India’s Nuclear Bomb: The Impact on Global Proliferation by George Perkovich. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2000 (originally published by the University of California Press, 1999).
A Nuclear Strategy for India by Raja Menon. Sage (forthcoming), New Delhi.
South Asia on a Short Fuse: Nuclear Politics and the Future of Global Disarmament by Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1999.
The Making of the Atomic Bomb: Science, Secrecy and the Postcolonial State by Itty Abraham. Orient Longman, Hyderabad, 1998.
There was a dire need for a dispassionate historical analysis of the Indian nuclear weapons programme. This need has now been met by George Perkovich’s book, a detailed, lengthy (almost 600 pages) and meticulously researched account of India’s five decades old campaign to achieve, what the Government of India chooses to call, ‘strategic autonomy’. He relies on official archival material including recently declassified US documents and discussions with American decision makers in Washington, on access to strategically placed Indian officials, both serving and retired, and the literature to-date, to chart the accretion in India’s technical competence and the evolution of its nuclear policy. The resulting study is authoritative.
India’s progress in the nuclear realm was steady rather than spectacular, relying on foreign technical help and assistance in the initial stages and, in the context of the ongoing, roller-coaster nature of Indo-US bilateral relations, it was subject to the ever-changing attitudes of Washington which variously contextualized the contentious ‘non proliferation’ issues within the parameters of the Cold War with Soviet Russia, containment of China, retention of influence in Pakistan and currying goodwill with New Delhi. On this side, the decisions by Indira Gandhi to test in 1974 and then to forego follow-on tests, and in the mid ’90s by P.V. Narasimha Rao to postpone testing until a more propitious time, were all made within a penumbra of fear of adverse American reaction owing to the belief that India would not or could not survive full-fledged economic sanctions. All this is fleshed out in great detail by Perkovich.
But his most significant finding is that the Indian nuclear programme’s thrust from early on was to attain weapons capability which, while being a matter of some dispute in intellectual circles in India, was never really in doubt – a conclusion earlier reached by Itty Abraham in his book as well. Perkovich, moreover, provides sufficient evidence to show that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s efforts on behalf of disarmament and arms control were at least as much motivated by idealism as by the need to provide an effective diplomatic and political cover for Homi Bhabha’s securing the nuclear weapons wherewithal for the country.
Then again, Perkovich, in tune with the current US policy, is an ardent anti-proliferationist, and it shows. For instance, he makes the standard case that the relatively huge investment in the nuclear sector for a developing country like India amounted to an uneconomical use of scarce resources. This is unconvincing because he does not balance the costs (opportunity and otherwise) with the net gain in security for the country and in its freedom of action in the international arena.
Perkovich refers to Bhabha’s original nuclear programme blueprint with interlocking phases – the reliance on natural uranium reactors in the first phase producing the plutonium for use as cladding for the thorium fuel in breeder reactors in the second phase, which in turn would produce the feedstock of plutonium (Pu239) for advanced pressurized water reactors in the third phase – as ‘quixotic’. That this architecture was based on the fact of the largest thorium reserves in the world, or that it allowed for a planned escape from the more expensive enriched uranium cycle and, importantly, the pale of American pressure into the more versatile and more affordable ‘plutonium economy’, has apparently not impressed the author. More correctly, however, he urges India to jettison the ‘colonial framework’ of foreign policy decision making. But this advice can cut both ways. It can justify India’s being accommodative on CTBT and FMCT and aggressively assertive in pursuing its national interest independent of any other consideration.
Perkovich does not, in the main permit his prejudices to colour his judgements. He is thorough in dissecting the politico-military arguments made in Washington over the years and in scrutinising the self-serving nature of statements and often confused and confusing nuclear policies emanating from New Delhi in the same period upto the May 1998 tests. And in the concluding chapter, among other things, he rejects the position of the five established Nuclear Weapons States that there is no relationship between vertical proliferation they indulge in and horizontal proliferation they resist, calling it ‘the grandest illusion of the nuclear age.’ He thus espies little prospect of genuine disarmament or ‘unproliferation’ – his inelegant neologism for the ‘rollback’ option.
