The Huntington thesis

09 Feb, 1998    ·   58

P. R. Chari feels Huntington is not unrealistic in suggesting that India join the US-led grouping of nations.

It is beguilingly simple. Samuel Huntingtonthe Harvard guru of civilizational politics—notes that India has three options in the post-Cold War world. Ally with the United States ; remain neutral following the tradition of its non-aligned foreign policy; or join a China-led Asian affirmation against the West. The latter two options are non-viable. Neutrality will only accentuate its loneliness in the international system. But joining an Asian configuration of powers would require India to accept the "paramountcy" of China . [Indian Express, January 20]



Global ideas are easy to knock down. His prescriptions for India can be criticised on several grounds. Why should the options before India be so stark? In an increasingly multipolar world, India could manoeuvre between the different groupings of nations that might coalesce. It could ally with one or the other sequentially, depending on the issue. Pursuit of an issue-based foreign policy provided the rationale for Indian non-alignment, which was designed to avoid entangling East-West bloc politics during the Cold war. So, if the post-Cold War era progresses into a neo-Cold war age, India could again make issue-based choices, and avoid the entanglements of the US-led and China-led alliances that might emerge in the 21st century.



Global ideas also have a kernel of truth in them.



A US-led grouping of developed nations is recognizable today, comprising the European Union, Japan , and countries in East and Southeast Asia . In another interview [Times of India, January 29] Huntington was optimistic about the East Asian economies riding out their present financial crisis, because the factors that brought about their high economic growth like "high levels of savings and investment, high levels of education and commitment to a work ethic, are still there".



China has established that it is a anti-status-quoist nation. It is determined to become an economically middle-income, but politically global power. That China is a revisionist power and seriously questions the "paramountcy" of the United States is apparent. The consolidation of the Sino-Russian relations, leading to an assertion of their Asian heritage, seems inevitable, as the United States pursues its ill-advised policy to "enlarge" NATO. National interests can overcome civilizational differences, as the strength of Indo-Soviet relations during the Cold War era must inform us.



Therein, unfortunately, lies the rub. The end of the Cold War also witnessed the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the loss of India ’s chief strategic ally. Its political and economic relations with the former Soviet Republics , including Russia , are at low ebb. Military cooperation continues, because India needs spare parts and ancillaries to maintain its largely ex-Soviet equipment. But that cooperative arrangement is getting raggedy at the edges, due to immense difficulties in obtaining supplies from these countries. Sino-Indian relations are correct. It is hoped they would normalise. But the glacial pace at which CBMs are being negotiated between India and China, despite their being envisaged in the bilateral agreement (1993) to establish Peace and Tranquility in border areas, militates against this relationship acquiring greater substance. The border dispute hangs around the necks of the two leaderships like the proverbial albatross. Neither resoluble, nor ignoreable.



Still, there is the neutrality, or shunning alignment, and go-it-alone option available. India could withdraw into itself, stressing self-reliance, discouraging foreign inflows of capital and technology. India could, in short, imitate China some forty years after the latter went down that route? But, is this possible in the post-Cold War world? A multipolar world is hardly conducive to isolationism, and maintaining strict equidistance from the whole slew of super, major and regional powers that are acquiring form. Besides, the liberalisation and globalisation of the economy, implying the ascendancy of market forces therein, places a premium on interdependence. That, in turn, hardly squares with the isolationism embedded in the go-it-alone option.



So, Huntington is not unrealistic in suggesting that India join the US-led grouping of nations. They are among the largest democracies in the world, possess the latest technology that India desperately needs, and the finances to sustain its further growth. Rejecting this option on ideological grounds (socialism and mixed economy and commanding heights and public sector and big government and vestigial non-alignment, et al) would be falling back into the trap from which India has just escaped.



So much is clear. Whether India chooses this or any other option, its viability will depend upon the country’s internal stability and cohesiveness; the progress of its economic reforms; the financial discipline displayed by its governments; their avoidance of populist actions for reasons of survival, and a whole range of similar factors deriving from its internal polity. The choices made here will truly determine India ’s future place in the world, and the options it could choose from. The real issue, therefore, is whether it will choose from a position of strength. Or weakness.