FIERCE ENIGMAS: A History of the United States in South Asiaby Srinath Raghavan. Basic Books, New York, 2018.
UNDER the Trump administration, South Asia has increasingly loomed large in US foreign policy. At a time when the US-China trade war has increased the importance of major South Asian allies to the US, there is a need to better appreciate the long history of US involvement in this region. In Fierce Enigmas: A History of the United States in South Asia, prize-winning historian Srinath Raghavan pens an account of the evolution of US-South Asia relations from the eighteenth century to the present era. He postulates that the interaction and transformation of power, ideology and culture have shaped the nature of US engagement with the region.
Raghavan’s book is a definitive history of the US in South Asia. It starts with the early encounters between the US and South Asia when US merchants and missionaries sailed into India in 1784 to foster trade, and promote Christianity and American socio-cultural values. As the global engagement of the US increased by the late 19th century, US ties with the Indian subcontinent also expanded. Throughout this engagement, supposed American religious and racial superiority, Raghavan alleges, have always structured the relationship with South Asia. Moreover, the US has explicitly been an ideological actor on the international stage and saw itself as an advocate of liberty for the rest of the world. Despite this, US-South Asia relations have not only been driven by cultural and ideological perceptions. America’s strategic relationship with South Asia has also been motivated by its pursuit of power through economic, political and military means.
The broader endeavour to uphold capitalism as a global system has been a significant element in US policy towards South Asia. Raghavan claims that the US sought opportunities to preserve its hegemony and integrate South Asia with the global economy by opening up its massive markets. Likewise, he acknowledges that the US has assisted countries in the region, especially India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, who have managed to extract aid and other favours from the US at different points of time. The emergence of radical political Islam in the 1970s, coupled with the acquirement of nuclear weapons in the region also set terms for a new aspect of US engagement, which continues until today.
Raghavan rightly points out that America’s short-sighted policies dealing with immediate challenges in the region have often exacerbated and sometimes created long-term problems. Nonetheless, he recognizes the challenges endemic to the region that US policymakers had to encounter, including conflicts stemming from identity issues, weak political institutions and the absence of any movement towards regional economic integration. The interplay of personalities and interests of the different administrations, both in the US and South Asian nations, also added another dimension to inter-state relations.
US policies toward South Asia have also not been consistent or linear. Indeed, they have alternated, for example, between leaning toward Pakistan at some times and India at others. For instance, the US preferred Pakistan during the Cold War and took a stern view of India’s non-alignment policy, regarding neutrality in the Cold War to be a profound moral and spiritual failing. Over the past few years it has moved closer to India, largely to balance rising China. Raghavan notes that this has been a recurring theme – American engagement is South Asia has largely been shaped by other great powers that loomed in Asia.
However, for readers interested in a better understanding of the drivers of international relations of South Asia and the US, Raghavan’s sweeping history of American engagement in South Asia will not provide the geopolitical context and the broader international relations affecting US-South Asia relations. For instance, he does not analyse how the US-China rivalry is increasingly shaping the rapidly changing environment in South Asia. Neither does he discuss how China’s Belt and Road (BRI) initiative underscores the growing Sino-Indian competition in the subcontinent and the Indian Ocean region, and factors into US-South Asia relations. China’s rise not only threatens US hegemony both regionally and globally, it also intimidates India’s security and influence in India’s near and extended neighbourhood.
On the other hand, Pakistan has moved closer to China due to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the flagship project of BRI. These undercurrents have caused Washington and New Delhi to view each other as partners that share common interests. In other words, China ascendancy as a global player and its increasing assertiveness in South Asia has made India ever more critical to the US due to India’s role as a counterbalancing power. Yet these issues are not dissected here.