The duo of self-confessed ‘anti nuclear activists’, Praful Bidwai and Achin Vanaik, on the other hand, seem a little too intent on pamphleteering to care much about making their case sensibly, with less tilted analysis. The book revolves around their discovery that the gradual emergence of a more ‘communal’ and ‘nationalistic’ India, owing to the rise of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the alleged spread of RSS ideology in the body politic, is what led to the Indian government’s forsaking disarmament commitments of yore and nuclear weaponising. The consequences of this, they maintain, is that peace is at risk in the country, the region and the world at-large, as are the objectives of international arms control and disarmament. As a unicausal theory, it is on par with attributing sunrise to a cock’s crowing.
Besides, their interpretation of what happened and why in the nuclear sphere is relentlessly skewed, the aim seemingly being to prove that India today is all but a rogue state, having done absolutely nothing right or above board since the fifties when it championed the cause, eventuating in the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty. Thereafter, according to Messrs Bidwai and Vanaik, the national elite’s sensibilities suffered a progressive ‘coarsening’, which apparently has reached its acme with the assumption of power at the centre by the Bharatiya Janata Party, consequent upon which India’s political stock along with its standing in the international moral firmament, has taken a dive.
This denouement has come to pass, they argue, because successive Indian governments departed from the high-minded abhorrence of nuclear weapons displayed by Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru. Considering that contrary evidence of the kind Abraham and Perkovich offer that Nehru was at heart a ‘realist’ (a dirty word in Bidwai and Vanaik’s political lexicon) and encouraged the acquisition of nuclear weapons capabilities, was available to them (Abraham’s book is cited by them in footnotes) it is a surprise that the authors did not bung Nehru in with the rest of the villains and date the country’s slide to the Mahatma’s assassination in 1948!
How thoroughly unbalanced their ‘analysis’ is may be indicated by some of their views. They refer, for example, to the evolution of the Indian nuclear policy as ‘historical degeneration’ and the supplanting of the do-nothing policy of non-weaponised deterrence by overt nuclearisation as ‘destroying the middle ground’, as if the ‘middle ground’ had, with the passage of time and the ever-changing international correlation of forces, any middle or even ground left to it; describe China’s transfer of nuclear weapons designs and production blueprints to Pakistan and its reported offer of the Lop Nor facilities to test a Pakistani-crafted weapon as only a ‘secondary factor’ in the latter’s acquisition of weapons capabilities; believe that this Sino-Pakistan nuclear nexus is a commercial, not a ‘strategic’, relationship; contend that the Indian nuclear programme is ‘a standing disgrace’; dismiss Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s outline of an Indian deterrence policy as worthless; declare that while the Indian polity has become steadily more ‘anti democratic and authoritarian’, the direction of its Pakistani counterpart is towards ‘a less military-controlled system’ – which must come as a revelation to the General Musharraf-ruled Pakistanis; aver that the potential of nuclear coercion by a nuclear armed state against a country not similarly equipped is a ‘myth’, which must mean that they read the USS Enterprise task force’s mission in the Bay of Bengal in 1971, as benign; decry the ‘pernicious role’ of Indian scientists, especially Bhabha; champion the notion that a nuclearised India has endangered not only the extant nonproliferation order but the prevailing international ‘norms of restraint’ as well; and, to top it all, advocate ‘external encouragement, if not intervention to defuse India-Pakistan nuclear rivalry’.
Such an account is grist for the already converted but is unlikely to influence a wider public, notwithstanding the case being made on the presumed ‘immorality’ of nuclear weapons and hence the need to do away with them altogether. As far as ethics and the imperatives of state action are concerned, Bidwai and Vanaik are votaries of ‘feel good’ politics represented by an Arundhati Roy and her ilk and, therefore, the essential point that the larger public good of inter-state peace or absence of war is willy-nilly served by nuclear weapons, escapes them. They disregard the fact that it is precisely the extent of promised devastation that stayed nuclear weapons from being used in the Cold War, which condition of grace is likely to obtain in South Asia too (short of a racialist view being taken, that unlike the Americans, Europeans and the Chinese, behaving rationally and reasonably with nuclear weapons is beyond Indians and Pakistanis, which the authors come very close to voicing). Considering the end, of peace ensuing from a system of mutual deterrence, are the means (nuclear weapons) really so reprehensible? After you cut out the pontifications and the blather, where lies higher morality?
