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At 2+2, US needs to treat India as great power, and India needs to act like one

If Russia can enforce its international will by war and threats to use weapons of mass destruction, China will not be far behind in employing those tactics.

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Peace, like war, must be waged.” This saying has never been truer. With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, loose threats of nuclear war, violent conflicts stretching from the Indian borders with China and Pakistan to the Middle East and Africa, and talk of war over Taiwan and the South China Sea, the world appears to be standing on the brink much as it did prior to World Wars I and II. But peace cannot be simply the absence of violence, the organised killing of one group of human beings by another for political purposes. Rather, peace must entail the protection and furthering of the human rights that India and the United States, as the world’s two largest democracies, have long embraced – personal freedoms, citizenship equality, and the rule of law.

The first meeting of the US-India “2 + 2 dialogue” since Joe Biden was elected President and Narendra Modi was sworn in for a second term is now scheduled to take place in Washington on April 11. The Indian Union Ministers for External Affairs, S. Jaishankar, and Defence, Rajnath Singh, will meet with their counterparts, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austen. This meeting has been delayed several times and comes on the heels of visits to New Delhi by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. President Biden and Secretaries Antony Blinken and Lloyd Austen have been in Europe rallying efforts against the Russian implementation of war in Ukraine. Under the circumstances, the Indian side may be expected to try to “split the difference” between East and West and the US participants to paper over differences on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in favour of presenting a united front on China. But these approaches will not meet the perils of the moment.

Also read: Instead of trying to beat China in Sri Lanka, New Delhi needs to change the game

Wage peace to guarantee security

As President Lincoln once said, “The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves ….”

It is now apparent that the institutions that have kept the peace and kept the world from generalised or even nuclear war are not holding. If Russia can enforce its international will by war and threats to use weapons of mass destruction, China will not be far behind in employing those tactics. One of the little commented-upon parts of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s speech to the US Congress was his observation, “The war[s] of the past have prompted our predecessors to create institutions that should protect us from war. But unfortunately they don’t work.”

But the use of war to stop war should not be the object of new approaches to prevent the sort of imperial aggrandisement that seem to be a growing part of both Russian and Chinese nationalism. The object should be to wage peace in such a way as to guarantee the security of India, the US and the rest of the world. This will involve both sticks and carrots, both military and non-military means. In some instances, waging peace will involve strengthening existing institutions and alliances, in others creating new entities and approaches.

Also read: Russia has already lost the war in Ukraine. It’s a result of failing globalisation

The 2+2 opportunity

This conundrum will certainly not be solved in the upcoming meeting of the US-India 2+2, but it should be on the agenda for that meeting and the myriad of security interactions that will follow. For its part, India needs to step up to the responsibilities of a great power. India should play a more activist and leading role in organisations from the United Nations to the Quad. For its part, the US should take greater steps to meet the legitimate security needs of India. For example, it does no good to berate India for purchasing the Russian S-400 anti-missile system if it is unwilling to provide equivalent defence equipment.

The issue of sanctions will surely come up at the US-India 2+2. Presently, the US views sanctions as a chief component for waging peace through the use of non-violent means. India evidently does not see sanctions in this light. The disagreement over this vital component of foreign policy shows that the perspective of waging peace must be broader than military force and the diplomatic means that seek to channel the use of force. Even though the ministries and departments charged with sanctions and other economic components of waging peace will not be at the table for the 2 + 2 ministerial, it is vital that this topic be integrated into the discussions and positioned for further negotiations. There are some on both sides that believe that security cooperation can be accomplished without a meeting of the minds on economic aspects of the relationship. Although there will never be complete agreement, the sanctions issue shows that without some common understanding on economic matters, the waging of peace will never be as effective as it should be.

In order to wage peace effectively, the US and India must also consider aspects of their “soft power.” The ability to achieve security objectives will not rest solely on the ability to muster strong militaries and economic power. Waging peace must encompass the values essential to attracting support from others as well as providing the incentives for citizens to undertake the sacrifices necessary for both military and non-military aspects of waging peace. Fortunately, in the US-India context, those values are much the same. Sometimes, immediate interests like the need for arms or oil indicate actions that are not in accordance with long-run values. In other situations, great powers misperceive their interests and act contrary to their values. However, great powers strive to find ways to further their interests in accordance with their values.

India is a great power. The US is a great power. In the upcoming 2 + 2 ministerial, the US needs to treat India as a great power and India needs to act like one. Together these two great democracies can find ways to successfully wage peace.

Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC; Senior Advisor, Albright Stonebridge Group; former US Assistant Secretary of Commerce. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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