Wednesday, 9 September 2015


Retaining India’s Strategic Autonomy


 Published in  The New Indian Express Wednesday 9 September   2015

There is a constant attempt by Western, especially American, strategic analysts and think tanks to disentangle the seemingly complex threads of India’s foreign policy. The political establishments of the United States and other major Western powers have lately shifted their policies vis-a-vis India in an endeavour to draw India closer to them as part of their ongoing attempt to re-align the balance in South and South East Asia. This part of their strategy developed since the emergence of China as a formidable  Asian economic superpower. They have developed deep concerns over China providing military and other infrastructural assistance to the smaller nations in this region and thereby exerting its influence over them. Therefore ,  India is seen as perhaps the only nation that can in reality “stand up” to China and it is in this context that they have formulated and devised agreements signifying  partnership with India. This does not mean that India is in any way an economic or military equal to China but India is seen by them  as capable of counteracting China’s policy of  wooing  the smaller nations and creating a band of allies to secure and sustain  Chinese supremacy in the region. The Chinese “One Belt One Road “ initiative that focuses on connectivity over sea and land ensures a bigger role for China in international affairs and this too  has posed a major challenge for Western power balance and  trade . Therefore, there is an effort to prod India to be a more assertive player in the region. However, India’s foreign policy is not to be directed by the vested interests of others and it is in this frame that India retains its strategic autonomy much to the chagrin of these powers.
Although China has on several occasions acted in manner that has raised India’s concerns, these actions have not been construed as posing imminent danger to India. Besides, India has been perceptive in identifying that while there are areas in which there may be divergent interests and even conflicting views like border issues, autonomy of Tibet and several other matters related to trade, demographic profiling  and river-water sharing, there are also areas where Chinese and Indian perceptions definitely converge .Economic cooperation between India and China will set off a new momentum in the region, a momentum that could be discomfiting to other powers outside the region. While China views the US as an extra regional power jostling for continual supremacy in the Indian Ocean, India views both the United State and China as participants in India’s economic future. Therefore, maintaining strategic autonomy is imperative for India to ensure it is not subject to any initiative or action that is detrimental to India’s self interest. For instance, in the Indian Ocean region, India has shown great restraint in not allowing extra regional powers to dictate its initiatives and actions. India is not party to the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) , a political commitment between nations spearheaded by the United States  that gives powers upon receiving “reliable”  intelligence to board ships, inspect  and seize on the high seas. India has been critical of such “Initiatives” the lie outside the purview of the United Nations and  is  a violation of the freedom of the high seas.   
Respecting the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity is apparent in India’s policy  in the region : whether it is supporting the right of a change of leadership by the people of Sri Lanka, the decision to desist to interfere in the long and painful transition of the political establishment in Nepal, the rejection of military intervention in Maldives – India has respected the need for the people of these countries to choose their own leaders. Foreign policy has been directed in a manner in  which India is seen as neither a threatening hegemonic regional power by its smaller neighbours nor as a weak power that is reluctant to lead.  Often this has lead to criticism from within India and outside,  and seen as India’s reluctance to exploit the situation, to support leaders who seem favourable to India or to play an active role in regime change. Some writers   cite China as a clever opportunist which rushes into the vacuum created in countries in turmoil-  as in an unsettled Afghanistan and Nepal and criticise India for being slow to seize opportunities to its advantage.
International law principles to which India consistently adheres do not support interference in the internal affairs of nations. Besides, innumerable interferences by major powers masquerading in the guise of humanitarian interventions have led to global disquietude and human suffering rather  than alleviated the miseries  they set out to mitigate. It is in this context that India prefers, when called upon, to offer logistic help and aid in building infrastructures by which strife ridden countries can reconstruct their economies rather than reestablish and rebuild by direct political interferences.  Obviously this does not suit those powers who want India to be their lynchpin of their South Asian policies and who seek to conduct the containment of Chinese expansion into global trade through India. Were India and China to form strong economic alliances it would send   the western dominated markets into a spin.
It is a pity that some members of the strategic community of India now propogate  a view that the citizens should play a greater role in formulating foreign policies. Nothing could be more dangerous than that for a nation as diverse as India. Undoubtedly,  the needs and expectations of the citizens are  responsible for domestic policies and they are major participants in the decisions that affects every facet of their daily lives. Formulation of  foreign policies, however, should not become matters of public debate as other primal and parochial considerations will affect the outcome. A sovereign nation’s acts of comity with other nations are based on national interest and cordial relations are sustained by an understanding between them to create a climate  where they can exist peacefully. An asymmetrical situation can lead to rancour among nations and this especially true of India which is surrounded by several geographically smaller nations that are economically dependent on India. There are many levels of interactions in diplomacy and when devising a foreign policy with its neighbours big and small , India has been sensitive to issues relating to water sharing, energy requirements, climate change and numerous other factors. To open these issues for public debate will not work in India’s interest because national interest will be held hostage to self interest of the states within India. Foreign policy is not always about domination and posturing, about deciding what is good for the other country driven by self aggrandizement. Foreign policy is the art of balancing the absolute interests of one’s own country with friendliness, comity and goodwill towards neighbouring countries. India’s foreign policy should never be driven by internal considerations alone nor dominated by external influences. Strategic autonomy, as practiced by India, is what will always keep it in an assertive  position without pushing it into a situation of becoming merely a loyal vassal to any other major western power.   