If Short Fuse has no bang, Abraham’s study is a packet of dynamite. While no more enthusiastic about nuclear weapons than Bidwai and Vanaik, Abraham approaches the subject of India’s acquiring Bomb making capabilities in terms of the premise of high science legitimating not only the endeavours and strivings of a newly independent state but as also validating the ‘scientific method’ to realise a modern state, these being the terms of reference adopted by the country’s founding leaders. This is a sophisticated political and sociological analysis, using George Basalla’s typology, of a developing nation seeking to transit from the backwaters of ‘colonial science’ into the international scientific mainstream. That this transition in India’s case was being attempted at a time when science was becoming ‘nationalised’ meant that the progenitors of the nuclear energy programme in the country, chiefly Prime Minister Nehru and Homi Bhabha, right from the beginning yoked it to the cause of national security, as was being done elsewhere. The author successfully proves that secrecy and the apparatus of state to exercise it were key instruments in this policy.
Nehru’s rhetoric about science as panacea for underdevelopment and Bhabha’s big promises on this score are juxtaposed by the author against the reality wherein the country lacked even the basic wherewithal for doing science. The 1948 Atomic Energy Act and its still more draconian successor Act of 1962, promulgated incidentally before the Himalayan War with China, Abraham contends, afforded the cloak of secrecy behind which to build up a scientific and technological infrastructure from the ground up and the required corpus of skills and competencies without fear of exposure that the cupboard was bare to begin with. And once this was done, to mask the weaponising thrust of the programme which became the primary mission after the twin objective of using the atom as source of electricity began, for various reasons, to loose steam.
The author points out how Bhabha well exploited the opportunities provided by the Cold War international politics to acquire help and assistance in terms of designs, hardware, nuclear fuel, heavy water and other nuclear materials and training from the British, French, Canadian and American sources to further his three stage long term plan configured to make India at once self sufficient in energy and security. Also significant was the role played by the constant goading of Meghnad Saha, Bhabha’s great rival in national scientific circles, in publicly pushing the Atomic Energy programme to deliver on what he believed were exaggerated promises. Bhabha, with Nehru’s blessings, so structured the Atomic Energy Commission, the Department of Atomic Energy, and the numerous institutes at Trombay and elsewhere as to centralise all decision making and authority in himself and to minimize public accountability.
Ironically, this system was turned against weaponeering by his successor, Vikram Sarabhai who, as Abraham shows, was interested basically in building up the country’s space capabilities. Sarabhai slowed down the programmatic thrust toward nuclear testing and weaponisation which would have helped India cross the Rubicon by 1967 at the latest. It was not until another change of guard and the return to power of the Bhabha school – with Homi Sethna taking over leadership of the nuclear establishment after Sarabhai’s death in 1971, that the weaponisation scheme got back on track.
Given China’s thermonuclear test in that year, India’s decision to test and speedily weaponise would have met with general approval and ensconced India in the rank of the nuclear haves prior to the 1968 Non-proliferation Treaty. It might have spared the country, what retired Rear Admiral Raja Menon calls, the ‘late fees for strategic delays’, the hard options and arm-twisting it faces today. The importance of the man at the helm and the wages of indecision following Nehru and Bhabha’s deaths, and in the wake of the 1974 breakthrough test, are brought out starkly by the Abraham study. It has lessons for this country at the turn of the century when the government has again to make a vital decision, whether to test further and weaponise effectively or to subside into unequal CTBT and FMCT regimes, thus imperilling the country’s future security.
Menon’s book is a full and commendable treatment of the subject by a straight-talking military man. It’s no-nonsense worldview and attitude, encased in crisp and clear language, are refreshing. For instance, he calls India’s international behaviour ‘extraordinarily timid’; he is contemptuous of the tendency of the Indian politician to ‘exhibit his penchant for noise and declaratory policies’; he excoriates the incompetent naval leadership and ‘bureaucratic bungling’ for the plight of the nuclear-powered submarine project and rues the fact that the three services have ceded their prerogatives in the matter of nuclear force planning and strategy to the civilians. This kind of candour also makes for very definite views.
