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India’s role in Middle East conflicts
‘Nuclear negotiations with Iran’, ‘Geneva talks’ on Syria, decades-old conflict opposing Israel to its Arab neighbours, just three trouble spots in the Middle East where former big European colonial powers France and Britain are regularly involved in the forefront of negotiations. India is not involved in the forefront. As colonial powers, France and Britain have quit the region many decades ago; as global strategic players they do no longer belong to the “top league” of big powers, but they still play in that league. What do they have that India has not? They are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, India is not. China is part of the talks with Iran about its nuclear programme, together with France and Britain, without being geographically connected with the immediate neighbourhood of Iran. India is not part of the negotiations. What is it that China has that India has not? China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. India is not. In world affairs and international negotiations about war and peace, India remains a second rate power. This has historical reasons; when the United Nations were created in 1945 by the then victorious powers of World War II, India was not even a sovereign and independent State. Since then, the world has changed. The world’s largest economies of the 17th century, China and India, after a dramatic decline, have reappeared at the surface of globalising world as relevant powers. China took over the Chinese seat of a permanent member of the Security Council; India had no seat to inherit. China developed its nuclear weapon, with which it strengthened its claim to be a globally relevant power. India likewise developed its own nuclear weapon, with, however, no similar impact on its global role. India is providing political and technical support to the destruction of Syria’s military chemical stockpiles, China doesn’t. China, France and Britain remain relevant in the international handling of Iran’s nuclear programme and in diffusing the crisis in and around Syria. India remains practically irrelevant. China has, thanks also to the size of its one-billion-plus population, become the world’s second largest economy; India, thanks to its one-billion-plus population, has the potential to challenge China’s economic achievement within two decades. As a permanent member of the Security Council, India would add no-nonsense reasoning to debates on war and peace in the world, which would be based on its beliefs in democratic traditions, the rule of law and the right of people to cultural diversity. Its political positions would be less biased by strategic thinking then China’s and Russia’s and therefore, most presumably, closer to fair conflict solutions everywhere in the world. Why is then the political world so unfair to India? Historic logic, which often means lack of logic, explains some of India’s position in today’s world affairs. But it does not explain all. For India to reach the status of a permanent Security Council member, the current permanent members need to agree on the necessary ‘constitutional’ revision of the United Nations Charter. Currently, they do not agree on such a move. Put aside the moral dimension of ‘fairness’ in politics, at least the European permanent members France and Britain should consider letting India join their very exclusive club; it would be in their strategic interest. India would strengthen positions so often dear to Europeans, not out of old-fashioned ‘alliance thinking’ but out of its assessment about what would be the right solution. India’s policy and merits of refraining from retaliating militarily so often proven in its own neighbourhood when having to respond to aggression coming from China or Pakistan should support its claim and aspirations. India, in its foreign policy statements and actions, continues to document its credentials as a fundamentally responsible power, while European powers continue to defend their overrated standing in politics, just for strategic reasons. What can India do? Continue to support the responsible handling of conflicts. What should Europeans do? Acknowledge just this.
10th January 2014 / Philippe Welti