Saturday, 8 August 2015

The last whorl of the spiral

The last whorl of the spiral

By Dr. Geeta Madhavan
The greatest cause for concern of the civilian population in a conflict situation is not so much the kind of resolution envisaged by the parties to the conflict or even the time frame set out – as the actual end of the conflict itself. The decades long conflict in Sri Lanka has severely debilitated the civil society and both the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE seem unable to control the swirl of the spiral towards total chaos.
An analysis of the chain of events in the past two years reveals how the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE have steadily veered towards violent confrontation rather than negotiation although they had for sometime managed to maintain veneer of civil responses. On 25 th November, 2005 the then newly elected Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse in his speech had clearly enunciated that there would be no self-government or separate homeland for the Tamils drawing strong reaction from the Leader of Tamil Eelam V. Prabhakaran who in his 27th November 2005, Heroes Day speech said the requiem for the dead cadres and swore to intensify the struggle for a separate Tamil homeland.
The standoff situation led to a flurry of activities by the concerned members of the international community and the facilitators who made sincere efforts to bring the two parties to seriously negotiate a settlement. However, a series of failed talks followed and the subsequent intense violence blew away the chances of any peaceful settlement.
The Rajapakse Government may have earlier espoused moderation in responding to violent acts of the LTTE and selective use of military power but there is little doubt that it is in the military solution that the government of Sri Lanka has now reposed its total faith. The Rajapakse government, encouraged by the steady military advances into the LTTE controlled areas and especially after the capture of a key base of the Tigers in the east seems convinced of its ability to vanquish LTTE. Meanwhile players from the international community clearly disapprove of what they perceive as excessive emphasis on military strategy to counter the LTTE challenge.
Undeterred by criticism Mr. Rajapakse stated that the “innocent Tamil people of the north can be liberated from terrorist intimidation and the misdeeds of violence and the north could be emancipated” . He also categorically rejected the claim of the Tigers to be the sole representative of the Tamils said that the Singhalese and the Government are not ready to give in to the ” blood thirsty demands” of the LTTE. The new Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, stated in Delhi after his meeting with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee that the terrorist movement needed to be eliminated. The Sri Lankan government has also maintained that not a single civilian death had taken place during the military actions in Vaharai in eastern Sri Lanka.
The LTTE, on the other hand has been equivocal about the losses it has faced in the military action although it is very specific about the civilian deaths due to military strikes in the region. However, the LTTE also seems to be losing its position as the sole representative of the rights of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka and its cause celebre- the establishment of Tamil Eelam seems to be a mirage to the civilian population of the region in the wake of the vociferous speeches against any such solution by the Rajapakse government .The LTTE’s actions supposed to benefit the Tamils by forcing the Sri Lankan government in giving total autonomy has only driven to death and despair the very people the organization promised to deliver from repression. The civilian population of the area that become collateral damage for the Sri Lankan military in the war against LTTE, are used as human shields by the LTTE themselves. The United Nations, too, has been deeply concerned about the civilian deaths due to the military actions and the UN’s relief coordinator, Jan Egeland, has said that force continues to be used indiscriminately in the conflict in Sri Lanka.
It therefore, becomes incumbent on the India to disconnect the human situation from the political one. In India any sympathy for the civilian population is immediately translated into political sympathy for the cause of the LTTE. India has therefore consistently sought to stay out of any direct involvement in the core issues of Sri Lanka. However, Sri Lanka is not far enough to be ignored and the geographical proximity itself precludes ambivalent attitude towards the gross human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE. While it is possible to permit Sri Lanka to face its internal challenges by itself, the spillover into the Indian mainland will cause serious destabilization in the coastal states accessible to the LTTE. There have been reports of smuggling of arms and drugs from India and even the possibility of the setting up of camps for training and logistics in India. The question still remains as to what extent is India going to stick its neck out for the suffering civilian population of Sri Lanka without bringing the sword upon its own neck. India has to protect its own interest and those of its citizens even while being concerned about the civilian lives in Sri Lanka. The answer perhaps lies in the involvement of the international community in a multi lateral humanitarian effort which goes beyond the political solution. The greatest danger for any civilian population in a conflict situation is the loss of interest of the world community in a conflict that seems to last forever.

(Dr. Geeta Madhavan is an analyst working in areas related to international security and Terrorism. The views expressed are author’s own. 

