Sunday, June 30, 2013

India at the Conference on Disarmament

Meant to post this earlier but better late than never: Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai made a speech at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) which set out India's position on some of the key issues facing the CD and global multilateral arms control and disarmament agenda.  There were no major surprises here but still an important and authoritative statement of India's views.  The key bits that struck me had to do with the debate about the CD as a forum (India supports the current format) and on the FMCT (India does not want any change in the mandate for FMCT negotiations).  Below are some quotes from the the speech on these two issues.  You can read the full speech here.

On the CD forum:

The CD fulfils a unique function by bringing together all the militarily significant states. It is also a forum that brings together all states possessing nuclear weapons. (Para 1)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Democracy on the Net?

Hardeep S. Puri, India's former Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, has an interesting essay in the Indian Express today on the need to democratize the internet.  He argues that the "US is clearly determined to continue its relentless pursuit of the current model of global internet governance, for preserving its economic and strategic interests. It is unlikely that there will be any change in its policy even after the Snowden disclosures."  

Much of the backbone of the current global internet system is based in the US and this does give the US some control, though many other states have shown that they have the ability to tightly monitor and control the net within their own territories.  Even India has shown, on occasion, that it can control internet majors.  But Puri's argument is about giving all states some control over the governance of the Net.  He writes:
"We need a dedicated group of people — within the establishment, industry, technical and scientific community, academia, civil society and media — who can reflect upon and define India's long-term interests in advancing the cause of democratising global internet governance and free ourselves from the current model where the space for discussion is arrogated by apologists for the current model of unilateral control.
The UN has launched a process for observing the 10th anniversary of WSIS in 2015. This provides an opportunity for India to work with other leading democratic countries like Brazil and South Africa within the IBSA platform and with other like-minded countries in the UN for democratising global internet governance to make it truly "multilateral, transparent and democratic", as envisioned in the Tunis Agenda."
The problem with this is not sentiment about democratizing the Net, but the lack of realism about how international politics works.  India has for long championed such efforts at democratizing global governance: remember the New International Economic Order (NIEO) or the New International Information Order (NIIO)?  There is little to show for such efforts because global politics are determined by power, not by justice or democracy.  Indian foreign policy mandarins only occasionally recognize this, and they mostly do not even understand the contradictions here.  For example, India has been campaigning assiduously for a permanent seat in UN Security Council.  (Indeed, Puri --who was then PR at the UN -- was quoted by Headlines Today (part of the India Today news group) in 2011 as saying that he expected India to be a Permanent Member of the UNSC by December 2012, latest.  Obviously, a Realist he's not).  The only basis for Indian claim is that it is a rising great power and that the UNSC should recognize the changed realities from when the UNSC was formed in 1945.  No talk about democratizing global governance here!  The point is that the US controls the internet because it is the prevailing global power.  May be someday this will change, and then so will control over the internet.  Until then, no amount of money-wasting UN conferencing will change who controls the internet.  Unfortunately, Indian foreign policy-makers continue to believe that they can talk their way to getting what they want.  Krishna Menon, after all, still holds the record for the longest speech ever at the UN (not that that worked either!).

Perspectives on the Kerry Visit and US-India Ties

Secretary of State John Kerry's visit has led to a good number of assessments of the state of US-India ties.  Now that I have posted my views (rather, my essay in the Economic Times), its time to post some of the other perspectives.  Several analysts who are sympathetic to improved US-India ties acknowledge that the relationship is not where it should be.  C. Raja Mohan calls on the Prime Minister to do what he did in his first term, to rely on his own judgement, in order to improve the ties:
". . . sections of the Indian establishment have deliberately sought to create some political distance between Delhi and Washington and sell discredited ideas from the Cold War past as great strategic insights. Singh nearly bought the crazy proposition that a bird in the hand was worth a lot less than two in the bush. The belief in Delhi that going slow with America might convince China to offer India a boundary deal now stands discredited, thanks to the Chinese military intrusion into Ladakh during April-May.Singh must rely on common sense rather than the overly clever theories that have derailed India's diplomacy in the second tenure of the UPA."

India and the US Must Return to What is Truly 'Strategic' in their Ties

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in India for the US-India Strategic Dialogue.  US-India relationship is going through one of those periods of drift and lethargy.  My take on the relations was published in the Economic Times and reproduced below.  

India-US must revisit what is truly strategic in their ties
By Rajesh Rajagopalan

Whatever adjectives are being used to describe the state of India-US ties — as Secretary of State John Kerry comes visiting —it is clear that the relationship is not where it should be or where it was expected to be. New Delhi has to share a significant part of the blame because in the years after the India-US nuclear deal, it has seemed much more uncertain about what it wants from the relationship and much more sceptical about its benefits.