Another shortcoming of the book is that the impact that America’s relations with one South Asian country has on its relations with another, receives little attention. For example, the US-Pakistan alliance is also strained because of Pakistan’s complicity with the Taliban. US policy towards the Taliban changed from one which supported the Taliban in Afghanistan during the 1970s through the mid-1990s and used them as a bulwark against communist advancements in the region, to one where the Taliban became a formidable adversary for the US in the post-Cold war era. Today, as an absolute victory against the Taliban is ruled out, the US is seeking a diplomatic resolution to expedite its exit from Afghanistan. Although a settlement is necessary, a hasty withdrawal will have grim consequences. While Raghavan mentions these points, he does not deal adequately with the intertwined role US-Pakistan relation plays in Afghanistan’s security and stability.
Nevertheless, as US engagement with South Asia continue to be influenced by the shifting contours of globalization, Raghavan’s ‘Fierce Enigmas’ reminds us that the past and the present are intertwined. To understand contemporary US relations with South Asia, we must study the manifold dimensions, trends and transformation this relationship has undergone over the years. As such, his book provides important lessons for contemporary American policymakers as they navigate through the various issues confronting South Asia.
Research Analyst, ISAS, National University of Singapore
OUR TIME HAS COME: How India is Making its Place in the World by Alyssa Ayres. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2018.
THE title of the book, Our Time Has Come, is a synthesis of quotes by two very different Indian prime ministers, Narendra Modi and Manmohan Singh who articulated their belief that India was poised to regain its place on the global stage. Ayers’ use of the quote as her title reflects her shared optimism of India’s future and captures a prevailing sense within India that the world is transitioning towards becoming a multipolar one, with India emerging as a global power.
Ayers’ explores the tension between India’s inward-looking history vis-à-vis its present attempts of integration into the global economy, through a neo-liberal lens. It also assesses the role that India could play as it gains global prominence, especially in terms of its economy and geopolitical power. Throughout the book, she aims at convincing American officials about India’s potential, suggesting that it is a good time to invest, collaborate, build and improve ties with India. Yet, this underlying aim to pitch India to America comes across as over-optimistic and underplays the internal issues that prevent India from growing at a faster pace.
Ayers has twenty-five years of experience analysing South Asian politics, including as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia during the Obama administration. This places her in a unique position of being able to fuse her knowledge and experience from both American and South Asian perspectives. Her experience on India is reflected in her division of the book into three main components: Indian foreign policy until the 1990s, the transition period over twenty years, and India’s present global ambitions.
The book is an excellent guide for those seeking to understand the complexities of contemporary Indian domestic and foreign policy. Ayres provides a summary of India’s domestic policy beginning from Nehru up until Modi. The ideas of self-reliance propounded by Nehru, juxtaposed with India’s international ambitions of being an economic power, set the stage for Ayres’s rationalization of India’s two-steps-forward, three-steps-back speed in the opening up of their markets. She also uses this narrative to be critical of Indian foreign policy while attempting to justify India’s seemingly fluctuating foreign policies vis-à-vis the United States where India remains weary but also keen on pursuing a good relationship with the US. Her analysis of India’s geo-strategic interests within the region using naval examples, and that of India’s foreign policy vis-à-vis its neighbours and China, serve as stand out features of the book.
Looking at the Indian economy through a neo-liberal lens, Ayres suggests that since the economic liberalization in the 1990s, India’s economy has grown significantly. She cites the example of India’s louder voice within the WTO and G20, the larger role of Indian business chambers in international channels, their ability to provide humanitarian assistance abroad and military modernization efforts, as examples of India’s economic growth. By extension, her suggested policies to bring India closer to the US, also stem from a neo-liberal stance. She questions India’s tentativeness on removing its protectionist policies and argues that it was ‘understandable as an anti-colonial strategy’ but unsuitable for today’s interconnected economy.
While she does bring up a range of major domestic problems such as unemployment or parliamentary gridlock in her book, these do not figure in her recommendations or in her overall thesis of over-optimism. In the book, Ayres identifies that unions and conservative rural voters have held back India’s progress by articulating their preference to remain a semi-isolationist economy due to their vulnerability to market fluctuations. She then proposes the removal of protectionist policies to speed up the growth of the Indian economy.