LTTE and Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi

Posted On South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG) website in 2009 

LTTE and Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi 

"It (India) must stop all military assistance given to Sri Lanka, remove the ban on our movement and recognise our struggle. I like to point out that our movement and our people are true friends of India." – B. Nadesan – LTTE political head in emailed interview to a magazine – Times of India 22 Nov. 2008

Almost everyone remembers the night of 21st May 1991 when the erstwhile Prime Minister Mr Rajiv Gandhi and leader of the Congress party  was assassinated in a meticulously  planned and well co ordinated violent act by a LTTE female suicide bomber as  he went to address an election  meeting  in Sriperumbudur in the outskirts of the city of Madras. It did not matter whether one was a Congress party supporter or not, party affiliations were not relevant; what was pertinent was that a heinous and violent act was perpetrated by a foreign terrorist group on Indian territory. The citizens of India woke up next morning to the fact that a vile and horrible act had been committed against the nation itself. Analysts and experts woke up to the fact that international terrorism had arrived in India. The country had been grappling with militancy within its territory for quite some time and had developed a concerted and long term strategy to deal with it. What it did not expect was that a terrorist organisation would from across the borders act directly to shatter the Indian national unity and add a new dimension to terrorism against India.
India was drawn into the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka due to ethnic ties, strategic interests and geopolitical considerations. When the separatist Tamil movement started in Sri Lanka there were various organisations representing several groups espousing the aspirations of the Tamils in Sri Lanka. The moderate voices intermingled with the more militant voices in demanding rights for the marginalised Tamils who had suffered under successive repressive policies of the Sri Lankan governments. It is now well documented that there was support and sympathy for these movements in India especially in the state of Tamil Nadu where it was seen as protecting the interests of the Tamil brethren across the waters. Almost all the groups had well established bases in Tamil Nadu during that period. Subsequently, however, the most militant and the deadliest of them all, the LTTE systematically obliterated the leaders and key persons of the other outfits and the demand for a Tamil Eelam nation for the Tamils translated into a demand for a Prabhakaran-led Eelam. Relentlessly and with single mindedness the LTTE has pursued its dream of establishing a separate Tamil nation under its control on the island.
India became actively involved since the 1980s in the conflict in Sri Lanka and sought to create an atmosphere where the opposing factions could negotiate a peaceful settlement to the conflict. In 1985, the LTTE which had been part of the Eelam National Liberation Front along with the TELO, EROS and EPRLF participated in June 1985, in the talks sponsored by India held in Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan. Initiated by India, the leaders of the Tamil militant movements who were engaged in an armed struggle for the establishment of a separate Tamil Eelam state agreed to a cease-fire to create a congenial atmosphere for the talks. The LTTE, which was willing to settle for nothing less than an independent Eelam, was a reluctant participant. The LTTE sought to emerge as the sole repository of the Tamil aspirations and was wary of the possibility of the other groups of agreeing for something less than an independent Eelam.  It was unwilling to share the power to control the destiny of the Tamils with the other Tamil outfits or fragment the sympathy and logistic support of the Tamil diaspora. Consequently, during 1985-86 the LTTE launched attacks on the other groups justifying its actions by calling them traitors to the cause of the Tamils. The LTTE efficiently eliminated opposition from other groups, growing stronger by killing the leaders and prominent members of those groups. Later, unwilling to accept India’s exhortation to enter into an agreement with the Sri Lankan government to find a permanent solution to the conflict, the LTTE leader Prabhakaran left India to establish himself in Jaffna.  
The Indo Sri Lankan Accord signed in 1987 between India and Sri Lanka by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi of India and President J.R. Jayewardene of Sri Lanka,   and under its mandate, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was sent to Sri Lanka with the intention of restoring peace to the island torn by the war between the militant Sri Lankan Tamil nationalists and the Sri Lankan military forces. The military contingent , like peace keeping forces worldwide , was not sent in as a combat force -  its mission specifically being to "guarantee and enforce cessation of hostilities" much in the spirit of the United Nations peace keeping forces sent  to help countries all over the world  torn by conflict create conditions for sustainable peace. As reluctant participants to the Accord, the LTTE was against Indian military intervention and abhorred the clause by which it was required to surrender weapons. Under the Accord although a large quantity of arms were surrendered by the LTTE, it was suspected that larger quantities were still being held. Over a period of time in internecine battles within Sri Lanka with rival militants the LTTE killed members of the other groups and emerged as a stronger organisation.  
