There is a lot of excitement in India about the prospect of a mediatory role in the Ukraine conflict, but there is no clarity about what it entails. The lack of a strategic culture in the country and an opportunistic foreign policy stand exposed. The confusion is apparent in External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar’s remarks on Thursday when he spoke of India’s ‘contemporary interests’ being served well by working closely with western countries, and India’s standing as a democratic society with a pluralistic ethos and its market economy bringing it closer to the West, and of the West reciprocating that ‘calculation’.
For the first time, at the leadership level, there has been an articulation of the quintessence of the Ukraine crisis, rather than dancing around its passing manifestations.
That is why Defence Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent address, also on Thursday, at the National Defence College stands out as a breath of fresh air. For the first time, at the leadership level, there has been an articulation touching on the quintessence of the Ukraine crisis, rather than dancing around its passing manifestations, which Jaishankar usually does.
So long as the government remains besotted by the politics of expediency, India does not qualify for a mediatory role. The Ukraine crisis is not merely about brokering peace and rebuilding supply chains or ‘nudging the main players in a positive direction’. It goes far beyond that and concerns fundamental issues where all countries are active participants. Jaishankar is off the mark in assuming that India’s mediation is ‘premature’. The heart of the matter is that mediation as such is redundant.
What is needed is a vision of the world order, and if the world community cannot agree on a vision, things will be decided on the battlefield, which is, unfortunately, the way things are moving.
The main ideas expressed in Rajnath Singh’s address are worth recapitulating: A truly stable and just global order can only be created when nations cease attempting to ensure their own security at the expense of others; the world should develop a collective approach to security; a world order where ‘few are considered superior to others’ becomes untenable; if security were to become a truly collective enterprise, the world could begin creating ‘a global order which is beneficial to all of us’; national security should not be seen as a ‘zero-sum game’; nations should instead seek to find ‘win-win’ solutions that would benefit everyone; ‘We should not be guided by narrow self-interest which is not beneficial in the long run.’
In a philosophical sense, the contrast between Rajnath Singh’s analysis and the opinions commonly bandied about by Jaishankar couldn’t be sharper than in the Defence Minister’s postulate that ‘Realpolitik cannot be the fig leaf for being immoral or amoral. Rather, enlightened self-interest of nations can be promoted within the framework of strategic morality, which is predicated on the understanding and respect for the legitimate strategic imperative of all the civilised nations.’
Quite obviously, EAM completely misses that there is far greater commonality between India and Russia possible than he is willing to concede. Instead of proselytising that this is ‘not an era of war’, and so on, India should introspect, being a major beneficiary of the confrontation between Russia and the West.
India imports over three-fourths of its oil needs and in the past eight months, Russia came roaring in as its number one supplier. How come? This is no small matter. According to India Ratings and Research, ‘A $5/barrel increase in crude oil prices will translate into a $6.6 billion increase in trade/current account deficit.’ Clearly, not only is this a matter of energy security, but Russia is actually providing budgetary support to India to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. It is the same with food security. India exploits the West’s restrictions on the export of Russian fertilisers to get surplus stocks diverted to India at discounted prices.
How can India be a mediator when it is having a windfall in war profiteering? Pope Francis may qualify, but India? Jaishankar still regards the US as one of India’s principal partners today in the political, military and economic spheres. He says, ‘I cannot overstate the importance of this relationship. My sense of what has changed in the last few years is that the two countries are looking at the relationship and then examining and strategising how it applies to a world in transformation.’
If this is an honest expression of the EAM’s understanding, he has failed to grasp the high stakes involved in the conflict raging in Ukraine for India’s future as an emerging power. In Bali, at the G20 Summit, Jaishankar will come across two countries who have been there with the Americans much before India, and are today fallen angels — Turkey and Saudi Arabia. It will be educational to exchange notes with them about the imperatives of a multipolar world order.
In international diplomacy, there is nothing coincidental. Even as EAM was sitting down with his Russian counterparts in Moscow, on the very same day, his Foreign Secretary visited the Pentagon. It conveys a certain message to Moscow, our ‘time-tested friend’. The readout from the American side said the two sides ‘reaffirmed the importance of the US-India Major Defence Partnership to shaping the future of the Indo-Pacific. The two leaders exchanged views on developments related to mutual security interests, including in the Indian Ocean Region and Europe… discussed initiatives to advance bilateral defence cooperation ahead of the next 2+2 ministerial meeting in New Delhi.’
Now, if this doesn’t qualify as an opportunistic act of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds, can there be a better example? Being blasé about such excessive indulgence is a mark of immaturity.
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