Madhuri Santanam Sondhi & M.L. Sondhi

Indian Council of World Affairs

PART  I:         The Changing Context of International Organization Beyond ‘Western’ Concepts   

Distribution of resources between North and South

It is important to stress that peace, like the curate’s egg, cannot be good in parts, but must entail global peace.  The question of hunger is not intrinsically specific to any particular culture or society, though there are of course, some specificities, but is related to the state of peace in the world altogether.  By now the delicate inter-relatedness of the world’s economies has been well studied and documented: a crisis in a European country may trigger off effects in remote parts of the globe, and with electronic communications, social and political ideas also spread and infect others with increasing rapidity.  International terrorism has the whole world in which to operate.

The ‘North’ is a euphemism for the industrially advanced countries which by and large, but not solely, lie in the temperate zone of the northern hemisphere; the South embraces those at the lowest scale of development. The ‘East’ was used during the Cold War to refer to the countries within the Soviet camp, which were partially industrialized or industrializing (primarily in military hardware and heavy industry), but in the post-Cold War era the word has been discreetly dropped, and their categorization Rome drew attention a couple of decades ago to the fact that about 30% the world’s population (in the North) lives off 70% of the earth’s resources.  The proportions could only have marginally changed since then.  Although the bulk of these resources are found in the countries of the South, they lack the capital and skills to utilize them to their own advantage, and are reduced to selling them in return for finished machine goods, skills and technology.  These resources comprise not only minerals and metals but also food products, or commercial crops which have displaced locally consumable agricultural items, adding to the degraded quality of life of the poor.  Except amongst the dragon states of the Far East, the gap between the rich and the poor in the South has steadily increased since the Second World War, and the latter appear to be in a ‘no-win- situation.  The two major Asian giants – China and India – have been liberalizing their economies in recent decades (in the case of India, less than half a decade), and much is made of the emergence of an expanding middle class in both the countries, but there is as yet no significant trickle down effect to the really poor and immiserated.  The islands of prosperity are indeed growing, but they float in a sea of poverty to which they are for the present, symbiotically related.  No confident prediction can be made of when this situation may be significantly transformed.

Given such a scenario, it becomes important to clearly state the goal for which the world community, through its representative institutions in the United Nations and its constitutive agencies, is striving to attain.  Is the aim to make the whole world like the western world in terms of its standards of living and consumption, its social and political processes, as Fukuyama and several world system theorists maintain is inevitable?  Is such a state of affairs practicable or desirable or avoidable?  If unattainable, and with the continuance of current trends towards gross inequalities between and within nation-states, will we have to drop justice from the peace agendas, and be prepared to live with regional inequalities, relying on the policing capacities of the bigger powers to keep order when conflicts arise, as they inevitably must?  The chaos that has emerged after the Cold War does not hold out much hope in this regard.  Yugoslavia, Chechenya and Somalia, to mention just three instances, have shown that the concept of hegemon has considerably reduced in terms of ambition, capability and nerve to maintain the peace, and there is much more drift and tolerance of disorder in the world system.

The next question one may ask is whether the western way of life is desirable, and if not, whether it is avoidable.  There is an ongoing critique of the western model of development and modernization emanating from the intellectual elites of both North and South, but there does not appear to be a clearly articulated alternative or choice.  Can a handful of countries pursue an alternative and simpler style of living and production while sharing the global space with industrial capitalism?  Mahatma Gandhi for one, felt that the west must change its socio-political-value system for its own good, but apart from some fringe dissenters, capitalism appears to be a behemoth which gulps all into its maw.  Without the countervailing presence of socialist rhetoric, all problems are sought to be analyzed and solved within the liberal economic paradigm, as though these two models between them constitute the only possible routes to human satisfaction. It is important therefore, to examine whether there may not be another framework for understanding and thinking about the economy and our increasingly interconnected globe.

Before coming to this central issue, we may briefly review some of the measures already envisaged and formulated under the auspices of the United Nations.

The Brandt and Brundtland Commissions tried to address themselves to the problems of resource sharing, and came up with proposals for modification of unrestrained market capitalism and free trade to stem the further impoverishment of the poor, and suggested instead the concept of ‘sustainable development’.  The Palme Commission added the factor of common security for controlling the escalation of the Cold War and the arms race, and although the former with its proxy wars has ended, new conflicts continue to erupt in different parts of the globe.  The Inga Thorsson Committee spent several years working on the peace dividend, the re-routing of expenditure saved from armaments into development, which was expected to take place in the aftermath of the Cold War, then considered the major obstacle to world peace.  Instead, despite the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the dissolution of the Soviet empire, arms manufactures and sales have maintained a continuing buoyancy.  With the disillusionment that has arisen from the failure of such blueprints to bring about a more just and equitable world, there appears to be, in the immediate present, a jettisoning of all thoughts of a managed or directed global society, and a surrender to the concept of a thoroughgoing free market and free competition, with an unexpressed belief that somehow an invisible hand will one day sort out the differences – or may be not.