However, the recent spate of farmer protests and suicides in India serve as an example of why this recommendation would be contradictory to resolve domestic problems. The agricultural distress stems from a decline in state protection for farmers’ vulnerability to commodity markets. Since rural India holds 66 per cent of India’s population, with 43 per cent being employed in agriculture, and occupying 342 out of 543 electoral seats, the political clout of the rural vote is too large for the Indian government to simply implement open market policies which would affect the rural population significantly. The February 2019 announcement during the Indian interim budget of the PM Kisan scheme, which will provide farmers Rs 6,000 per year as income support, came three months before the start of the India’s April 2019 parliamentary elections. The perceived need to offer subsidies to rural voters reveals the inability of the Indian government to decrease such subsidies, let alone remove them. Ayres proposed recommendation of doing away with subsidies to rural voters appears context-removed and contradictory to actual solutions targeted at domestic issues.
One of the recurring themes in Ayres’ book is the insight she provides into Indian security and foreign policy formulation today based on the ancient Indian political treatise of Arthashastra by Chanakya. Ayres uses the political philosophies, such as the mandala theory, laid out in the Arthshastra to explain India’s difficult relationship with its neighbours. Using Arthashastra’s philosophy that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, Ayres argues that this explains India’s volatile relationship with its immediate neighbours Pakistan and China. Yet while this philosophy might explain India’s tumultuous relationship with its neighbours, the settling of the boundary dispute with Bangladesh under Modi and the recent soft power outreach to its regional neighbours Myanmar and Nepal by establishing a history based Buddhist connection with them, illustrates that difficult relationships with neighbours can be overcome through targeted policy outreach programmes by the Indian government.
Overall, Ayres brings her significant study and analysis of India to bear in ‘Our Time has Come’, arguing that India is heading for a bright future on the world stage citing examples of its economic, geo-strategic and diplomatic strength. While her neo-liberal and US-centric lens leads her to downplay the gravity, for example, of fractured Indian governance and leads her to be over-optimistic on the feasibility of instituting her recommended neo-liberal reforms, Ayres provides rich historical insights into India’s geo-strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific. These make the book well-worth reading.
Vani Swarupa Murali
Research Analyst, ISAS, National University of Singapore
OPEN EMBRACE: India-US Ties in the Age of Modi and Trump by Varghese K. George. Penguin India, Gurugram. 2018.
HOW similar are Modi and Trump, and their respective foreign policies? Convergences and contrasts between BJP-ruled India and ‘America First’-obsessed United States are the focus of Open Embrace: India-US Ties in the Age of Modi and Trump. Author Varghese K. George argues that ideological affinity makes the two leaders and their countries ‘natural allies’, yet unsettled questions – ranging from trade balance to US policy towards Pakistan – prevent their ‘embrace’ to come to a ‘close’ just yet.
On the one hand, there is Trump’s America, a ‘combination of neoconservatism and mercantilism’ (p.16), whose Manichean view of the world, according to George, is rooted in a deep identity crisis. On the other hand, Modi’s India: militaristic, assertive, Vishwa Guru (teacher of the world, global leader) and destined superpower; understanding China through the lenses of ultra-realism, and Pakistan and Kashmir through those of the ‘clash of civilization’.
There is no doubt about the fact that Hindutva – i.e. ‘political Hinduism’ – has framed the Modi government’s policies within India since the BJP’s 2014 electoral victory. George goes a step further, maintaining that far from being limited to the realm of Indian domestic politics, Hindutva’s shaping role encompasses India’s foreign policy as well, giving birth to what he dubs ‘the Hindutva Strategic Doctrine’.
The Hindutva Strategic Doctrine is a compelling and plausible thesis that George presents with plenty of details. However, his arguments are partly contradictory. If Hindutva is the basis of Modi’s approach to international affairs, the latter shall presumably result in a policy distinct from previous foreign policy directions. Nevertheless, George also argues that Modi – and Trump like him – is mainly continuing on the path established earlier, in spite of claims of a ‘new course’. Moreover, if the revanchist US and rising India are ‘natural allies’, it is not completely clear to what extent such a potential US-India alliance would be viable, if a gradual retreat of America is equally desired, as the author maintains, to provide necessary strategic space for New Delhi’s ascent.