These opinions are now being echoed in Washington. As the US withdraws from Afghanistan next year and the national election campaign kicks off in India, the prospects for any immediate improvement are dimming. It is time both sides returned to what is truly strategic in their relationship.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

NTRO's troubles

In my essay in The Economic Times on the Snowden affair, I had mentioned briefly, off-tangent really, about the disputes between the National Technical Resources Organization and other Indian intelligence agencies over control of various technical assets and equipment.  Now comes an Op-Ed in the Indian Express about the politics and other troubles in the NTRO told from the perspective of an insider to the Indian intelligence world.  Interesting stuff, especially because politics in Indian intelligence bureaucracy seems not very different from politics in other Indian bureaucracies.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Snowden's Run

Edward Snowden continues to run from US authorities, and is now presumably cooling his heels at the transit lounge of Sheremetyevo airport in Moscow.  His flight path, according to news reports, takes him from China-controlled Hong Kong to Moscow and then towards Cuba and finally either Ecuador or Venezuela.  I am not sure why North Korea was off this list since it seems to match all of the key requirement that Snowden and his Wikileaks supporters seem to want: unlimited personal freedom, fast internet and limited government.

My take on the Snowden affair was published by Economic Times last week.  Took me some time to put it up . . . .

Rouhani's views on nuclear negotiations, c. 2005

Hassan Rouhani, newly elected President of Iran, is no stranger to nuclear negotiations as he was Iran's chief nuclear negotiator for a couple of years (2003-2005).  He also made a speech during this time, which has been public for some time but has obviously gained a lot of attention after he won the election.  It was an internal speech, which gives it considerable credibility, made while he was chief negotiator and sets out Iran's negotiating strategy.  It is now almost a decade later, but it still provides an interesting view into Rouhani's thinking.  The excellent analysis is provided by Dr. Chen Kane of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.  The essay is worth reading in full.

Monday, June 24, 2013

On the Iranian elections

There has been a good deal of commentary on the recent Iran elections.  My take, published in The Economic Times on June 12, is that this election will not be consequential irrespective of who wins.  The piece was published before the elections but though Hassan Rouhani -- the most moderate and prudent candidate in this limited field -- won convincingly, I would still stand by my original analysis.  Indeed, he might be even more of a challenge than Ahmadinejad both because he is and perceived as more moderate (but who is unlikely to give up Iran's nuclear weapons program) and because he is quite crafty.  Dr. Raja Mohan has a somewhat similar take in the Indian Express, obviously presented much better.  

The inconsequential election of Iran could only spell further doom

By Rajesh Rajagopalan

The results of the Iranian presidential elections this Friday should be important because Iran is central to the stability in the region. Unfortunately, the heavily controlled election, in which religious leaders have barred any candidate who would present an alternative path, means that irrespective of who wins, there is unlikely to be a major change in Iran's policies. 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Of Superheroes and Synopses

Posting below Kasturi Moitra's unusual take on Man of Steel.  I have not seen the movie myself but this is a good reason to see it.

Of Superheroes and Synopses

After watching the latest Superman movie — Man of Steel — I couldn’t help wondering how alarmingly akin the making of a superhero flick is to the writing of a PhD synopsis. Few reasons as to why I didn’t think Man of Steel was a good superhero film were: 1) The Superman wasn’t handsome enough 2) The villain in Superman was not formidable enough 3) The set-up was too fantastical (aliens!) 4) There was nothing new in the film. I realized to my horror that often our PhD synopses get rejected for the very same reasons! Behold.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Maoist Threat

A nice essay by Shekar Gupta in the Indian Express today about the India government's response to the Maoists attack on a group of campaigning Congress leaders in Chattisgarh.  As he correctly points out, not even the ruling party -- let alone the ruling coalition -- is united about how to fight the Maoists and indeed, apparently whether they should be fought at all.  Though many of the worthies in the Congress, including Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde and even Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh attacked the Maoists and characterized them correctly as terrorists, others such K.C. Deo and Digvijaya Singh were true to form, making partisan attacks and looking for what Gupta calls 'root cause' theories.

Another indicator of the difference within the government is the viewpoint of the semi-government, leftist-National Advisory Council (NAC) which is supposed "to provide inputs in the formulation of policy by the government."  The NAC includes people who criticize the government for fighting the Maoists and are great exponents of the root cause theory.  Even when NAC members themselves are targeted, with Maoists letters openly threatening some of them, the first response from some of their sympathizers is that it must be either a mistake or because the Maoists have no control over their cadres.  

The point is that the Maoists have only one, and rather Quixotic aim: overthrowing the Indian state.  And there is only one solution to deal with them: militarily defeat and eliminate the hardcore so that the rest can be brought into the political mainstream.  This does not mean that there are no social or economic issues with regard to poor governance or the general condition of tribals and other disadvantaged groups in India's hinterlands.  The condition in which such disadvantaged Indians live, six decades after India's independence, should be a source of abiding shame.  But for the Maoists, they represent nothing more than an opportunity and an excuse.  The Maoists represent as much of a solution to the problems facing various rural communities as their cousins the Khmer Rouge did in Cambodia.  But given the nature of centre-state relations which prevents proper coordination between different agencies and the poor quality of various paramiltary and special police forces (with exceptions such the AP Police Greyhounds), I expect that the situation will get a lot worse before it gets better.