September 11, 2000


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The Vajpayee visit E-Mail this opinion to a friend

Dr Gautam Sen

Indian power and the threat to the world

If India's economy continues to grow at around seven per cent each year or ten per cent, which is feasible, it will prefigure an end to the dominance of world affairs that white Europeans have enjoyed since Christopher Columbus landed in America. Already, the achievement of sophisticated nuclear weapons capacity has seriously unsettled NATO, the international counterpart of the Ku Klux Klan, and the ultimate inciter of the on-going proxy war against India. If India were to become a country with a per capita income of $ 12,000, the new arithmetic diminishes the overall relative international primacy of the US and the NATO alliance.

Imagine an India with a per capita income of $ 12,000 and the effective capacity to increase its defence expenditure by a corresponding six-fold? At present, US global hegemony as well as the security enjoyed by its subservient European allies are underpinned by massive economic superiority over the rest of the world. This primacy was only reached in 1989 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The US subsequently unleashed a brilliant campaign to cause political and economic disarray within Russia by sustaining a corrupt, incompetent and drunken Boris Yeltsin in power and infiltrating so-called Western 'experts', actually employed by the CIA.

If a wealthier India achieves great power status, it is likely to set off a chain reaction and international political realignments that will end undisputed US world hegemony. Within Asia, Japan, which has been cowed and diffident since its surrender in 1945, will find India an irresistible prospect as an economic and political partner. The reason will be its traditional dream of leading an Asian bloc to counterbalance the West and the US.

India's massive purchasing power will enable Japan to diversify its economy away from its present vulnerability to constant Western blackmail over market access. An Indo-Japanese understanding will neutralise China's growing belligerence, not only vis--vis Japan, but also in relation to other Asian countries. At present, fearful of China's growing power and claims they, including Vietnam, uneasily welcome a US presence in the region. But the US has simply taken advantage of the situation and treated these countries as second class.

The glee of Wall Street during the recent Asian financial crisis and the attempt at the virtual theft of Asian assets (owing to artificially low prices after the exchange rate collapse) was a stark reminder of their role as cattle feed for international predators. Singapore, despite its huge successes, remains much less important than Belgium for reasons that are not difficult to guess.

The goal of the US is to retain its hegemonic global pre-eminence rather than merely protect its own security and ensure a tolerable level of influence by participating in an international balance of power to deny any one country or bloc the ability to dictate. It only acquiesced in China's great power status because its additional weight was useful for curbing the much more threatening military might of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

The US can afford to continue humouring China because although it is the only major country with an independent voice, it remains relatively weak in relation to the Western alliance. And its goals are likely to remain regional for the foreseeable future.

The US also believes that within the wider global arena, China will remain a supplicant because of the fear of a resurgent Russia and possibly, a revisionist Japan. However, both the US and China have cause to worry if India emerges as a major centre of power and influence simply because its size alone means that it will have large surplus resources to embark on a destabilising, independent path in world affairs.

The emergence of India as a new centre of power will inevitably cause huge uncertainty for the current pattern of alliances and international relationships, predicated on the existing distribution of political and military power. Such Indian aspirations were one of the reasons for the deep earlier US mistrust and dislike of both Nehru and Indira Gandhi, as available US public records confirm.

With the ascent of India, the global political and economic centre of gravity will shift from Europe to Asia. It may even undermine the Western alliance because some historical animosities persist among key European countries. The British and French, for example, were initially staunchly pro-Serb during Yugoslavia's disintegration ("He helped us a lot," said Serb leader and war criminal Radovan Karadic of then British prime minister John Major) unlike the Germans who fomented Croat and Slovene intransigence.

The earlier historical rivalry between Japan and Russia is unlikely to be an issue given the interposition of a powerful Chinese buffer between them and the truncation of Russia itself. Russia will eventually reassert its authority in Central Asia, which has been usurped by the US, and secure its western frontier against a revanchist Germany that has advanced further than Hitler did, under the cloak of NATO. Hitler had only reached the Curzon line before war broke out with the Soviet Union.