Neither in the post-world war period, when the UN and its agencies were being set up, nor in the post-Cold War period, when the UN is being used if at all, for policing the world through its influential members, have truly radical questions been asked about the quality of the future that is to be pursued.  Apart from the difficulties created by narrow national interests in the implementation of the goals the United Nations had set itself, there were several hidden assumptions behind the idea of ‘common future’ for humankind.  We know that the thrust of the modern age, rooted as it is in post-Enlightenment European humanism, is towards uniformity, especially since its most powerful weapons, since, technology and industry, act as levellers of other cultures, ironing out human and cultural varieties and reducing them to ethnic or folksy interest.  Varieties have been dangerously reduced even in agriculture, so that vulnerability to disease can assume calamitous proportions.  Stable peace can be built on a harmony of differences, not uniformity: indeed the basis of both harmony and creativity is plurality and diversity.  Hence one may view the crisis between North and South as not merely one of inequitable distribution of material and technical resources, but one of universalisation versus cultural pluralism. 

There can hardly be any doubt in the minds of thoughtful persons that several countries in the North are not only industrially developed, but over-developed, with economies based on planned obsolescence and waste.  Thus development often coexists with hunger and poverty at home, and with malnutrition and semi-starvation in other societies.  Indeed, a certain ratio between unemployment and efficiency is accepted as inevitable, even though the preference for probability violates one of the basic principles of modern politics, equality.  At both ends of the economic scale, therefore, the citizens of such capitalist/consumerist societies get trapped either in market-manipulated self-indulgence or in demoralizing insecurity, both of which produce fear-ridden and dependent individuals, contradicting the ideals of the anthropocentric enterprise developed by the European Enlightenment, and massively asserted by the American and French Revolutions.

The armaments industry today is an added factor of irrational rationality.  The impetus for production of armaments comes from perceived national insecurities, from ideological and system-conflicts: in course of time they develop a life of their own, with an internal logic and dynamism, becoming integrally related to a nation’s economy.  Once such a system has matured beyond a certain point, reversing the process becomes almost impossible; rather it generates further insecurities.  Several national economies have become dependent enough on armaments production to be liable to severe damage were their sales to precipitately drop.  The threat of closure of the arms factories in Slovakia played an important part in the division of erstwhile Czechoslovakia.  Such arms-based economies are bound to develop a vested interest in maintaining a certain level of disorder in the world.

Behind such phenomena lie certain assumptions about the nature of the world, about its irreversible division into a plurality of self-interested sovereign nation-states, with the logic of the power games they play amongst themselves.  These also assume the incompatibility of religious, ideological or civilizational differences, of competing political and social systems.  Clashes of interest are viewed as more vital and interesting than common interest: a fragmented world is a more realistic proposition than a united or mutually dependent one.

In a gradual process since the Second World War, the newly liberated countries have been drawn into the trap of armaments purchases, especially where impelled by the social, political and ethnic distortions inherited and/or exaggerated by the manner of their release from imperial rule, as for example, Pakistan and India.  During the Cold War several countries of the world were used for surrogate conflicts between the rival great powers; others found status through acquiring sophisticated arms along with an international airline. More recent trends in newly industrializing countries also show the manufacture of armaments for purposes of export, in an attempt to achieve quick and guaranteed economic results, and also acquire an international ‘macho’ image where the need for poverty alleviation programmes appears to be greatest.  We thus find a higher priority being assigned to militarization.  Apart from the complex cultural and identity problems faced by the new countries, this also indicates the symbiotic connections between the economies and politics of the North and South.  There are multiple reasons for what is happening in the newly independent states – from skewed colonial legacies, a cultural defensiveness and bewilderment, a blind instinct for imitation and westernisation reinforced by western to the cultural strategies of dominance, the political problems of adjusting to the Eurocentric idea of the nation-state, to the demands of modern republican politics, or of recovering suppressed or forgotten socio-cultural concepts in a meaningful way.

It is ironical that nuclear-weapons states should enjoy the status of highest responsibility in the international arena.  Moreover, the recent deliberations over the future of the Non-proliferation
Treaty were an exercise in sheer cynicism, resulting in the already nuclear powers being given a timeless blank cheque to continue to hold and increase their stocks of weapons.  This has been followed by the open flaunting of rules regarding the testing of nuclear weapons by both France and China, in total disregard of international public opinion.  There is also behind this inertia surrender to a kind of nuclear fatalism, that nuclearisation is irreversible, and can only be contained or limited to a self-styled responsible few.  The non-nuclear states are thus perceived as a constant threat to the nuclear-weapons possessors, rather as the hungry in bygone societies used to be a threat to the well-stocked granaries of the rich.  But just as it is possible today to visualize an alleviation of the problem of hunger, given certain realizable conditions, there is no reason why the search for an ending to the nuclear era, which entails a more co-operative international society, should not be undertaken.

There is thus an urgent need for clarification and analysis of current trends, with a view to finding a path to upgrading national and international behaviour.

