Task of diplomacy

Print edition : December 21, 2007

These three volumes of essays provide a veritable encyclopaedia to the scholar and the diplomat alike on every facet of diplomacy.

INDIANS have always been interested in foreign affairs. The All India Congress Committee (AICC) published in 1952 an excellent pamphlet by Dr. N.V. Rajkumar, Foreign Secretary of the Congress, with a foreword by the general secretary, Lal Bahadur Shastri. It contained texts of its resolutions from 1885 to 1952. It published in 1966 a useful compilation, Resolutions on Foreign Policy 1947-66. Well before Independence, the Congress passed res olutions on foreign affairs. Dr. Bimla Prasads pioneering and excellent work, The Origins of Indian Foreign Policy, covers the Congress pronouncements on world affairs from 1885 to 1947 (Bookland; 1962). One hopes he will bring out a new edition with a retrospective Introduction. In the main, the Congress sought a share in the administration and consistently opposed British expansionism, whether in Burma, Iran, Afghanistan or Tibet, as also Britains policies in West Asia. Jawaharlal Nehru emerged as the Congress principal spokesman on foreign policy while Subhas Chandra Bose made his own distinctive contribution.

But there was an air of unreality about most Indian pronouncements. Dr. Lanka Sundarams India in World Affairs (S. Chand & Co., 1944) was a sparse work. It covered the Commonwealth, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Indians overseas, foreign trade and the freedom movement. Dr. Paul F. Powers book Gandhi on World Affairs (George Allen & Unwin, 1960) analyses the early influences and demonstrates Gandhis limited understanding of the complexities of the world order.

Nehru has been portrayed as an idealist or a visionary. No one has attempted to appraise his world outlook as expressed in the last pages of Glimpses of World History. A Postscript covered the post-Munich events until November 1938. His critics were no better. On January 4, 1948, Sarat Chandra Bose waxed eloquent on a United Nations of South Asia. One might mention here that that was very true also of the Opposition in Parliament. The Socialists, the Jan Sangh and the Swatantra Party had a set line as had the Communist Party of India and later the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Not one of them produced a figure knowledgeable enough about foreign policy and the realities of diplomacy. The concepts differ though the differences tend to be blurred policy is what you do, diplomacy is how you do it. The doyen of the Indian press in his time, S. Mulgaokar, was wont to say that India had no foreign policy, it had attitudes.

Nirad C. Chaudhuris scathing censure of Gandhi, Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose and the Congress entire was true of the entire Opposition. Most of them espoused a hard line on Pakistan and China, opposed any settlement on Kashmir and the boundary question and egged on Nehru as he pursued the disastrous forward policy in Ladakh in 1961-62 to settle the boundary dispute by force. The censure was true of most of the media, which tends to bat with the government on foreign policy, and the academia, which tends to be as culpable.

Nirad Chaudhuris article was aptly entitled They were ignorant of international politics (The Times of India, February 28, 1982). He exonerates homespun leaders like Gandhi. The most unexpected aspect of the ignorance was its extent in the two Cambridge men in the Indian nationalist movement, Jawaharlal Nehru and Subhas Bose, who were always talking about the international situation. They were also regarded by their political colleagues as expert authorities on international politics. In spite of all that, not only their knowledge but also their approach were wholly unreal. Both of them saw it in the light of their personal predilections which were shaped by their temperaments and feelings. And their predominant feeling was hatred of British rule in India. In short, their ideas on international politics were only a projection of their nationalism, which prevented their seeing any international situation for what it was.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru with Girja Shankar Bajpai, the first Secretary-General of the Ministry of External Affairs, at the first meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in 1948 in London.-THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Prime Minister Jawaharlal

It was no better after Independence. The national interest was rightly pursued but was narrowly defined. It was pursued with opportunism and grandstanding, with hypocritical propositions of moral superiority. As we know, Nehru sought an alliance with the United States in 1948-49 but was rebuffed.

