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From strategic choices to strategic needs

India’s role in international affairs is not at the level of its potential. We have written this before, in this column. Partly, it has to do with India’s economic and industrial growth over the last twenty years, which has remained below the performance of other emerging economies, let alone of Asian and other tigers. Another reason may be the weakness of its leaders over the same time span. Prime Minister Modi, now, seems to be more of a character like Indira Gandhi, when it comes to determination. He is still in his first year, but impressive is his involvement in international contacts. That is not yet an achievement in itself, but at least it indicates the necessary will to bring India back to the international stage where bigger powers mingle with the USA and China. After high level encounters with China, Russia and the USA, Modi has engineered stronger partnerships with Japan and Israel, who had never interrupted their commitments to India. Vetoing the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement in Geneva has brought Modi fresh tactical benefits in the international trade debate. And even more importantly, Modi has had, so far, a successful approach to perennial Pakistani obstruction. There is still a wide room for improving India’s standing in international affairs; Modi has still a long way to go until he reaches the position of a “natural” permanent interlocutor of other world leaders. He will reach it, but in order to sustain it, he needs to transform India as a society and an economy. The domestic substance must be there. That remains the real challenge. He is courageously engaged there, too. The antagonism between foreign ambitions and the underlying domestic economic substance, or rather the lack of it, reminds us of another antagonism. The case of an economic giant with an insufficient ambition to lead the world: Europe. This is not the place to give advice to governments. But for a mathematical strategist, the comparison India-Europe opens a wide field for speculative options. What, if European machine makers turned more systematically to India as an industrial base for producing for the region? India is already the world’s pharmaceutical drugstore. What, if India fundamentally transformed Labour Law, labour force education and training and, overall, abolished excessive bureaucracy and corruption altogether? Such moves could replace, or at least challenge China as the world’s industrial mass production power house, with the most relevant advantage that India would take with it its democratic legacy, an asset for a globalised future. This, you do not get in India without a “conservative revolution” establishing the values of a really liberal market economy. Modi may be the best possible political choice, for the time being, especially measured against the task assumed as “mission impossible”. And what does it take on Europe’s side? A fresher look at strategic options, daring approaches to new partners on the world stage and, above all, the courage to insist on Europe’s “right to self-determination” and strategic sovereignty. So, lessons for India bear lessons for developed Europe, not only for other emerging countries on other continents. This seems so clear! And yet, who tells it to those who are in office and in command? Strategic options are one thing, strategic needs another one. Leadership means recognising the needs and making the right choice out of options. That’s what government is all about. Desperately observing India and not doing the right thing for Europe is lack of government.

17th December 2014 / Philippe Welti

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