India, a primary ally in the global effort to stem Xi Jinping’s aggression, has found herself uncomfortably trying to maintain her historical “non-alignment” position since Russia’s illegal, unprovoked, and war-crime-ridden invasion of Ukraine. India’s ultimate positioning will have a great deal of bearing on the United States and the rest of the rules-based international order.
Since the Berlin Wall fell, the world has been trying to establish a realignment that works for those nations dedicated to a common set of ethical standards that support equitable commerce, diplomacy and, most importantly, guarantees of basic human rights. To date, this shuffle of geopolitics has been halting at best and mostly devoid of enforcement. The past five weeks have been the catalyst for accelerated realignment. India, a longtime friend, plays a key role. To this point, I shared a post yesterday on a social media platform that blew up. In it, I acknowledged the reasons that India still needs Russian oil, gas and military support but also gently prodded her to at least condemn the massive scale of human rights abuse against Ukrainian civilians – war crimes.
You would have thought that I’d slapped half of India’s population by the responses. Like the United States, India has been dealing with their own type of populism these past few years. Populism, by default, includes anti-democratic values and those are values that bond nations together when the threats are to democracy itself. The responses ranged from conspiracy theories that the U.S. funds terrorism in Pakistan against India, to the notion that “the U.S. hasn’t done anything for India, so why should they support those condemning Russia’s brutal invasion of her neighbor.”
The U.S. and India have had a long relationship of cooperation, despite a few spats, mostly in the late ’60s and ’70s. For example, this statement from The Congressional Research Service report on U.S./ Indian relations since 1947:
“U.S. Foreign Assistance to India: A total of about $15 billion in U.S. assistance went to India from that country’s 1947 independence through 2000, nearly all of it in the form of economic grants and more than half as food aid. For the period FY2001-FY2020, foreign aid averaged about $103 million annually, with the great bulk channeled through Economic Support and Development Funds, and Global Health Programs, including those combatting HIV/AIDS. Smaller amounts are devoted to nonproliferation and anti-terrorism programs (recently averaging $2.6 million annually), and to international military education and training (averaging $1.4 million annually). U.S. assistance to India totaled nearly $104 million in FY2020; the Biden Administration has requested about $89 million for FY2022, nearly all of it for development assistance and health programs.”
The linked article from the Diplomat provides a good assessment of current Indian-U.S. relations. The short version is that there is deep commitment to the relationship, albeit with some weaker links in that bond. A one-line short version is that the U.S. must learn to respect India’s official “non-aligned” status and India must take a stand on universal commitment to the rule of law, even though it may slightly be in conflict with some of her partnerships and domestic activities.
China is not only India’s primary regional threat but the primary threat to a rules-based international order. In the past two decades India and multiple regional and international players have increasingly bonded over mitigating the negative aspects of Xi’s quest to become “Son of Heaven” or emperor. This bonding has paid dividends for India and the rest of the world. In part, that bond is a result of shared values. But until today, India’s refusal to condemn Russia, especially in the wake of war-crimes revelations, has been disappointing at best and trust-eroding at worst. Having shared stated values is one thing, but acting on them is what matters.
This intransigence on India’s part of not condemning the war crimes being committed against Ukrainian civilians flies in the face of what President Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to this past September when meeting face-to-face as leaders for the first time at the White House. Even prior to this September White House meeting, Prime Minister Modi tweeted the following in January 2021 after his second phone call with the newly elected President Biden: “President @JoeBiden and I are committed to a rules-based international order.” Ignoring war crimes committed by the Russian army against countless Ukrainian civilians runs contrary to being a global leader of significance. To be convincing, words and actions must align.
With a few glaring exceptions, the U.S. has been generous in support of India as a democracy. India’s refusal to condemn Russia was a hard blow to those who are allied with her in the QUAD and other INDO-PACIFIC organizations. It implied that India was willing to take our aid but not share the burden of leadership as a key player. In the long run, this will be an insignificant issue between India and the rest allied with her – if she continues to act on her constitutional values.
The U.S. learned this lesson the hard way after four years of abusing our allies and partners. We’ve had to work hard to reestablish ourselves as trustworthy partners in NATO and other organizations. A demonstrable effort by India will make her initial hesitancy to join the global condemnation of the Russian war on Ukraine irrelevant as long as she demonstrates that she is interested in real partnership, rather than being a fair-weather friend. This recent condemnation of Russia is a small but vital step in restoring that faith.
The realignment for the future will be impacted by what India does or doesn’t do. The global community should be putting some teeth into enforcing human rights. If we succeed, it will be a win for all nations and their citizens. Every nation, like every person, has the obligation to act on their beliefs if they are to be trusted. India has taken the first step in that direction. What comes next for India and the world will depend on her decisions in the coming weeks. Either way, currently the momentum is with global unity on human rights and rule of law in defining the global realignment. Which nations align over these issues will reap the fruits of this momentum, or not.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected].