This year a group of analysts and policy makers have published a report Nonalignment 2.0 - A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the Twenty First Century. Even though the document does not claim in any way to represent the views of the Indian administration, its importance for the strategic thinking in India can not be denied. It concerns a general analysis of India's international environment and domestic security challenges and tries to identify basic principles that Indian foreign policy should follow over the next decade.
The title refers to the ideas of nonalignment as articulated by Jawaharlal Nehru which had an influential role in Indian foreign policy (at least) until the 1990s. The document itself propagates the maintenance of ‘strategic autonomy' as a core objective of India's nonalignment policies today. Thus, India should keep its capacity to act independently both in foreign affairs and in terms of domestic development. At the same time it underlines that the value and goal of strategic autonomy has to be interpreted in a new context that is defined by processes of globalization, fluid great power relations and a web of influential international institutions. It is hard to tell which factor poses the biggest challenge to traditional nonalignment policies. It appears to us, however, that the basic tension can best be understood by taking a closer look on how such factors encroach on India's sovereignty.
What do we mean when we talk about sovereignty? According to a classical essay written by Stephen Krasner, sovereignty is actually an umbrella term that can and should be divided into interdependence sovereignty, domestic sovereignty and westphalian sovereignty respectively. Interdependence sovereignty speaks to the ability of states to regulate the movement of capital, goods, people and ideas across borders. Domestic sovereignty, in a nutshell, is the effectiveness and legitimacy of state efforts to police the national territory and to provide basic services. Finally, westphalian sovereignty is achieved inasmuch as external actors are excluded from participating in domestic authority structures. In the remainder of our comment, we will discuss how each of these concepts poses unique challenges to the policies of strategic autonomy.
First, processes of globalization and economic integration inevitably encroach on interdependence sovereignty. How can Indian foreign policy makers shield their country from global economic disruptions after India abandoned the goal of economic autarky and began to open its market in the early 1990s? In fact they simply can't do that anymore the way they have done it before. The authors of ‘Nonalignment 2.0' unmistakably write that ‘India's integration into the global economy is vital to its continued prosperity' and that it is India's primary strategic interest ‘to ensure an open economic order'. Deepened economic engagement, however, comes with a price. Much depends on sector-specific circumstances in this regard. Whereas the fallout of the world financial crisis is less felt in India than in other places, there is undoubtedly a crucial vulnerability in terms of energy supply. The problem is that domestic energy production is way behind the level of energy consumption in India. This is not going to change anytime soon. The only way to preserve as much autonomy as possible under these circumstances is to diversify energy sources and suppliers. This is of course easier said than done. Also, it often comes with the need of diplomatic tightrope walking. Just take a look at the precarious balance of India's Middle East policies which are intended, amongst other things, to maintain friendly relations both with Iran and the US (the first being an important supplier of oil, the latter holds the key to civil nuclear technology).
Second, there is the question of domestic sovereignty. Of course, domestic sovereignty issues have been a constant sorrow of Indian policy makers from the beginning of an independent Indian Union. There were numerous separatist movements and ideologically inspired insurgent groups. The areas of greatest instability today remain Kashmir and the North East. But there are also the widespread activities of maoist insurgents particularly in the eastern parts of the subcontinent. What is remarkable about ‘Nonalignment 2.0' is the open-minded and self-critical approach with which it analyses these issues. Internal security challenges, the authors say, ‘are largely exacerbated by three kinds of state failure'. The first is the inability of state institutions to provide basic services in significant parts of the country. Insurgent groups can step into this vacuum and thereby acquire legitimacy. Even worse, security forces often commit serious human right abuses while suppressing armed groups. As a consequence ‘the law and order machinery [itself] is considered a source of insecurity' in those areas. Thus, alienation and mistrust increase over time, a process that invites even greater repression. Adding to this vicious circle is the state's failure to be impartial in investigating and prosecuting acts of communal violence. Reading those passages one gets an idea of the complex political dynamics that keep domestic sovereignty fragile in India. Without managing those internal conflicts, the authors of ‘Nonalignment 2.0' emphasize, outside powers will exploit them just like they did in the past. Thus, internal and external strategic autonomy are clearly interrelated.
Finally, the biggest challenge to the traditional ideas of nonalignment comes from the emergence of international humanitarian norms that make the inviolability of westphalian sovereignty conditional on whether or not states meet certain political standards. The responsibility to protect (R2P) provides the best example in this regard. It calls for the international community to protect civilians (from massive human right abuses) if their host countries are unable or unwilling to do so. In other words: States that cannot guarantee the most basic human rights forsake their Westphalian sovereignty, at least on a temporary basis. Such political standards break with the idea of sovereign equality. Even if those standards are applied without biases their application runs counter to the non-discriminatory and non-ideological principles of the traditional nonalignment policies. In the past India tried to abstain from ideological clashes and to engage with all powers regardless of their domestic political structures and values (with the notable exception of the apartheid regime in South Africa) in an effort to maximize its freedom of action. As a developing country in the context of the Cold War this strategy proved viable. As an emerging world power that is expected by other powers to take on responsibilities, it is doubtful whether India can still follow the same approach.
India now inevitably contributes to international norm-building processes one way or the other. It is expected to make decisions. The authors of ‘Nonalignment 2.0' leave no doubt about that. ‘The world will be increasingly looking to India to shape global norms'. India ‘should, as it rises, be clear about what values it stands for'. The document itself however is highly ambivalent when it comes to such decisions in case of the R2P and other humanitarian norms. On the one hand it vaguely calls for a more nuanced understanding of the ‘principle of state sovereignty' and it underlines India's support of important values like human rights, democracy, and prevention of genocide. Also, India is expected to make the principles of ‘human rights, minority rights, democracy and free trade' a cornerstone of regional integration efforts in South Asia. At the same time, however, ‘Nonalignment 2.0' does not want India to play a role in democracy promotion (p. 31). Moreover, it points to the importance that ‘universal norms and values cannot provide a fig-leaf for the pursuit of great power interests'. But how do we separate humanitarian and selfish motivations? Who is going to decide on whether or not military force can legitimately be used for the protection of civilians? Finally, which norm has the benefit of the doubt in cases where motivations are unclear, the norm of state sovereignty or the R2P?
‘Nonalignment 2.0' does not answer these questions. It does, however, acknowledge the inadequateness of traditional justifications of India's opposition to military interventions in a changed normative environment. ‘It is often more effective and accurate to say ‘Yes, but...' than an outright ‘No''. Some pages before this point is elaborated in the following way: ‘We need to go beyond simply reiterating our support for sovereignty and non-intervention. We need to advance strategic arguments in the UN and other forums about the advisability and feasibility of intervention'. In other words: India should justify its opposition to military interventions less on principled grounds and more with a view towards their instrumentality. In fact Indian diplomats are increasingly making use of such arguments. For example, India justified its abstention on UNSC resolution 1973 (authorizing all necessary means to protect civilians in Libya) by referring to a lack of credible information about what is actually happening on the ground. Also, the Indian representative complained about unclear enforcement plans and raised the possibility that military measures might exacerbate rather than mitigate the hardship of the civilian population. It remains to be seen though if this emphasis on instrumentality questions will spare India the ultimate decision on whether or not it supports a reinterpretation of Westphalian sovereignty.
Mischa Hansel is Assistant Professor at the University of Cologne. His research interests include IR theories, arms control and Indian foreign policy.
Olga-Maria Hallemann holds a diploma in Studies of Latin America from the University of Cologne and worked in India as a DAAD-fellow of the programme "Understanding India". Her research interests include Indian foreign policy, development issues, soft power and public diplomacy.