North Korea and the Bomb – A story of many Voids

In a world where global opinions are usually dominated – directly or indirectly – by US hegemony, North Korea is widely accepted as one of the biggest problem children, alongside Iran and Pakistan. For a country politically dominated by a single family cult (like many others in Asia), where the Iron Curtain still endures resolutely, and where vast tracts of the population do not have access to even meager food supplies, it is pretty self-effervescing to be conducting nuclear tests; even more so of the fact that North Korea has absolutely no credentials of being responsibly nuclear in a post-CTBT world. And yet, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on the 12th of February 2013.

The international community’s reaction was along predictable lines – US President Barack Obama, in his ‘State of the Nation’ address condemned this test. Japan stated that it would collaborate with the US on deciding a proper response to this test. Russia condemned the test and called for the UNSC to agree on an ‘adequate response’. India was also deeply concerned of the test, and saw Pakistan’s contribution to the test, courtesy the Dr. A. Q. Khan legacy. The most significant response was from China – the last ally North Korea has left. The nuclear test is leading to a significant decline in Sino-Korean relations; along the lines of the USSR-China fall out by the late 1950s.

The two most immediate reactions to this test are going to be:

  1. Increased sanctions by the US on North Korea.
  2. A decline in Sino-North Korean relations.

The impact of both these developments will be significant for North Korea. North Korea has for long been dependent on the international community for satisfying even basic requirements such as food. US sanctions, and decreased cooperation from China may perhaps contribute to the complete failure of North Korea.

This situation provides India with unique opportunities to increase its global clout.

Opportunities presented by the Test

India should seek to fill in the void created by frosting of Sino-Korean relations, and increase aid and track-2 diplomatic efforts to reconcile itself with Korea. The strategic location of Korea on the Eastern coast of China is significant of India’s interest vis-à-vis China.

Indian nuclear policy has global nuclear disarmament as one of its fundamental cornerstones. Hence, efforts by India towards a nuclear-weapon free world will be in mankind’s best interest.

Furthermore, India’s handling of this situation will strengthen India’s global role as a responsible nuclear power, and help India’s claims to membership of institutions like the UNSC, Wassenar Group, MTCR and Australia Group. It will also help pacify the quagmire created by India being a non-signatory of the CTBT and NPT.

Opportunities presented by failure of the North Korea State

By all accounts, North Korea is on the verge of failure and the South has prepared for this eventuality. A failed North would lead to the unification of the Korean peninsula under the leadership of the South. And this presents a unique situation to India.

The North’s failure will provide China with an opportunity to increase its influence in this region; and this will lead to an antagonism of Chinese-Korean relations. India can seek this opportunity to strengthen ties with Korea and hedge its Chinese concerns.

Furthermore, a newly unified Korea will inherit the North’s nuclear capabilities. It will raise objections to the stationing of US forces in the South. Both these factors will also lead to a decline in Korean-US relations presenting India with another void to fill. India can continue its role of a responsible nuclear power by acting as a mediator.

On the economic front, the South will have to invest enormous amounts of capital, labor and time to develop the North. This will keep the South occupied and introvert for the next two decades – thereby creating a void in the global manufacturing industry, dominated by South Korea. India, seeking to be a super power and economic power-house can utilize this newly-created market to improve its own manufacturing sector.

The possibilities are endless – but will history bear witness to India’s surge in this particular niche, or will it be another tale of opportunity lost?


Neo-Curzonism: Lord Curzon 2.0

Few Viceregal legacies in India’s 90 years of British Crown domination (the suzerainty of the British Crown over the East India Company’s territories in India was established by the Queen’s Proclamation of 1858, and ended with the India Independence Act of 1947) match that of George Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Marquess Curzon of Kedleston, KG, GCSI, GCIE, PC – popularly known as Lord Curzon, 15th Viceroy of India. Most (in)famous for the Partition of Bengal in 1905 (which was annulled in 1911), Lord Curzon also did the distinguished act of restoring several historical sites and monuments – including the Taj Mahal – within India. However, it is the rediscovery of Curzon’s foreign policy that is now proving to be a revelation for students and experts of Indian Foreign Policy.

Curzon was appointed the Viceroy towards the waning end of the Great Game – one of the most thrilling episodes in the history of man’s imperial aspirations. As a result, he had plenty of reason to be skeptical – one may argue, almost cynical – regarding the threat posed by the colossal Russian empire to the crown jewel in Pax Brittanica – India. Building on the antique and medieval imperial models of the Indian subcontinent, Curzon came up with a novel solution – that of establishing buffer states.

“the master of India, must, under modern conditions, be the greatest power in the Asiatic Continent, and, therefore, it may be added, in the world”.