His take on western deterrence history and concepts is unexceptionable and his account of the evolution of the Indian nuclear policy is racy and readable, if a little weak in many of the details and wrong in some of its essentials (like his view that Nehru’s pacifism gave an exclusively ‘peaceful’ spin to the Indian policy) – shortfalls that stand out when set alongside the more intensively researched analysis and conclusions contained in the books by Perkovich and Abraham. But a few of the theses he propounds are of a questionable nature, for example, his contention that emphasis on ‘territorial defence’ weakens deterrence. But these are made up by his more numerous insights. Like the Admiral’s well-rounded view that because strategy is a function of ‘the technology trajectory’, as technology advances so would the force structure, compelling a change in strategy, which puts the current debate on ‘minimum credible deterrence’ in perspective. What may be necessary by way of a deterrent force today could become redundant, if not a liability, tomorrow, whence the need for India zealously to protect its strategic independence and freedom of action.
The real value of this study, however, lies elsewhere. In attempting to mathematize deterrence and apply the resulting calculus to the security needs of this country, Menon, a navigator whilst in service and hence at ease with numbers, offers a distinct, workable, model for planning a force and for organizing a nuclear command and control system. He bases the former on figures, equations, estimates and similar ‘hard’ data and the latter, more usefully, on the existing corpus of Standard Operating Procedures, drills and norms in the military. Consideration of these aspects, worked out in considerable detail, is helped by a slew of graphs, diagrams, and organization and flow charts. As an illustrative exercise, he even draws up the NSRs (Nuclear Staff Requirements) for an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.
After assessing the nuclear threats posed by China and Pakistan and with the aim ‘stablizing deterrence’ (i.e., avoiding launch on warning or launch under attack postures) at the lowest level of retaliatory strike capability, the Admiral is of the view that long range missiles, rendered rail mobile and housed underground, would be adequate against China in the medium term. But, given the rapid progress in detection and surveillance technologies, that eventually the Indian deterrent may have to go the way of the British and the French in becoming exclusively submarine-based by 2030 with upto 380 MIRV (Multiple Independently-targetable Re-entry Vehicles) warheads. As far as Pakistan is concerned the author believes that almost any combination of short range options is destabilising and that the best alternative would be to alight on confidence building measures to secure a high level of verifiability. To achieve this last, he proposes such things as ‘sanitizing’ a wide swath on either side of the border and electronically tagging stored or deployed missiles. Of course, this model of triadic deterrence stability is predicated on India, China and Pakistan agreeing on a certain minimum level of transparency and asymmetry in force levels and quality, neither of which may be forthcoming.
But there are several other problems with this book. Menon’s professional military knowledge and reading of the situation, while eventuating in some very deft analysis also lead to the occasional alarmingly wrong conclusion. He insists for reasons of adverse payoffs, for example, that Pakistan’s seeking to convert ‘territorial defeat into nuclear victory or nuclear stalemate’ is ‘a perfectly daft idea’. Daft or not, this is believed to be the Pakistani doctrine and the certainty of response should Indian land forces effect a breakthrough is what India will have to prepare for.
This payoffs business, moreover, is fine in game theoretic terms but points up the central weakness in the Admiral’s methodology. Lacking an empirical basis, the figures ascribed to payoffs in various matrices that the author has articulated are no more than ‘top of the head’ numbers, intuitively assigned to give a veneer of certitude to what is essentially a speculative exercise. The downside of this is that figures impress the politicians and the public alike more than expressions of historical intuition and that this can end up in dangerous strategic postures and policies. Such, in any case, was the argument made by Bernard Brodie heading the intuitionist school in the controversy dating back to the fifties in the US when criticizing the efforts of the group led by his RAND colleague, Albert Wohlstetter, which was involved in working out the probabilities of this or that contingency occurring and accordingly recommending the build-up of strategic forces. Brodie’s argument is still valid.
And, finally, a suggestion for the Admiral that he consider revising his last chapter on international environment in light of a host of late developments relating to the CTBT, Clinton’s visit, and so on. Otherwise his book, presumably slated for release in mid to late 2000, will appear stale even as it hits the book shops.
The ASEAN Region in India’s Foreign Policy by Kripa Sridharan. Dartmouth Publishing Company, Aldershot, U.K., 1996.
India and Southeast Asia: Challenges and Opportunities edited by Baladas Ghoshal. Konark Publishers, New Delhi, 1996.
The Future of the ARF edited by Koo How San. Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 1999.