But both Russia and Japan will have to deal with US machinations that might range from economic blackmail to military encirclement. The US will enjoy carte blanche in Latin America alone because the deracinated, Mulatto local elites of Mexico (through NAFTA), Argentina (which abandoned its national currency in favour of the dollar) and Brazil (bought out by US investment) have already surrendered their economies to the US. India remains a weak country that needs to be deflected from the trajectory of economic growth and political prominence through subversion and direct assault.

The principal vehicle for causing an immediate and decisive setback to India would be a war on two fronts at a moment when Russia is too weak or distracted to respond. China has lately been examining various strategies for demolishing India's military assets in a limited war in the northeast. Recently, it deliberately precipitated floods and destroyed bridges in order to cut Arunachal Pradesh off from the rest of India. It has cultivated the Burmese military regime assiduously in recent years while India has allowed itself to be hypnotised by an egotistical and ultra-Westernised dissident, instead of engaging in the ruthless calculation its dangerous vulnerability to Burma's geopolitical location demands.

China is also financing and arming dissidents everywhere in the region from Nagaland to Assam, as rebels surrendering to Indian security forces continue to reveal. It is China that has transferred nuclear weapons to Pakistan, with undoubted US government connivance, an inference Congressional investigations have made irresistible, in order to tie India down all along the border, stretching potentially from Gujarat to Ladakh.

India is being forced to only fight defensively against foreign incursion for fear of uncontrolled escalation when the situation it faces constitutes a textbook case for an offensive war for defensive purposes. Infiltration along such a long border by suicide squads will only end when its sponsors make a political decision to desist because they fear severe punishment elsewhere (example: the loss of Lahore).

Finally, India's relations with Nepal have taken a dramatic turn for the worse, partly because of a history of sheer Indian incompetence and stupidity over five decades, but also owing to the decisive intervention of China and the US in recent years. Nepali intransigence is now reinforced by Sino-US reassurances of support against India (including the establishment of a so-called UN peacekeeping academy in Kathmandu at US instigation). Nepal is awash with petrodollars as well and its politicians and bureaucrats, with few exceptions, are not known for refusing money.

India's unimaginative policy makers do not seem to understand that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are no more Pakistani than US cruise missiles on European soil are European. The strategic implication is that they will only be launched if China does not fear retaliation against its own cities, a potent threat that India has failed to insinuate. This is the same reason why Europeans were unconvinced that the US would risk American cities by launching its nuclear missiles in Europe against Soviet cities.

India's politicians (though not defence experts) will also have to come around to the realisation that they are far weaker in relation to the Sino-Pak axis than Pakistan is vis--vis them. It is India that stands isolated, not Pakistan, notwithstanding the determination of middle class Indians to believe otherwise because they cannot bear to believe their ardent attraction for the US and all its decadent sensuality cannot elicit some pity, if not reciprocity.

Purposive troops movements alone will suffice to tie down most of the Indian armed forces along the Sino-Indian border. In that event, India may have to use the threat of early nuclear escalation against China on the battlefield, exactly as Pakistan is doing despite the secure knowledge of Chinese assistance in the event of a serious encounter with India.

Kargil and the Kandahar hijack were merely US warnings to India to curtail its nuclear programme, no more. Ironically, the successes of the Indian armed forces at Kargil compelled US intervention to save Pakistan from complete rout, although the media, extraordinarily, portrays it as having been for India's benefit! However, the Indian nuclear programme may now be shelved (especially missile development) reverting to a status quo ante worse than the pre-Pokhran situation, which should please India's 'peaceniks' too.

Unfortunately, the scale of Sino-Pak and US infiltration in India is growing phenomenally. The US, which has obvious preferences of its own for electoral outcomes in India, has sponsored detailed studies (overseen by the late Mancur Olson) of every Lok Sabha constituency to examine the changing alignment of forces since the retreat of the Congress. It has numerous assets in the Indian media and some bankrupt newspapers receive Gulf petrodollars through the intercession of the US.

Indian officials are aware of one national newspaper editor who has a relationship with British intelligence and have denied him a berth on the NSB. There is no Indian civil servant above the rank of deputy secretary who does not have a close relative working or studying in the US, creating points of contact and vulnerability to blandishments.

