From Non-alignment to Non-appeasement:
A Reconstruction of Indian foreign Policy

Vishnugupta (M.L.Sondhi)

Shakti, June 1965

A study of India’s foreign relations since 1962 raises four fundamental questions, which can aptly be described as the dilemmas of Indian non-alignment.  Whether the international situation facing India will result in undermining the very basis of our survival as a united and independent state – a fear which has been expressed by some competent students of international relations – or whether the changing distribution of power in the world will enable India to fulfil her political purpose of strengthening peace and freedom and providing full possibilities for inter-cultural intercourse – all these purposes are implicit in the Indian awakening understood as an historic process – will depend largely upon our ability to find answers to the following questions:-

1. What should be the framework for understanding the psychological motivation of the decision-makers of countries likely to be hostile to us?  Non-alignment in practice means that we are now in the habit of interpreting the decision-making of others by first of all determining the nature of their alignment system.  Of course this is a kind of determinism of which a parallel example would be where a foreign office would judge the policy of another country by first finding out how the means of production were owned in that country.  In foreign policy the USSR has avoided economic determinism, although it forms the very basis of the Marxian approach to politics.  A determinist approach, by itself, is not objectionable and such a foreign policy could be successful during certain periods.  If we agree that since 1962 there are indications which point conclusively to the fact that following upon the nuclear stalemate between USA and USSR and their confrontation over Cuba, there has been a qualitative change in international relations of which one of the chief characteristics is the substitution of a multi-polar outlook among decision-makers in place of the post-war bi-polar outlook, then the dilemma can be expressed in the following words: Should Indian Foreign ministers continue to disregard the psychological criteria which have been found to have great merit in historical periods when an international system has multipolarity, and this on the basis that the post-war bipolar situation has resulted in making the integration of world politics in two centres, the USA and USSR, the fundamental strategically decisive fact, and also that psychological criteria must always have a secondary and subordinate role in India’s foreign relations.  No similar endeavour at an unqualified determinism in foreign policy is known to have succeeded so far from the available historical record.  It is also clear that a democratic basis for such a policy will be increasingly difficult.  It is one thing to bring daily encomiums and quite another matter to have non-alignment as one’s standard and suffer humiliation and loss of territory.  In a period of loss of national influence and power, a totalitarian regime or a military government can more easily adhere to a non-alignment policy. A democratic regime has to maintain a certain ratio between adherence to a favourite policy and the result of that policy as indicated by reinforcement of power, security and prestige.

2. What is the precise contribution made by the friendship cultivated with the two superpowers (in the bi-polar context), to security needs in a context where multi-polar trends are decisive enough to permit struggle for power to take place in the international arena irrespective of the wishes of the two superpowers?  The second dilemma, therefore, is: Should India continue to rely on the USA and USSR as the two international policemen when there is growing evidence that there are daily unlawful acts committed against India of which the two policemen do not take cognisance on the ground that these happenings are really not serious enough.  A bi-polar world permits a country like India not to be unduly concerned about the effects of any and every violation of the international order, except if it relates to the two superpowers directly or indirectly.  In a multipolar world political activity of a militarily vulnerable state must take cognizance of every single move, hostile or friendly, for the simple reason that technological problems – using the world in the broadest sense – are so immensely complicated, taking their course independently of the two most powerful states, that a norm of behaviour like non-alignment does not correspond to the objective requirements of the two superpowers to the extent of encouraging them to react to every arbitrary act by independent actors on the international scene.  The superpowers act rationally from the point of view of their interests by not acting at all in many situations which however appear to possess the most crucial aspects for decision-makers of third states.  The importance of understanding the role of the USA and USSR as international policemen in the multipolar era can hardly be exaggerated and yet it requires great perceptiveness to arrive at a correct estimation which is neither pessimistic nor over-optimistic.  The Indian foreign office has not provided any evidence that it has the capacity to analyse the feedback received from its international environment.  Moreover a policy of non-alignment does not help in developing an outlook of precise calculation of the ingredients in decision making.  The trend of non-alignment in India has been more of a search for organising common values – witness the efforts spent in defining the Panch Sila – and the collection of evidence on national security operations has proceeded at best in a fitful manner.

