Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Mini-Summit in New Delhi: India, Russia, and China Explore a Continental Alliance

America’s campaign against Iran may result in an undesirable by-product: a regional alliance of Russia, China, and India.

Foreign ministers of these three countries met in New Delhi for a mini-summit and issued a Joint Communique concerning their shared desire to work together on energy, terror, security, and trade.

Although carefully stating that their cooperation is not aimed at any one country (read “You-Ess-Aye”), there are clear implications for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

As the Communique stated:

They reaffirmed that trilateral cooperation was not directed against the interests of any other country and was, on the contrary, intended to promote international harmony and understanding and find common ground amidst divergent interests. They also emphasized the strong commitment of India, Russia and China to multilateral diplomacy.

The Reuters report connected the dots between Putin’s speech at the Munich Security Conference—which deflected a planned beat-on-Iran session with a fire-eating attack on destabilizing U.S. foreign policy—and the New Delhi meeting:

Putin recently made headlines by accusing the United States of fuelling a new arms race. He says U.S. domination in the post-Cold War world order needs to take account of new centres of powers like China, India and Russia.

"The whole world recognises that problems and conflicts must be solved by common efforts," Lavrov said, adding that the three foreign ministers discussed the Iran nuclear standoff, Iraq and West Asia. (Alistair Scrutton, India, China, Russia call for fairer world order, Reuters, Feb. 15, 2007)

According to a think piece by RIA Novosti’s political commentator Dmitry Kosryev, the three-way meetings were the brainchild of Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov.

Kosryev describes the biggest success of the group as follows:

In 2006, the three countries successfully dealt with the situation created by the U.S.-Indian "nuclear transaction." Many people in Moscow and Beijing were ready to believe private Washington experts who said the ultimate goal of the U.S. was not to get a foothold on the Indian market of nuclear energy in order to save the dying American sector, but to use India as a bulwark against the rapidly growing influence of China and Russia.

In other words, the world's only superpower, which was losing its grip on things, allegedly intended to form a strategic alliance with a rising power of tomorrow spearheaded against other future powers.

The three countries used their meetings, including the G8 summit last summer, to get a handle on the situation. They eventually agreed that India had not lost its much touted wisdom and was unlikely to surrender its independence in a race for questionable benefits. This was their main achievement. (Dmitry Kosryev, Russia-China-India: diplomats' ties should encourage business, RIA Novosti, 2/14/07)

Discounting for Slavic delusions of grandeur, I would take that as confirmation that the Bush administration’s first nuclear giveaway—I guess you could call it the “non-proliferation semi-optout”—has not produced a particularly faithful or responsive U.S. client in New Delhi. Not a good omen for the North Korea deal.

If Putin can meld Russia, India, and China into an Asian bloc—something that has been traditionally regarded as impossible, given the deep and rather recent antagonisms between the three countries—it will be a strategic realignment that will dwarf anything that President Bush can accomplish on the continent.

Given the high profile that North Korea has occupied in the Bush foreign policy universe, it is easy to draw the erroneous conclusion that we have a coherent policy for Asia.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, in the absence of clear successes for Bush’s policy of transformation through confrontation either in Iraq or in North Korea, “obstinacy has morphed into obtuseness” and the United States spends a lot of time spinning its wheels in pursuit of unrealistic or impossible goals, while ignoring a growing global consensus concerning what the region really wants and needs.

America’s all-or-nothing hysteria concerning the supposedly existential Iran threat has already alienated Russia and China and is making their work in South Asia easier.

India does not view Iran as a threat, and, in fact, coordinates with Iran on key issues, such as preventing the resurgence of an anti-Shi’ite (and pro-Pakistan) Taliban in Afghanistan.

Mindful of its own less-than-transparent history as operator of a destabilizing, covert nuclear weapons program, India would be happy to cut Iran some slack on its nuclear ambitions—if the U.S. wasn’t breathing down its neck.

Continual U.S. pressure meant to drive a wedge between Iran and India over the nuclear issue, and to sabotage a historic and economically significant pipeline linking Iran, Pakistan, and India have also evoked a weary feeling of resentment in India.

U.S. actions tend to reinforce the perception that a regime-changed Iran that will be economically and strategically integrated into the U.S. security structure in the Middle East offers very little to India.

