EAM’s UNGA Speech
By Prof. (Dr.) D.K. Giri
The External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar addressed the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The speech was strong in message and succinct in its formulation. As the speech was made against the backdrop of a mightily successful G-20 summit in Delhi, it has received much attention across the country in the media and perhaps the world over. Mainstream papers have engaged with his speech line by line, also word to word. It is perhaps in order as the speech mainly called for a reset of the existing world order. I would like to look at his speech in terms of principles as well as pragmatism.
Admittedly, we are all relishing the euphoria of the grand success of G-20 summit although there are some grudges on invitations, expenses and politicisation of the event by the Opposition. I do not wish to be a killjoy, but as an academic and a commentator, I should call spade-a-spade. That is also the spirit and purpose of a democracy, that is, to critique government policies in national interest. From such a standpoint, let me make an assertion that India’s foreign policy has suffered from a mismatch between principles and practicality. Axiomatically, foreign policies of countries are usually a combination of the two.
The said speech reflects the old pattern of the mismatch. Take for example, One family, One World, One Future. It is good as a slogan. It evokes emotions. But is it practical to maintain as a policy? Can you conceive one family, one future with Pakistan or China? Islamabad sponsoring terrorism into Indian soil goes unabated. China’s ridiculous claims of Indian territory continues to be made unabashed. However, let me throw a caveat before I proceed further on EAM’s formulation of India’s foreign policy strategies.
A former External Affairs Minister in Morarji Desai government in 1980s, shared with me, a student of international politics then, the working of India’s foreign policy. When I asked him why was New Delhi soft on Pakistan? Remember, Morarji Desai offering the backing of the Indian Army if ever Pakistan was militarily attacked by another country. Morarji Desai received the highest civilian award of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, ‘Nishan-e-Pakistan’. It is another matter the ‘award’ became a controversy in India. The Minister said, “We too arm-twist Pakistan whenever we can, but we don’t say it”. If this is the art of diplomacy and foreign policy, so be it. Also, if the EAM is making such statements as matters of ideals and even principles, so be it. No policy sans principle, be it national or international would work. Also, if countries conduct their domestic and foreign policies without reference to principles, chaos will be caused, not rule-based order.
That said, if EAM believes and broaches them as strategies there is a problem. This is where I am coming from. EAM talked about dialogue and diplomacy. This has been the leitmotif in his approach to settling differences and even disputes between the countries. It sounds almost esoteric. The UN was set to promote dialogue and diplomacy and avoid wars. Does it work? Dialogues will work in peace time or before or after the war, not during. Besides the normative assertion, how do you stop wars? What could New Delhi do to stop the war in Ukraine? I urged in this column to our Prime Minister who is known for his charm, warmth and skill in building interpersonal proximity, backed by New Delhi’s image of neutrality to do all he can to bring the devastating war in Ukraine to an end.
Moreover, can one have dialogue when one’s head is in the mouth of a dragon? We are having sporadic as well as internecine military skirmishes with China on our borders. The Chinese strategy, now well known is to do what they want including grabbing territories, note salami slicing, while they are open to dialogue. Why are we not having dialogue with Pakistan? On Canada, while Justin Trudeau’s political utterances have been despised by many of his countrymen and other countries, why do we not use diplomacy instead of retaliation by sending back diplomats and suspending visa and so on. Diplomats in India believe that ‘quiet diplomacy could clear the air’.
Last week, in this column, I had quoted, “All wars are failures of diplomacy”. Having said that diplomacy needs a win-win or even lose-lose mutual understanding for two countries to be ready to engage. There is also an axiom to be drawn from Ramayana, our revered epic. Lord Rama took out his arrow to chastise the ocean that was not forthcoming to let him build the ‘setu’ (bridge) to Lanka. Lord Rama advised, “Vinoy na manat jaladhi jal, gaye tini din beet, bole Rama sokop tab, bhai bina ni hoi preeti” (three days have passed, but the ocean is not responding to our humility, our polite request. It is true that there is no love or understanding without fear). Such fear in international polices is called ‘deterrence’. We have been arguing to determine that deterrence vis-à-vis China. We are taking time and perhaps lacking clarity in building that deterrent. And if we have it, why is China continuing to needle us and nibble away our territory.
This leads me to our professed policy of neutrality. Have we been really neutral so far? Is it possible to be so? Switzerland’s and Finland’s neutrality cannot be replicated by India. Admittedly, there are divided opinions amongst scholars on viability and benefits of the practice of neutrality. But surely New Delhi could not afford to be neutral in the face of unabated provocations by China. It needs strategic and security alliance to counter her enemy. We have had a security treaty with the former Soviet Union. This is time to have another one with a suitable country which is clear, workable and ostensible.
EAM’s bold call for registering the voice of Global South in the world politics for expansion and democratisation of world bodies is spot on. Only rider is the voice and grouping of Global South need to be continually redefined and restructured. Do China and Russia belong to Global South? Will India remain in the Global South as it jumps to third or second or even to first largest economy in the world? Is it GDP of the country or per capita GDP that should define a country of South or North? India’s per capita GDP among the G-20 countries is the lowest.
At any rate, these are questions that need to be progressively addressed and resolved. For now, we continue to debate our foreign policy strategy in order to become the Viswa Guru and Vishwamitra? —INFA
(The writer is Secretary General, Association for Democratic Socialism)