3. What should be the relations between diplomacy and the military viewpoint so that a situation does not come into existence which gives free rein to military doctrines, which links a whole nation to consider itself to be uniquely situated, favourably or unfavourably, and consequently to regard the existence or non-existence of weapons of war to be the chief determinant of the nation’s political strategy?  Now it is clear that Indian non-alignment is closely related to the search for methods which can bring about a climate of peace and the general aims of foreign policy it serves are not militaristic in nature.  How does it then come about that the third dilemma is actually the product of an exaggeration of the military factor.  Clausewitz gives us a valuable hint when he says: “It is an impermissible and even harmful distinction, according to which a great military event or the plan for such an event should admit a purely military judgement; indeed, it is an unreasonable procedure to consult professional soldiers on the plan of war, that they may give a purely military opinion…”  It is suggested, therefore, that our third dilemma has arisen not out of an unreasonable procedure to obtain a purely military opinion on the plan of war, because in the case of Indian nonalignment a general plan of war was ruled out ex definition, but on account of the equally glaring fact that an unreasonable procedure was in fact adopted to obtain a purely military opinion o our plan of world peace.  The third dilemma can, therefore, be worded as follows:  considerations based upon military expediency alone will stultify our diplomatic effort because military judgements divorced from other factors e.g. economic psychological, ideological, legal, etc. – will emphasise the most bizarre features of any power confrontation.  Since India’s leaders are by their training and outlook peace-makers, such military advice which would lead t adventurist aggression in the case of militant leaderships elsewhere may here well lead often to panic concession-making.  Non-alignment which aims to fight the predominance of militarism in international affairs ends up by exaggerating the role of the military factor in formulating policies, especially in their long term effects.

4. What should be the relationship between non-alignment and the formulation of a global policy in the context of the use of international organisations for strengthening them constitutionally and politically?  Indian non-alignment started off very well with its devotion to the UN Charter, and took a leading role in settling some disputes.  But it is important to recall that these disputes were chiefly those which encouraged peaceful change to the extent it developed a consensus between the two superpowers and interpreted international organisation in a manner which provided legal principles which did not undermine the authority of the two superpowers.  In a bi-polar world the two superpowers are grateful for the role played by an important third country which voluntarily accepts the fact of power-inferiority and raises it to a standpoint o high principle.  Knowing that bi-polar world is a rare phenomenon and at a best very transitory the two superpowers are interested in legitimising it, for lengthening its life, if not perpetuating it.  The formative years of an international organisation allow greater scope to integrating factors and the fundamental problem of international politics is to place surface tensions in a perspective which shows them to be manageable in the light of the considerations which helped the setting up of the original covenant.  The role of conciliator played by India was achieved through the acceptance of the bi-polar framework.  The position today is different in at least three respects. (a) The Charter is not considered to be a summation of legal aspects of an international order which charter of political aspirations.  (b) The conception of conciliation has radically changed.  The technological and psychological factors are too numerous to be listed here.  They are evident in the study of the tension points of today’s world.  (c) In a bipolar world the conciliator’s sacrifices are gratefully remembered.  In a multipolar world the impact of violence on the minds of most international actors is reduced in a way that an action which under bipolarity would have been a test of the capacity to meet a challenge to international law and order, is now seen primarily in terms of the political configuration which is expected to develop in the future.  The last dilemma may be described in this way:  Non-alignment has institutionalised Indian foreign policy into a defence of the Charter as it is, fixed and eternal, and does not seem to provide us with moral incentives to participate in any international pressure group which could promote another more up-to-date set of abstract principles of international organisation.  Non-alignment does not give India’s foreign minister any ideas on Charter Revision.  On-alignment makes the Charter an organic creation whereas the characteristics of international diplomacy require us to consider it as a mechanical device which helps to develop the political imagination of today’s nation states but cannot operate in the same way indefinitely.  Although some people refer to non-alignment as an ideology, yet it is clear that on the basic question of the evolution of national power and the problem of devising new procedures for international organisation, non-alignment does not provide a dynamic use of ideology in foreign relations.  The support which non-alignment gives to international-community making is really too eclectic to be powerfully effective.  Non-alignment pays lip service to international goals but it is really a programme of accepting the modalities of what it is now fashionable to cal as a “subordinate political system.”  The making of foreign policy by an Indian government which takes its international goals as seriously as does de Gualle or Mao Tse-Tung would involve at the very least a philosophical enquiry into a programme for minimising international conflicts through reform of the Charter.  Non-alignment is fearful of all forms of messianism induding the one that would usher in a one-world.  Non-alignment starts by opposing the division of the world into two hostile blocs, but it goes on to sanction the existing state of affairs by pointing out the dangers inherent in every scheme of structural adjustment.  All new schemes carry the danger that the division of the world might be exacerbated, but these dangers are not offset against the gains that may equally accrue from new devices.  Non-alignment favours conservatism in international planning.