To reiterate, the first task is one of redefining international reality.  It is no longer possible to think of the world as composed of separate, sovereign, individual states moving about the political space like so many balls on a billiard table.  With increasing trans-national industrial and commercial processes, trans-national political co-operation, regional or through the UN, there is a de facto if not de jure dimming of absolute national sovereignty and the beginnings of a more interconnected and interdependent network of states. The political and philosophical definitions which we continue to utilize were forged in times very different from the present, and require modification if not change.  One also has to anticipate that the coming era is likely to be significantly one of interrelatedness of persons and not merely of governments or business enterprises. 

An economically connected world is a fact, whether in regions of trade, industry, commerce or communications.  Although the connections are often exploitative, both between and within nations, the technologies are also capable of more transparency and democratization.  The task is to strengthen the latter trends.  Exploitation is much more than the manipulation of the labour and resources of the weak by the strong: an integral feature of exploitation is that of depriving the weak of their own way of life of pushing them into imitation of alien cultures and values.  To deal with such problems requires framing an alternative within the most stringent definition of equality

All people and all forms of life have an equal right to survive.  Survival has two aspects – the negative aspect of removing wars, aggression and conflicts, through procedures like disarmament and negotiations, and the positive aspect of ensuring food and dignity for all.  It entails ensuring light for everybody at the same time.  If this sounds too idealistic, and there is no historical past to which it can be related, then we can only remind ourselves that we live in unprecedented times where we can only survive together.  It is not possible to sit back and let the Serbs and Bosnians fight it out, for example, for the rest of the world is involved, in one way or another.  It is involved in Chechyna too, though it may appear distant and tiny enough to be safely passed over.  Survival begs peace, and peace begs mutual respect and human dignity.  As Immanuel Kant perspicaciously observed long ago, the inhabitants of the world will be driven by their very unsociability to a sociable common peace, as it is now being driven to cooperation to save a common environment.

The most difficult problem arises after the decision to route resources into the needy parts of the world has been taken.  The catchword is development – development how development for whom and development by which criteria?  It is sometimes said that there is enough food grown in the world to feed its entire population, yet millions starve and children die by the minute because of the uneven distribution of food resources coupled with the inability of the poor to buy their daily bread.  It becomes pertinent to enquire therefore, as to who are the real beneficiaries of the Green Revolution, and what is the political and economic structure, the cultural context, in which such initiatives have been introduced.  This would doubtless entail a revision of the facile assumption that there is a value-vacuum – the so-called ‘objective’ sphere of thought and action, in which technology-transfer can take place shorn of the cultural matrix in which it has evolved.  Indeed, a fair amount of research is now directed at the disruptive and negative effects of straight technology transfer to non-industrial societies, particularly where there is a high level of symbiosis between men and their environment, as occurs for example, in several African countries.  Famines in Africa are a recent post-decolonisation phenomenon, often in the wake of modernization programmes which have been indiscriminately adopted.

 The concept of equality

There is a more widespread conviction today, two hundred and twenty years after the American, two hundred and seven years after the French, and seventy-eight year after the October Revolution, that equality as a social, political or economic ideal is again and again challenged and thwarted by unequal human endowments – of aptitude, values, opportunities, natural endowments and socio-political-economic structures.  Paradoxically, theories of social Darwinism, which are primarily anti-egalitarian, were partially adopted into creeds like Marxism-Leninism to justify rule by the proletariat – those most fitted to rule.  Equality is normatively essential, even when not fully attainable, to the humanist outlook, and is widely prevalent as a goal if not actuality in most Northern countries, but it has not successfully entered the societies of the South which have more often than not preferred ideals of harmony or stability.  The thrust of political modernization is towards ingestion of the so-called ideals of the French Revolution, liberty, equality and fraternity, but experiments in the Southern states have had a chequered career, meeting often with only partial success, particularly where political modernization has been experienced as a process of levelling down engineered from the top, and not a felt people’s movement.

An integral aspect of the colonial movements for freedom had been the belief that imperialism created and maintained poverty and hunger in their subject colonies.  The early decades of independence were marked by enthusiastic efforts to tackle the problem of poverty and famine, often on the basis on governmental dirigisme.  However, the processes of industrialization and militarization have almost uniformly led to the creation of consumer elites, usually middle class, which have in effect, captured the lion’s share of their country’s and foreign-aid resources, and become ‘comprador’ or ‘crony’ capitalists, local exploiters of the country’s wealth.  In a poignant article an acute observer of the Indian scene during the initial developmental decades, wrote the following:

“I shall make bold to claim that the major donor countries and institutions have, over the past four decades, contributed significantly to the present institutionalization of, and special relationship among the political leaders: the elitists who control most of the production resources, and the millions who remain locked in poverty.

