March 03, 2008

Action Reaction Sequence: Understanding International Relations

Newton's Third Law: "Every Action has an equal and opposite reaction"

While going through a few texts on international relations and India's foreign policy, I have derived a few generalizations of my own...I would call it the Action-Reaction Sequence. But before I get into my idea, let me enumerate a few instances from India's foreign policy and some general views on International Relations (IR).

  • Henry Kissinger once said that we should learn from Nehru 'how not to run one's foreign policy'. He had observed such in the context of the fact that India's foreign policy in initial days was heavily ideology driven rather than oriented towards national interest. No doubt, foreign policy should be driven solely by pragmatism towards fulfillment of national interest. But then, how do we define national interest? Is it political consensus (in the context of democracies) or is it following hedonistic realism, not bothering about any ideal at all?
  • India has often been perceived as a big bully among the countries of Indian subcontinent region. Group psychology tells us that this is natural in a context where one group is overwhelmingly larger and more resourceful than other groups. People in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal etc have a very negative attitude towards India. It is natural for Pakistanis to have such an attitude towards India...former foreign secretary JN Dixit has elaborately discussed how anti-Indian feelings is embedded in education and socialization process of Pakistanis. But why Nepal and Bangladesh? Inevitably, there was something wrong with how India handled relations with these nations. They have often complained of India meddling with their affairs. This lack of confidence between India and its neighbours is creating problems of regional integration, so also of better economic co-operation in SAARC.
  • Since 1992, we have had a major shift in our foreign policy. Starting with a hands-off policy towards neighbours, we now follow the Gujral Doctrine that states that we should show unconditioned positive regard towards neighbours and mustn't ask for reciprocity while doing favours. India has become very responsive to Pakistan also. Vajpayee even went so far as inviting Musharraf to Agra after his (or was it Nawaz Sharif?) misadventure in Kargil. According to Vajpayee, "We can choose our friends, we can't choose our neighbours". A majority of my fellow citizens, among those in my personal contact, don't favour this 'moderate' posture towards our smaller neighbour and prefer India getting aggressive.
  • C. Raja Mohan reasons that India doesn't have reservations towards a strategic alliance with US, yet won't ever play a second fiddle to it. Unfortunately, it has yielded under US pressures and messed up with some very close friends. India's vote against Iran at Vienna, for instance, didn't have much impact on the outcome itself but was symbolic of a strained relation with a strategic player in India's extended neighbourhood. This trade-off between nuclear deal and Indo-Iranian relations was in India's interests, according to many strategists. But how will it augur for India in the long run. Iran happens to be not just a friendly country but India's neighbour Pakistan's neighbour. It has been India's lone supporter on Kashmir issue in diplomatic circles of Islamic countries.
Here goes my view on IR. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Difference between Newtonian force and diplomatic action is on the issue of objectivity. While reaction to a force is impersonal, a diplomatic action's impact is more psychic. Every action in bilateral relations produce an impression of the country (let's say India) in the eyes of (a). the political elite and (b). the citizens of the other country. The attitudes of recipient (to the action) country are shaped by diplomatic actions over a period of time. This attitude guides the recipient country's behaviour (reaction) towards India.

The reaction is opposite in the sense of reciprocity. Equality criteria can't be easily ascertained in political science unlike physical sciences. However, we can risk saying that the reaction is subjectively equal to the action. When a heavy ball (resource rich India) collides with a ligh ball (say Bangladesh), the force on both is same and opposite. The momentum of (effect on) lighter ball is, however, more than that of the heavier ball. Resource here includes all kinds of national resources, plus military strength plus diplomatic skills of the country's foreign relations. In light of this action-reaction sequence, lets discuss the four points mentioned above yet again.