What has been the effect of ignoring the psychological criteria on the pattern of India’s relations with certain important countries?  Two countries need to be considered in order to realise that non-alignment has proved a great obstacle towards utilising our opportunities:

China:  We had assumed that China would continue to take an attitude in keeping with the Panch Sila.  Even after our rude awakening, the hold of non-alignment undermined any serious attempt to combat Chinese communism in its psychological processes.  Indian officials in the aftermath of the Chinese 1962 attack continued to say that Chinese xenophobia was the result of her political isolation in being debarred from entry into the UN and that it had been India’s ill-luck to serve as the target, China according to them had no need to have a military alliance with Russia but for the unreasonable hostility of the USA.  No Indian official or non-official has to date provided us with a study of Chinese policy-makers to show how exactly the Chinese Communists have modified the ideology they have inherited from Europe.  India’s case shows that non-alignment prevents a country from developing political sophistication by which it can take account of potential enemies.  Recognising that someone is a potential enemy does not solve the problem but it does ensure that what is humanly possible will be done in time.  Policy measures undertaken after careful study of the sort of decision making taking place on the side of the potential enemy may well lead to reciprocal adjustments which can arrive at settlements, tacit or overt, short of the stage when the prestige of both sides is so fully involved as to inhibit a settlement.

Pakistan:  The Pakistani leadership has been conditioned by negotiating methods in which powers like SA and USSR each in its own style have indulged in a considerable amount of political blackmail against that country.  China also has now built up a position of a political and military advantage with Pakistan.  The strategic implication for India is quite clear as far as our methods of negotiation with Pakistan are concerned.  Any serious arrangement with Pakistan will require fundamental decisions by all these three great powers.  Therefore in our negotiations with Pakistan we should deliberately have played up the “political factors” in every issue, and bargains or package deals could have been achieved by intense diplomatic effort in Washington, Moscow and Peking.  Instead we have ignored the “satellite” psychology of Pakistani leaders and permitted the negotiations with Pakistan to be guided by “technical discussions”.  The Kutch war, when full records are available may, well be found to be the cumulative fruit of the “technical discussions” known as the Swaran Singh-Bhutto round of talks.  It will be recalled that the Indian side continued with these talils ignoring the mounting evidence that as the talks went on Pakistan’s political aggressiveness was rising.  Although the theory of non-alignment gives a warning that military alliances result in political disequilibrium between the fellow members of a pact, yet the military disequilibrium has not been understood in the theory for its perhaps more far reaching effects.  Thus in the case of Pakistan, it did not occur to us to examine the incompatibility of American and Pakistani interests vis-à-vis India.  The theory of non-alignment led us to overlook both the fact of American blackmail against Pakistan and Pakistan’s bad faith against the USA, which converted Pak-US military agreement into a “diplomatic act against nature.”  India could have made, if she wished, enormous political gains if we had correctly assessed the conflict in Pakistani American interests.  Instead Indian adherence to non-alignment permitted Pakistan to make gains against both Indian and the United States positions.  The absence of reliable knowledge about the psychology of the Pakistani ruling circles led the government of India to countenance the activities of the so-called Indo-Pakistan conciliation group, which since no counterpart is known to exist in Pakistan regular lobby would have done, and helped to reinforce power aspirations in Pakistan, which hitherto had existed inchoately, into diplomatic and political operations against India.  Ideas of regionalism as a way out for Indo-Pak difficulties are a naïve application of the European experience and will bar a forward diplomacy in which India could explain directly to the policy makers in Washington or in Moscow the dangers of seeking short-term solutions based upon concessions at Indians expense.