Another compelling part of the book is the author’s take on the popularity of Modi among Indian-Americans. He suggests that caste plays a role in the diaspora’s support for Hindutva: Indian immigrants, predominantly upper caste, preserve a sense of disempowerment and are receptive to the BJP’s condemnation of appeasement politics implemented by former governments.
Georges also reviews India-US ties vis-à-vis the relations with most relevant actors, i.e. China and Pakistan. While doing so, however, he mainly focuses on the past rather than on current affairs and their possible development. On the issue of terror, he highlights that both Trump and Modi have a similar policy of applying force as the solution to Islamist terrorism. George places Pakistan’s policies at the centre of the destabilization affecting the region, including the prolonged Afghanistan conflict, the Kashmir conundrum and the spillover of Islamic terrorism into India, and suggests that Pakistani leaders have successfully fooled the Americans in the past. Americans too are presented as misguided and deceptive, with an overly simplistic conception of India as Hindu, and a limited understanding of Islam. The author argues that the US approach to the region has lacked a forward-looking vision and has often tried to use a country against the other, like in the case of China and India, based on the need of the hour. George highlights the old argument that theocratic Pakistan was preferred to democratic and secular India.
Overall, the book offers a comprehensive account of Indo-American relations and of the way Modi’s and Trump’s rise to power introduced changes. It argues that the two leaders’ visions of their respective countries and of their foreign policy show remarkable ideological similarities, and that these similarities influence their relations with each other and the rest of the world. George’s book suggests that since Hindutva shapes Modi’s domestic and international agenda, analysis of the two should not be separated. Its take on Modi’s foreign policy is also distinct from that of other analysts who claim that he has a pragmatic and non-ideological worldview. In fact, according to George, in Modi’s doctrine there is no contradiction between vikas (progress) and ideology, as his politics are development-oriented and Hindutva-grounded at the same time.
The main contribution of the book is the idea of a ‘Hindutva Strategic Doctrine’ sustaining Modi’s approach to international affairs, and its comparison with Trump’s agenda. The ideological underpinnings of Trump and his political behaviour are not new. White supremacy, misogyny, Islamophobia, revanchism, racism, and xenophobia – to name a few – have been widely identified as pillars of Trumpism and its policies – both domestic and international. The ideological foundations of the Bharatiya Janata Party are equally well known. What this book brings to the table is an explicit comparison of the two ideologies – Trumpism and Modi’s Hindutva – as well as a demonstration of how the latter structures India’s international performance.
The author, Associate Editor of The Hindu, brings his journalistic style into the prose of the book, which abounds of long quotes from political speeches, extracts from interviews and reports, and concessions to first-person narration. The book is less structured and theoretical, compared to traditional treaties by political scientists, strategists, or historians, but also an easier and lighter read.
Those looking for clear-cut conclusions on India-US ties will not fail to notice that the book ends with a short afterword and without a conclusive chapter. It is probably not supposed to have one, as the political phenomena and international relations considered are in a state of flux, preventing the delivery of any final verdict. Under Trump and Modi, the US and India have found new common ground in terms of political beliefs and goals. At the same time, various questions remain unsolved. These include bilateral issues like the trade surplus targeted by Trump, India’s own dislike for alliances and attachment to strategic autonomy, and both countries’ fluctuating relations with China and Pakistan. The title of the book, a phrase George borrowed from strategic expert Tanvi Madan (p.59) might justify the lack of conclusion: the unfolding US-India ‘embrace’ is still ‘open’.
Research Analyst, ISAS, National University of Singapore
POWER AND DIPLOMACY: India’s Foreign Policies During the Cold War by Zorawar Daulet Singh. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2019.