Keeping a fractious India constantly off balance and divided, though actual secession itself would be the real prize, is deceptively easy when caste, region and religion cleave its sense of national purpose and so many Indians are eager collaborators. It is highly probable that many of the bomb makers and subversives being discovered in various parts of India are controlled jointly by Pakistan and the US, which alone has extensive insider knowledge. It need have no other direct involvement beyond the provision of invaluable information to its friends in Islamabad.

The US has been the pioneer in using Islamic radicals (though not in Iran or with its proxies in the Lebanon and the Hamas) against secular, nationalist Arab regimes since the 1950s, as Said Aburish has shown. The US has sought to install and maintain harsh, unpopular monarchical Islamic regimes beholden to it, without so much as a squeak from liberal and feminist America, and nourished their absurd claim to Islamic rectitude when Arab rulers violate every major tenet of Islam. The Taliban Afghan enterprise began before the Soviet invasion and remains firmly tied to the US and the CIA.

The state department also brazenly manufactures stories of anti-US activities by Islamic radicals. These are designed to stop ordinary Muslims, who clearly take a less benign view of the US, from reflecting on the unusual coincidence between the insistence of the alleged defenders of the faith that their political and personal freedoms lack divine sanction with US interests and an enlightened oil policy. That some canny operatives like Osama Bin Laden actually end up becoming anti-American 'rogues' is not particularly surprising, since the scale of the undertaking is so large and complex.

Of course, they also have violent inclinations against conceited pagans deemed to oppress the umma. The idea that the US will repudiate its relationship with Islamic radicals and curb their activities to save India's bacon is unrealistic in the extreme, since so much is at stake and US Arab policy depends on the seamless international web of its radical Islamic assets (especially of Pakistani provenance).

India can never provide the invaluable services to the US that Pakistan's elites can, like for example, suppressing popular revolts in the Gulf or entry into Afghanistan and beyond. The relative importance of Indian economic ties for the US, compared to even Thailand, for example, is minuscule.

Pakistan's ruling order (essentially the landlords of the Punjab and the Sindh), in turn, needs the sub-continental imbroglio to resist the democratisation of Pakistani society that they have feared since the pre-independence Congress threatened to abolish the zamindari system, transforming previous landlord indifference towards partition in the Punjab to fervent support. They regard even a proper census as a threat to stability. State department Islam cannot endure democracy, as the Jamaat's utter electoral failure in Pakistan itself resoundingly confirms and democracy in the Third World has always been the enemy of Western imperialism.

However, it may be anticipated that radical Central Asian Islamic regimes will also find friends in Washington should they seize power. The tragedy of most contemporary Islamic politics is that it is a product of the Cold War and the political economy of oil and originates in Washington, as many Muslim intellectuals themselves have insisted.

The final problem for India's great power pretensions is the slow pace of economic reform, which is an absolute prerequisite for attaining international stature, unmatched by a level of rhetoric that only the Indian polity seems able to generate. In every area, sectional interests and self-serving politicians are failing the Indian economy, its people and especially the poor who are mostly unemployed or underemployed as well as underpaid.

The public sector continues to bleed the rest of the economy, including agriculture (so much for concern about poverty) and supply-side bottlenecks are strangling areas that would otherwise grow rapidly. It is unbelievable that even today garments and knitwear are reserved for the small and medium sector, all of which will simply be blown away after 2005 when the WTO textile accord on free trade is implemented. Despite so much animated high level talk, the urgent problems of India's publicly owned airlines remain unresolved with all sorts of corrupt influences being peddled to ensure that high prices remain no matter who owns them!

Paradoxically, the CPI-M and the RSS have adopted a similar posture with regard to economic reform, defending organised workers who are a small and privileged minority and opposing international economic ties with an unreasoned obduracy that has no historical precedent. It is a source of grave concern that the best policy makers that India can muster, and they compare favourably with any in the world, remain apathetic when it comes to decisive action. But this is India and self-indulgent ideological peregrination a cover for business as usual.

Dr Gautam Sen is a lecturer in politics of the world economy, London School of Economics and Political Science, and a member of the Indo-British Roundtable. has assigned Associate Editors Amberish K Diwanji and Savera R Someshwar to cover Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to the United States. Don't forget to log into for news of this historic visit as it happens!

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