It must also be said that the world’s leading arms merchants have contributed to the developing countries’ shift of priorities and allocation of resources, away from developing crucial programmes for the improvement of people, towards supporting military build-ups and standing armies.”1

It does not require much imagination to add to the above agenda the growing compulsions amongst the rich states for particular cash crops, minerals, manufactures and markets to understand the skewed economies of the poorer nations.  The economic and political pressures exerted on the South from the North have been well documented by concerned scholars, which have included support of militaristic regimes, both for their assured market for weapons and for their perception as modernizing elites, sympathetic to foreign imports.  In more recent times a reversal has taken place, with the advantages of liberal economies within democratic regimes offering better markets and grater consumer interest to the foreign investor. Hence the pressures for economic liberalism, democratic rule, and human rights.

 Internationalization, World Government and the World Community

The demise of the Cold War saw a proliferation of articles and books as to what constitutes the ‘new world order’.  On the whole, some half a decade later, it would appear that no new order has emerged: rather we are confronted with growing entropy in the world system.  At the same time, communication technologies continue to proliferate, the world becomes increasingly interdependent economically, politically, ecologically, and industrially.  Whatever its obvious limitations and drawbacks, one cannot imagine a world without the United Nations: without such a world body there would either be the unrestrained law of the jungle, or a movement towards a world government, the former denoting chaos, and the latter, the institutionalization of fear and un-freedom through a global police system.  Thus the role of the UN bears examination and assessment for possible modification and improvement, as a forum for world interchange and equitable management.

One may list its inherent difficulties at first, before coming to the question of its possible contribution in the coming era.

Conceptually, the organisation of the United Nations and the processes of internationalization are intimately interlinked.  We speak of ‘internationalizing the Kashmir issue’, since an India-Pakistan conflict gets enlarged by taking it to the UN world body for discussion, and results in commitments to respect the UN-declared and supervised cease-fire line.  ‘Internationalizing the ‘Iraq-Kuwait’ conflict, in the wake of an appeal for justice by Kuwait, resulted in the formation of a UN military force to defend her rights against Iraq.  This concept of internationalization, or the manner of its interpretation, is not always and readily subscribed to by all member states of the UN, and a brief review of its historical background would be in order.

The concept of internationalization is associated with the growth of European imperialism in the nineteenth century, and one of its most outstanding and earliest usages commenced with the phenomenon of ‘internationalizing the Congo”, which meant amicably dividing up the Congo amongst concerned European powers.  In those days, the only recognised nations were the European which were beginning to evolve a theory of inter-national relations to regulate the conflicts amongst themselves, both in the European theatre and in the rest of the world, which they regarded as their legitimate booty.  Again later in the nineteenth century, their conflicts with the Ottoman Empire resulted in the international Treaty of Paris by which Turkey agreed to participate in the ‘advantages of European public law and harmony’, but which in fact, led to its increasing indebtedness as the ‘sick man of Europe’,  and ultimately to its division amongst Britain, France and Russia.

The League of Nations was set up in the wake of the Great War which has demonstrated so forcefully the fragility of the European system bedevilled by its internal conflicts and fratricidal wars.  The spread of imperialism had brought Europe in contact with several nations across the globe, and drawn many of them into the War.  There was an overriding felt need for peace in Europe, which by imperialist extension would include many far-flung regions of the globe, and the purpose of the League was to draw up the ground rules for such world management.  As B.K. Mallik wrote, “The League, by its constitution, was not merely a European League even as the peace and order that it stood for was not merely European, but worldwide in its scope. It included naturally nations outside Europe; yet at the same time it held that world opportunities for peace were possible only on the basis of the European view”.  And again, “As the facts would have it, the League of Nations was Janus-faced; it has one face for the Europeans whose culture and civilization it was its main object to protect, and another for the non-Europeans who were expected by it to be thankful for what had generously been done for them”2

At the time most of Africa and Asia lay under the yoke of imperialism: Japan and Persia were amongst the few non-European countries which had membership of this august body.  As Sri Aurobindo has pointed out, “The position taken by England, France and Italy, the Western European section of the allies, contemplated a political rearrangement of the world, but not any radical change of its existing order.”  “The allied Powers in Europe were themselves national with an imperial past and an imperial future; they could not, even if they wished, get away by the force of a mere idea from that past and that future.  Their first interest, and therefore, the first duty of their statesmen, (had to) be to preserve each its own empire, and even, where it (could) in their view be legitimately be done, to increase it”.  It followed that the principal of “free nationality” which had emerged such force from the Great War, ‘Could only be applied by the Allied Powers where their own imperial interests were not affected’.3  There was no confusion in the public mind that the League existed to legitimate and manage the interest of the European powers amongst themselves, and the term “internationalize” still carried its 19th century meaning of sharing out the world amongst the Europeans or with their Atlantic cousins, who were also beginning to emerge as an important power.  The Americans had entered the War on the understanding that it’s successful conclusion would be followed by a convenant of a League of Nations.  So it came about that the twentieth century saw the addition of the ideals and terminology of the American constitution interpolated within emerging international forums, for they heavily influenced both the League and UN.  Although the US constitution is sufficiently universal in its aspirations, it is important to remember that its clauses of freedom and justice excluded Amerindians and blacks, and these biases would also have continued into their vision of the world.

