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American way of life

Non-alignment, however, signifies independence of judgment. That is precisely what Rice wants India to discard, writes AG Noorani.

india Updated: Jul 16, 2007 23:55 IST
AG Noorani

'An obsolete conception and, except under very exceptional circumstances, it is an immoral and shortsighted conception.’ When the US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, famously denounced non-alignment on June 9, 1956, the newly-independent countries were loudly proclaiming their adherence to that ‘conception’. Why has Dulles’ successor Condoleezza Rice revived his denunciations since the non-aligned had long ceased to proclaim their credo assertively as they did in former times? And, why has she revived the obsolete refrain now in the context of the present international situation?

Rice’s speech to the US-India Business Council on June 27 was a calculated pronouncement. The significance of her central theme that non-alignment “has lost its meaning” appears in bold relief when it is read against the background of American policies and pronouncements since the collapse of the Soviet Union. That offered a good opportunity to the US to promote a world order that recognised the security interests of all the major players and thus invested it with legitimacy. It chose, instead, to impose its will on the world denuding it of legitimacy. A state has been reached where, as the respected columnist William Pfaff remarked last March, “the Bush administration wishes to rule the world”.

The Soviet Union was dissolved in @December 1991. On March 8, 1992, The New York Times reported the Pentagon’s Defence Planning Guidance that stated: “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere.” The Cold War was to continue; to be fought without any countervailing checks on US power or restraint. In 2005, an “interim Global Strike Alert Order” was issued directing the military to assume and maintain readiness to attack, with nuclear arms if necessary, any country that was deemed ‘hostile’ which, in the US view, was producing weapons of mass destruction.

As in Iraq, conjecture will replace proof. US Vice-President Dick Cheney directed “if there is 1 per cent chance... we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response”, adding: “It’s not about our analysis, or finding a preponderance of evidence. It’s about our response.”

Rice ridicules the very concept of “an international community” as “illusory”. Each plays for himself? No. All must bat with and for the US. Hence, her rejection of the idea of a multi-polar world. President George W. Bush pointedly criticised the idea of “a unified Europe to balance America”. Rice elaborated on the theme in a speech to a European audience in London at the International Institute for Strategic Studies on June 26, 2003: “Some have spoken admiringly — almost nostalgically — of ‘multi-polarity’, as if it were a good thing, to be desired for its own sake. The reality is that ‘multi-polarity’ was never a unifying idea, or a vision. It was a necessary evil that sustained the absence of war but it did not promote the triumph of peace. Multi-polarity is a theory of rivalry; of competing interests — and at its worst — competing values. We have tried this before. It led to the Great War, which gave way to the Cold War. Today this theory of rivalry threatens to divert us from meeting the great tasks before us.”

In plain words, the fundamental principle of balance of power, which ensures peace, must be discarded. All must unite under the American banner and discard their distinct national interests; they lead to “rivalry”. Pax Americana will ensure harmony and order.

“Why would anyone who shares the values of freedom seek to put a check on those values?” The buzzword is ‘values’, as distinct from ‘interests’. States promote their national interests. The US has consistently supported corrupt dictatorships. That buzzword was deployed in the sermon to India as well.

“I know that there are some who still talk about non-alignment in foreign policy. But may be that made sense during the Cold War when the world really was divided into rival camps. Now the question that I would ask is, as fellow democracies with so many interests and principles in common at a time when people of every culture, every race, and every religion are embracing political and economic liberty, what is the meaning of non-alignment? It has lost its meaning. One is aligned, not with the interests and power of one bloc or another, but with the values of a common humanity.” It is, of course, the US, the supreme leader, which defines those ‘values’.

But balance of power rears its head when the US’s interests are involved. China was warned on November 20, 2005, that the US would “keep a balance of power in this region”. Rice told India and Pakistan, on March 16, 2006, that there should be a “military balance” between them to “preserve peace” and the US would ensure that — as a monitor, presumably.

In a singularly appropriate riposte, on June 29, the Ministry of External Affairs’ spokesman, Navtej Sarna, did well to point out that NAM’s relevance today lies not only in South-South cooperation but also in “the democratisation of the international system” (read: multi-polarity).

The Third World does not accept the US assessments on Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, or North Korea. Nor do Russia, China and some European countries. Still less the US’s notions of war on terror. “This nation is at war with Islamic fascism,” Bush declared on August 10, 2006. David E. Sangar of The New York Times characterised it as “a narrative of never-ending conflict” — to the gain of US corporations. Having spurned for years overtures by the Taliban regime, after 9/11 the US launched a war to oust it. Many agree with Zbigniew Brzezinski that it was a mistake to treat 9/11 as an act of war rather than as an outrageous crime. Even less defensible was the attack on Iraq. The world is far less secure now.

Rice said: “We are going to have to move past old ways of thinking and old ways of acting.” Surely, this applies to Nato, the world’s only surviving military alliance. Article 5 of its Treaty (1949) bound the parties to consider “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America” as an attack against all. Algeria, then a French colony, was also included. The danger of an ‘armed attack’ ceased long ago. Despite its limits, Nato rushed to apply Art. 5 after 9/11; only to be spurned by the US. It forged its own coalition.

Indo-US relations could not be closer than they are now. Non-alignment, however, signifies independence of judgment. That is precisely what Rice wants India to discard. There is every risk that close strategic ties pave the road to a creeping alliance that robs India of its independence of judgment. At some point a line needs to be drawn.