–          Lord Curzon, 1909

The India referred to here by Curzon consists of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. Understanding the key position played by India in controlling the Indian subcontinent and (by virtue of its potential influence over major sea routes in the Indian Ocean) the globe, Curzon sought to protect India proper by the creation of Afghanistan (specifically the NWFP) and Persia to the North and West, Burma to the East and Tibet to the North-East as buffer states.


A perspective of the Game

Curzon’s two-pronged strategy of protecting Indian interest and extending India’s sphere of interest to the outermost edges of the subcontinent is particularly significant in contemporary times. With the rise of the Indian Ocean as the world’s major sea-route (25% of global petroleum passes through the Straits of Malacca, and 11% through the Gulf of Aden), rise of Asian nations on the global geo-strategic-economic stage, increasing importance of Central Asia (both as an hitherto untapped source of mineral resources and due to the war on terror) and the Indian Ocean nations having the youngest and most dynamic demography in the world, the global focus of power struggle has shifted to this region. Hence, neo-Curzonism becomes of significant interest to Indian interest.

If India were to follow such a policy, it would be well-advised to take the following steps:

  • Develop better ties with (possibly a post-Karzai Taliban) government of Afghanistan, as an effective bulwark against rising Islamic extremism and to keep Pakistan in check (the “Nutcracker” theory).
  • Encourage dialogue with the separatist movements in Sindh and Baluchistan – this would extend Indian hegemony and act as an extremely effective counter-move in the Gwadar port hinderland.
  • Improve ties with the Maoist regime in Nepal. The sustainment of the Maoist regime in Nepal is a reality that India has to come to terms with.
  • Increase support for the rights of the indigenous people of the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Tibet has always been India’s most significant buffer state against China.
  • Continue to emphasize India as a soft power in Myanmar. As a counter to a pro-China military Junta in power, Track 2 diplomacy will be much more effective.
  • Reconcile ties with Bangladesh and seek economic development of this region. This would both act as a countermove against extremist movements in the region, and improve ties.

A casual reader would naturally seek to associate neo-Curzonism with either the American policy of neo-conservatism or with the Hindutva Right Wing’s aspiration of a Greater India or Akhanda Bharat (अखंड भारत ). However, there are significant differences among them.

The Uniqueness of Neo-Curzonsm

While Neo-Conservatism can be most effectively understood through the prism of neo-Imperialism – in so far as much as it seeks to (forcefully) endorse “American” ideals of individualism, free market economies and democracy the two seem similar – Neo-Curzonism seeks to come to terms with present-day reality. It does not seek to force unto any neighbor one particular kind of State; rather it seeks to accept the existing system of governance and pursue Indian interest within the confines of that framework. This is of particular real politick importance given the nature of complications in the Indian subcontinent, rising out of the fact that the State of Pakistan is built on an artificial and unattainable notion, the sustainability of the status quo with Tibet, and the strong footing the military Junta enjoys in Myanmar.

In the context of being an expression of Indian imperialism, Neo-Curzonism does indeed reconcile itself with the Hindutvavadi demand of an Akhanda Bharat. However, what differentiates the two concepts is the secular nature of Neo-Curzonism. It does not seek to use religion as a tool for the extension of Indian hegemony. This helps lay the foundations of relations with the Muslim states of Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Buddhist state of Myanmar and the region of Tibet, and the largely atheistic China.

Role of the US

A major and vital factor differentiating Neo-Curzonism with the original concepts of Lord Curzon is the fact that while the British Empire enjoyed unmatched supremacy over the Indian Ocean, present-day India is ill-equipped to exercise control over the high seas. This is particular highlighted in view of the status quo with India’s major competitor – China (the “String of Pearls” theory).

Hence, a de-facto India-US alliance will have to be forged to ensure US control over the seas acting as a re-enforcement to India’s expansion on land. This alliance would further have to be reconciled with India’s policy of Non-Alignment, whose (post-USSR-collapse) focus has shifted to balancing relations with China on one hand and the West on the other.

Post Script – The above passage has been largely influenced by Robert Kaplan’s Monsoon – an intellectual treat and must-read for those interested in understanding contemporary times. Although Curzon’s policy can be seen to be simply an extension of imperial design in India since the time of antiquity – indeed, powers from the Mauryas to the Cholas had followed a similar policy – and the naming of this concept after a British Imperial Viceroy can be seen to be an expression of American neo-imperialistic arrogance, what is significant is the concept express. As the Bard would tell us, “What’s in a name?” 

India: The Lumbering David

India: The Lumbering David

हम दो हमारे दो

The great Indian family planning theme.

