By Rajat Pandit
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), even as it charts out roadmaps for a sizeable US-led military training mission in Afghanistan till 2024 and a post-conflict role in Libya, wants a deeper engagement with India in fields ranging from counter-terrorism and anti-piracy to cyber-security and ballistic missile defence (BMD). "It's important for India and NATO to have a dialogue...it will ultimately depend on India where it wants the relationship to go," said US Permanent Representative to NATO, Ivo H Daalder, adding that senior alliance officials were in touch with their Indian counterparts on it. "NATO, for instance, is getting into BMD technology in a major way...We can share knowledge, train together...We, after all, face similar threats."
India, however, remains wary of being closely associated with any multi-nation military arrangement unless it's under the UN flag, positioning itself as a neutral player. Defence Minister A K Antony has himself held such exercises should be bilateral rather than multilateral ones, over-cautious as India is about antagonizing a prickly China. Another senior official, pointing to the "shared democratic values, threats and concerns" between India and NATO countries, said New Delhi had "a very significant role" to play in Afghanistan and overall stability in the region.
As early as 1996 the London based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), that claims to be “the world’s leading authority on political-military conflict”, at its annual seminar held at Dresden, first propagated NATO enlargement. US and UK experts advocated projecting NATO’s military mantle East into Asia and South to Northern and Eastern Africa, with a view to widen the security envelope to bring these regions under their influence to ensure that they conformed with strategies that would guarantee the national interests of member states of the alliance. On being questioned whether the interests and sovereignty of regional players would be taken into account, these so called experts glossed over these issues as subservient to the needs of global (Western) stability and security.
The rough shod approach suggested that logic was trumped by the belief in US and British infallibility. The very concept of projecting the NATO military umbrella so soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union was challenged by Russia and found unpalatable by delegates from European countries. Delegates from Russia boycotted the Seminar and the Europeans loudly voiced their dissatisfaction with the proposal.
A question (posed by me the sole Indian delegate other than Shekhar Gupta of the IISS Council) on why it was necessary to project Western military power in a region where countries had a meaningful military potential to ensure the security and stability of their region, went unanswered. Subsequently we are witness to NATO’s entry into Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya. These military adventures have proven disastrous for the inhabitants of these countries and their surrounding regions; millions have been killed, wounded and rendered homeless; with ‘Rendition’, torture and indiscriminate aerial bombings, human rights have been thrown out of the window; regional security and stability have been emasculated to abnormal proportions; and, not least of all have undermined the economies of the Western powers dangerously generating a far greater threat to global stability. It is in this larger matrix that India must view its national security policy. It can no longer retreat into a shell but needs to project its power potential to
(a) safeguard its sovereign interests in the region and
(b) avoid becoming an accomplice to the follies of NATO’s expansionist aspirations.
Haalder advocates a deeper engagement with India in fields ranging from counter-terrorism and anti-piracy to cyber-security and ballistic missile defence (BMD).
How does New Delhi engage with NATO in counter terrorism when it differs fundamentally in its definition of “terrorism” and “concept of engagement” that are integral to its national interests?
Engagement must therefore be limited to those issues where common ground exists. Cyber-security is a critical national vulnerability that exists in the realms of an invasive ‘electromagnetic spectrum’. Engagement must, therefore, be limited to policy issues without compromising national cyber-security means. Finally the issue of BMD, the threat to NATO and that to India do not converge.
Can New Delhi bank on NATO to participate in a strategy to secure India against missiles being launched against it during a conflict with China or Pakistan?
Or for that matter in the event the US initiates a counter proliferation strike against India in support of an ally?
Is it prudent for Delhi to be seen taking sides in the ongoing NATO-Russian-American wrangle vis-à-vis BMD?
The answer to all three is an emphatic NO. On the face of it this piece smacks of yet another attempt to facilitate the “folly” of NATO expansion to Asia a la IISS.