Not surprisingly therefore, though British India was also represented at the League by Indian delegates like Srinivas Sastri, they were inevitably crippled in their functioning by India’s colonial status.  However, they were able to raise some issues on certain aspects of colonialism which the western international community could now tolerate.  For example, we find Sastri raising the issue of “C” Mandates, which obliged the Mandatory Powers to administer mandated territories as “integral [portions of their own territories, under their own laws’.  However, as Sastri pointed out, this could be a recipe for injustice since some of these Mandatory Powers have “habits of administration derived from (their) laws and regulations, which, in effect, introduce a colour bar, make invidious distinctions between white and coloured races, and, in general, do not hesitate to subject coloured populations within their areas to certain hardships, and I am sorry to add, even indignities,”4 And finally, when Japan actually and literally tried to emulate European imperialism in the Asian hemisphere, especially by reaching out for Indonesian oil to support her drive for industrialization, she was firmly checked, - the League was not structured to accommodate non-European powers, imperialist or otherwise, on a footing of equality.

The League finally collapsed in the course of events leading up to the Second World War, and the new world institution, the United Nations, which was created to replace it had willy nilly to adapt to changing world circumstances.  Kuomintang China which has helped the Allies fight Japan became a permanent member of the Security Council, (though later she was replaced by nuclear-weapons power China along with the other victorious powers – Britain, USA, France and the USSR Decolonization was on the cards, and the newly independent countries, along with the rest of the world, were accommodated in the deliberative body of the General Assembly.  In some respects, therefore, the UN was structured to reflect the new power balances emerging in the wake of the war, and although there was accommodation for non-European powers in an entirely new and unprecedented way, the basic weightage was yet in favour of the European, or western (including the United States) nucleus.

As more and more countries across the decolonised world sought and gained admittance to the UN, the dominance of the founding western powers remained undiminished in strategic matters, though the proliferation of UN bodies in economic, social and cultural spheres provided more room for ‘international bureaucrats’ and contributions from non-western countries.  However, as a personal description, the adjective ‘international’ is even more skewed.  It refers to individuals, at ease in western dress, style and manners, familiar with western political terminology and intellectual attitudes, who are at home in all the islands of westernisation created across the globe – i.e., five-star hotels, golf courses etc., - and who can be expected to further apply the western-oriented international system to their country’s economic, political or social needs.  The possibilities of lobbying amongst the numerous countries represented in the General Assembly provides a certain amount of flexibility and play in the UN system, but matters before the Security Council are primarily under the jurisdiction of the western powers, plus China, and a few other rotating temporary members.  To internationalize an issue no longer means to subject it to the narrow state interest of the western powers, but in a more indirect way, to submit it to their scrutiny in terms of what they consider meet in their understanding of the world order.  They may be lobbied or persuaded, but they are the final arbiters.  In this respect the orientation of the League, of admitting or educating the rest of the world into the western order remains.  Inevitably there are demands for the reform of the UN system, particularly of the Security Council.

From the above it would appear that the word international has historically been loaded in favour of the interactions amongst the European powers, or those states willing to adapt to the consortium of western powers on terms dictated by the latter.  Although its usage has continued to adapt to changing circumstances, at times more semantically than substantially, its etymology points to the need for close examination of its current manifestations, particularly with regard to its surreptitious payload of received cultural meanings.

Quite literally, the word international means ‘between nations’, and if all nations are in principle equal, as the UN Charter declares, then international can only refer to the interactions between the multiple and equal nations of the world.  However, as Sri Aurobindo stressed, “The pure application of ideals to politics is as yet a revolutionary method of action which can only be hoped for in exception crises; the day when it becomes a rule of life, human nature and life itself will have become a new phenomenon…”5 Thus although the world stage is not host to a play of equally important or equally respected nations, at the same time, the declaration of a utopian goal itself acts as a regulatory idea towards the realization of which, efforts can continually be made and re-stated.

There is a delicate balance between the concept of a supposed world order, arising out of European concepts of modern political systems and justice, and the ideal of an actual international order, wherein plural cultural and political voices may be heard in creative and honest dialogue.  Apart from the natural desire of the Europeans to preserve their civilization, which almost inevitably has entailed its universalisation, there is also a lurking fear of chaos, due to the impossibility of rationalizing multiple points of view into a coherent workable system.  Hence the continuance of western world concepts for international transactions, with non-western countries limiting their manoeuvres to altering the power balances in their favour, (as Japan had tried in the League to emulate and acquire imperial status for herself), i.e. by working primarily within the stated and unstated rules of the pre-existing system.  Today new contenders for big power status are emerging in the Far East – and they are acquiring the marks of western modernity – economic, military, political – to justify their recognition as such.  At the same time, is also a constantly audible, but not very loud protest, against the cultural dominance of the west.