The IPKF by several turn of events in September and October 1987, became embroiled in direct confrontation with the LTTE .Consequently, the LTTE launched into vituperative attacks on the IPKF and in its publication A Nation Betrayed alleged that by the Indo Sri Lankan Accord, India had completely negated Tamil hopes to serve its own geopolitical interests. It also set up effective propaganda against the IPKF alleging human rights violations. The IPKF operation resulted in the death of more than a thousand Indian soldiers and public opinion in India favoured withdrawal of the IPKF. The newly elected President of Sri Lanka R. Premadasa was against the presence of the IPKF in Sri Lanka and in April 1989 demanded the withdrawal of the IPKF within the timeframe of three months. The newly elected Indian Prime Minister Mr. V.P. Singh reviewed the Sri Lankan policies of Rajiv Gandhi and stating it a failure, ordered the withdrawal of the IPKF from Sri Lanka.  With the change of governments in India and in Sri Lanka, the final withdrawal of IPKF took place in March 1990.
The LTTE exulted in the removal of the IPKF and eliminated Amirthalingam in 1989 when he expressed in an interview in July 1989 that that the IPKF should remain to ensure the safety and security of Tamils. After the withdrawal of the IPKF, LTTE became the sole power in the north-east of Sri Lanka – a triumphant step towards the establishment of Tamil Eelam.   It was therefore, with trepidation that the LTTE watched the unfolding election scene in India in 1991. It was apparent that Rajiv Gandhi supported a solution to the conflict maintaining the unity and integrity of the Sri Lanka which was completely unacceptable to the LTTE’s single minded ambition for the establishment of a separate nation of Eelam. In the assumption that it was close to achieving its goal of independent Eelam and exulting in its control of the territory where it acted as the sole power, it viewed the return of Rajiv Gandhi to power in India as a severe impediment of its grandiose plans. Therefore, to prevent his return to power he had to be dealt with in a manner best known to the LTTE – by assassinating him.  The LTTE pathological hatred for Rajiv Gandhi and his policies towards Sri Lanka involved the formulation of the plan, the movement into India of the LTTE personnel instructed to accomplish the act, the recruitment of local sympathisers, the elaborate preparation of the master plan, the intense and constant study of local congenial conditions, the monitoring of movements of the target and the final execution. Detailed examination of the events makes a chilling study of the capabilities of a ruthless terrorist organisation.
 The tacit admission to the assassination finally came from the statement of Mr Balasingham in 2006 when in an interview he stated
 " As far as that event is concerned, I would say it is a great tragedy, a monumental historical tragedy for which we deeply regret and we call upon the government of India and people of India to be magnanimous to put the past behind," .
On March 19, 2008 Priyanka [daughter of the late Rajiv Gandhi] met Nalini, one of the conspirators of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination in Vellore jail. Nalini is lodged in Vellore jail after her death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by a plea for clemency for the sake of the convict’s daughter by Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. Priyanka went on record accepting that she had met the killer of her father and stating that it was a personal meeting and clarified it further :  "I do not believe in anger, hatred and violence and I refuse to allow these things to overpower my life," . Her action as an  individual to come to terms with the personal  tragedy does not in any manner dilute the grim truth that the nation was avenged only when the death sentences were handed down to the perpetrators of the assassination. The country had to bear the ignominy of being the victim of a terrorist organisation whose ideology it had understood, sympathised and supported.  The sheer audacity of LTTE, with total disregard to the stability of the political and social structure of India and with the sole purpose of furthering its own delusion, to defiantly subject the nation to shame is unjustifiable.   Despite Balasingham’s self serving appeal to Indians,(statement quoted above ),  it is undeniable that the LTTE had carried out an act of aggression against the Indian nation.
The LTTE has encouraged elements in Tamil Nadu, where there is a deep sympathy for the humanitarian crisis in the island, to twist it into a support rally for the LTTE. It had, by the suicide bombing sought to manipulate the Indian political scene and in its propensity of self preservation wanted to manoeuvre the political destiny of India. It was not just the death of a prominent citizen of India – the violent act chose to cause permanent damage to the democratic system of India which allows the citizens to choose their representatives and their government. It also demonstrates the contempt the LTTE holds for the Indian nation and its people. The LTTE sought to impose upon the Indians a different choice by eliminating the person who it did not desire to return to power.
 To seek to destroy the integrity of the Indian nation is unpardonable but to imagine that the nation will forgive the perpetrators of the act is to scoff at the national conscience.
(Dr. Geeta Madhavan is an analyst working in areas related to international security and Terrorism.  