There was something wildly unreal about his initial approach on March 11, 1947, when the country was torn by strife and pressing issues of domestic concern cried for attention. Nehru minuted: India cannot be indifferent to the future of Germany. In a note on Indias candidature in the elections to the United Nations Security Council, he wrote on October 30, 1946: India can no longer take up an attitude other than that demanded by her geographical position, by her great potential and by the fact that she is the pivot round which the defence problems of the Middle East, the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia revolve. This is far from true even now. In 1946, it verged on the ludicrous. To M.C. Chagla, a member of the first delegation he sent to the U.N. General Assembly in 1946, Nehru wrote (October 3): We want to make a splash at this General Assembly meeting.

The yearning for a splash persists to this day. It prompted a sympathetic India hand in the United States to remark: In the past, India was a less-than-great power attempting to act like a great one, which sometimes made it look foolish. This folie de grandeur led another critic to say that India has no foreign policy. It merely offers a vigorous running commentary on world affairs.

Nehru built up the Ministry of External Affairs but had scant use for professional advice, which is why the Ministrys first and most distinguished head, Sir Girja Shankar Bajpai, used Vallabhbhai Patel to convey his views on China to his own political head, the Prime Minister. Bajpai was the author of Patels famous letter to Nehru of November 7, 1950. Warren F. Ilchman of the University of California, Berkeley, commented, after interviewing former members of the Indian Foreign Service, on the tendency for men in the field to write what the Prime Minister wished to hear, especially reports confirming non-alignment as a policy (Journal of Commonwealth Studies, November 1966).

No envoy has any business to counsel the government on a fundamental underlying its foreign policy; namely, non-alignment. But a careful reader of the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru will find him snapping at those who questioned specific policies on decisions in their advice, which they were perfectly entitled to offer. As for the famous Patel letter, it was confined to the McMahon Line. It did not cover the Aksai Chin, a fact of great significance (for the text, see Sardar Patels Correspondence, volume 10, pages 335-341). Nehrus note in reply, dated November 8, 1950, could not have displeased Patel. The fact remains that our major possible enemy is Pakistan (ibid., pages 342-347).

Nehru was characteristically inconsistent and indecisive. The real protection that we should seek is some kind of understanding of [sic; with?] China. In 1952, he spurned Bajpais advice to seek such an understanding. In 1959 and 1960, he spurned Chinas offers for a fair settlement. He preferred the advice he received from the Ambassador to China, K.M. Panikkar, whom he despised, to that of Bajpai, whom he respected. He ran down Panikkar in a private talk with the U.S. Ambassador Chester Bowles. Bajpais essay on India and the Balance of Power repays study (The Indian Year Book of International Affairs; The Indian Study Group of International Affairs, University of Madras, 1952).

Nehrus world view was best revealed in his assessment of the balance of power, a fundamental principle. It was written in 1956 in a foreword to a book written with V.K. Krishna Menons help. He wrote: There is, however, a significant difference between power balances, as it used to be and as they are in the world today. Hitherto, there were several rival power groups, the alignment of one or more of which to one or other of the prospective contenders would have tilted the balance against the opponent. The uncertainty of that alignment, or sometimes, the prospect or threat of one of them joining the opposite camp was a deterrent. To that extent, the balance of power finds its historic justification.

Today, however, the balance rests on a bipolarity. There are the two blocs: the Western alliance and the Soviet group with no other power grouping, either powerful enough or placed geographically and politically to render its alignment on one side or the other a deterrent. Yet, he added: To a certain extent the old position may still be the case, when there is only a cold war and the relations of some countries to either of the groups are not exclusive, and some countries like my own remain uncommitted to the rivals in the bipolarity. But this ceases to have any value, or any great power of deterrence, in a major crisis.

The balance of power today, therefore, is devoid even of that amount of breaking power that a group of countries may have been able to exercise on the mounting momentum to conflict as between two rival alliances in a multiple balance system. The bipolarity not merely totally discredits the balance approach, but it makes it ominous and the portent of catastrophe.

The advent of thermonuclear power and the weapons of mass destruction as part of the armoury of the great powers has totally deprived any validity that might have existed in the conception and policies of balance of power and has rendered it a menace instead of a means of security in the world of today. It is the Bomb that preserved the peace despite the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Berlin confrontation. The 19th century balance of power was less stable.

If vis-a-vis Pakistan he consistently urged retention of deterrent power, vis-a-vis China he was innocent of the concept of limited war and thought that any attack on India would trigger a world war. Ergo, the Forward Policy held no risks.