The protest arises from discomfort with the concept of universality, which is internationalization carried to its logical limit.  If international today entails a system embracing all the countries of the globe, then the system must be universal, or valid for all situations and for all times.  However, this is a leap in reasoning which is not prima facie justifiable.  The relationships between nations may or may not be normative, perhaps only contingent, or merely reflect the power or ideational situations of a particular time and age.  Universal has a descriptive as well as normative quality, referring either to practices which are prevalent all over the globe, or which are valid for all the inhabitants of the globe.  The descriptive can slide illegitimately into the normative resulting in the discontents mentioned above.  As of today, clearly the modern western civilizational paradigm is the reigning paradigm, in terms of its political, economic, industrial and technological features.  It also carries some socio-cultural ballast, in that the life-styles of people who decide to modernize their societies become affected in various ways – in their living, eating and dressing habits, in their cultural tastes and in their judgement of the good, the right and the beautiful.  They do not in the process truly replicate the societies of the west, but remain second-order derivatives, caught between a surface ‘internationalization’ and inner stultification.  However, for lack of a clearly articulated alternative, it is somehow believed that they are on the royal road to progress, which time will ultimately justify.  What is actually experienced by the non-western societies is cultural confusion, and the psychic strain of constantly trying to imitate the norms of an alien heritage.  Indigenous creative writers and thinkers, who do not conform to the intellectual and normative standards of the west, can never become ‘international’, since the so-called cosmopolitan community is ruled only by western norms.  Indeed, they may even not be honoured sufficiently in their own societies.  If they sufficiently absorb modernity, even while writing in their own language, like the latest Japanese Nobel Laureate, Kenzaburo Oe, or subject their own cultures to ‘international’ ethnic scrutiny, like English-language writers Vikram Seth or Salman Rushdie they stand a good chance of getting internationally as well as nationally recognized.

This is what Ali Mazrui has referred to as the cultural ‘dependency’ syndrome.6  B.K. Mallik earlier understood it within the clash of civilizations context (not to be confused with Samuel Huntington’s later thesis, which is in some broad respects analogous, but different in evaluation and prognosis) whereby the macro societal systems, through their apprehensions of mutual threat, continuously clash and try to universalize their particular norms.7 The attempt at universalization can never totally succeed, for all societal arrangements as we know them today are skewed and imbalanced, and these tensions cannot be sustained on a universal basis.  The protests against the current state of affairs therefore, represent the voices of the suppressed cultures which are demanding their share of the world space.  Conflicts and expansionism have doubtless created many socio-cultural admixtures and interpenetrations, but the basic societal structures of the world have not been reduced to one, and the logic of history can lead either to the resurgence and militancy of a suppressed civilizational mode, or to a movement towards a genuine internationalism or international community, based on a respect and recognition of diversity and plurality.

Some considerations which may be kept in mind as providing the parameters for change include acceptance of the principle of multiple knowledge systems, methodologies and value: the need for the articulation of ethical positions; and a stringent re-evaluation of the concept of equality based on an unarguable respect for all civilizations and cultures which embody equally valid if incomplete ways of structuring society.  There can be no immediate grand strategy for an ideal world order, but the time has come for non-western countries like India to work incrementally for the realization of a new concept of universality in their agendas, based on recognition of plural points of view and accommodation in their mutual dealings.



India is currently accomplishing a major programme of economic liberalization and is well on the way to becoming a vibrant economy like several and powerful Asian economies which have all come into a new focus in the post-Cold War world.  The significant changes in the international system that affect peace and security are in tune with the political-diplomatic approach of India ever since it became a member of the comity of nations after achieving independence.  When others were advocating the use of coercive power, India was addressing international problems in terms of consensual power.

The balance of power approach in international relations did not prove of much avail to the Soviet Union in the long run and is unlikely to help any other major power which would like to dominate the international system.  There is little doubt that India would have to contain the use of offensive power against her interest, but it must not be deflected from a sustained diplomatic effort for creating a more stable international environment in both regional and global terms.  It is therefore, extremely important for Indian policy makers to understand the significance of the broader United Nations framework which has developed after 1989 in order to develop Indian foreign policy in a comprehensive way.

India’s role in the UN system in the post-cold war era is too important to leave to routine decision-making in South Block.  The existing approach requires a conceptual review at the highest level in the following respects:

First, India’s future agenda at the UN should move out of the paranoia syndrome into which it entered as a consequence of the US-Soviet antagonisms.  This resulted in having to grapple with some proxy challenges, chiefly because of India’s closeness to Moscow’s positions.  As a consequence of the success of democratic forces all over the globe, there is no significant threat to India’s core values.  There may be residue of political prejudice against India amongst various cold warriors who still survive, but on the whole New Delhi is well positioned for a new international political consensus on a world view which transcends bloc interests;

Second, India’s new UN orientation should generate a greater disposition to articulate humanitarian aims as a way of circumventing crisis-generated instabilities.  There is a felt need for a decisive leadership on the part of India on issues relating to the more intense forms of violence, as for example, genocide.  There is no need for India to see these problems through the attitudinal prisms of nations, or groups of nations, which eulogize unabashed dictatorship and totalitarianism, and are controlled by powerful and rapacious regimes.  India does not have to adopt an accommodative strategy towards regimes which violate pluralism and wish to legitimate spirals of violence; 

Third, India’s agenda should shift from general prescriptions for stabilization of major power relations at the various UN fora to a greater use of management techniques to project its enlightened self-interest within the entire UN system.  A corrective emphasis is urgently needed which would challenge the conventional wisdom of the Cold War days under which India would automatically take a non-aligned stance, even where the measures suggested did not enhance Indian ‘national interest’.  Our policy options should be developed in the light of new information on the post-cold war world instead of blindly following official briefs issued to the Indian delegation at the United Nations decades earlier.

