day after day, including infrastructure development and the training of Afghan security forces. Yet, India’s influence in Afghanistan is in disarray. Former Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai said, “India should have its own policy on Afghanistan”. However, Modi’s policy makers in New Delhi are expecting the US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to maintain India’s active and significant role in Afghanistan.

India showed its displeasure during the constitutional crisis in Nepal, in halting energy supply to Kathmandu. This forced the land-locked country to obtain easy support from Beijing. Nepal was once the buffer state between India and China; it is now sitting on China’s lap and steering India. Modi’s mute approach to the Rohingya crisis speculates India’s major power ambition. This is a serious setback to India’s diplomacy: it is now pushing Myanmar to get support from China, along with our neighbor Bangladesh, in resolving the crisis with Rohingya refugees.

The first democratically elected government under Mohamed Nasheed was toppled unconstitutionally in Maldives. Since India has failed to raise any substantial voice against this atrocity, China has jumped onto the scene. New Delhi ought to have designed a policy to resolve the political crisis, but India, the world’s largest democracy, has watched this incident as a movie in the Indian Ocean Theatre. The highlight was the decision of our Prime Minister to skip a visit to the Maldives whilst on his tour of the Indian Ocean islands.

In Sri Lanka, China is designing its future battlefield against India. As the war against LTTE was over, Colombo started travelling in a two-way track, with India and China. Beijing’s love affair, apparently with Colombo, but with an eye on New Delhi, is no secret. Since Modi has allowed these developments without exercising any diplomatic resistance, he has given China a comfortable seat inside Sri Lanka. China has now realised that her weaved network against India can be strengthened easily in the Indian Ocean, because New Delhi only displays silent concern. After Modi took office, India – China relations have remained static. The border talks are on stand still. Beijing holds on to extend a technical hold on Masood Azhar, a UN designated terrorist. The dragon pulls our immediate neighbors to her side. These developments indicate that our foreign policy articulations are not supported by any clear strategic trajectory.

Modi’s diplomacy is like an air balloon which, once torn, cannot be refilled; a new balloon is needed. Hugging a leader does not lead to any commitment in foreign affairs. Personal charisma does not work as a foreign policy tool in dealing with a world power. For this reason, Modi cannot understand the setback he is facing with China, Pakistan, and our other neighbors. In comparison, Vajpayee’s or Dr. Manmohan Singh’s combined simple charisma as leaders or economists with appropriate home-work in the past; has caused tremendous results in foreign policy, including expected results in Indo-US nuclear negotiations. This is completely missing in Modi’s administration.

Hence, the newly elected Congress Party President Rahul Gandhi has said, “Modi’s hug diplomacy fails”. It was a valuable comment that the ruling elite should consider as a meaningful insight. Alternative approaches are vital to regain our neighbors’ trust, as opposed to China’s. However, Prime Minister Modi’s this year of work will be focused on the 2019 general elections, compromising the proper attention due to India’s international diplomacy.

First published in Congress Sandesh

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Potential Consequences of Nuclear Politics in South Asia

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Established in 1948, Indian atomic energy commission turned towards United Kingdom for their first help in the making of Apsara. Subsequently, with a similar vision, the CIRUS reactor was supplied by Canada, where, the heavy water came from the United States.

India, over the years, has built a nuclear program that has led to the making of a number of reactors. India’s 1974 “Peaceful nuclear explosion” implies to their hegemonic ambitions as India has the capacity to produce around 300-400 nuclear weapons. The continuous upgradation of weapons by India could lead her as a hegemon nuclear power that can deeply unsettle Pakistan and China.

Calling into question India’s stated intentions, when it comes to nuclear tests, the plutonium for its 1974 and 1998 tests was diverted from its “civilian” nuclear facilities. After 1974, India continued to claim its explosion was “peaceful” and advocated global nuclear disarmament, even as it rejected proposals by Pakistan to denuclearize South Asia.

From Pokhran-I to Operation Shakti, India has traditionally relied on plutonium and thermonuclear technology. In 1992, the then Chairman of Department of Indian Atomic Energy  acknowledged that India had succeeded in the past for achieving the target of highly enriched uranium, while the centrifuge program was facing critical and technical hindrances. Also, it was admitted by the former Chairman of AEC, Raja Ramanna that India was working to produce more efficient centrifuges which were used for military purposes.  At the peak of all these developments, it is important to note that thermonuclear weapons have far more destructive power than a nuclear bomb.

India may also be considering using its civil power reactors to increase its stock of weapon-grade plutonium. Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s former top nonproliferation official told the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference in March that the officials in the Bush administration had the ambition to sign a nuclear deal with India, to “work together to counter China- to be a counterweight to an emerging China.” He further expressed his views that the nuclear deal had unfortunate repercussions, because other nations concluded that Washington was playing favorites with India.

India is the only country in the region having uranium reserves that are higher than what other countries in the region hold. India has already received roughly 4,914 tons of uranium from France, Russia, and Kazakhstan, and it has agreements with Canada, Mongolia, Argentina, and Namibia for additional shipments. It also signed a uranium deal with Australia that has sparked considerable controversy at home.

This massive production of uranium annually can support its nuclear submarine program and current weapons grade plutonium production rate indirectly. These uranium reserves are enough for approx. 6-10 bombs per year.

Adding a twist to the existing fissile material build-up process, the Indo-US strategic partnership supplemented it. Under this dangerous bargain, it would continue to not only allow India to increase its fissile material but also the capacity to increase the build-up of nuclear weapon material.

Hence, the strategic stability in South Asia has been negatively impacted since the initial stages due to the hegemonic designs which India pursued with the start of CIRUS reactor. With the passage of time, the Indo-US nuclear deal and Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waiver have already added more repercussions and now the discriminatory move to try to facilitate Indian NSG membership will further erode the strategic stability in South Asia.

Indian NSG membership and its potential exemption has adverse implications on non-proliferation regime. This has allowed India to expand its military program. As a result of 2008 exemption it has signed a number of agreement in nuclear domain with different countries. Interestingly, Mansoor Ahmed states that India has the capacity to utilize the uranium it is importing from these countries to produce more bombs.  The aforementioned reasons sum up India’s keenness to obtain NSG’s membership. This U.S.-backed move to make India a member of the NSG will be good neither for Pakistan nor for China, and it would set off nuclear instability in the region.

While looking at the dynamics of left alone Pakistan since late 1990’s, starting from Indo-US strategic partnership to now this geoploliticising of NSG. Consequently, this shall allow India to use all this a means of making the most optimum use of all its natural uranium stocks for weaponization. To offset the stakes, it might be prudent to have a close check on the international architects of India’s nuclear build-up. The alleged misuse of U.S. and Canadian controlled items by India must be enough to refrain from any cooperation if it is not abiding by group’s guidelines and commodity control list.

Furthermore, the more discriminatory the international nuclear order becomes, the less would be the effectiveness of deterrence and strategic balance in the region. The NSG will have to identify that India’s 1974 nuclear explosive test was the reason that nuclear supplier states established the NSG. It must also emphasize upon its commitment to uphold the principles of the nonproliferation.

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