THE end of the Cold War in 1991 coincided with a Congress government headed by Narasimha Rao coming to power in India. The global environment had changed with the emergence of new regional complexities. No longer was the world simplistically divided into blocs with India espousing the cause of non-alignment. Three trends were clearly in evidence. First, the truly colossal impact of a process referred to loosely, and often trivially, as globalization. It is still unclear what results the interaction of globalization with the nation state will produce. However, the process of deterioration and loss of control – at the state level – seems difficult to reverse. The crisis in the East Asian financial markets is just one example of this process.
The second trend, a broadening of the security discourse, was not unrelated to the process of globalization. Security is no longer viewed just in terms of protecting the state’s security and territorial integrity from external aggression. A wider, more comprehensive view of security to encompass international as well as national interests has established itself. In this view, national and international security policies need to be more sensitive to the non-military threats that states and the international society face because of the complex patterns of interdependence.
Finally, there seemed to be a movement towards multipolarity although, as of today, there still is no clear challenge to American power. The rise of China and the consequences it will have for the international system, and particularly Asia, will depend on whether Beijing will, like the great powers in the past, seek to rewrite the rules of the game or act differently by accepting the status quo, arguably in the interests of peace in the region. In other words, it is still a period of great uncertainty.
These trends had their strategic implications on India’s foreign policy, starting from 1991. It is too early to gauge the long term impact of this changing, uncertain world on the Weltanschauung of India, yet attempts have been made by several experts, Indian and foreign, to do so. This article reviews some of these writings. There had been some awareness of the significance of Southeast Asian states, particularly the ASEAN, in economic, strategic and political terms. But it was only when Cold War perceptions were no longer valid and ASEAN, in the words of its permanent representative in the UN, emerged as ‘the most successful regional organization in the Third World,’ that India started developing a policy framework towards it.
Indian leaders realized that India was the only regional power left out in the cold when others, far less important, were involved in deciding the future course of action in its extended neighbourhood. Though trade and investment with ASEAN is now increasing rapidly, it at the political level that India needs friends to ensure that it becomes a key actor in the Asia-Pacific region. It is a positive sign that the largest Muslim country in the world, Indonesia, is making efforts at closer cooperation with India. In the past, India’s proximity to the Soviet Union and a perceived threat from China had acted as deterrents to such gestures from the Southeast Asian countries.
The Indian overtures and the ASEAN display of interest during Rao’s government were welcomed by these countries leading to a debate in Indian academia regarding the steps to be taken towards better cooperation. The Rao initiative had an immediate and successful fallout with India becoming a sectoral dialogue partner of ASEAN in January 1992 and a full dialogue partner in December 1995. In July 1996, India became a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). As a result, it interacts with ASEAN which now includes all ten countries of Southeast Asia in various bodies and meetings. According to an assessment, ASEAN hosts some 300 meetings a year.
After the exit of Rao, preoccupation with internal political uncertainty and militancy in Kashmir led to a hiatus, and a period of inactivity ensued. The question that arises is why it took so long for a country the size of India, which has historical, cultural, land and maritime borders with Southeast Asia, to arrive at its Look East policy? The answer can be found in Kripa Sridharan’s The ASEAN Region in India’s Foreign Policy, a well researched, detailed study that competently analyses India’s foreign policy towards ASEAN from 1967 to the early 1990s.
The author identifies four main factors in determining the ‘convergence and dissonance’ in India’s relationship with ASEAN. These are (i) maintenance of territorial integrity and sovereignty; (ii) relations with major powers, i.e. the US, the erstwhile USSR and China; (iii) close and warm relations with Vietnam; and (iv) post Cold War concerns to expand its economic relations with ASEAN. Sridharan explains the evolution and progress of India’s relations with the ASEAN states, and its blow hot, blow cold foreign policy, by characterizing the India-ASEAN linkage as a ‘derived relationship’. This relationship, according to Sridharan, is of secondary interest, as it is derived from India’s primary interests, and it is this trend of relationship that has dictated India’s interaction with the ASEAN, for ‘in a derived relationship actions often take the form of minor and sometimes clumsy readjustments.’