There is an urgent need for India’s discourse to be henceforth embedded in positive concepts for the maintenance of international peace and security through which India’s democracy and internationalism will protect against hegemonial and coercive policies.  While working actively against inequality and dependence, India does not need to be apologetic about its geo-strategic salience.  Thus there is no need to accept a discourse which would utilize the generally felt need to reinterpret the principle of non-interference enshrined in Article 2(7) of the Charter as a pretext for releasing destabilizing forces in the general international system, or any regional system.  In projecting its views on the changing role of the UN, there should not be any conceptual ambiguity on New Delhi’s part in regard to national integration as a precondition for stable peace and universal harmonization.

With the Cold War over, compatible views can be shaped among the nations of the world by allowing greater scope for the application of the principles of international law.  In the new international setting, India has a special advantage because its constitutional system is supportive of an international legal order which could confront the threat of terrorism, strengthen economic interdependence and deal effectively with environment-related problems.  Although in some cases of international law, India may take a sceptical view of traditional concepts and interpretations, and would deplore the slowness in accepting cross-cultural influences, India has a unique record in the Third World of eschewing militarism and fundamentalism and upholding the rule of law.  India has never avoided her responsibilities under international law, and she does not threaten the interests of other countries by arbitrary actions.  When Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru made his famous speech on ‘international cooperation’ in the UN General Assembly’s Sixteenth session in 1961, it was difficult to achieve and sustain cooperative behaviour on account of the antagonism and confrontation between the two blocs.  Today, however, India can help to create a set of general rules to develop new roles that different bodies in the UN system can play, on facilitating cooperation and containing conflict.  It is desirable to broaden the Indian contribution to international peacekeeping by creating purposeful strategies which go beyond the concept of military security activities as authorized under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.  There is undoubtedly increased range of choice for India as a ‘humanitarian peacekeeper’ consistent with a clear vision of its future interests and role, given the new dimensions of conflict and cooperation.

India should seize the opportunity offered by the new phase into which international relations have entered to develop policy activism at the United Nations in the economic, security and human rights realms, and utilize the end of the bi-polar juxtaposition to realize for herself potential gains in the area of conflict management.  There are political and economic uncertainties facing New Delhi in the new multi-centric milieu, especially as India had become over-dependent on the Marxist-globalist model of the Soviet Union.  The strengthening of Indian democracy and the economic liberalization programme are clearly positive developments which are helping the strengthening of relationship with the most dynamic players in the world community.

There is, however, a school of thought in the foreign policy community in India which believes that it is a luxury for the country to think of an active role at the United Nations, especially as indications are that it will be problematic for India to obtain positive support of its vital interest within the UN framework.  Those who subscribe to this view advocate the use of other diplomatic tools and instruments and the use of UN diplomatic techniques only in low risk areas.  This pessimism about India’s role in the UN is not grounded in any real view of the future, and is based on the fallacy that Indian negotiators do not have much elbow room in international fora.  While India must exercise caution when sensitive issues are brought up merely to embarrass it on central areas of vital importance, New Delhi can create a new basis for active participatory experience in the UN system which will yield increasing returns, if it asserts its interests regionally and internationally through “non-appeasement”, and at the same time enhances its functionalism in international conflict management.

Five main changes appear to be necessary in order to achieve a ‘paradigm shift’ in the Indian perspective on the UN system, in order to create a cooperative network for economic, political, cultural and social tasks:

First, India’s is now a major player on the global stage, and the Indian ethos is not burdened by the legacies of Stalin, Mao, Hitler or Japanese militarism.  Rather it is naturally attuned to global citizenship in the best sense of the term.  Both the Indian free market and her democracy are dynamic forces which can help to harmonize state sovereignty and interdependence in a sui generic manner.  India, therefore, has an indispensable role in setting the pace for evolving global norms as a member of the Untied Nations, and more so if it becomes a permanent member of the Security Council.  Indian diplomacy at the UN should not hesitate to institutionalize norms by a creative synthesis of different civilizational and cultural points of view.  Every xenophobic attitude will be counter-productive at this juncture, which is unfolding a dynamics of change in line with the Indian tradition of holistic thinking.

