India has never sought an adversary’s territory, no matter how small or weak. The acceptance of the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on coastal boundaries between India and Bangladesh in 2014 highlights Indian intent to adhere to global norms. On the contrary, India has defended its own territory with strength and vigour. Simultaneously, India has projected an independent streak in its foreign policy. Its outlook is based on its own national interests, rather than toeing the line of its allies. As Jaishankar stated recently in the Rajya Sabha, ‘We are very clear on our principles. Our policy is very much guided by our belief that the international order must respect territorial integrity and sovereignty of states.’
However, around the globe, invasions by stronger nations against the weak,are not uncommon. Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait on a weak pretext and was dislodged by US military power, mainly because it would give Saddam control over global oil trade. Azerbaijan invaded Armenia to regain its claim lines. There was no global interference nor sanctions. Russia brokered truce, though Armenia was forced to surrender part of its territory.
The US invaded Afghanistan with the intent of eliminating al Qaeda but remained there for two decades, only to hand back a tattered nation to the same Taliban, whom it dislodged from power. The US also invaded Iraq on the pretext of eliminating NBC weapons, of which none were found. Its intent was to dislodge Saddam. It pushed the Arab Spring in Libya leading to the ouster of Muammar Gaddafi. In all three invasions, the US left behind a mess, which continues till date, including the rise of the ISIS, which now has a presence across the globe. Global economy suffered as a result of these invasions, but it was never a matter of concern for the US.
There were no calls for diplomatic isolation of the US as the nations involved were in the Middle East and its actions posed no threat to the developed world (Europe). On the contrary, Russia was sanctioned for its occupation of Crimea and now for its invasion of Ukraine, mainly because it could pose a threat to Europe or possibly because its actions took place in ‘civilized Europe,’ rather than in nondescript parts of the globe.
The west terms its decision of backing Ukraine as ‘defending democracy from authoritarianism’ whereas the 2021 Democracy index describes Ukraine as a ‘hybrid regime,’ while Freedom in the World report terms it as ‘partly free.’ The major reason why Ukraine has never been admitted to the EU is because its form of governance is well below desired western standards, while corruption levels are highest in Europe. There has been no comment from the west on the recent undemocratic decision of the Ukrainian president to ban 11 opposition parties because of claimed links to Russia.
The US is pushing the perception that the Russian invasion is disrespect for Ukrainian independence and dignity. There is no mention of national interests or security concerns of Russia, with an expanding NATO. The US ignores similar offensive actions adopted by it on countries for furthering its own interests. While no global financial body supported nations devastated by US invasions, the IMF has already sanctioned USD 700 million for Ukraine’s reconstruction. There are reports that the final aid package, against allocation norms, could be as high as USD 1.4 Billion. Compare this to Biden’s decision of continuing to hold onto Afghan funds in US banks. It emphasizes that location of countries are paramount.
Realistically, Russia is duplicating the strategy which the US adopted when it invaded Iraq, Libyaand Afghanistan. It left these nations destroyed, broken politically and in a financial mess. This vacuum resulted in the rise of warlords and creation of terrorist groups which threatened the region initially and subsequently spread across the globe. Russia has launched a similar systematic campaign to destroy Ukraine’s infrastructure, economy and its cohesion.
By the time the war concludes, Ukraine will not be a nation state, but divided internally, possibly controlled by oligarchs, with Russia controlling the breakaway republics and Crimea. The end result would be that Ukraine may never rise from its ashes to be a major threat to Russia.However, what could be left behind could result in an unstable state, which could shelter Neo-Nazi groups which may emerge as a threat to Europe as a whole. It is this concern which is guiding NATO and EU to push for an early end to the war. For nations in Asia, expansion of this threat into the region is unlikely.
In a similar manner, happenings in Asia are not of major concern to the west unless they impact nations with whom the US has defence partnerships. Thus, there was hardly a murmur when China intruded into Ladakh resulting in the Galwan clashes. There are no calls for reduction of tensions along the LAC, perpetuated by enhanced Chinese force levels.
For India, Ukraine is also not of immediate concern though it procures military spares from it. India’s concerns are Russia and the US, both of whom it depends upon for military hardware essential to keep its adversaries at bay. India is also a strategic partner of both. Thus it took a neutral approach, insisting on dialogue and an end to hostilities, while providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine.Evidently, national interests rule India’s decision.
The US leadership is aware that India cannot be pushed to blindly follow their diktats. It has earned respect for an independent foreign policy and adhering to global norms. Its growing economic and military power cannot be ignored. It remains the only nation in Asia to challenge Chinese expansionism.Hence, despite Biden claiming that India’s position is ‘shaky,’ the US administration announces that India will remain a key ally, especially in the Indo-Pacific. Indian concerns are well understood. Calls for using Indian pilots to deliver US aid to Ukraine are on the rise as western aircraft could be targeted for entering the war zone.
It must be accepted that the global community will never possess a similar view to any crisis. Western and Asian nations will determine their perceptions based on location, possible fallouts and long-term economic impacts. India is acting accordingly, and its views must be accepted.
The author is Major General (Retd)
Differing perspectives on Ukraine