"Asian Security Challenges"
Report on the conference cosponsored by the MIT Center for International Studies and the Delhi Policy Group
January 9-10, 2011 — New Delhi
Opening Dinner Lecture
Indian National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon opened the conference with a tour d’horizon of Indian foreign and security interests. He identified three core challenges: instability in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the rise of China, and maintaining maritime security. He worried whether the West was facing a crisis of confidence as it confronted an ascendant Asia. Menon stressed that Indian foreign policy would be characterized by high levels of strategic restraint as India sought to manage domestic preoccupations and avoid external entanglements.
Panel I – Grand Strategy, US and Asia
Professor Barry Posen of MIT provided a trenchant critique of American grand strategy, which has heavily relied on the military for a long, un-prioritized list of objectives. Citing the constraints of limited resources in a multi-polar age and the substantial costs incurred by such an approach—including loss of life and resources from unconventional wars, erosion of strategic advantage, balancing by large powers and local entrepreneurs, and moral hazard problems of "free-rider" and "reckless driver" states—Posen proposed an alternative strategy, termed "restraint," that narrowed the list of strategic priorities and shifted to more of an offshore balancing role.
Radha Kumar from the Delhi Policy Group (DPG) contended that India’s grand strategy would continue to choose soft power over hard power in projecting external influence, including economic means such as fostering the growth of old Silk Road infrastructure, peacemaking and peacebuilding initiatives, and utilization of global governance mechanisms for issues like climate change, UN reform, and counter–terrorism. Despite an improvement of relations with the US and EU, India still lacked clear partners and faced emerging challenges like Pakistan and the rise of China and Iran.
Brahma Chellaney argued that as the world enters an era with no global hegemon, Asia would play a pivotal role in terms of instigating shifts and playing host to political instability and shakeups. Rather than a liberal rule–based system, the rise of China likely signaled the return to a classic balance–of–power logic where a consolation of Asian states—rather than deferring to Chinese dominance of Asia—would continue to depend on the US as the principal security anchor and provider of regional stability and balance.
Panel II – Disarmament or Nonproliferation?
Ambassador Arundhati Ghose summarized past philosophical and substantive disagreements between the United States and India on confronting weapons of mass destruction. Ghose questioned if it was time to reassess whether domestic consensus existed at home before attempting ambitious international agreement.
Lt. Gen. V. R. Raghavan (ret.) and president of the DPG reviewed India’s disarmament goals, from Rajiv Gandhi’s 1988 Action Plan to India’s 2006 statement in the Conference on Disarmament. He challenged the audience to consider how conditions could be created to achieve nuclear irrelevance. In a contrarian presentation, Assistant Professor Vipin Narang of MIT argued that pursuit of "nuclear zero" was not only impractical, but could actually be dangerous if successful in reducing nuclear arsenals to very low levels. He argued that near–nuclear free world would entail greater conventional conflict and enhanced incentives for nuclear breakout and first use in a crisis. Instead, he proposed that states seek to move toward assured, second–strike, de–alerted and de–mated nuclear forces at modest numbers.
Ambassador Shyam Saran detailed how U.S. and Indian nonproliferation positions had converged under the Bush and Obama administrations, though he noted the potential for difficulty depending on how the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is pursued by Washington.
Keynote: India and America in the Strategic Times to Come
At lunch, Ambassador Chas W. Freeman depicted both the tensions and overlapping interests of the two countries and proposed that U.S.–India relations might reach the level of entente with limited cooperation for periods of time rather than fixed alliances. He warned of self-fulfilling paranoia stemming from discussions of China’s rise, its projected maritime expansion and its purported assertiveness in border disputes, which risked antagonism and conflict. Nevertheless, measures of Indian (and U.S.) regional competition with China would help offset some of China’s regional pull. Ultimately, all states in the region benefited from mitigating conflict, maritime cooperation, and addressing transnational concerns. However, due to the constraints on American power and the limitations of longstanding international institutions, regional and ad hoc arrangements, including some led by India, will be required to fill "this gap in the world’s problem–solving capacity."
Panel III: East Asia: China, Japan, ASEAN and India
Prof. Richard Samuels contended that experimentation with a new Asian regional security architecture had at least demonstrated "proof of concept" if not substantive progress. He pointed out that Japanese national security was beginning to anticipate U.S. regional decline and its impact on the provision of public goods and extended deterrence. As a result, Japan was beginning to build economic and military ties with regional partners, most notably with Delhi.
Christopher Clary of MIT described India’s involvement with East Asia as more rhetoric than reality. Its limited diplomatic presence rendered it unable to capitalize on the significant good will enjoyed by India. To achieve real power and influence, India would need to grow its foreign policy apparatus, prioritize its East Asian relationships, and commit real resources rather than continuing to do "too much with too little." Sujit Dutta, Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis, struck a different tone arguing that, in contrast to the picture 20 years ago, India’s engagement of East Asia and a large number of institutions indicated India’s desire to play a larger role internationally, leading to greater multilateral involvement and contributions over time, particularly as Indian trade with East Asia accelerated.
Associate Professor Taylor Fravel (MIT) expressed skepticism over a potential for a framework of cooperation over East Asia between Japan, India, and China due to a number of factors: India’s limited economic integration and physical presence, outstanding disputes between China and the states coping with its rise, and Chinese fears of encirclement and misunderstandings of contentious democratic publics and medias. Journalist T. N. Ninan detailed India’s efforts to play "catch up" due to its historically limited role in East Asia, a policy rooted in a lack of perceived interest and Cold War alliances. With China determined to keep India out of East Asian organizations, he suspected India cannot play a real regional counterweight to China and will likely remain on the margins.
Panel IV: Security and Instability in Western South Asia
Ambassador Leela Ponappa stressed that India had demonstrated considerable restraint, despite its awareness of Pakistan’s moves to thin out troops in order to redeploy them to more unstable areas in Pakistan’s west. In a criticism of U.S. policy, she stated a conviction among many Indians that U.S. commitment to regional stability was episodic and that the United States has consistently failed to exercise its leverage over Pakistan. Columnist C. Raja Mohan argued that both the United States and India should acknowledge that their policies toward Afghanistan and Pakistan have failed. He drew historical connections between today’s policy failures and past unsuccessful attempts to deal with the Afghanistan–Pakistan border region.
Admiral William Fallon argued that there was substantial, shared U.S. and Indian interest in regional stability and security, but considerable disagreement on how those interests could be best realized. Fallon continued by questioning whether U.S. efforts to achieve tactical success in Afghanistan were inappropriately driving strategy toward the broader region, in particular U.S. policy toward Pakistan.
Sameer Lalwani of MIT contended that U.S. policy to largely sideline India in Afghanistan resulted from a heavy U.S. dependence on Pakistan for its supply lines. He suggested that a new approach which acknowledged Afghan de facto partition—one congruent with reconciliation, power–sharing, and counter–terrorism—could facilitate greater U.S.–India cooperation and U.S. leverage over Pakistan.
Indian Foreign Secretary Nirapuma Rao concluded the event by surveying India’s foreign policy, with emphasis on India’s role in Asia. She argued that India sought regional peace and stability so that it could focus on the economic growth necessary to abolish mass poverty at home. She proposed that Asia was prone to multipolarity, because of the "strategic heterogeneity" of its constituent states, but expressed confidence that Asian states would display the "maturity and wisdom" to compete without plunging the region into conflict.
Rapporteurs: Christopher Clary and Sameer Lalwani