Maaping the implications

India Abstains in Burgenstock

By Prof. (Dr.) D.K. Giri

(Secy Gen, Assn for Democratic Socialism)

In the Ukraine peace conference, held on 14-15 June in Burgenstock, Switzerland, India abstained from signing the communiqué. India had already a watered-down participation in the conference. India’s delegation was led by Pavan Kapoor, a senior diplomat in the South Block. While abstaining, he said, “Only those options acceptable to both parties can lead to abiding peace”.  The Foreign Ministry, in a similar and separate statement reiterated that New Delhi was committed to “lasting and peaceful resolution to the conflict through dialogue and diplomacy”.

India’s reservation on signing the communiqué was based on two factors. One, Russia was not a party to the deliberations as it was not invited. Second, which in fact is repetition of the first in other words, that is, a peaceful resolution through dialogue and diplomacy with both the parties involved. The Switzerland conference was indeed an exercise in deliberation and diplomacy, though not dialogue as by definition, it involves two parties or groups. About hundred countries were present, 56 were represented by leaders, and 80 countries signed the joint statement while 20 abstained or declined. The joint statement covered nuclear safety, food security and exchange of prisoners of war. It also made a pitch for sovereignty, territorial integrity and adherence to international law.

Indubitably, India knew that Russia was not invited. New Delhi would also have anticipated that a communiqué will emerge at end of the conference. So, was it a foregone conclusion that India would not sign any statement? Is it a part of multi-engagement, reincarnation of non-alignment policy? India should attend the conference in order to be seen with other countries, and at the same time, not sign any document as Russia was not a party to it. Pavan Kapoor had said, “India had joined the summit to explore the way forward to a negotiated settlement of a very complex and pressing issue”.

What was the communiqué? Among other things referred above, the final document said that the “UN Charter and respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty will serve as a basis for achieving a comprehensive just and lasting peace in Ukraine”. As a matter of principle, no country should have any objection to that. It is a stated principle of international law to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of any member country of the United Nations. It is another matter to agree on territory belonging to Ukraine, occupied by Russia. Going back to the Russian war objectives, Russia did not invade Ukraine to claim territory, it did so to annex the entire country as a ‘legitimate’ part of Greater Russia and secondly to prevent it from joining NATO.

If there has to be a negotiated settlement through dialogue, New Delhi should elicit the terms of reference from both countries. In fact, India should take the lead in getting both Ukraine and Russia to the negotiating table. It goes with India’s aspiration to be a world leader – viswaguru and viswabandhu etc.  If it is a tall order beyond the brief and interest of India, New Delhi should react to initiatives taken by others from the points of view of international norms and national interest.

In the meantime, New Delhi is venturing to be the voice of Global South. Nehru wanted a similar profile for India and the world by pursuing non-alignment. Modi government has been critical of Nehru’s ‘narcissist’ foreign policy, but falls into the same pattern. Nehru’s non-alignment did not work. On the contrary, it incurred heavy cost on India in maintaining her defence system. India sought to be independent and self-reliant. But the need of the time was to make alliances, partners and allies in building the country. To some extent, India’s reluctance to ally with western powers was understandable as it was coming out of colonialism. To reflect on that period dispassionately, colonialism was in an irreversible retreat. Also, India stayed on in the Commonwealth, a structure that bore the burden of colonial hangover.

Be that as it was, the world is currently caught hopelessly in two bloody wars – Ukraine and Gaza in addition to several border skirmishes. The United States, which once enjoyed the epithet of world policeman, has been unable to stop them. In Gaza, it directly supports Israel while diplomatically tries to prevent the war from escalating in the region; holding back other countries, mainly Iran from jumping into the fray. In Ukraine, US, along with other NATO allies, are indirectly supporting Ukraine to continue fighting. This is surely not a desirable situation.

How should India react? Or it should not? The latter option is not on as India aspires to be a world power and it has stakes. So far, New Delhi has maintained neutrality or abstained from taking sides. Is it in the long-term interest of the country? Not speaking up for the UN Charter, will be disastrous for the world, a dog-eat-dog situation. Quite a few countries are in irredentist and expansionist mould in their foreign policy. So, several countries are vulnerable. Taiwan is an obvious candidate. There are intermittent demands on Indian territories too, not to speak of the bits already taken away by China and Pakistan.

In order to maintain peace and stability in the world, territorial integrity as recorded and recognised by international organisations, bilateral and international summits are inviolable.  Irredentism pursued by Russia in Ukraine and China, have limits in terms of timelines. If there is no historical cut-off point for nationhood or sovereignty of countries, any country can claim any other. The British Empire covered half of the world, should they be allowed to reclaim it? Indian culture and spiritual influence spread across South-East Asia. Bharatvarsha, in ancient period, included Myanmar and Afghanistan. In 20th century, Bangladesh and Pakistan were parts of India. Should India retrieve them?

So therefore, reclaiming a country on the basis of historical links, similarity of language and culture in current time and age is ridiculous and unsustainable. So, it is advisable to stick to international law and conventions. The national interest argument is complex as well as dynamic, varying from time to time, although the popular quote says it otherwise, “There are no permanent friends or foes, only permanent interests”.

So, what is India’s interest now? New Delhi has been tied up with Russia in the transfer of defence material. Bulk of the maintenance of the defence structure is contingent on Russian supply. There are two ways to cut the Gordian knot. One, what New Delhi is perhaps doing to create alternative sources of supply and be self-reliant. The second is to entering into a security arrangement with other countries to defend herself in case of external aggression. That is perhaps a better option. Spending heavily on defence while India’s per capita GDP is lowest among G-20 countries, is not wise.

To pose a hypothetical question, can India rely on Russia to come to her aid in case of an armed conflict with China? The chances are slim. Soviet Union refused to help India in 1962 war. It then said, “India is a friend, but China is a brother”. It was USA and the United Kingdom, who offered to send their air force in support of India. Now China and Russia are bound in an infrangible bond of friendship forever. Is New Delhi’s expectation or calculation realistic vis-à-vis Russia? Or is it not a time for a serious rethink?  — INFA