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Debate on Death Penalty

Debate on Death Penalty 

 Dr Geeta Madhavan 

 Published in  The New Indian Express  Thursday 4 August  2015

Every hanging opens up a huge public debate on abolishing or retaining capital punishment in India.  It throws up a plethora of reasons for the imposition of death penalty as well as for its continued existence or for its abolition... There are three schools of thought on this subject  :  those who vociferously support it ;  those who virulently oppose it and those  who are ambivalent and choose one side or the other depending on whether they consider it punishment enough or not - depending on how heinous the crime seems to them. A reading of Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol or watching a cleverly edited news channel documentary on Death Row prisoners can highlight the despair of the condemned persons and stir up further deliberations on capital punishment. Its  often reflections  about the particular condemned  individual  which  starts the debate and most of the rhetoric whether from the political establishment or the media confuses  the average citizen about  whether that person should   be hanged  or not . Various elements influence the debate which are not consistent with the actual reasons and are based on extraneous factors.  Unfortunately, most of the debate is also emotional and is rarely based on whether the imposition of the death penalty should be an act of judicial responsibility which is subsequently fulfilled by the State. While many Western countries have legally abolished capital punishment, there are also many countries where capital punishment exists in their legal procedural codes but they have not meted out capital punishment for a long time. In practice, therefore it is considered to have been abolished.
The creation of the entity of the State had at its primary role the protection of its citizens.  It was created with the primal need for the people to be subjects of a sovereign power whose duty it was to protect the people and ensure their well being. Thus it became incumbent upon a State to create a system of acceptable behaviour that later became rules and were codified by the State as laws.  These not only dealt with how a citizen of that State should conduct himself but also how a State is bound to conduct itself for the benefit of its citizens. Statehood, therefore, does not inhibit itself to mere governance but stretches itself into protection of all the people who live within its territorial limit. It also has a responsibility towards its own people beyond its geographical territorial limits. The State is thus vested with the right to take the life of such people who threaten its existence, threaten peace and threaten the safety and security of its people.  Thus a State is permitted to kill people, creating under its law the enforcement machinery for this purpose in the form of military, Para-military, police and such other forces with specific powers in specific instances tasked to take life. It is in this same manner that a State creates the right to inflict capital punishment.  In its duty to protect its citizens, a State can by due process of law require to take the life of those it deems as an existing threat or a possible future threat. However, this is not an unlimited power to be used at will. Thus it makes capital punishment not only acceptable but also a necessary duty imposed upon a State as part of its obligations for proper governance.
The argument for the pursuance of capital punishment is perfect if such argument is based on the basis of a just and fair judicial system bereft of human frailties. In reality, however, the studies have shown that it is the marginalized, the discriminated against and the vulnerable who end up on death row more often than those with recourse to knowledge of law and its nuances. In an ideal situation where the State, the judicial process and the enforcement authorities are not dogged by human fallibility based on prejudices and pre conceived notions, a fair system for justice can exist. Enough studies have been done worldwide to show mismanagement of justice and the miscarriage of justice based on gender, social and racial discriminations.
The other argument is that a State is not a sanctified entity; it is made up of people who govern and are governed.  Private and social prejudices often play a role in societies. In most countries a person brought before law who cannot afford a legal counsel is provided one by the State so that the accused has all means to defend him.  In reality, however, the legal incompetence or disinterest of the court appointed legal officers works against the interests of the accused. In India in most cases, the free legal aid system is not adept and efficient to the extent it should be, to protect the interests of the accused. It is therefore rather difficult, despite a robust and largely impartial judiciary in India, to categorically reach the conclusion that there is no miscarriage of justice. However, these by themselves cannot be reason enough to abolish capital punishment in its entirety but should be reasons to strengthen the judicial system and to assuage the fear that a State will not be impose capital punishment arbitrarily.
A State is bound by duty to ensure the protection of all lives and not just the life of a single individual. Retributive justice is an essential component of the Statehood .Often a weak argument is placed that crime does not stop because of the existence of laws that prescribe punishment. One cannot even begin to imagine the crimes that will be committed in the absence of laws!  Just as the laws that prescribe punishment for crimes deter potential criminals, capital punishment deters those who will act with impunity if capital punishment does not exist. Those who argue that retributive justice does not act as a deterrent fail to accept that the fear of death upon conviction does indeed deter potential offenders against violence directed towards the State and its people. It is not argued that capital punishment ought to be used at all times but when all the appeals  provided for  clemency have been rejected  because of the nature of the crime , capital punishment cannot be termed unnatural, unnecessary or  barbaric .  All human beings do not adhere to natural justice or to the higher principles of good and evil.  It becomes mandatory for a Sate to impose punishment on those who violate norms and disregard the sanctity of all human life.
In the argument for abolition of capital punishment it is important to remember that clemency is the prerogative of the State. It is not an unassailable right of the accused to demand compassion.  In cases where high treason has been committed against the State and in “rarest of the rarest “cases capital punishment has been justified.  The Supreme Court of India has been extremely clear that exceptional circumstances demand capital punishment. It is rather strange then to note that jurists, social activists and other prominent persons seem appalled when capital punishment is ordered and when clemency petitions are rejected by the judiciary and the executive. No State can and should tolerate treason, subversion, sedition or any such act that threatens security or the territorial integrity of the State . No such act should go unpunished by which the lives of its people are endangered and concerted attack against the lives of the citizens cannot go unpunished. A State is deemed weak if it cannot protect its people and if it cannot protect them from internal enemies, there is scant hope that it will be able to use hard power in the case of a military attack upon it.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Time to Reinforce Sovereignty

