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 Voice 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.
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