The trouble with India

The EU may have to base partnership with the world’s largest democracy not on values, but on dealing with Afghanistan

This article was published in European
on 26 September 2008.

It may be better for the EU to base a partnership with the
world’s largest democracy not on values, but on a joint effort to deal with the
crisis in Afghanistan.

With the Taliban resurgent and violence in Pakistan
rising, NATO’s military position in Afghanistan is under threat. The Alliance’s halting
efforts risk being swept away in a new regional crisis. European governments
are nervous, but the security implications for India are worse. The present crisis
should inject the EU’s strategic dialogue with India with a new sense of urgency –
and might be the basis for closer co-operation in future.

Indeed, this period of turmoil may offer a better opportunity to cement a
lasting relationship with India
than discussions of shared principles and interests in quieter times.

The arguments for a strong security partnership between India and the
EU seem simple in theory. Both are committed to democracy and multilateralism.
Both prop up the UN, the Europeans with money and the Indians with 9,000
peacekeepers. Some of those troops serve alongside European forces in Lebanon, and UN
officials say they fit together well.

But Indian and European approaches to international cooperation are often
profoundly at odds. India,
still a leading member of the Non-Aligned Movement, is a staunch defender of
developing countries’ sovereign rights to resist Western interference. It
deeply dislikes the idea of an international ‘responsibility to protect’
against genocide, backed by the EU, and opposed France’s
demands for UN action on Myanmar
after Cyclone Nargis this year.

A report by the European Council on Foreign Relations, published last week,
highlights that India is one
of a number of developing democracies – along with South
Africa and Indonesia – that strongly oppose EU
positions on human rights across the UN system.

The hope that shared values could serve as the basis for a strategic
partnership with India
thus looks rather hollow. Indian diplomats resent their lack of a permanent
seat on the Security Council and believe that Europeans exploit their financial
leverage at the UN unfairly.

Europeans retort that India
does not play by international rules all that consistently, especially when it
comes to nuclear power and weapons. Many EU governments are uneasy with the
deal on civilian nuclear trade struck by India
and the U.S.
in 2007.

Austria and Ireland
questioned the deal at the Nuclear Suppliers Group, part of the International
Atomic Energy Agency, this September. They refrained from blocking it (the
group operates by consensus). But the contrast between American and European
positions reflected the fact that the US
has made most progress in building a strategic relationship with India in recent
years. India even considered
sending troops to Iraq.

Democratic and Republican thinkers alike have identified India as one
cornerstone for a new League of Democracies or ‘Global NATO’. Most commentators
in New Delhi, like those in Brussels, dislike this idea. It would
irritate China, undermine India’s status at the UN and complicate regional
diplomacy with Iran, Burma and
central Asian autocracies.

Nonetheless, India
clearly does see better ties with the US (often a pro-Pakistani foe
during the Cold War) as very much in its interests. Europe
is secondary to that goal.

But for now, Europe, the U.S and India
share immediate common interests in stemming the growing crisis in Afghanistan and Pakistan – if that spirals beyond
control, dreams of a Global NATO can be confined to the dustbin as the real
NATO goes into retreat.

The UN, which has struggled to co-ordinate aid and mediation in Afghanistan,
would suffer too. And India’s
capacity to contribute to international security systems of all types will be
massively reduced if it has to concentrate on stabilizing its immediate area.

Some Indian commentators believe that it is time to pre-empt this nightmare
scenario by deploying troops next to NATO. Sushant K. Singh, a military writer,
calls for an Indian military presence with an independent command “deployed in
Western Afghanistan, allowing US and NATO forces to concentrate on the
provinces adjoining Pakistan.”

But Western analysts fear that any Indian military presence of this type
would destroy relations with Pakistan,
which looks to Afghanistan
for “strategic depth” in its conflicts with India. With Pakistani forces firing
on US troops conducting cross-border raids, those relations are ragged enough
already, even without stoking fears of encirclement.

Rahul Chandran, an Afghanistan
expert at the Center on International Cooperation in New York, suggests an alternative. India should make a security guarantee to Pakistan, promising not to launch any future war
in return for more co-operation on Afghanistan.

The US
and NATO could underwrite this guarantee, backing confidence-building measures
and mediating disputes. European NATO members would play second fiddle to the U.S., but their continued presence in Afghanistan would back up India’s offer.

A pragmatic deal of this kind would be far removed from battles over
human-rights principles at the UN (those would certainly continue). But if India feels
that its immediate concerns cannot be met by working with the West, it is
unlikely to change its overall attitude to international co-operation. The
crisis in central Asia may be a better basis for strategic dialogue with India than
theoretical commitments to multilateralism and democracy.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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