Time to Reinforce Sovereignty 

Dr Geeta Madhavan

Published in  The New Indian Express 
Thursday 27 March 2015

Ever since the term global village became fashionable and the idea of a shrinking world became universally accepted as a positive move, the concept of sovereignty has been considered as outdated and archaic. Subsequent to  the two devastating  World Wars   the United Nations Organization  was established to uphold the  common goals  of humanity and to ensure that all nations would act in the best interest of all mankind and have common purposes in matters affecting global issues .Therefore ,those who considered the element of  sovereignty as essential for the creation ,existence and identification  of nations were often questioned for upholding the theory and criticized for being antiquated in a world that was promoting  and celebrating multilateralism.  Nations which had thus far acted independently for their self-gain seemed to agree to act in concerted moves to promote multilateralism.
Following the two devastating World Wars, nations sought to come together to build a safe world ensuring  peace and security for all mankind. The outcome of this excitement was that countries and their leaders began to believe that for the general wellbeing of all people , nations should no longer think solely in terms of national issues and that global concerns should be paramount in framing national policies. Elated analysts regarded these actions as the end of the narrow reading of the principle of sovereignty as recognized by international law.  The world, it seemed, had moved beyond national self- interest and finally recognized  inter- dependence for existence, even when these other countries lay beyond their regions and were not in geographical proximity to each other.
.The concept of sovereignty, however, is the essence of the existence of nations. Sovereignty is the ultimate power, authority and jurisdiction of the ruling entity over a territory and its people. The ruling authority may be created or may exist in diverse forms as monarchy, autocracy, democracy or any other form. A sovereign authority is recognized as the power which   can administer its own territory and create laws without external influence subject  to equity and justice and with regard to the established principles of international law.  In that sense, it means that no foreign power has any authority within the territorial limits of a country or upon its citizens within that territory.   It is based on the simple theory that nations  have a right to rule their territory and a duty to protect their territorial integrity and ensure the safety and security their  citizens and within that reasonable power, can do all such actions as required to ensure it. Along with these powers international law  placed upon nations the responsibility to ensure that no such actions take place within their territory that cause damage to others. The power is further restricted by those principles that recognize and govern those areas regarded as “common heritage of all mankind” e.g. the high seas.
The backlash for the erosion of the unassailable doctrine of sovereignty is evident now, though many still do not accept the absolute need to maintain the principle in international relations. It  is impossible to reject   the need to restrict the immunity of the State authorities in all actions, especially in issues that deal directly with basic civil, political and human rights. However, the interference of strong global powers in the guise of supporting self determination and freedom in the internal affairs of less strong and strife-torn nations can hardly be accepted as acting for global good. The unilateralism of the two super powers with least regard to the cultural , ethnic and religious diversity of the nations facing internal strife and conflict has led to the situation the world is in today. While countries tried to grapple with extremism and violence political, ethnic or religious; the operations conducted by these powers have exacerbated the conflicts as is apparent around the world today. Although the operations have been termed as humanitarian interventions and securing freedom for those suffering under repressing regimes and have also  been explained as curtailing impunity of the state, it is rather clear  that these actions have invariably  resulted in  a vacuum into which non state actors like terrorist and extremists have comfortably settled in. Afghanistan, Iraq , Ukraine are  countries that are disarray  and while the world has tired itself out with their problems , for the people  of these countries the terrible sense of hopelessness persist albeit in another form.  Therefore, relegating the principles of national sovereignty to multilateralism and consigning it to textbooks of international law has proved to be a threat to the existence of less powerful and smaller nations. Global strategies have shown that the autonomy assured to every country under the principle of territorial sovereignty have been consistently eroded by hegemonic powers.  These powers have over a period of time used the diluted sovereignty concept to serve selfish interests. Therefore, it has been made easier for the US, Russia and others to act either unilaterally (or with allies cobbled together) to justify their incursion into the territory of other nations.
 Developed countries have also used the whittling down of the principle of sovereignty   to extend their influence and increase their hold on global economics and trade to benefit themselves and their allies. They did this by the creation of international institutions that had at their inception apparent laudable principles but in reality were skewed in favour of the technologically advanced and economically strong nations. Thus emerged world financial institutions and global trade organizations that have ensured markets for the advanced nations but have left the newly emerging economies of Asia and the resourcefully rich but ravaged post colonial African countries in a defensive economic position. With state sovereignty on the wane and the ability to create regulations within its territory curtailed by global economic issues, it would seem that   multinational corporations have emerged as the new policy makers. In the new era   global strategies policies and foreign relations of nations are, therefore, driven not by sovereign authorities acting in national interests but by trade linked priorities of major state-owned or private corporations.
Every country has not only an interest in the use of all natural  resources  but also has an obligation in its rightful exploitation .Environmental concerns and ecological interdependency are real but the manner in which nation chooses to  deal with the resources within its territory cannot be dictated by other powers .  International law in its general principles and various cases brought by nations before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has   reiterated that no nation can allow such action takes place within their territory that causes damage to others. The power is further restricted by those principles that recognize and govern those areas regarded as “common heritage of all mankind” e.g. the high seas and outer space. Most nations are parties to agreements that ensure sustainability of the environment and even non-signatories are bound by obligations under international law.
Sovereignty, the ability of nations to rule themselves should be reinforced.  To resolve several of the issues that concern nations today dealing with problems of internal strife and conflicts or with failing economies, these  countries should be allowed to act with autonomy restricted only by obligations recognized by international law ;  and not by the imposition by other countries of what they deem as good for that country. 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Indian Ocean Region