India’s growing economic prowess is a foregone conclusion. In the aftermath of the ’91 “L-P-G” reforms – and subsequent events – unforeseen levels of economic development were heralded in. India’s muscle in BRICS is in sharp contrast with once being called the “Third World”.

The Indian market, freed from (draconian) legislations such as the FERA and MRTP, are now (usually) thundering strongly and confidently. It is integrated, more strongly than ever before, with the global economy. The Indian stock market has a net worth to rival that of our most beloved nemesis, China. A growth rate of 7% is now “bad”, which is a far cry from the (ancient-in-public-memory) “Hindu Rate of Growth” (a deeply racist term, in my opinion).

Another indicator of a good economy is the size of secondary cities. Secondary cities faring well, as compared to the chief politico-administrative-economic centers, are usually indicators of good wealth distribution. Pune, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Chandigarh and a host of other cities, when compared to the golden quadrate of New Delhi-Mumbai-Chennai-Kolkatta fare much better when one compares, for example, Vladivostok (or any other Russian city) with Moscow-St. Petersburg.

All of this would be cause enough for one to conclude that the current dismal economic situation is more of an anomaly than the norm, egged on by weakened global cues. This is in part right; the Indian “basics” are in order, but they are quickly approaching the point of becoming irrelevant. These “basics” have fathered a host of myths which are proving to be the cause for both complacency and disaster.

One such myth is that India’s demography is going to reap rich benefits.

Remember the famous “हम दो हमारे दो” slogan, plastered all across the red brick walls that line railway tracks all across the country (alongside posters marketing much more delicate and discrete “consumables”)? Remember how the Civics and Economics text books of in school would have chapters dedicated to the need of family planning? Remember the horror of the Sanjay Gandhi regime? Ever wonder why we see less of that these days?

Popular perception has now come to regard a large population as an asset, rather than a liability. With our population getting younger, we will have more people to work in our fields, mines, factories and IT parks. The greater the number of people who earn, the greater is the number of people who will pay taxes, thus filling the government’s coffers. Also, greater is the number of people who will put a part of their earnings into bank accounts, and make capital available to those who need it. Everything from agriculture laborers and blue-collared workers to the most sophisticated of analysts, ready to be deployed onto Wall Street (or perhaps Seoul), are available much cheaper.

After all, this worked for most of the Asian economies (the “Tigers”) in the post WW-II period – and the absence of a young population has several hurt nations like Japan. After all, if it was a success in beloved China – having the world’s largest population, it is bound to succeed in India too, right?


China succeeded because of the relentless reforms pushed by both Deng and Mao. The ocean of cheap labor that will be made available was rightly foreseen and put to use by China’s policy makers. Revolutionary decisions, such as the reform of the hukou system and incentivizing massive migration to the Pacific coast were instrumental in the blossoming of China. And reforms are precisely what India lacks.

The manner in which the Manmohan Singh-gang now executes reforms (or rather “pushes” them) is more of fire-fighting, rather than a thought-out and executed strategy. Each effort at modifying policy is the result of another crisis forcing the government’s hand. The nation, which largely works on the trickling-down of shares of the economic pie, or by slices of it being passed around by the fine benevolent philanthropists in New Delhi, needs to get out of the post-dot-com-bubble-burst honeymoon phase, and realize that pants need to be pulled up, and belts tightened. As one analyst has rightly pointed out, 7% is now the new Hindu Rate of Growth.

Each young (wo)man added to our work-force is an unemployment liability, unless (s)he has been educated and trained. As our school enrollment levels rise, so do school-dropout rates. There is a dearth of vocational training and expertise. Strategies like the NREGA (which has proved to be a failure) are largely irrelevant when positive contribution to the larger national economic scene is under consideration. Once the number of people eating out off the nation’s economic pie increases, while the number of those contributing to it decreases (or remains stagnant), the money left to finance everything from Food Security and Pension Schemes to money for our soldier’s ammunition starts running low. Once it is realized that this is in spite of a huge potential work force, public discontent will rise. Now discontent in India will probably not reach China-like flash points, but as the Anna Hazare movement has shown us, the People’s patience has reached the thin end of the wedge.

As population growth gently slows down to the replacement rate of 2.1%, policy makers have to realize that the impulse generated by the population growth is now over. The demography fair-tale is just one dimension of what is wrong with the country. Historically, every time India has turned inward, become complacent, and gotten too sure of Herself, disaster has struck.

What we need now is reform. Not just to exorcize myths, but to improve upon reality. And for that, the Crown of India, in Lutyens’, needs a stronger forehead to rest upon. Waiting, and praying, for the dawn of the reform that will be 2014.