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May 15, 2007

We urgently need a Democratic Nixon Doctrine, argues Brendan Simms - as a first step we must form a "Democratic League" of the United States, India and the democracies of the European Union

Posted by Brendan Simms

India must be a cornerstone of a new, Democratic Leagues, an alliance of the democracies - argues Brendan Simms, Reader in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge. Here he explains why.

By 1969, as President Richard Nixon began his first term, the Vietnam War had become unwinnable. That year, in his famous "Guam Speech", the President announced what became known as the "Nixon Doctrine". America, he conceded, could no longer do everything on her own. She would now have to rely increasingly on local sherriffs.

In Europe, this posed no difficulty, for burden-sharing with the NATO allies, although far from perfect in US eyes, was long-established. In the Middle East, the choice fell on Israel, which had carved out a fearsome military reputation without significant American assistance at first. This was a controversial decision with long-term consequences, but nobody could deny that Israel was a strategically useful ally, and - as the region's only democracy - a politically respectable one.

In other parts of the world, the selection was much less happy. In Africa, the Americans began to depend heavily on Zaire, ruled by the homicidal kleptocrat Mobutu, and in South Asia, on Pakistan. In one of the most shameful western foreign policy moves ever, Nixon and Kissinger sent US ships into the Bay of Bengal in 1971, after Indian intervened to stop the Pakistani regime from massacring opponents in East Pakistan - today's Bangladesh - on an almost genocidal scale.

Today, as the project of democratisation in the Middle East appears to be stalling, the temptation to revive the Nixon doctrine is very strong. We already hear realists praising the value of "old links" to repressive regimes in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and elsewhere. But if it is true that we should not be too proud to ask for help, we must be discriminating and realistic in where we seek it. Above all, we should look for allies among those powers whose values as well as their strategic interests place them on the side of the "west".

We would, in fact, do well to listen to Tufail Ahmad, who recently addressed the Henry Jackson Society in Cambridge. He is one of the most tireless critics of anti-occidentalism that the sub-continent has produced, and is now resident in London. Ahmad points out that India has not merely experienced a profound economic transformation since the early 1990s, but it has also undergone a far-reaching cultural and strategic re-orientation. Until the end of the cold war, India was statist, non-aligned and "anti-imperialist". Nowadays, more and more Indians see themselves as part of "the west": they are geographically Asian to be sure, but like the Australians and New Zealanders, their vibrant parliamentary system and their respect for the rule of law places them within the community of democracies.

Above all, India is a model of how Muslim populations can be integrated. To those who say that Islam and democracy do not mix, Ahmed counters that hundreds of millions of Muslims in the country with the world's largest Muslim population have been participating in electoral politics for nearly sixty years. They trust the system, and it has responded with faith in them. Far from empowering extremists, as the charge is often made for Iraq and Palestine, Indian democracy has disarmed them. When the Taliban called for a Jihad against the west in 2001, the most senior Muslim dignitary in Delhi flatly contradicted them. Osama bin Laden's camps trained no Indian Muslims that we know. Indian Muslims did not riot in force during the controversy over the alleged insult to the Koran at Guantanamo, or even over the cartoon controversy.

Even in Kashmir, the only conflict in which Indian Muslims are emotionally involved, most of the running is made by foreign militants and locals, but not by Indians from other parts of the country. For Indian Muslims, Ahmad stresses, religious observance is a private matter. They are cut off from "global" Islam, and their beliefs are consequently more syncretistic and authentic.

India is thus the great democracy in Asia, on which the hopes of democratic geopolitics in that region will hinge. But it should be much more than that. In time, India should itself become an exporter of security and democracy. It must collaborate with the other great democracies in providing African governments with a viable alternative to the blandishments of resource-hungry Peking. It must provide a bulwark against the penetration of Chinese soft and hard power into the Indian Ocean area. From the current flashpoints in the South China Sea, past Singapore and through the Straits of Malacca is but a small step. Cheng Ho already showed the way many hundreds of years ago. There are signs that India sees things this way too. It can see the Chinese tide lapping in the Indian Ocean itself not only in Burma/Myanmar, where Peking is politically and economically pre-eminent, but also in Pakistan, where a large port facility is being developed in the Baluchi port of Gawadar.

India will need western help to deal with this threat. The EU should forge closer links with New Delhi; there should be a shared EU-Indian policy not only on the Indian Ocean, but also in Central Asia, the other major area of Chinese penetration. There are already welcome signs of a marked warming of relations with the great democracies. India voted for sanctions against Iran's nuclear ambitions, when the Russians and Chinese abstained. It has conducted joint military exercises with Japan and the United States. All this should be consolidated through a formal alliance between the United States, India and the democracies of the European Union - perhaps a "Democratic League". It would be the first step towards the Democratic Nixon doctrine we so urgently need.

Dr Brendan Simms is Reader in the History of International Relations at the Centre of International Studies at the University of Cambridge and co-President of the Henry Jackson Society.


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We are beset by two kinds of people. Some can see only with their right eye, so they ignore the nastiness of nominally pro-Western régimes, while others see only with their left, and even the most monstrous of so-called “popular” régimes escapes their criticism. It seems that so many intellectuals and media people are left-eyed – I wonder why?

For both sets, the following Arabian tale is apposite. A man took some material to a one-eyed tailor to make a jacket. When the garment was ready, he went to collect it, and found it horribly mis-shapen. “Do you call this a jacket?” he exclaimed. “I wish both your eyes were equal !”.

Posted by: Robert H. Olley at May 16, 2007 09:17 PM
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