Nehrus vision was noble; his policies were short-sighted. The personal and the subjective warped his judgment. He was a poor judge of men and situations. The vanity, excessive to a degree, was not compensated by intellectual equipment in foreign affairs or by those qualities which mark a leader as a true statesman in foreign affairs.

The national hero, as he unquestionably was, fostered a clime and an outlook which bore his traits. We have tended, unlike Bajpai, to ignore the European experience. These three volumes of erudite essays provide a veritable encyclopaedia to the scholar and the diplomat alike on every facet of diplomacy its theory, history and current problems. Even funeral diplomacy, the subject of a delightful serial in Yes, Prime Minister, is included. Diplomacy is always conducted on the sidelines of the funeral.

Christer Jonsson is Professor of Political Science at Lund University, Sweden. Richard Langhorne is Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University at Newark in the U.S. They have performed a stupendous job editing the essays. What is Two-Track Diplomacy? It is altogether different from back-channel diplomacy, which is a state affair. Track Two must be independent and informed. In South Asia, the distinction is overlooked. In Track Two the participants talk like government representatives.

There are excellent discussions of the role of TV, the impact of domestic politics, the diplomacy of propaganda and similar themes that have come to the fore in recent years.

Not to be ignored are the fundamentals. Prof. Hans J. Morgenthau wrote in his essay: The task of diplomacy is fourfold: (1) Diplomacy must determine its objectives in the light of the power actually and potentially available for the pursuit of these objectives. (2) Diplomacy must assess the objectives of other nations and the power actually and potentially available for the pursuit of these objectives. (3) Diplomacy must determine to what extent these different objectives are compatible with each other. (4) Diplomacy must employ the means suited to the pursuit of its objectives A nation that sets itself goals which it has not the power to attain may have to face the risk of war on two counts. Such a nation is likely to dissipate its strength and not to be strong enough at all points of friction to deter a hostile nation from challenging it beyond endurance. The failure of its foreign policy may force the nation to retrace its steps and to redefine its objectives in view of its actual strength. Yet it is more likely that, under the pressure of an inflamed public opinion, such a nation will go forward on the road toward an unattainable goal, strain all its resources to achieve it, and finally, confounding the national interest with the goal, seek in war the solution to a problem that cannot be solved by peaceful means.

Non-papers are not quite a modern device. They have an ancient ancestry: An unofficial and personal adjunct to oral communication frequently used is known as a bout de papier. When an ambassador or a member of his staff makes an appointment to discuss some matter semi-officially with a foreign representative, or in the ministry of foreign affairs, he sometimes has typed on a piece of plain paper a few lines of notes to assist his memory. He may decide to leave this piece of paper (which is much more informal than an aide-memoire) with the person to whom he has been speaking, in order to ensure that there will be no room for doubt regarding the main points which he has sought to make. The recipient generally finds this helpful and is grateful for it, especially if the conversation has been in a language in which one or other participant is only moderately proficient. The piece of paper is prepared in such a way that it bears no attribution. While it is thus both a personal courtesy and a practical convenience, it cannot be claimed by either side as possessing any official status.

In different circumstances a bout de papier discreetly passed across the table has saved the situation in many a conference about to founder on the apparent inability of either side to move towards a mutually agreeable formula. One side, let us suppose, has worked out a proposition of which it cannot possibly go on record as the proposer, but which, in the interests of cooperation, it could agree to recommend for its governments consideration, if the other side were to advance it. The anonymous piece of paper therefore contains some such form of words as If you felt able to propose I should be prepared to try it on my Government. Such a piece of classic give and take can often produce a surprisingly happy result.

The editors note: Whereas many authors emphasise the peaceful character of diplomacy and regard it as the opposite of war or any use of force, several scholars are reluctant to draw such a clearcut line. From a cross-cultural, historical perspective, the juxtaposition of diplomacy and war as polar opposites appears as a peculiar Western notion not necessarily found in other traditions. In the Cold War era, the phrase coercive diplomacy was coined to denote the use of threats or limited force to persuade opponents not to change the status quo in their favour or to call off or undo an encroachment.

It is a measure of the Bharatiya Janata Partys diplomatic illiteracy that it mounted Operation Parakram without diplomatic preparations and mobilised the armed forces without providing the service heads with a clear directive.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor
×