IN the July 2010 edition of Seminar, Kanti Bajpai reviewed War and Peace in Modern India: A Strategic History of the Nehru Years with a categorical assessment: the author, Srinath Raghavan, ‘has shown international relations scholars in India what can be done in terms of rigorous empirical and analytical writing… [and] set the standard for future work.’1
Zorawar Daulet Singh’s book shows us that Bajpai was absolutely right. Raghavan has since then written two more stellar books, but War and Peace is now a benchmark for a new generation of scholars and analysts of Indian foreign policy. Focused on the 1950s-70s, Power and Diplomacy reads as a rejoinder to Raghavan’s 2010 book, but it also departs in significant ways from it and thus makes a remarkable contribution to a critical debate about the past, present and future of India’s strategic posture.
The book’s argument on the early period of the Cold War is crystal clear: India’s foreign policy underwent a ‘dramatic shift’ between Jawaharlal Nehru as an idealist peacemaker and Indira Gandhi as a realist security seeker (p. 31). Based on distinct role conceptions, Daulet Singh posits that both leaders had clashing definitions of India’s desirable sphere of influence and modes of behaviour to pursue external interests: ‘Nehru’s statecraft, where accommodation and strategic restraint was at the core of his beliefs relating to force, was displaced by a competing approach [by Indira] where the idea of force had been shorn of much of its moral and ethical injunctions.’ (p. 221)
His findings are based on a detailed examination of India’s perceptions and responses to six crises, with three case studies under each prime minister: the East Bengal crisis (1950), the first Indochina crisis (1954), China’s Formosa crisis (1954-55), the Vietnam war (1965-66), the East Pakistan/Bangladesh war (1971) and the annexation of Sikkim (1970-75). His deep and methodical exploration of declassified documents includes the private papers of Nehru and of Indira’s closest advisors (P.N. Haksar, T.N. Kaul). Despite persistent limitations in terms of declassification and accessibility to official records, he rightly emphasizes that ‘there has never been a more conducive time to engage with India’s diplomatic and strategic history’ (p. 31). Three issues stand out in this book and will encourage more scholars to engage with its findings and arguments.
First, the relationship between values and interests, which Daulet Singh contrasts rather starkly between both leaders. He argues that Nehru’s idealism did not serve Indian interests and failed to respond to external imperatives: the ‘inefficacy of Nehru’s approach [was] laid bare by Indira Gandhi’s security seeking role, as she overcame ‘puritanical concerns for India’s reputation for equidistance.’ (p. 216, 218) In his view, India witnessed an ‘evolution of strategic thinking after Nehru’ (p. 206) to become more pragmatic and comfortable with military force and intelligence as instruments of statecraft. While Daulet Singh argues that India ‘crossed the Rubicon’ between idealism and realism in the 1960s, thirty years earlier than usually assumed, one is tempted to ask whether there ever was a Rubicon to be crossed.
This relates to the second contribution of the book, which focuses on leadership as a key causal variable: ‘India’s foreign policy has always been about choices rather than just structural necessity.’ (p. 354) The book is a delightful read because its case studies animate policy-making, infuse leaders with agency, and personalize the process as a ‘battle of ideas [which] brings to the surface the competing worldviews that animated deliberations during each crisis.’
Such pluralism, however, clashes with Daulet Singh’s thesis about a grand and clean break between two distinct role conceptions under Nehru and Indira. His rich case studies indicate a more nuanced analysis in which different role conceptions conflicted or coexisted. The book’s conclusion accordingly acknowledges that there was no ‘permanent shift’ and that Nehru’s role conception ‘remained part of the strategic culture.’ (p. 357) This beckons further synchronic research beyond leadership, on the internal policy conversations and currents: for example, how do competing role conceptions shape different organizational cultures, including within the diplomatic, military and intelligence establishments?
