May 7, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
MODERN WORLD HISTORY
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article May 7 2006
MUCH as we in India might like to think we were the central focus of Britain’s national life in the 19th and 20th Centuries, we were not. India’s matters were handled mostly by a senior cabinet minister to whom the governor-general or viceroy reported. Though possession and control of India gave the British a sense of mission, self-importance and grandeur, and events in India (mostly bad ones) could hog the newspapers for a few days, it was never the case that India dominated Britain’s political consciousness or national agenda for any length of time. British prime ministers and diplomatists, from Pitt through Canning, Palmerston, Peel, Gladstone, Granville, Disraeli and Salisbury, mostly had other concerns of foreign policy, mostly in Europe and also in the Americas, Africa, and the Near and Far East. India was peripheral to their vision except as a place to be held against any encroachment.
A French historian used to begin lectures on British history saying “Messieurs, l’Angleterre est une ile.” (“Gentlemen, Britain is an island.”) The period of unambiguous British dominance of world diplomacy began with Pitt’s response to the French Revolution, and unambiguously ended in 1917 when Britain and France could have lost the war to Germany if America had not intervened. Since then, America has taken over Britain’s role in world diplomacy, though Lloyd George and Churchill, to a smaller extent Harold Wilson, and finally Thatcher, were respected British voices in world circles. Thatcher’s successor Major failed by seeming immature, while his successor Blair has failed by being immature to the point of being branded America’s “poodle”, making Britain’s loss of prestige complete.
Between Pitt and Flanders though, Britain’s dominance of world affairs and the process of defining the parameters of international conduct was clear. It was an era in which nations fought using ships, cannon, cavalry and infantry. The machine-gun, airpower and automobile had been hardly invented. Yet it is amazing how many technological inventions and innovations occurred during that era, many in Britain and the new America, vastly improving the welfare of masses of people: the steam-engine, the cotton gin, railways, electricity, telecommunications, systems of public hygiene etc. The age of American dominance has been one of petroleum, airpower, guided missiles and nuclear energy, as well as of penicillin and modern medicine.
It was during the period 1791-1991, between the French Revolution and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that world diplomacy created the system of “Western” nation-states, from Canning’s recognition of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia etc to the emergence of the European Union. There is today peace in Europe and it has become unthinkable there will be war between e.g. France and Germany except on a soccer pitch. Even the unstable Balkans have stabilised. The transition from British to American dominance occurred during and because of the 1914-1918 World War, yet that war’s causes had nothing to do with America and hence America’s rise has been somewhat fortuitous. The War superficially had to do with those unstable Balkans in the summer of 1914 and the system of alliances developed over the previous 100 years; beneath was the economic rise of the new Germany.
Austro-Hungary went to war against Serbia, causing Germany its ally into war with Russia, Serbia’s ally. Belgium’s neutrality was guaranteed through British diplomacy by the Treaty of London in 1839 signed by Austria, France, Britain, Russia and Prussia. This “scrap of paper” Germany tore up to invade Belgium on 4 August 1914, because it was easier to attack France through Belgium than directly as most French generals had expected. Though Germany had no dispute with France, France was Russia’s ally, and the Germans had long-feared fighting on two fronts against larger but more slowly mobilising forces. Violation of Belgian neutrality caused Britain into war with Germany. So all Europe was at war from which it would fail to extricate itself without American intervention. This arrived in 1917 though it too had been provoked by German submarines sinking American ships in the Atlantic. The actual impact of American forces entering the battlefields was small, and it was after the Armistice, when the issue arose of reparations by Germany to everyone and repayments by Britain and France to America, that America’s role became dominant. New York took over from London as the world’s financial capital.
Woodrow Wilson longed to impose a system of transparent international relations on the Europeans who had been used to secret deals and intrigues. He failed, especially when America’s Senate vetoed America’s own entry into the League of Nations. America became isolationist, wishing to have nothing more to do with European wars ~ and remains to this day indifferent towards the League’s successor. But the War also saw Lenin’s Bolsheviks grab power after Russia extricated itself from fighting Germany by the peace of Brest-Litovsk. And the Armistice saw the French desire to humiliate and destroy German power for ever, which in turn sowed the seeds for Hitler’s rise. And the War also had led to the British making the Balfour Declaration that a Jewish “National Home” would arise in Palestine in amity and cooperation with the Arabs. The evolution of these three events dominated the remainder of the 20th Century ~along with the rise and defeat of an imperialist Japan, the rise of communist China, and later, the defeat of both France and America in Vietnam.
Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September. The next day in faraway India, the British in a panic started to place Jinnah on an equal footing as Gandhi ~ astounding Jinnah himself as much as anyone since his few supporters had lost the 1937 elections badly, especially in the provinces that today constitute the country he wished for. After the defeat and occupation of Germany and Japan, America’s economic supremacy was unquestionable. Utterly exhausted from war, the British had no choice but to leave India’s angry peoples to their own fates, and retreated to their fortified island again ~ though as brown and black immigration increased with the end of Empire, many pale-skinned natives boarded ships for Canada, Australia and New Zealand. America came to have much respect for its junior British ally during the fight against Hitler and later in the political battle against the USSR. It was Thatcher who (after battling Argentina in the South Atlantic) led Reagan to make peace with Gorbachov. With the end of Soviet communism, Germany would be unified again. All across Christendom there was peace for the first time ever, and a militarily powerful nuclear-armed Israel had been created too in the old Palestine. In this new period of world history, the Security Council’s permanent members are the modern version of the “Great Powers” of the 19th Century. The American-led and British-supported destruction of Baathist Iraq, and threatened destruction of Khomeinist Iran mark the final end of the League of Nations’ ethos which had arisen from the condemnation of aggression. In Osama bin Laden’s quaint idiom, there seems a battle of “Crusaders” and “Zionists” against Muslim believers. Certainly Muslim believers (which means most Muslims as there are relatively few agnostics and atheists among them) think that it is obvious that the Universe was created, and that its Creator finally and definitively spoke through one human being in 7th Century Arabia. Many people from North Africa to the Philippines are not often able to conceive how things might have been otherwise. The new era of history will undoubtedly see all kinds of conversations take place about this rather subtle question.
March 14, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
Business, Energy, Weapons And Foreign Policy
First published in The Statesman March 14 2006 Editorial Page Special Article
By Subroto Roy
If souls can transmigrate, so may souls of companies, and future historians might well look back and say that the new US-India “CEO Forum” heralded the modern rebirth of the East India Company. Like the old Company, the new Forum has many ambitious, competent people. The American side includes heads of AES Corporation, Cargill Inc., Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Honeywell, McGraw-Hill, Parsons Brinckerhoff Ltd, PepsiCo, Visa International and Xerox Corporation. The Indian side includes heads of Tata Group, Apollo Hospitals Group, Bharat Forge Ltd, Biocon India Group, HDFC, ICICI One Source, Infosys, ITC Ltd, Max India Group and Reliance Industries — all stalwarts of what Mr Kanu Sanyal’s Naxals would have termed India’s “comprador bourgeoisie”.
Presiding over the Indian side has been Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trusted confidante, Montek Singh Ahluwalia (whose family moved to the USA after 20 years in India). Indeed it may have been his idea to have a government-sponsored business initiative. A “US-India Business Council” has existed for thirty years in Washington as “the premier business advocacy organization promoting US commercial interests in India.… the voice of the American private sector investing in India”. But for both Governments to sponsor private business via the Forum was “unprecedented” as noted by Washington’s press during Dr Singh’s visit in July 2005. The State Department (America’s foreign ministry) announced it saying: “Both our governments have agreed that we should create a high-level private sector forum to exchange business community views on key economic priorities…”
The Forum seems to have gone well beyond exchanging business community views, and has had a clear impact in the sudden redefinition of the direction of India’s foreign, military and energy policy. When Dr Singh addressed America’s legislature, the main aspect of the speech he read there had to do with agreeing with the American President “to enhance Indo-US cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear technology”. And nuclear energy has suddenly begun to dominate India’s news and national political agenda — even though the 2503MW of nuclear power produced in the country accounts for merely 4% of our civilian energy needs, barely significant. But before nuclear or any other deals could be contemplated with American business, the Dabhol payouts were required to be made. The Maharashtra State Electricity Board — or rather, its sovereign guarantor the Government of India — paid out at least $140-$160 million each to General Electric and Bechtel Corporations in “an amicable settlement” of the Dabhol affair. (When is the last word going to be said on that?) Afterwards, General Electric’s CEO for India was kind enough to say “India is an important country to GE’s global growth. We look forward to working with our partners, customers, and State and Central Governments in helping India continue to develop into a leading world economy”.