To China and Japan this region is of primary strategic concern and as significant today as it was in the past, while to India the sub-region has always been of secondary importance. India’s security perceptions chiefly include its immediate neighborhood and China. One agrees with Sridharan when she states that ‘it has been India’s prime concern to counter Chinese influence in the larger Southeast Asian region as in its own region.’ Whenever India felt China’s influence on the increase in Southeast Asia, an immediate mobilization towards this region took place. The recent flurry of activity like the state visits from Singapore, Indonesia and Cambodia in one go is perhaps related to China giving a benign look to its policy vis-a-vis the ASEAN countries, particularly in its attempts at solving border problems with the states of Indo-China which have been India’s traditional friends.
Sridharan’s book reflects the general tenor of Ghoshal’s edited India and Southeast Asia in stressing India’s neglect of its Southeast Asian neighbours and thereby missing an opportunity for forging a meaningful relationship inspite of being connected through land and maritime borders. Sridharan’s study, however, delves deeper into the evolution of India’s foreign policy. Her scholarly analysis answers some fundamental questions like: How does India view the current climate in the ASEAN sub-region? How does this differ from its past perceptions? What are the strategies it has adopted to further its interests? What are its principal goals? What is India’s perception of itself? Was its Look East policy credible enough to cope with the difficult 1990s and beyond? These questions are answered through an analysis of the objectives of India’s foreign policy.
During India’s decolonising period, Nehru took great interest in the Southeast Asian struggle for independence. Thus, in the 1940s and 1950s there was close rapport with the ASEAN states, while in the 1960s there was benign neglect. She has examined the creation of ASEAN in 1967 and India’s perception of cooperation through such regional organizations. A chapter is devoted to competing proposals for regional order in Southeast Asia between 1969-71. This was the period of proposed withdrawal of the U.S. and the British from Southeast Asia, the clash between China and the Soviet Union on the Ussuri River in March 1969, and Sino-American rapprochement.
Obviously the ASEAN states, along with India and the Soviet Union, were worried about the future Chinese course in the region. The suggestion by the Soviet Union for an Asian collective security system motivated India to come up with its own proposals, which incidentally coincided. This identity of interests led many to believe that India was trying to promote the Soviet’s cause in South and Southeast Asia, which went ill with the ASEAN perception of Soviet Russia. When it came to the ASEAN proposal for a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN) in 1971, India endorsed it.
The 1972-76 period is discussed in the context of the Bangladesh crisis, which nudged India into signing the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship and Cooperation of 1971. This sent confusing signals to the ASEAN countries, who perceived India’s views as ‘closer to that of Hanoi and Moscow’. It was during this period that India requested for the status of a formal dialogue partnership with ASEAN in 1976. With the change of government in 1977, Sridharan comments, the ASEAN countries hoped that India’s pro-Soviet stance under Indira Gandhi would end and that it could look towards ‘genuine non-alignment’.
However, under the Janata Party rule (1977-79), Indian foreign policy did not undergo dramatic changes vis-a-vis the Soviet Union, though efforts were made to mend relations with China and in 1976 ambassadors were exchanged after a gap of 15 years. But the Chinese armed attack on Vietnam on 16 February 1979 while Foreign Minister Vajpayee was in Beijing caused considerable embarrassment to the Indian government. It also showed that China had not given up its aggressive policy towards its neighbours. Here again perceptions differed. ASEAN saw China’s attack as a result of Vietnam’s invasion of Kampuchea, while India tried to equidistance itself from both. Sridharan writes, ‘India’s apparent tolerance of Vietnam’s action was interpreted by these states as arising out of India’s friendship with Moscow and hostility to China, leading them ultimately to put on hold India’s request for an institutional relationship with the Association.’
1980-84 saw the return of Indira Gandhi. The biggest mistake of her regime, according to Sridharan and others in the book edited by Ghoshal, was the Indian decision to recognize ‘the Hanoi installed Kampuchean regime in July 1980 which caused a misunderstanding between India and ASEAN states. The latter viewed Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and pro-Moscow Vietnam intervention in Kampuchea as a threat to the security of non-communist ASEAN states.’ On the other hand, India viewed these interventions as a consequence of the US and Chinese activities, seen as ‘far more destabilizing than the interventions by Vietnam or the Soviet Union.’ Moreover, India’s policy towards Southeast Asia was affected by its security perception in its own region where it viewed with alarm American ‘supply of arms to Pakistan and the militarisation of the Indian Ocean region.’