Russia and China are cleverly exploiting dissatisfaction with the U.S. demand that Asian countries forego their own energy security in order to help Washington pressure Tehran over its nuclear program.

Through a combination of pipelines and politics, Moscow and Beijing are proposing to midwife a shift in Eurasia’s economic center of gravity away from Europe and the Middle East, and integrate China, Central Asia, and South Asia—potentially including Iran--in a new, interesting, and powerful way.

It’s an attractive vision for countries that normally see their global aspirations take second place to the needs of the Western democracies and Japan. And it remains only a vision—one that could disappear in the face of energetic American opposition, a collapse in oil prices, political unrest, or another catastrophic war in the region, or all of the above.

One can anticipate that behind the scenes there was general agreement among the three nations that muddling through the Iran situation peacefully would be infinitely preferable to another polarizing and destabilizing war on the continent under U.S. leadership.

But the unrealized potential of a North-to-South Russia-China-India axis is countered by the reality of America’s insistence on imposing its will on the region through diplomatic, economic, and military measures.

Pressures on China, Russia, and India to disregard their own energy and strategic interests and toe the U.S. line on Iran are intense.

Russia and China are almost certain to resist, and will encourage India to say No to the United States at the critical moment.

In the end, New Delhi will probably exercise its well-known non-aligned caution and take an equivocal stance that will please no one and change nothing.

Nevertheless, the American insistence on armtwisting Asia to do something it is extremely unwilling to do—sanction Iran—betrays a certain amount of self-defeating blindness on our part.
Looking at the lack of enthusiasm for confronting Iran and the expanding cooperation of the three of the largest nations of the world to the exclusion of the United States, it might be time for somebody in Washington to question if confronting Iran is worth the cost—or even if the Middle East is really where the key strategic game of the 21st century is going to be played out.

The text of the Communique is available in English at India’s Ministry of External Affairs website.

Some of the key points were:

Multilateralism good.

The UN gets a big plug as an equitable dispute resolution mechanism (as a rebuke to the U.S.-led “coalition of the willing” model):

They expressed their conviction that democratization of international relations is the key to building an increasingly multi-polar world order that would be based on principles of equality of nations - big or small, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of countries, international law and mutual respect. The Ministers acknowledged that the UN is an appropriate instrument for promoting and attaining such a world order.

India’s aspirations to a permanent Security Council seat are discretely boosted, but not in a way that Japan and the other members of the G-4 can come along for the ride:

[T]he Foreign Ministers of Russia and China reiterated that their countries attach great importance to the status of India in international affairs, and understand and support India’s aspirations to play a greater role in the United Nations.

Terrorism bad.

The “war against terror” is welcomed by the multi-ethnic empires of Russia, China, and India as a highly useful formula for regional security and national stability in the face of ethnic unrest and separatist movements.

Russians can continue to beat up on the Chechens, India on the Kashmiri separatists, and China on the Tibetans and the Uighurs. No double standards means as long as the United States is conducting a bloody anti-insurgency campaign in Iraq and using extra-legal measures to pursue terrorists around the world, we’ve moved into the big glass house and can’t throw any stones.

They agreed that there can be no justification for any act of terrorism, irrespective of motivations, wherever and by whosoever committed. They stressed that selective approaches in counter-terrorism cannot yield sustainable results and it should be combated in a consistent, sustained and comprehensive manner without any double standards.

India underlines its non-aligned status by considering an observer seat (but not membership) in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

While welcoming India’s joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as an observer country, the Foreign Ministers of Russia and China stated that they would actively facilitate early realization of mutually beneficial contribution of India to the SCO.

Making money is good.

The Ministers paid specific attention to the high potential of trilateral cooperation and synergy in the economic field.

This was fun. We’ll do it again next year.

The Ministers expressed satisfaction at the results of the trilateral meeting in New Delhi and agreed to hold their next meeting in China.

I apologize for the absence of links. I found Blogger extremely balky today.


nanheyangrouchuan said...

If being anti-US is their only or primary goal, this alliance will be short lived. All three have their own aspirations towards the ME and central Asia and both Russia and India have long standing territorial disputes with China

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