Second, India should give top priority to the pursuit of stable peace in Asia, which includes South Asia, West Asia, Southeast Asia and East Asia, and utilize its full potential as an Asian power.  The most marked political development of the contemporary world is the rising position of Asia, and India can play an adequate international role if her diplomacy effectively projects India as an Asian power.  The great Indian democratic experiment is specially relevant to conflict and peace-making in all multi-ethnic societies.  Thee is no need for any country to play the role of world policeman, but the United Nations should deal with ethnic tensions with the help of new concepts which led to consensual agreements by encouraging political and cultural pluralism without undermining the territorial state structure.  Existing UN conflict-resolution procedures have only led to subterranean struggles, and the surface peace has not lasted very long.  India’s capacity to deal effectively with ethnic violence and secessionist movements has been demonstrated, and it is in a position to help the United Nations deal with many possible contingencies, especially through political change, which provides management of ethnic conflict.  India should help the UN shift its agenda from just mechanically controlling ethnic violence to long term processes and institutional capacity on the lines of the constitutional approaches envisaged by the founding fathers of the Indian Constitution.  In the past, Indian diplomacy was inhibited in attacking rationalization of coercive and undemocratic policies like the Brezhnev doctrine, but today Indians should use their diplomatic skills at the United Nations unhesitatingly to identify and overcome all types of hegemonial rationalizations which impede stable peace in Asia, or elsewhere in the world.    

Third, India has so far not taken advantage of its “development model” for promoting its diplomacy at the United Nations.  South Block and other Ministries which take a leading part in India’s external economic relations have so far been engaged in empirical thinking and have not come together along with NGOs to develop a new doctrine or conceptual framework which could take into account:

  •  India’s capacity to extend political democracy into the sphere of economic democracy;
  • India’s progress despite problems in linking economic progress and political stability and
  • The inadequacies of both communist and capitalist economic thinking in the twentieth century, and India’s ideological orientation in favour of demilitarization and non-violence as preconditions for economic development and human survival.

Indian expertise in industrial, technological and financial sectors can be employed to open up a vista for viewing the global economy as an integrated system, and orienting it towards new goals which are not shackled by the dehumanizing mechanisms which we have inherited from the Cold War days.  There is no going back on the more ‘open economy’ which India has begun to create: at the same time India has the capacity to avoid social disruption which centrally controlled economies are facing elsewhere in the process of shifting their earlier economic development strategies. There is some truth in the statement that India is a tiger which has got out of the cage, but still imagines it is inside- and hence refuses to be a front runner.  India will soon begin to realize its strength in negotiation of global agreements if it frees itself from old dogmas.

Fourth, India has an opportunity to redefine the nuclear issue at the UN by boldly asking the world body to make a fundamental reassessment of the goals and directions of all nuclear and near-nuclear powers.  The fact that India does not favour the NPT is no reason for thinking that India is out in the cold.  India has an admirable record, and this, if backed by political creativity, should help it to take advantage of the contradictions in the pious declarations of the five nuclear-weapons powers and their failure to achieve real global nuclear arms control.  It is not only France and China which are likely to produce chaotic situations for global security on account of the power games they are playing; the other nuclear powers are also not mentally prepared for either a nuclear-free phase of the post-cold war system, or for a multidimensional nuclear world.  India which played a leading role in the fifties in making the world acutely aware of the threat of nuclear annihilation, should take the initiative in developing a new forum for multilateral nuclear arms reduction talks, which should involve a conceptual departure from the NPT philosophy, which is quite outdated since it was developed in the context of the parameters of US-Soviet confrontations.  India could start with low key practical measures like raising serious questions about Chinese nuclear testing and Pyongyang’s nuclear threats, and go on to bringing the duplicity about nuclear weapons practiced by other nuclear powers, under UN scrutiny.  An Indian blueprint for world nuclear security is the need of the hour.

Fifth and finally, the reshaping of India’s agenda UN system cannot be a mere bureaucratic exercise, nor can it only be done by those timid minds which are obsessed by the so-called insecurity and vulnerability of India to external pressures.  The parochialisation of Indian foreign policy after 1962 was a desperate attempt to shore up the control of those forces, on the domestic scene which has lost their momentum.  In 1971, India revived its interest in South Asia, but failed in the follow up to its success in the emergence of Bangla Desh by developing a pan-Asian role.  This was largely the result of the ‘entangling alliance’ with the Soviet Union which turned out to be an inchoate superpower, badly encumbered by its over-extension.  In the current new situation, India has some difficult choices, but also a remarkable opportunity to achieve an optimum global posture.  There is an opinion growing among serious-minded observers at the international level that it is not so much that rise of China as the rise of India which is the major secular trend of the future.  The challenges ahead are not uni-dimensional but multi-dimensional.  If the domestic and international sources of Indian foreign policy are considered from the perspective of bringing together peace and security perspectives together with important thematic issues like ‘civilizational harmony’, ‘gender equality’ and ‘non-violent social change’, India alone is of relevance to a future post-industrial world, after the replacement of Western (occidental) domination by a consensual global arrangement.  India must utilize its best minds, scholars, scientists, business and political leaders, professionals in the private sector and in government, to design the new agenda for the UN system.

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