Finally, the book also makes a splendid contribution to contemporary debates about India’s strategic posture and realignment. The Cold War’s ‘extraordinary diversity in the role conceptions across the system among the middle powers’ (p. 19) holds important lessons for India to navigate today’s global order marked by renewed flux and uncertainty. Making the case for strategic autonomy through diversification, Daulet Singh reminds us that ‘within the rubric of non-alignment, India has, from the very outset, tilted towards different great powers’ and that Delhi should remember these ‘virtues of an independent and far-sighted regional vision.’ (pp. 359-360)
Power and Diplomacy is a piece of outstanding historical and evidence-based scholarship that makes a timely contribution to today’s policy debates on the direction and degree of India’s multiple alignments. In his 2010 review of Raghavan’s ‘War and Peace’ in these pages, Kanti Bajpai concluded that ‘a star has been born in the field of Indian contemporary history and international relations.’ Zorawar Daulet Singh’s book shows us that nine years later and with greater archival openness, there is now a constellation of new stars working to illuminate the forgotten and mythical past of India’s strategic practice.
Research Fellow, Brookings India, New Delhi
WAR OR PEACE: The Struggle for World Power by Deepak Lal. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2018.
Deepak Lal’s magisterial book was published late last year, a century after armistice was declared in the Great War of 1914-18. In the introduction he summarizes why he wrote the book. Four major powers (what he calls ‘imperial systems’) are engaged in a new Great Game for mastery over the Eurasian landmass: the United States (with its NATO allies); China; Russia; and, somewhat surprisingly, India. He observes, ‘these players’ strategic decisions will determine whether we will see a repeat of the past, with another completely unnecessary world war like the first, or if they will succeed in eschewing this atavism’. He is also clear where he stands: despite current challenges from authoritarian powers, notably China but also Russia, the United States still retains the capacity to defend the Liberal International Economic Order (LIEO). It is in the overwhelming interest of the world’s liberal powers, including India, to support it at this critical juncture.
In the explosion of commentary on the present geopolitical disorder, what is distinctive about this work is the thirty years of wide-ranging scholarship and reflection that it embodies, its controversial perspectives on global economics and security, and, as mentioned, its focus on India’s potential importance in the emerging order. Mr Lal and I have been co-authors and are personal friends. I am also a careful reader of his monthly columns in the Business Standard newspaper and have therefore been previously been exposed to many of his ideas but their integrated exposition in this work is invaluable
Building on his earlier work, Lal argues that over the long sweep of history, constituents of a stable global order have not been nation states, but empires. This remains the case today. Drawing on Thucydides he differentiates between a hegemon and an empire: a hegemon only wishes to control the foreign policy of its allies, while an empire wishes to control both domestic and foreign policy. Following Mackinder (among others) he notes that imperial systems in Eurasia display a continuity that originates in geography, both continental and maritime. For the last two centuries Russia has dominated the continental core, with the rim ordered by Roman Europe (later the Holy Roman Empire; what he sometimes calls the European peninsula of Eurasia), Persia, India and China. The last two are de facto empires given the diversity of populations over which they hold sway. Over the last century the defence of Roman Europe has been assumed by the US, while the post-Versailles settlement of the Ottoman Empire has led to chaos in the traditional Persian domain. This then leaves the four imperial systems mentioned earlier as the most likely shapers of Eurasia’s future.1
That future is in contention after six decades of a successful global American ‘pax’ (imperial peace) largely on account of failures of US policy, both economic and political. Mismanagement by the US of its domestic financial regulation in the Clinton-Rubin-Greenspan era undermined the sensible divide between risky investment banking and staid retail banking put in place by Roosevelt in response to the Wall Street crash of 1929. In time this led to the US-centred financial crisis of 2008. Even though the actions of the Fed have allowed the US economy to recover much of the lost economic ground, more than in Europe or Japan, there has been a heavy price paid in domestic politics and in global economic leadership.
On the security front ‘limp Obama’ (Lal’s phrase) showed little appetite for confronting Russian adventurism in Syria or Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. He was also too quick to withdraw from Iraq. This emboldened both the authoritarian powers to test American resolve. The albatross of the euro (again Lal) coupled with Germany’s post-war pacifism has hobbled any muscular European response, again further encouraging testing and probing in the Eurasian heartland by three rump imperial powers: Russia, Turkey and Iran/Persia.