Article Published  in New Indian Express 
May 6th  2014

Two major discussions that dominate any discourse on maritime challenges in the Indian Ocean region are piracy and the emergence of China as a major naval power and its growing ambitions. Both these issues raise grave concerns for both major and smaller powers in the region and other extra regional global powers. Trade and livelihoods of the people of the countries surrounding the Indian Ocean, as well as those of the small island nations, are contingent on the living and non-living marine resources of the Indian Ocean. Meanwhile, several other land locked countries in the region like Nepal, Afghanistan, and Bhutan depend on access to the Indian Ocean for international trading and for the steady growth of their economies.  Transnational and non-traditional threats in this region are increasing and should be addressed with far more diligence than being done at present as they will decide the future balance of power in the region. Maritime challenges of this region extend beyond national strategic ambitions and are far more complex. These challenges may not be perceived as being compelling at present but they will have significant impact over a period of time. It is therefore, incumbent to not only identify these other issues but also to include them while framing national policies and concluding multilateral and international conventions and agreements.
 The Indian Ocean region consists of 26 countries in various stages of social and economic development. There is disparity among these countries in terms of economic growth, social development and societal stability which has resulted in competition for scarce resources among the nations, as in the case of fishing and other living resources. It has also led to the disproportionate exploitation of the constantly depleting resources by some technologically developed countries to the detriment of others in the region.  As the region is rich in mineral resources like uranium, cobalt, nickel, gold and also has 55% of the world’s oil reserves and 40% of global gas reserves - foreign powers, too, which are not geographically placed in the region, are displaying their keenness to gain a foothold here. Besides, counter-piracy efforts and counter terrorism measures have approved the naval presence of

these foreign powers in the Indian Ocean region. With the extra regional power like the US positioning itself here, regional powers like China India, Russia, Iran and Pakistan are strengthening their positions and increasing their naval prowess to counter potential strategic threats by US and the US aligned states. Thus, new maritime disputes stemming from geo-strategic interests and new maritime boundary claims are the result of the new players in the region.
There are various other non-traditional threats that exist in the Indian Ocean region that require regional cooperation. Development of port security is essential for healthy sea-borne trade and safe harbours and ports are essential for the economic development of the entire region. However, the spurt of recent attacks in which technologically superior warships have been threatened by low-tech attacks has also raised serious concerns. Many of the ports are vulnerable, as are the various off shore installations in these countries. The island nations and archipelagos are most vulnerable as they can be accessed from any point of exposure. Environmental threats also abound in the region. 40% of the 4 billion people in Asia live within 100 kilometres of the coast. Rising ocean level, changing weather patterns due to global warming will increase the stress in the coastal regions. The island nations face greater threats as the seas close in on them and this will result in demographic changes from migration that will create severe stress and perceivable imbalances in the mainland. Destruction of natural barriers in the seas will also lead to erosion which will adversely affect the population and their lives in the coastal areas as well as in the mainland abutting coastal regions. The overall effects of these factors will be serious destabilisation in the countries of this region creating conflicts among the nations as they will struggle with the new changing realities. Depletion of water resources due to costal salinization will affect not only the life of the people along the coast but also affect food production elsewhere. Land based pollution from sewage and drainage discharges and marine based pollution from spillages, ballast waters and illegal waste dumping affects not just a single nation but has impact on the region as a whole. All these issues are hardly addressed by the countries that place huge reliance mainly on the enhancement of their naval capabilities.

Resources of the Indian Ocean have to be brought under the scrutiny of protection.  Illegal and unregulated fishing by local vessels has led to depletion of stocks in national waters of several countries while similar action by foreign vessels has caused antagonism among nations. The constant engagement of Sri Lanka and India in the fishermen issues is well known but other countries in the region face similar confrontations. Indonesia faces an estimated loss of $ 4000 million annually due to illegal and unregulated fishing.  The link of this component to maritime security issues is that these vessels are also used for trafficking humans, arms, drugs and other illegal activities.
Non-state actors in the Indian Ocean region raise different threat issues. Terrorists groups have attacked oil tankers, passenger ship and off shore installations with impunity. The attack in Aden of USS Cole, of the French super tanker Limburg and several such incidents has underlined these dangers. Weak governments and insufficient border controls along the coast have exposed their vulnerability. The attack that took place in Mumbai in 2008, where the terrorists group chose the sea route to enter India, highlighted the dangers of the unregulated maritime domain. Numerous Incidents of piracy in the Indian Ocean region in recent times has resulted in the creation of private security agencies to safeguard the ships. However, recent incidents especially in the Indian context; namely, the Enrica Lexie case and the Seaman Guard Ohio case have underlined the dangers of the presence of private armed guards aboard ships. Lack of regulations and insufficient coherent policy framework has created more issues and concerns than solved the safety issues .The flouting of norms of international laws by the agencies is the undesirable fallout of these security concerns.
Maintaining good order at sea and constant engagements between the nations of the Indian Ocean region is the only way to address all these issues. International maritime assistance and building strategic confidence will lead to the increased safety of the sea lanes for trade. Transparency in the national maritime policies will reduce maritime coercion and mitigate the tensions created by the strategic placement of large and imposing naval assets. The countries of the Indian Ocean region have to redefine the roles of their navies from that of constabulary and expand it to one of maintaining good order at sea and of protection of maritime resources. 

