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Korybko To Mihir Sharma: India’s Balancing Act Is Approaching Perfection
Unlike Sharma, who blames India for recent friction in its relations with the West, I lay the blame entirely at the US’ feet. Hopefully our two pieces can help everyone arrive at their own conclusion.
Senior fellow at India’s celebrated Observer Research Foundation and Bloomberg columnist Mihir Sharma published an opinion piece on Monday about how “India’s Balancing Act on Russia Is Getting Trickier”. He describes India’s official position towards the Ukrainian Conflict as “notoriously hard to pin down” due to its reliance on national interests, which that expert conceives of very differently than his government does.
He argues in his article that “some of the assumptions New Delhi has made to buttress its position on Ukraine look shakier than they did earlier this year.” This includes the quality of Russian arms, which Sharma says “has been shot to hell in Kiev, Kharkiv and now Kherson.” He also critiques those who suggest distancing India from the US in response to the latter’s recent regional recalibration towards Pakistan, which he says might just be a misperception.
The spirit of Sharma’s piece is essentially to dissuade policymakers from reacting to the last-mentioned trend, which he himself claims might not even really be happening, or that it’ll end “within a decade” even if it’s presently in progress. To that end, he also made his point about Russian arms since some think that India’s historical purchase of them is one of the reasons why it’s been reluctant to publicly condemn Moscow. Before explaining why I disagree with his points, I suggest reviewing my earlier work:
That piece hyperlinks to plenty of related analyses to comprehensively argue that India’s balancing act is approaching perfection. It’s not driven by a supposed dependence on Russian arms, nor is it counterproductive, but is advanced by Delhi’s desire to accelerate truly multipolar trends amidst the ongoing global systemic transition. By positioning itself as the most neutral player in the New Cold War, India is masterfully balancing between the US-led West’s Golden Billion and the BRICS-led Global South.
Having shared the paradigm through which I’m analyzing everything, which readers can learn more about by referring to my abovementioned work and the hyperlinks contained within it, I’ll now put forth my counterarguments to each of Sharma’s points:
* “India’s official position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine is notoriously hard to pin down.”
- India’s position has been clearly articulated by its officials as he himself later admits in his article.
* “India, as a member of the UN Security Council, abstained on a vote condemning Moscow’s “annexation” of Ukrainian territory. To add insult to injury, Modi also told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy there was ‘no military solution’ to the conflict — just as the Ukrainian army was blitzing across parts of northeastern and southern Ukraine.”
- India’s abstention was in full alignment with its pragmatic policy of principled neutrality, as was its Prime Minister’s statement to Zelensky, which is the same that he shared with President Putin. It’s therefore inaccurate to interpret this as an “insult” or an “injury” since none were intended. Delhi was simply reminding everyone that it isn’t taking sides in the Ukrainian Conflict.
* “Russia will end 2022 a far less attractive partner to India than it was at the year’s beginning. Its appeal as a source of weapons has been shot to hell in Kiev, Kharkiv and now Kherson. Unlike China, India can hardly rely on Russian hydrocarbons in the long-term even if it has reached out for a few short-term bargains over the past months.”
- Russia will actually end 2022 as India’s most attractive partner anywhere in the world. Its appeal as a source of weapons was coincidentally confirmed the same day as Sharma’s article by External Affairs Minister Jaishankar. As for energy, the unprecedented trade between them since the start of Russia’s special operation will lay the basis for long-term strategic energy cooperation.
* “Above all, India prizes global stability, and Moscow has shown itself to be a profoundly destabilizing force.”
- As I argued late last month here, India most likely sympathizes more with Russia than with the West or Ukraine in this conflict.
* “The US may feel it has justifiable reasons to complain about India’s equivocation on Ukraine, but it would be wiser not to do so by transparently cozying up to Pakistan. Every now and then someone in Washington thinks it is time to reset relations with Islamabad, and within a decade their successors discover it was a terrible idea.”
- The US’ bullying of India over its principled neutrality towards the Ukrainian Conflict and consequent pivot towards Pakistan as punishment is only “justifiable” from the position of its unipolar hegemonic interests. This trajectory doesn’t seem like it’ll change anytime soon since it appears to be part of America’s envisaged grand strategic reorientation of South Asia that’ll last way longer than a decade.
* “We in India should also consider more carefully whether alienating the US and the West is really worth it.”
- India’s reaction to the US’ recent provocations isn’t “alienating” it, but is the proud defense of national interests.
* “If the next decade is to transform our economy and young Indians’ futures, we will need Western investment, technology and markets. If we are to secure ourselves against Pakistan and China, we will need Western weaponry, at least in the short term.”
- The innuendo that the West will curtail investment, technology, and market access to India as punishment for its principled neutrality shows that it doesn’t respect Delhi’s national interests. It therefore can’t be relied on to grow its economy or enhance military deterrence capabilities.
* “Perhaps Washington really wasn’t reminding New Delhi last week that two can play the game of balancing interests.”
- No, the US was indeed punishing India for its principled neutrality and has clearly decided to pivot towards Pakistan as punishment.
* “We in India should nevertheless remember why we have, for more than a decade now, stressed ‘shared values’ with the West. It’s a way of papering over temporary disagreements — one that isn’t available in a cold, transactional, “interests”-based relationship.”
- It’s the West that should remember this since they’re the ones that are punishing India over their so-called “temporary disagreement”. The US is also the one with the “cold, transactional, ‘interests’-based” mindset since it’s angrily reacting to India refusing to submit to its demands instead of respecting this.
* “Over the coming decades, we will need the West even as we disagree with it. Sticking to our values may just be India’s real national interest.”
- Over the coming decades, the West needs India more than the inverse since it’s they who are most obsessed with “containing” China. Their interests are thus served by respecting India, not punishing it.
From the above, the reader can see the different paradigm through which I’m analyzing everything. Unlike Sharma, who blames India for recent friction in its relations with the West, I lay the blame entirely at the US’ feet. Hopefully our two pieces can help everyone arrive at their own conclusion.