Despite these costly lapses across twenty years and three US administrations (Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama) it is Lal’s firm belief that it is wrong to write off the Pax Americana. Given the longevity of earlier empires it is reasonable to believe that it is just hitting its stride. On most metrics (demographics, ingenuity and innovation, defence assets, defence expenditure) it remains as dominant as Rome was in its heyday. By contrast, its authoritarian challengers suffer from deep structural limitations, economic and political. Of the two, China today appears the more serious adversary and therefore gets considerable attention in the book.
Space does not permit a detailed recounting here of Lal’s assessment of China’s frailties and its current bellicosity. It is a country he has visited frequently since the mid-1980s, through the Tian-an-men catastrophe of 1989 and the preparation for WTO accession under Zhu Rong-ji and Jiang Ze-min, to the present assertiveness of President Xi Jinping. While the record of Chinese growth over these three decades is certainly impressive, Lal cites work (by analysts at the Conference Board) which adjusts the official data to show a much sharper slowing of the Chinese economy after the financial crisis despite monumental investment levels. Capital misallocation is rife in China, and, as was the case in Japan, it is the country’s households who will ultimately bear the burden. Demographic factors are also adverse, both related to China’s one-child policy (and male preference). Rapid aging will affect the dependency ratio, but a more present risk highlighted by Lal is that presented by the so-called ‘bare branches’: male youth deprived of female companionship who are a potent source of aggression and disorder which needs to be channelled by the regime.
If China’s rise is neither as exceptional, nor as inevitable as the Chinese would wish the world to believe, then in what way do they represent a primordial security challenge for control of Eurasia? And what is the endgame their adversaries should play for? The global financial crisis and the passivity of the Obama administration misled the Chinese into thinking the time was right to challenge the US in the Indo-Pacific, a maritime zone that is crucial for their economic well-being but where American naval power has held sway. At the same time the alienation of Russia from the West following the annexation of Crimea has deepened Sino-Russian cooperation despite the risks to Russia in its thinly-populated far east. A slowing economy, divisions in the Chinese Communist Party and unrest in the non-Han periphery of China have all played their role. While Lal shows no love for the regime in power in China, he would be content if China were to return to its earlier role of being a successful trading power, with imperial ambitions limited to its own territory and neighbouring buffer states. He rejects any possibility of a ‘G-2’ condominium between the United States and China, because of the fundamental incompatibility between their political systems.
Turning finally to India, for all our frailties and imperfections, Lal believes that our commitment to ‘Western’ values of open debate and judicial impartiality are now hard-baked into our polity, and that there is enough bipartisan consensus on the direction of economic policy that our underlying strengths (particularly demographic) will allow us to follow Japan, South Korea and China to become Asia’s fourth miracle economy. (Since Lal does not believe in human-induced global warming, he does not see this as a potential brake on Indian growth.) This then places India as a natural partner with the US (and Japan) as a foil for China’s territorial ambitions in the near term. More boldly, Lal predicts that India could be the standard-bearer for Anglo-Saxon liberalism should the US tire of carrying the burden, and a Britain outside the EU (he is a committed Leaver) succeed in reviving the Commonwealth as a economic and political grouping sharing a common language, legal tradition and civic values.
This then is a big book with a clear point of view and well worth a read. Given its range and its massive bibliography, it should serve as a model text in the undergraduate school of philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) at the University of Oxford cited by Deepak from time to time in the book. Its major drawback, surprising for a publication from the Oxford University Press, is the poor quality of production, with misprints and inconsistencies throughout, and graphics of a quality that no self-respecting undergraduate would include in a term paper. It is possible that I received a pre-publication reviewer’s copy. If not, I do hope the publishers will go through the book once again before its next printing.
Non-resident Fellow, Bruegel, Brussels
1. With the rise of US shale oil, the strategic importance of the Middle East has dwindled, and Lal suggests that it be left to sort out its own fate.