A Game of Chess:International politics

“When Diplomacy ends, War begins”, Is this where the world seems to be moving? For now it may appear to be safer place  with the coming together of two nations  as i put them,’Friends for Benefits’ with the development of recent Indo-U.S relationship.Union Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar and U.S Defence secretary Ashton Carter signed a Logistics Exchange Memorandom of Agreement(LEMOA) that the U.S. has assiduously pursued since 2002 and which India had,till now, resolutely refused to endorse.According to the signatories , LEMOA only facilitates establishing “mutual basing facilities”.This would be on a case-by-case basis, intended to help speed up humanitarian relief operations as also emergency evacuation from conflict prone regions.In certain circumstances, it could also help smoothen operational logistics between the navies of the two countries.LEMOA is a critical link in the U.S.’s plans for a larger pivot towards Asia. Also, that it is intended to meet the threat from an increasingly assertive ‘Dragon’ of the east(China).

Talking of India-U.S. relations, it was President Bill Clinton who made the initial move to break the logjam in India-U.S. ties dating back to the Cold War period.It was Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who during a visit to U.S., made a bold statement to hint that it was time to “move beyond the hesitations of the history”; hopes which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have fulfilled in more than ample measures.Realistically speaking, the strategic build up between the two countries commenced during the first term of Mr. Bush, when the Next Steps in Strategic  Partnership heralded a sea of change in U.S.-India relations.It was in 2005 that India and the U.S. signed their first defence Cooperation Agreement.This agreement was renewed in 2010 and 2015, leading to a loosening of strict controls that existed regarding the transfer of excluded categories of technologies.Around 2007-2008, the U.S. made initial moves to get india sign three foundational agreements viz., the Logistics Support Agreement(LSA);the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement(CISMOA); and the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement(BECA) for Geo-spatial Coopertaion.While India welcomed the idea of relaxation of technology norms, it resisted signing the foundational agreements on the ground that it undermined India’s strategic autonomy.With LEMOA in place, it is almost certain that pressures would intensify to sign the other two foundational agreements-CISMOA and BECA.If India were to do so, it could convey an impression that India had gone from being a “major defence partner” to a significant “non-NATO ally” of the U.S.

Overcoming “the hesitations of history” is one thing; not ignoring the lessons of history is equally, if not more, important.The U.S. is a true practitioner of the art of “Realpolitik”.Changes in policy are constantly reflected to suit its global requirements.In Europe, for example, today the U.S. seems to be preparing to jettison its long-standing “special relationship” with the U.K. . In West Asia, as U.S.-Iran relations improve , Saudi Arabia is now the new villain on the block.The U.S. had always been suspicious of India’s friendship with Russia, that go back to the period of Non-Allignment. And today as the U.S.-Russia relations are at their nadir since fall of Berlin Wall, the U.S. can be expected to try to further weaken India-Russia relations that are lately facing some strain.Furthermore, given Pakistan’s location, it would be a mistake to belive that the U.S. would completely detach itself from Pakistan.

The geopolitical situation across the world is more confused today than it was only a few years back.Geopolitical alignments are changing at bewildering pace.As India moves closer to the U.S., Russia is seen to coming closer to China.At one level, Russia is strengthening its links with China economically and strategically and coordinating more closely on the later on the issue of South China Sea. At another level, Russia is engaging with China to oppose U.S. attempts to install Missile Defence System in Asia.

Russia is simultaneously seeking to reinforce its long-standing strategic ties with South Asian countries such as Vietnam.Russia and Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) appear to have come closer.In Eurasia, Russia is currently carving out a zone of influence for itslef.India does not figure on any of these plans.When the strategic balance across the entire Asian region is undergoing a seismic shift, India cannot be seen to be playing a losing hand.The main players, today, are the U.S., Russia and China.The current effort of countries such as China and Russia is to restrict, if not exclude, U.S. influence from the region, labelling it as a non-Asian power.On issues such as the South China Sea, even many of the countries directly involved, specially Philippines. are willing to make their peace with China.The U.S.’s role in the region is thus becoming restricted, leaving it few alternatives.

With the ‘Snake ‘ and the ‘Dragon’ lurking in its backyard, India need to reflect whether this is the opportune moment for the country to reset its compass and move away from its long-term resistance on strategic autonomy.It is also hardly the time to be seen to be the ally of One power, that too one whose power seems to be waning. The Lion must play its cards carefully if it wants to project itself as the one in the near future. As quoted by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “A lot of people think International Relations is like a game of chess.But its not a game of  chess,where people sit quietly,thinking out their strategy, taking their time between the moves.It’s more like a game of Billiards,with a bunch of balls clustered together.”

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