Foreign policy at T-junction : The Tribune India

Foreign policy at T-junction

Quad now a platform to coordinate responses to the Ukraine crisis

Foreign policy at T-junction

In a spot: The link-up of Ukraine developments with a Quad ‘mechanism’ is a matter of disquiet for India. PTI

MK Bhadrakumar

Former Ambassador

The meeting of the Quad leaders on Thursday at the initiative of US President Joe Biden exposed fault lines that hold consequences for India’s foreign policy. The joint readout issued after the meeting signals that it was not ‘business as usual.’ In a stand-alone paragraph, the readout highlighted that the Quad leaders ‘agreed to stand up a new humanitarian assistance and disaster relief mechanism’ that could ‘provide a channel for communication as they each address and respond to the crisis in Ukraine.’

Time has come to review India’s association with Quad. This dalliance has not brought India any dividends.

Although innocuously worded, a mechanism is being established which makes Quad a platform to coordinate responses to the Ukraine crisis. This is the main outcome of the meeting, which simply ignored the agenda that Prime Minister Narendra Modi proposed in his speech, such as debt sustainability, supply chains, clean energy, connectivity, and capacity-building. Evidently, Biden called this unscheduled meeting with a one-point agenda — Delhi’s hesitancy to identify with Washington in regard of the Ukraine issue. Biden was determined to discipline the laggard.

The joint readout leaves little to imagination. What remains unclear is only whether Modi allowed himself to be shepherded into a joint position with his Quad partners, or prudently chose not to make an issue of it. Either way, Indian diplomacy has reached a ‘T-junction’. The American strategy to precipitate an epochal confrontation with Russia over Ukraine’s NATO membership is anchored on Washington’s quest for a world order for the 21st century, which it can dominate. Thus, Russia’s operations are borne out of its existential concerns over national security. President Vladimir Putin listed these concerns in a conversation with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday: Ukraine’s neutral and nuclear-free status, mandatory demilitarisation of the country, denazification of the Ukrainian state, recognition of Crimea as part of Russia and the sovereignty of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics.

None of these issues concerns Quad even remotely, and, indeed, Modi even ‘underlined that Quad must remain focused on its core objective of promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.’ Now, Washington precipitated the present crisis with great deliberation from the perspective of Biden’s ‘containment’ strategy against Russia. That is why the link-up of Ukraine developments with a Quad ‘mechanism’ becomes a matter of disquiet. Washington hopes to create a contradiction between India’s relations with Russia and its Quad commitments. The American diplomacy is famous for making linkages. Reports suggest that some US lawmakers are showing displeasure over India’s stance on Ukraine by making threats to impose sanctions against India on account of its defence cooperation with Russia. Of course, this must be a crude foreplay enacted in tandem by the administration and the Congress ahead of Biden’s encounter with Modi. Americans are known to stage such theatrics.

The time has come to review India’s association with Quad. This dalliance has not brought India any dividends. If the unspoken intent of UPA government was to pressure China, that was a miscalculation, as subsequent events in the recent years show. On the other hand, Delhi needlessly introduced another irritant into the complicated India-China relationship. Anyway, what is it that India has in common with Japan or Australia when it comes to Russia’s place in the world order?

Japan has become confrontational toward Russia and is lately calling the Russian presence in the Kuril Islands an ‘occupation’. In the absence of a peace treaty between Japan and Russia after World War II, the two countries are technically at war! Given Japan’s violent history as an aggressor, anything can happen on the Japan-Russia template, considering also that Tokyo has the full backing of the US within the framework of their 71-year old Security Treaty, which commits the two countries to defend each other. Recently, an American nuclear submarine was detected in Russia’s territorial waters in that region.

As for Australia, in practice, it is an Anglo-Saxon outpost in the Asia-Pacific region with a history of responding to the call of duty whenever western interests in Asia (or anywhere on the planet) came under challenge — eg., Korean War, Vietnam War and the war in Afghanistan. Unsurprisingly, both Japan and Australia promptly stood up in support of the US over Ukraine — although neither has any direct interest at stake in that country or in Eurasia. They are dutifully implementing the sanctions package against Russia that Washington dictated, including the sanctions on Putin’s personal assets! Plainly put, what is it that India has in common with these two nations that do not even seem to have a mind of their own? Sloganeering over ‘rules-based order’ cannot obfuscate this reality.

Biden will be in trouble once the Russians complete their special operation in Ukraine. Russia says Ukraine President Zelenskyy left for Poland in disappointment that Biden’s NATO cavalry was not coming. As the new regime is formed in Kiev on the basis of any understanding reached at the ongoing talks in Belarus, which have made progress so far in the first two rounds, Americans will face a most devastating defeat so soon after their Afghan debacle that will dent the credibility of US leadership irreparably worldwide, especially in the European and Asian eyes. That explains the Russophobic paranoia.

The US’ need to create misperceptions in India-Russia relationship must be put in context. It is in India’s interests that Russia plays an effective, independent role on the world stage. This is not to be construed as off-shoot of any phobia vis-a-vis China, as some Indians seem to believe, but in intrinsic terms as an asset enabling India’s own rise as a great power.

#quad #ukraine crisis

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