  • National interest doesn't lie in ideal-typical realism. Some degree of idealism is necessary. There is a poem, written in the context of Hitler era, that roughly goes as:
"They went after the Jews. I ain't a Jew, so I didn't help
They went after the blacks. I ain't a black, so I didn't help
They went after the trade unionists. I ain't one of 'em, so I didn't help
Then they came after me. There was none left to help me"
  • We can't afford not to notice US hegemony. As per the action-reaction sequence, ideal typical realism will be harmful to India in the long run. There is nothing personal in international affairs. But it should be remembered that other countries deal with India based on their subjective perception of India over a period of time. According to Prof. Raja Mohan, Nehruvian non-alignment had given India significant diplomatic space at a time when our resources were scarce. We still command goodwill of third world countries; these countries perceive India as their leader in multi-national forums like WTO.
  • I personally appreciate India's ambiguous stand on relations with US. This way, India is able to reap the benefits of allying with US without repelling its traditional third world base. This in deed is a tough task, but our diplomats seem to be quite consummate at it. A major problem with this can be US itself. US always desires unambiguous support. The pressure on India to show symbolic support to US will be more in days to come. Condoleeza Rice had recently even called on India to discard NAM!Many retired diplomats have observed that foreign relations should be managed with a right mix of idealism and realism. We can denote this as a continuum with ideal typical idealism and realism at the two ends.

  • The Gujral Doctrine is in deed a great step towards normalizing relations with our neighbours. People in India's neighbouring countries have formed negative attitude towards India due to Indian action over a period of time. Effect of Gujral Doctrine will also be seen after a period of time. After all, attitudes and beliefs don't change in a day. In the meanwhile, there have been tempting suggestions from various sections of society to confront our neighbours. Whenever there is a terrorist attack, there is a debate on what India is doing towards it. Should we also go for covert military action in Pakistan? Should we use pressure tactics to make Bangladesh dismantle the anti-Indian elements from its soil? Pressure tactics don't work. Pakistan acts with terrorism. We react with violence. Pakistan reacts to our reaction with more terrorism. We react to Pakistan's reaction to our reaction with increased confrontation. This may ultimately escalate to a full fledged war, a war in which Pakistan will lose more nevertheless we will also lose. Bhutan flushed out India's fifth column from its land just because of the special relation it shares with India. Hence, if India shows unconditioned positive regard towards its neighbours, it will be effectively reciprocated in due course of time.
Consumer psychologists and marketing managers often site the case of 'Hare Krishna society' to demonstrate how reciprocity works. Members of Hare Krishna society (an US Hindu organization) offer flowers to people in public places before asking for donations. Donations are voluntary. Yet the recipient of flowers feels obliged to donate handsomely! Such is human nature. Gujral doctrine is a masterstroke in policy making. By this doctrine, we do favours without demanding reciprocation. Yet, in the long run, we will be reciprocated by a subjectively equal reaction.


Anonymous said...

can u spell out some definite concrete reciprocatory action which u envisage India to benefit from in the long run ?

Monitor de LCD said...

Hello. This post is likeable, and your blog is very interesting, congratulations :-). I will add in my blogroll =). If possible gives a last there on my blog, it is about the Monitor de LCD, I hope you enjoy. The address is A hug.

Karun Bir Singh Sandha said...


In SAARC you did not mention our relationship with Sri Lanka.

Not only Iran we have changed our policy for Iraq also which again supported us on Kashmir Issue. On Iran supports us as kashmir has majority of Shia population same as Iran no other reason.

sandeep said...

Thank god gujral is out of politics :)
earning goodwill of neighboring countries at the cost of national security...this is the gujral doctrine. Just being soft,earning good faith can't bring peace and prosperity in the is just like trying clap with one hand.gujral as a part of his doctrine wounded up the Research and Analysis Wing's covert operations in Pakistan,passed on the info pertaining to RAW's human assets to the pakistani govt.Do you know that RAW's human assets were brutally executed by isi's contract killers. No indian who was aware of mistakes done by morarji desai and gujral will blame intelligence agencies for the terror attacks going on.