After Indira Gandhi’s assassination in October 1984, Rajiv Gandhi took over as prime minister and the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was inaugurated. The ASEAN states welcomed the formation of SAARC and hoped for co-operation with it. However, India’s efforts at resolving the Kampuchean issue once again brought to the fore the differences between the ASEAN states’ and India’s security perceptions. India’s continued closeness with Vietnam was not appreciated by them. Also, India’s sending of a Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka, its military action in Maldives, and the naval build up was viewed with concern by the ASEAN countries. However, when V.P. Singh took over in November 1989, Indian policy makers realized that an offer of joint naval exercises with the ASEAN states would allay their fears. The subsequent joint naval exercises with Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia were ‘damage control exercises’.
It was only in 1991, when the Rao government came to power, that the Indian economy was opened up. Since then, bilateral economic ties have improved due to India’s desire to be a part of the security and economic scenario unfolding in the Asia-Pacific region. ASEAN is a member of Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) and founder of ARF, and its influence is growing within these bodies. ‘Consequently there is a recognition that a closer understanding with ASEAN would make it possible for India to become an integral part of the dynamic Asia-Pacific region in the long run. Thus India’s policy towards ASEAN is motivated by this larger quest. As before, derived interests still guide this policy,’ concludes Sridharan.
Baladas Ghoshal’s edited India and Southeast Asia: Challenges and Opportunities is a collection of papers submitted at a seminar organized by the India International Centre in February 1994. This slim volume reflects the views of some of the leading experts on India’s policy towards Southeast Asia. All six papers lament missed opportunities in forging a close relationship with the Southeast Asian states during the Cold War period. They stress that regional economic cooperation is an important parameter of national security and assume a role based not on the often hollow rhetoric of politicians, but a real urgent need to unite in what is going to be an increasingly competitive world of economic blocs.
Karki Hussain’s paper on ‘China, India and Southeast Asia after the Cold War’ is interesting and thought provoking. India’s policy towards Southeast Asia is heavily influenced by the ‘China factor’ since China has emerged as an influential player by improving its relations with all the ASEAN countries. And though it might not be openly expressed, the ASEAN ten would perhaps like India to be a balancing factor to this Chinese influence. Charan Wadhwa examines the economic partnership between India and Southeast Asia. He too highlights the new opportunities that have emerged in the region which would be mutually beneficial.
What shape India’s economic partnership with ASEAN will take post the financial crisis in Southeast Asia is difficult to predict, as both strategic and political dimensions have changed. Since these papers were written in 1994, some of the analyses are outdated and repetitive. The constant factor has been economic relations at the bilateral level, which have not been easy to forge as India has to contend with other dialogue partners. The question is whether India will be able to prove its relevance to the Southeast Asian states if its policy makers follow Ghoshal’s prescription of ‘demonstrating its strength either in military or in economic terms. Till now India’s leverage in the region is extremely limited, since India is neither feared militarily nor respected for its economic achievement.’
Clearly, such hurriedly compiled books are no substitute for a seriously researched effort like that of Sridharan’s. Much has happened in Southeast Asia and India since Sridharan wrote her book in 1995. Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (CLM) and Vietnam have become ASEAN members, there was the East Asian crisis of 1997, East Timor broke away from Indonesia in late 1999 and democracy has been restored in Indonesia. The nuclear explosions by India and Pakistan too have changed the security scenario in the region.
The paucity of literature is perhaps due to what V. Suryanarayan points out in his contribution to the Ghoshal edition. He writes, ‘It is a sad commentary that even after 46 years of independence, we do not have a research institution comparable to the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, Cornell University in the United States and Monash University in Australia.’ In this context, one would like to mention a recent book, The Future of the ARF edited by Khoo How San. The book provides a platform for different points of view emanating from member countries other than ASEAN, and offers an evaluation of ARF and its future prospects. The ASEAN states have signalled the importance they give to India by accepting it as a member of the ARF. Kanti Bajpai’s paper gives the Indian perspective viewing ‘the ARF membership as an important part of its new diplomacy and particularly as a key component of its "Look East policy".’ If this book leads to a debate, it would have more than served its purpose.
Man Mohini Kaul