Friday, 21 February 2014


Article Published  in New Indian Express 
Feb 15 2014
Kings and emperors from ancient times have sealed agreements at the end of wars and concluded treaties for restoring peace, for acceding and annexing territories and for trade with each other. Customs have also dictated how emissaries have to be treated, wars fought and peace negotiated at the end of wars. Earliest record is of   a treaty drawn up and sealed in 1283 B.C between the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses II and the Hittite King after a bitter battle. Romans and Greek kingdoms also signed numerous treaties, most of them at the end of battles, as did the European monarchs in later times. The progression of international treaties in modern times has its beginnings in the 1864 Geneva Convention which dealt with the treatment of wounded soldiers during war, and this was signed by major kingdoms in Europe in the background of extensive political and military upheavals. Placing checks on the brutality of war, the four Geneva Conventions and the Additional Protocols thereof, sought to regulate armed conflict and limit its excesses as well as protect innocent persons not fighting or caught in the aftermath.  
  Today all major concerns that impact every aspect of human life as well as those that govern State practice are the subject of international conventions. International conventions have also been initiated by countries when specific needs have risen to regulate State behaviour in matters of global concerns. The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which deals with all aspects of the use of the sea, the oceans and the deep seabed is one such international treaty. It divides the waters of the world into specific zones and delineates and limits the use in a manner which will benefit all mankind. Similarly,  the ten core international conventions and protocols dealing with human rights which were signed and ratified by countries between the periods 1965-2006 addressed specific concerns ranging from  torture and forms of discriminations to civil and political rights, rights of women and children , rights of migrant workers and rights of  persons with disabilities. Conventions therefore govern and protect national and international interests over land, sea, high seas, air and outer space. There are several international treaties that have been concluded that deal with criminal acts by both states and non state actors like the unlawful seizure of protected persons, or of aircraft and ships. There are also several international instruments that deal with nuclear safety and nuclear liability, with proper and sustainable use of resources and protection of the environment.  It is apparent that the purpose of most of the Conventions is to secure the kind of world envisaged in the Preamble of the United Nations Charter i.e.  to ensure the dignity of the individual and international peace and security. However, sixty eight years thence, various forms of discriminations against people for diverse reasons   and   behaviour contrary to these principles continue by many nations. Nations justify their reluctance to be parties to an international treaties on several grounds most of which arise from the notion of sovereignty  and their unwillingness to limit their authority to global consensus by enacting  national laws in accordance with obligations created by  international instruments i.e. global control over domestic policy.  
 The United States, despite its well-articulated stance of honouring global commitments has proved to be the foremost defaulter in ratifying international treaties. Although it   has initiated several conventions and signed some of them, it has failed to ratify several important and significant conventions.  For example, the most compelling and speedily ratified treaty in human history is the Convention on the Rights of the Child which secures to all children civil, social, political, economic, health and cultural right.  Although signed by the US in 1995 it has not yet been ratified by it. The only other country not to do so is Somalia; an associate in action that the United States would not be proud of. The argument placed by the US for non-ratification is that it would undermine the rights of the parents. It also views it as UN interference in the raising of children. This is significant because a number of states in the US still permit corporal punishment in schools and homes. Furthermore, the resistance to ratification also stems from the fact that ratification of the treaty would interfere with the parent’s choices in religious and sex education. Similarly, the United States signed the CEDAW (Convention Against Discrimination Against Women) in 1980; it has not ratified it along with countries like Iran and Somalia. Similarly other nations that wield great influence in geo politics have often chosen not to become parties to several important conventions. China has not signed or ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and several other instruments relating to human rights.  While the US has been vociferous in backing a Resolution in the UN Human Rights Council on alleged war crimes in Sri Lanka, it holds a dismal record of human rights violations in the actions taken by it in its war against terror.
India has been a major adherent of innumerable international instruments, signing and ratifying almost all the major international treaties. Several Indian laws have been enacted in accordance with the international obligations.   However, India has strongly opposed the setting up of the International Criminal Court (ICC). It abstained in the vote for the adoption of the Rome Statute in 1998 and under which the ICC is set up on several grounds.  The arguments for refusal to sign and ratify include the definition of crimes against humanity in the Statute and the inclusion of non-international conflicts in the category of war crimes. These inclusions would lead to all internal disputes in India becoming subject to the ICC and would be a flagrant interference in the domestic policy of the country. Besides the well-structured and robust judiciary under the democratic system in India, it is argued, is well equipped to deal with violations of rights of the individual.

International conventions are based on customary practices followed by nations since the formation of nation states. They are the reflections of the aspirations of the world community to create global consensus about matters that affect all. It is rather disquieting to observe that many of the global disputes and confrontations are the result of nations not accepting the norms of international law With influential global powers shirking the responsibility of strengthening international conventions, issues and disputes are left to unilateral interpretation impelling further conflicts. Without the template of an instrument to guide the interpretation, the stronger nation will enforce its will on other weaker nations.  Far more worrisome is the fact that nations that wield great influence in geo politics often choose not become parties to important conventions and operate outside global indicators. The recent trend of the US to create a series of multi-lateral treaties called  “initiatives” is a bad precedent .These initiatives allow the US not only  to draw benefits from existing international norms but also absolve it of both responsibilities and obligations under specific international conventions. If other nations adopt similar “initiatives” to serve personal objectives, it will lead to the displacement of the norms of international law. Instead, all major powers should reinforce their commitment to global peace and security by supporting international conventions through the process of ratification.