India Keeps Abstaining…

…but abstention cannot be a policy

01 August 2011
When US President Barack Obama, right, met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2010, Obama recognised India as a key US partner in Asia.
JOSHUA ROBERTS / POOL / CORBIS
When US President Barack Obama, right, met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in November 2010, Obama recognised India as a key US partner in Asia.
JOSHUA ROBERTS / POOL / CORBIS

ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS India did upon its entry as a non-permanent member into the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) earlier this year was abstain from Resolution 1973, which sanctioned the international body to use force to establish a no-fly zone in Libya in order to prevent Muammar al-Gaddafi’s troops from attacking citizens who had revolted against him. India abstained again in June at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna when a resolution was put to the vote to report Syria to the UNSC for having constructed an undeclared nuclear reactor.

This ‘neither/nor’ attitude of India’s reflects both an entrenched analysis of the risks inherent in any sort of external intervention as well as a long tradition of non-intervention in the internal business of other countries. But it also indicates a new dilemma in balancing the pro- and anti-West leanings of India’s foreign policy at a time when the latter posture has been reinforced by the crystallisation of an embryonic BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) diplomacy.

India’s diplomatic hesitation regarding Western interventionism, which increasingly relies on claims of value-based human rights doctrines, is well-founded: Iraq and Afghanistan show that regimes can certainly be changed, but at the risk of chronic instability and bloodshed.

Christophe Jaffrelot  is a Contributing Editor at The Caravan. He has authored several books including The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics and Sangh Parivar.

Keywords: united states United Nations diplomacy abstention interventionism foreign policy
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