 Any serious effort to check the present drift to our involvement in crises and tension at times and places chosen freely by China and Pakistan, requires that the full implications of the external threats to our national security must be spelt out fully.  It is in our national interest to have the USA and the USSR committed to our independence and territorial integrity.  But this question has not been discussed at all by the Indian government.  Non-alignment is an incentive to neglect this question when it comes to the level of operations of foreign policy.  Neither the Russians nor the Americans can help us to avoid small-scale or medium scale attacks.  We will be asked not to escalate the conflict in the short run period.  In the long run we have ourselves no desire to escalate the conflict, for we look forward to a long run solution to all our difficulties through peaceful adjustment.  The Chinese and the Pakistanis do not hesitate to escalate their conflict with us in the long-term sense.  We can reasonably expect both these powers individually or jointly to use tactical nuclear weapons against us in the future.  We will still be warned by the two super powers that we should not embark on escalation which would result in a major conflagration in the world and therefore be self-defeating.  Thus our friendly relationship with the two Super powers in the Bipolar non-alignment model is really seen for what it is, a formalised arrangement for appeasement.  Our geography and size and the unfortunate fact that Pakistan can offer itself as a Cuban-type adjunct to China makes our dependence upon the soviet Union as far as the threat from Pakistan is concerned of very doubtful military value to the soviet Union.  The practical questions for USA is rapidly developing a nuclear power alliance with the United Kingdom in the Indian Ocean area because the ambiguous position of our Commonwealth link enables the adoption of strategic concepts designed to safeguard its nuclear conditioned global position, while diminishing the bargaining factors on the Indian side.  But it is open to India not to accept this role.  The USA and the Soviet Union and other countries have their major worries for which they desperately need political and conventional military support, the former more than the latter.  India has an unusual opportunity to trade its support in return for backing which will immediately enhance our military and diplomatic strength.  This opportunity arises from the shift in power distribution which is taking place in the change from a bipolar to a multipolar world.  But to utilise this opportunity would require first of all the realisation that the two international policemen USA and USSR cannot protect us against the “salami” tactics of China and Pakistan.  For this we require to have independent resources for defence and military retaliation against our enemies accompanied by all-round trading of our support with other middle and small countries to give moral sanction to whatever counter-measures we may be forced to undertake.  Non-alignment cannot fulfil this requirement as we discovered to our discomfiture when China attacked India and the non-aligned countries did not come out to support our counter-measures.  In the case of Pakistan’s attack on Kutch the lesson was even more strongly driven home.

Peace has seldom been realised by making endless concessions.  The philosophy of non-alignment finds very little support in recent developments in the theory of Peace-research.  The Indian attitude with respect to disarmament and disengagement in various parts of the globe, has been unduly limited by the dogma of non-alignment.  The question of war and peace is not a simple function of the quantity and quality of armaments as Indian policy makers seem to believe.  The sensible understanding of the true position about power relations between different states requires an appreciation of the military aspects of strategies in the light of public opinion, leadership traits and above all an enumeration of all the options that are available for competition between states with conflicting interests.  No doubt the military may have to be used in the last resort and a peaceful country like India should not lightly talk of war, but it is impossible to take any appropriate diplomatic measures if there is all the time a hysterical attitude to the possible use of military force.  Escalation is a term much bandied about but it is obvious that escalation is not inevitable, if we make clear that we have the possibility of taking forceful but limited actions.  The Prime Minister by his frequent expression of fear that conflict may escalate gives Pakistan and China opportunities to blackmail India.  Because of non-alignment we have lacked political ability to discriminate between the limited and unlimited objectives of our enemies.  Both Nehru and Shastri thought first that the enemy – China and Pakistan respectively – could be thrown out in a few days, and subsequently were willing to accept proposals – the Colombo and Freeman proposals respectively – which have adverse strategic implications for India but which were regarded as reducing the probability of total war.  It would appear, therefore, that when India seeks to be tough it does not produce a feeling of respect, and when it seeks a détente the other side feels emboldened to put our very survival in jeopardy.  Thus the military-political pattern in our decision making is gravely distorted by non-alignment and it is a matter of great urgency that the decision making should be forged on a new basis.

Everything points to the possibility of far reaching changes in the United Nations system.  Is India prepared for change or do we intend to hold on to the status quo?  With China inside the United Nations at a future date, Indian non-alignment is likely to find itself in rough whether without either a proper vessel or a hospitable harbour.  Non-alignment may have the result that China will make us the prime target of all forces which oppose the status quo.  We shall not even have the choice utilised by countries like France and Indonesia to walk out of the UN for unqualified support to the UN is a basic tenet of the policy of non-alignment.  To all those who want India to have an effective voice on important political issues which come before the UN and not to be made a scapegoat by any hostile combination of forces, it is clear that there are very important considerations for giving up non-alignment, at least as far as United Nations diplomacy is concerned.  If we do not, it really means that the days of our active participation in the United Nations are now over.

We shall now attempt to answer the question whether the four dilemmas mentioned at the beginning can be resolved.

