October 2023


India’s masterful plan

The past two months have seen a flurry of momentum towards forging new global alliances.

But only one delivered a future vision that we may end up embracing as a new alternative.The others carried too much whiff of old ideas and a bygone age.

Japan and South Korea, still feuding over the Pacific War, agreed to expand security and economic ties. But there was no natural olive branch. The United States had to muscle the deal through, and the catalyst was the need to ward off aggressive Chinese expansion. 

America upgraded relations with old enemy Vietnam,thus putting paid to its earlier Indo-Pacific rhetoric about democracy and shared values. Vietnam is an autocratic one-party state which routinely violates human rights.

The North Korean and Russian dictators announced they would be strengthening their relationship, with Pyongyang giving Moscow artillery shells forits war in Ukraine in return for nuclear and satellite technology and food. Kim Jong-un’s regime remains unable to feed its own citizens.

There is a smack of transactional desperation in all this, like using a first-aid plaster to treat an arterial injury, the patching together of a wounded world that is heading in the wrong direction. 

Thencomes the G20 summit in Delhi and a masterful,imagination-capturing initiative from India.

Building on its long-held position of non-alignment, India argued that fence-sitting over super-power rivalry is acceptable, indeed recommended. Dealing with all sides is a sensible way forward.

Delhi calls the strategy ‘multi-alignment’, and it comes as a direct response to accusations levelled against India on staying neutral over Ukraine.

And, by bringing in the 55-state African Union as a full member, the G20 is now unequivocally weighted towards the developing world, or the Global South, as it is often called. 

South Africa, the big beast of that continent, praised the move, saying, ‘We have expressly stated that we are not aligned to any particular global power, so what India has done is very much in line with our own foreign policy.’

Western democracies need to take note of this shift away from their influence and manage it accordingly.

India itself offers an example of how future relations between the West and the Global South might unfold.

In some respects, the policy is reminiscent of Delhi’s position through much of the Cold War,except then, when it refused to take sides, the US branded it as a hostile entity.

Today, despite neutrality on Ukraine and close relations with Moscow, Delhi’s ties with Washington DC have not suffered at all. Indeed, they may have been strengthened as India consolidates is position as a global dealmaker with tentacles running deep into all camps, regardless of doctrine. 

India is one of four members,with Australia, Japan and the United States, of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), designed to counter Chinese aggression and specifically pinned to Western democratic values.

Yet it is also a key member of the Beijing and Moscow-led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which is becoming a banner for autocratic styles of government.

Due to Western sanctions, Delhi is buying oil from Russia at a hugely discounted price,with a beneficial impact on growing its economy.

Then, at the same time, Indian diplomats are working with an array of partners from the European Union, the Middle East and North America to come up with alternative infrastructure projects to those proposed in China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

India now has wind in its sails to design a geopolitical trend that avoids dividing the world into rival, warring camps.

There are critics, mainly from the West, arguing that durable relationships need to be based upon values and shared beliefs. 

This is nonsense.

There are very few shared values, for example, between India and Russia. Yet Moscow’s  steady supply of arms to India has remained solid for more than 50 years since, the US sided with Pakistan in the 1971 Bangladesh war of independence.

In the same way, the new US-Vietnam Comprehensive Strategic Partnership may endure for decades. It is about shared needs, not values.

India’s overall message of prioritising trade, infrastructure and practical needs over values and ideology is one that resonates with poorer countries far more than messages coming from the West.

With India’s diplomatic, trade and security tentacles running deep in all camps, it is thus positioning itself as a leader in creating a new, more fluid international order.

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