A weak and corrupt Delhi
Such nice rhetoric was on close display during the deal-making leading up to and beyond President George W. Bush’s recent India visit. America’s Ambassadors are mostly political appointees and special friends of the President of the day; the present Ambassador to India is a prominent Texas businessman, and business has been driving American thinking with India all the way. After Dr Singh’s visit, the US Foreign Commercial Service reportedly said American engineering firms, equipment suppliers and contractors faced a $1000 bn (1 bn = 100 crore) opportunity in India. Before the Bush visit, Dr Singh signed vast purchases of commercial aircraft from Boeing and Airbus, as well as large weapons’ deals with France and Russia. After the Bush visit, the US Chamber of Commerce has said the nuclear deal can cause $100 bn worth of new American business in India’s energy-sector alone. Getting American legislators to agree will require “massive grassroots efforts” at lobbying politicians, saying that “energy-starved” India will now become open “to US investment in key areas from IT and telecom to pharmaceuticals and insurance”. Mr Bush’s foreign minister Condoleezza Rice (who has authored the political aspects of the new India-orientation) and her pointman Nicholas Burns have said, “we are suggesting India-specific amendments to the Atomic Energy Act of 1954… It’s a waiver authority … We are not seeking relief from US law for any country in the world except India and we don’t anticipate putting any country forward. So it is India specific.” India will separate by 2014 closely entwined civilian and military nuclear facilities and put 14 of 22 civilian nuclear reactors under international inspection.
Now the East India Company had not intended to rule India but ended up dictating to a weak and corrupt Delhi, waging wars across Bengal, the Deccan and North India, and inducing “regime change” all over the place among local satraps. In the modern context, the American Government and its businessman Ambassador to the Delhi Court have made it crystal-clear India’s support has been expected in the matter of American policy towards Iran. Dr Singh has been his own Foreign Minister, crafting his America policy aided by Mr Ahluwalia on one hand and Mr M. K. Narayanan on the other. None of the three has diplomatic, historical or foreign policy-making experience. Mr Narayanan is a retired officer of domestic counter-intelligence (which is traditionally Pakistan-specific). Dr Singh and Mr Ahluwalia are retired economic officials. None has ever outlined for public scrutiny any views on India’s history, politics or foreign policy in any book or essay. India’s historians and career diplomats (and not just the most loquacious and greedy ones) have been silenced. Yet this is a time when a well-respected Indian world figure (though unfortunately there may be none, except Zubin Mehta) could have brought Iran and Israel to the conference table together. Iran must recognise Israel and the two countries must exchange ambassadors if the present tension is not to degenerate into more war in our region. Israel needs to declare itself a nuclear weapons’ power and not be belligerent towards Muslims, and Iran could be allowed to pursue its nuclear research within reason. It is in India’s and Pakistan’s common interests to see that Jimmy Carter’s extension of the Monroe doctrine to include the Persian Gulf be replaced by the Zionist philosopher Martin Buber’s idea of a “federative structure” for the peoples of the East. Instead the reverse is happening.
What economics does say
Dr Singh and Mr Ahluwalia may say economics has been driving their new foreign policy. But what economics actually says is that Government should have nothing to do with any kind of business. Government should encourage competition in all avenues of economic activity and prevent or regulate monopoly, and also see to it that firms pay taxes they are due to pay. But that is it. It is as bad for Government to pamper organised business and organised labour with subsidies of any kind as it is to make enterprise difficult with red tape and hurdles. Businessmen are grown ups and should be allowed to freely risk their capital and make their profits or their losses without public intervention. Government’s role is to raise taxes and provide public goods and services properly. We need to remind ourselves that India is a large, populous country with hundreds of millions of materially poor ill-informed citizens, a weak tax-base, a humongous internal and external public debt (i.e. debt owed by the Government to domestic and foreign creditors), a non-investment grade credit-rating in world financial markets, massive annual fiscal deficits, an inconvertible currency, nationalized banks, and runaway printing of paper-money. There is plenty of serious economics that has yet to begin to be done in the country. New Delhi must wake up from its self-induced dreaming.