Need of the hour

India-NATO Tie Up
By Dr. D.K. Giri
(Prof. International Relations, JIMMC)

Within a week of the high summit of Quad, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin was in New Delhi. After Joe Biden took over the leadership of USA, this was the first visit of the Secretary of Defence to any country outside the US. The inference made is that US attaches prime importance to bilateral relationship with India. Lloyd Austin talked about, “India being the central pillar of our approach to the region”. His Indian counterpart Rajnath Singh hailed the visit contributing to realisation of full potential of India-US comprehensive global partnership.
However, the million dollar question is where is this partnership heading to? New Delhi has been shy of any formal entanglement with a foreign power. That is why perhaps Rajnath Singh was trying hard in the joint press briefing that both of them covered a wide range of issues, normal in a bilateral meeting. They also avoided any direct mention of the C-word (China). Indubitably, the thrust of the exchange was on the common threat from China.
As it was referred in last week’s piece in this column of March 19, New Delhi is riding two horses at the same time. It is a part of the western block as well as the one led by Russia and China. Apart from creating confusion about India’s so-called strategic autonomy, it is eroding India’s ability to exercise the desired influence in world politics plus weakening it security-wise.
New Delhi continues to be caught between the three strategies in its foreign policy: non-alignment, alliance building and multi-alignment. To deal with them briefly, non-alignment is not practicable, it has not been from day one. Recall, New Delhi’s equivocation in 1956 on Suez crisis and invasion of Hungary, the peace and friendship treaty of 1971 and multiple alliances of late— Quad, SCO, BRICS, SAARC, BIMSTEC and so on. In a polarised world, especially when Beijing is breathing down our neck, New Delhi can ill-afford to remain neutral. Many India-observers would suggest, “Indians should be under no illusions that a truly non-aligned path remains a viable option”.
No gainsaying the fact that Chinese army, the biggest in the world receives at least three times more funding than the Indian army, the fourth largest in the world. Although, Indian army is more battle-ready than the Chinese, it should be wary of one-on-one military confrontation. It would need alliance and goodwill support. Purely from the point of view of countering the Chinese threat, New Delhi should enter into a concrete military alliance.
The third strategy is going for multiple alignments. This will dissipate New Delhi’s focus and commitment. In fact, this is what New Delhi is pursuing at present. The Global Times, the official newspaper of China says New Delhi suffers from contradictory impulses in its foreign policy by being a part of several blocks. The US seems to be accommodative of such stances by its partners, but imposes sanctions under CAATSA if the partners did defence deals with its principal rival Russia (Formerly Soviet Union). New Delhi therefore will have to negotiate a waiver if it transacts defence contracts with Russia. Therefore, multi- alignment is fraught with crises of confidence and confusion.
The obvious choice therefore is to go for a robust security alliance. The Quad is a strong candidate for such a framework. New Delhi has no other choice than to align with the Quad. It has to shed the traditional diffidence and ‘sitting on the fence’ on alliance building. It is time to formalise the Quad into a security alliance. As all the four members of Quad are concerned about the common China threat, India is on the frontline as its immediate neighbour sharing largest boundary. India needs to take the initiative in drafting the India-Pacific charter, nudging the other members in identifying the operational headquarter. There is no more room for manoeuvre with Beijing as it harbours delusions of grandeur and follows imperialist designs.
Along with the security dimension, Quad should promote industrial integration, create supply chain initiatives to substitute China, and invite other countries practising democracy and subscribing to a rule-based international order. Admit it or not, China poses a common threat to all the four members in security, trade and technology. Worse, China represents the political order which is authoritarian and opaque at home and imperialist and expansionist abroad. The democratic world has to counter it and consolidate universal values of liberty, equity and human rights.
In the interim, until the Quad matures into a solid block, New Delhi should consider partnering with NATO, the most powerful military block in the world. NATO is largely led by US and India has already moved closer to it in security relations by signing the foundational agreements like LEMOA, COMCASA and BECA. These agreements enable India to access cutting edge weapons and communication system. However, membership of NATO will lend an additional security profile to India.
NATO members should offer partnership to India when they meet in early spring. NATO should be equally concerned about Chinese security threats as India is about stopping the juggernaut of Chinese power. In the past, NATO was hesitating to invite India without Pakistan. Well, that was a time when NATO was fully engaged in Afghanistan requiring some kind of support from Pakistan. Things have changed. Now China is a bigger threat than Talibans.
Likewise, India was not responding to NATO overtures because of its traditional aversion to joining any rival geo-political block. As argued earlier, it is high time New Delhi moves away from such posture. It is true that, as per Article 5 of NATO, partnership does not guarantee collective defence against arm aggression. But it provides several other benefits – defence dialogues, military-to-military planning, joint exercises for readiness and inter-operability and so on. New Delhi, therefore, should take advantage of these provisions included in the NATO structure.
In joining NATO, New Delhi should only worry about giving up the disproportionate alliance on Russia for weapon support. In terms of maintaining autonomy in its foreign policy, New Delhi will have enough space. NATO allies like Switzerland, Finland, Sweden and Austria are neutral. There are partners of NATO like Israel and Egypt. Therefore, India will have room to follow its foreign policy objectives without constraints from NATO partnership.
The biggest dividend of consolidating Quad and the membership of NATO will be much reduced expense on defence for New Delhi. It can then concentrate on building its economy, attracting investment, mainly from those companies trying to relocate away from China. India’s neutrality qua non-alignment has imposed a heavy cost on its defence preparedness. While it is competing with China, whose economy is five times bigger, New Delhi needs to be strategic, cut down heavily on defence expenditure. Partnership with NATO will help in that area.
In sum, New Delhi needs to do at least three things, first, a strong China policy, second, a robust security alliance, third, a viable trade and investment approach. As long as New Delhi is seized with building its defence capability by squandering its resources, it will not be able to build a strong economy, promote healthy development and maintain its democracy and pluralism. These three domestic imperatives are the need of the hour as determinants of India’s foreign policy. — INFA