The trend towards multipolarity is a phenomenon which can be used creatively to place restraints on all those powers which are openly hostile to us or which harbour potential hostility towards us.  The international conflicts pattern in the multipolar era in which we find ourselves is very different from that we have known in the post-war bipolar period.  As we have shown for India, now non-alignment is an unmitigated evil if we have any desire to maintain our territorial integrity and enhance our influence in the world.  Non-alignment may not work much havoc for certain smaller countries but India is significant enough and strategically important enough to easily become the target of several forces which are morbidly chauvinistic.  We have identified Pakistan and China, but there are other nation states whose public mind or whose ruling elites may want to prove their power ambitions by hitting out at us, if it comes to be accepted that Indian non-alignment reflects the tolerance of Indians for most forms of belligerence carried out in a piecemeal manner.

If we want to commit ourselves firmly to a policy of safeguarding our territorial integrity while the world settles down to some sort of international order appropriate to a multipolar condition then it is clear that our national resources must be utilised in a manner which will bring national interest from the periphery to the very centre of our policy making.  It will not be enough to jettison non-alignment.  It must be followed by the clear enunciation of a policy of non-appeasement.  This will not be a mere reversal of the earlier policy.  It will be a policy pre-eminently suited for safeguarding India’s territorial integrity in a multipolar world.  It will enable us to accept the moral challenge from Chinese communism.

Non-appeasement will reduce the chances that the struggle for power between other great powers will work to our disadvantage.  The fundamental principles which will guide a policy of non-appeasement will be: first: to correlate the interests of important countries as understood by their ruling elites with their ideological, military, psychological and political limitations.  Second,  to adapt Indian diplomacy to regard effective military capabilities as more important than claims of national power based on inadequate strategic concepts, inherited from the past.  Whether or not India should reject the Commonwealth and the Afro-Asian groupings in which it has very limited strategic benefits, must be debated in the light of the overall trend towards multipolarity.  Non-appeasement will reduce Indian vulnerability by providing policy makes with a larger number of options in strategy.  This does not mean that the only way to offset the nuclear threat from China or from the nuclearlization of more countries is to develop an Indian nuclear capacity.  At the same time it is clear that the absurd situation under non-alignment where it is frequently suggested by the Prime Minister that the threat of nuclear attack is largely imaginary, would be avoided.  India would set to work on the problem of how to ensure its survival in a nuclear world by utilising both non-nuclear and nuclear options.  Third;  Non-appeasement would adopt flexibility as an operating norm short of any adverse effects on territorial integrity.  This would enable India to contribute actively by plans and suggestions, to conflict resolution among the great powers as well as among the lesser powers. 

We can illustrate the advantages of non-appeasement graphically as follows:

National interest is measured along the Y axis.  It is defined for the present purposes as meaning the maintenance of national territorial integrity by both military and non-military methods.  Genuine friendship may of course fully preserve our national interest, but in that case our national interest will be at the mercy of others.  The curves are drawn from hypothetical data which reflect our general understanding of the sort of equations which must be in the minds of policy makes in the State Deptt. (USA), Kremlin (USSR) and South Block (New Delhi).

The Indian Foreign Policy curve is read in the following manner:  If we can get X units of your friendship we shall be content with Y units of national interest (national security not at your mercy).

The Non-alignment curve is downward sloping because Indian non-alignment requires that friendship should be sought at all costs.  To secure more units of friendship they shall offer greater respect for our national interest.  

The movement from Bipolarity to Multipolarity results in the rightward shift of the curves of countries like USA and USSR.  They are no longer unchallenged bloc leaders and they have to court other countries for friendship.

The friendship offer curve of the Soviet Union is more steeply sloping than the USA curve on account of the political factor of “international communism”.  Increase of friendship after a point will only be offered if the country concerned accepts communist control over its political decision-making by giving a dominant share in government to communists, and under such circumstances “satellitisation” occurs (below the X axis) which negates the national interest as ordinarily understood.  The USA, too, may aim at greater economic control after a point, but here we are concerned with national interest understood in a strictly political sense.

The Russian leader Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov or Lenin, as he liked to be called, gave sound advice to one of his comrades during the early days of the Russian Revolution:

“Theory, my friend is, grey, but green is the eternal tree of life.”

Had the Russian leader been alive today, he might have given the same advice to the Indian prime Minister.  The theory of Non-alignment which Lal Bahadur shastri and Swaran singh have inherited from Jawahar Lal Nehru is not even grey, it has turned into a colour which recalls something which has decayed and decomposed past recognition of any form.

When mere adjustments and expedients do not help, it is the task of statesmanship to discover a new connection of ideas which will inspire and direct national action.

If obscurantism does not stand in the way this discovery may be found in NON-APPEASEMENT.

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