India and the Atlantic divide

NEW DELHI JAN. 25. As the endgame against the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein begins, the war of words between America and Europe has become louder. This is not the first time that two sides of the Atlantic have argued; but the political divide between them has never been deeper.

Germany, which takes over the rotating presidency of the United Nations Security Council next month, has said it will not support the use of force against Iraq. France has threatened to veto any American attempt to get the UNSC authorise war.

The Franco-German alliance has Russia and China with them in their opposition to the Bush administration in Iraq. Washington has dismissed the Franco-German defiance as mere whining from "old Europe''.

While the ideologues of the Bush administration are increasingly contemptuous of West Europeans, the anger against American policies is building up in European public opinion.

The arguments across the Atlantic reflect a fundamental dissonance between the two sides about the nature of the threats to the international system. They are also about the nature of power and the kind of rules that should govern its use.

The U.S. believes Europe does not feel the pain of international terrorism, and lacks the political will and military capability to confront the new threats to global security.

Washington also argues that the Franco-German emphasis on multilateralism and their rejection of power are about political weakness and strategic irrelevance of Europe in the new world situation.

Europeans, on the other hand, argue that America is too quick to resort to force, prefers its unilateral application, and has no faith in maintaining a framework of global rules.

The trans-Atlantic discord is leading to an inevitable unravelling of the international order in place since the end of the Second World War.

The political and military alliance between the United States and Western Europe had shaped world politics for nearly six decades. Today deep fissures are showing — with the U.S. and somewhat shaky Britain on one side and Germans and the French on the other.

For many in India, it is tempting to join the bandwagon against the Anglo-Americans and return to the old rhetorical arguments in responding to the current crisis in the Gulf. So far India has resisted it.

As a senior official here put it, India's heart tends to be with the "Latinos'' in Europe. But over the past decade as Indian diplomacy increasingly used its "head'', it has drawn closer to the "Anglos'' on regional and global issues.

Consequently, India has toned down its anti-American rhetoric and chose silence as a safer option in dealing with the latest Gulf crisis.

Three factors have nudged India towards a pragmatic approach. First, India has been the biggest victim of international terrorism and understands traditional methods of dealing with state sponsors of this scourge do not work.

Any assessment of Indian experience with terrorism over the last two decades should suggest urgency of devising new ways of coping with the challenge of terrorism.

Second, India has no reason to mourn the collapse of the current international order. Having been kept out of the decision-making structures of the U.N. and the nuclear club, India has few stakes in the survival of the present order.

For all its past political slogans, India has been a revisionist power in the international system. India was not seeking more territory but an elevation of its political standing in the international system.

Until now, India's political aspirations could not be accommodated by the old order. If the successful pursuit of war against terrorism requires a change of rules and alliances, India would rather be part of a new political coalition.

Third, India instinctively understands that the Anglo-Americans who won the last three wars — the two world wars and the cold war — are poised to win the next one too.

While caution and silence have been safe options for India's Gulf policy so far, it will soon have to make up its mind. India should have no desire to end up on the losing side again.

If New Delhi continues to use its "head'' rather than "heart'', it should be exploring political options that demonstrate that India matters on issues of war and peace in its immediate neighbourhood.