by Jonathan Manthorpe
In the deal between Washington and New Delhi under which India is forgiven for having ignored every treaty in the book on nuclear power we have been given a glimpse into the future.
And the future is going to be a difficult place for countries like Canada.
The rule-based international system that we and like-minded countries have spent so much effort putting in place for the last century or so is not going to survive the rise to superpower status of India and China.
They will make their own rules and impose their own values.
In an unusual moment of realism, the administration of president George W. Bush recognized this when it decided it was better to be India’s nuclear partner than to continue berating New Delhi for having shot the carefully constructed nuclear management regime full of holes.
Canada, still smoldering with resentment that it was a Candu reactor that India used in the early 1970s to provide the makings for its first nuclear weapon, has yet to make the same leap.
But, as C. Raja Mohan, a former member of India’s National Security Advisory Board, said here last week, Canada and similar small but wealthy western countries should take a cool, hard-nosed look into the future and decide where their best interests lie.
Speaking in a lecture series sponsored by the BMO Financial Group and the Canadian Institute for International Affairs, Mohan said he does not think the western world has grasped the full implications of the rise of Asia, especially India and China.
Both, he said, will match or overtake the superpower status of the United States within 30 years. And with combined populations of about 2.5 billion people the demands India and China are going to make on world resources once they begin to achieve real prosperity is almost beyond imagination.
A major challenge for both countries will be to avoid their contest to control resources leading to military confrontations.
But Mohan said he expects both countries to continue the already evident contest for access to resources, especially energy.
Neither country fully accepts the Western belief that they should trust the marketplace to provide the resources they need to develop. They want control.
So it would be a big mistake for western countries, Mohan said, to imagine that China and India as superpowers will slot into the template for international behaviour that has been created by the nations of the North Atlantic basin.
It is in the nature of superpowers throughout history that they fashion the international system to meet their own interests, and China and India will be no different, he said.
Mohan pointed out that although India is the world’s largest democracy, it does not automatically support other democratic countries rather than authoritarian regimes. In its support for the regimes in Sudan and Burma (Myanmar), for example, New Delhi has made a classic trade-off between its values and its national interest in securing access to the resources of those two countries.
Despite that, Mohan said, India’s political and social attitudes stem from the West. Indeed, “India is the most important place outside the West that is built on the values of the Enlightenment. We may well become the leader of the West in the future.”