M D Nalapat, Professor of Geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education of India and also a UNESCO Peace Chair, has become well known for his proposal to form an “Asian NATO” led by the United States and India. A year ago, BEIJING REVIEW interviewed him about his thinking on an “Asian NATO” and the new world order. Last month, Mr. Nalapat visited China again and had a frank talk with BEIJING REVIEW reporter Zan Jifang on current international issues.
BEIJING REVIEW (BR): Last time, we discussed your proposal of an “Asian NATO.” What’s been the reaction to the proposal so far? Can Asia accept such an organization?
MD NALAPAT (MN): I think a lot of discussions are going on about the Asian security system. The need of Asian countries to handle their own security is under discussion among security experts and policy makers of relevant countries.
BR: India has set up its first permanent overseas military base in Tajikistan. India is the first Asian country that has opened an overseas military base. What do you think its strategic importance is to India? In your opinion, how will it affect the regional security structure? Is it out of energy concern, as analysts comment?
MN: The Indian armed forces are quite strong in Asia. The fact of the matter is that India would like to be a global power, not a sub-regional power. I think India’s policies are going to change, with this shift in the perception of India’s role. I think it will not be possible for any country in the world to bring India back into a position where it is not at the first rank of technology. Take nuclear weapons for example. No country can force India to become a non-nuclear power. I don’t think any country in the world should have a problem with this. Every country should accept that India is among the top countries of the world. India has the right to have nuclear weapons, and India has the right to have a strong defense system. I don’t think any country should worry about it.
I think the Indian army is very professional. But unfortunately, in the past, the Indian army did not accept many people from outside our borders for training, especially those from our neighborhood. This was a mistake. The Indian army should become much more active in military diplomacy, and help other armies with training. I think what you referred to is only a small first step in that direction, and I believe that many similar steps will follow.
India, like China, has got serious problems locating low-cost energy sources. India is developing new energy resources, such as natural gas, as alternatives to petroleum. And as far as natural gas is concerned, Central Asia is very important. It’s not only an energy question, it’s also a question of cultural attitude and outlook. We believe we must help countries that are friendly to us. By interacting with them, we can promote values that are good for both sides.
BR: What’s been your evaluation of India-U.S. relations in the past few years? Now, Bush has been reelected, could you forecast the future relations between the two countries?
MN: I think the relationship between India and the United States has gone very far forward in the past four years of President George W. Bush. The two militaries are no longer suspicious of each other, and our air forces and navies are getting very friendly with each other. The two armies are also holding joint exercises regularly. So, there is a very healthy development in the military field. I think Mr. Bush’s reelection is good for India. He looks at things in a very practical way. He supports outsourcing from India, from China and from any part of the world, without the tribal loyalty to Europe that other U.S. politicians demonstrate.
BR: The United States has blamed Indian scientists for helping Iran develop its nuclear program, and it also announced sanctions against two Indian scientists and recently planned to add another three Indian scientists into its so-called blacklist. What’s your comment on this? Will the issue affect the development of the relations between the two countries?
MN: There are some people in the United States who, I’m sorry to say, are not telling the truth. They know very well that India did not do this; but because of their frustrations in not stopping India from becoming a nuclear power, they tell such a lie. My information is that India has not supplied nuclear technologies of any offensive nuclear nature to any country in the world. I think the Bush administration overall is definitely very realistic to ward India, and considers India a rising power, but there are still anti-India elements in the CIA and the State Department.
BR: What do you think of current India-Pakistan relations?
MN: I think it’s in a better position. I don’t see any big changes taking place, such as any change on the map. We should all stop drawing or redrawing maps. We have enough problems in our region without also trying to change maps. Look at India and China, which is a good example for Pakistan. Both India and China have taken a very realistic and mature position on their boundary dispute. In my view, China will never invade India to take over land it believes belongs to it, and I can assure you that India will never invade China to take over the territory that we believe belongs to us. On both sides, we have decided not to go to war again with each other. I think the principle of peace on the borders and prosperity inside proposed by Deng Xiaoping is a very wise policy. India and China are a model for Pakistan. China does not try to change the map by force, and we hope Pakistan will take an example from China and not try to change the map by force.
BR: Many people like to compare the development of China with that of India. How do you see it?
MN: China is much more developed than India. From 1979 onward and even today, our rules and regulations are not as flexible as China’s, for example, in terms of inviting foreign capital and making foreign investors feel more comfortable. China’s economic policy is more advanced than that of India, so I think China is far ahead of India in the economic field.
But what is good is that now we are slowly getting economic freedom in India, as the new sectors of economy are developing a lot. China is an inspiration to India. I think there will be 20 years to go before India is as advanced as China. In my opinion, if there is peace on its borders, in 35 years’ time, China will be the world’s biggest economy, the United States, the second and India, the third.
BR: How do you foresee the tone of future relations of the two countries? Will it be competitive or cooperative? How do you think the surge of India and China will affect the regional geopolitical structure?
MN: I think even in a family, there’s competition and cooperation. So, I don’t think competition is bad. In some sectors, India and China will compete, such as the textile industry. But in other sectors, we will try to do things together. There is a lot of scope for cooperation. But the problem is we are not used to cooperation, because of the suspicions of each other. In my view, India and China should shed their hesitation about each other. Chinese companies should go to India and Indian companies should go to China. Today, we have only come to the start of cooperation. The trade volume between India and China has increased from around $1 billion to more than $10 billion within five years, and I forecast that in three years, bilateral trade will more than double.
I think that better India-China relations will help significantly improve the geopolitical situation in Asia, as the two countries have the two largest economies in Asia and are growing very, very fast.
BR: What’s your opinion of the Iraq war?
MN: I believe that Saddam Hussein should have been removed from power, and I believe it is important for democracy in the Middle East. But I think the way that the United States has dealt with Iraq after the 2003 war is wrong. They became the masters of Iraq. I don’t think any country should intervene in a country and take it over. I hope the American army will come back from Iraq very quickly and allow the Iraqis the freedom to decide their own systems by themselves. So, I agree with what was done in Iraq, but after it was done, Americans should have left administration to the locals. Now Iraqi people are not the masters of their own country, which is a very negative development and has very harmful aftermaths. I am very worried about the future of Iraq, because, you know, foreign troops have a very negative influence in any country. The big mistake the United States has made is that it has totally dismantled the Iraqi army and administration. When even the followers of Hitler and Tojo were largely left untouched in Germany and Japan after World War II, there was no need to destroy the Iraqi army and administration. Both should be rebuilt.
BR: What’s your prediction for the counter-terrorist effort after Bush’s reelection?
MN: I believe George W. Bush has been very successful in the war against terrorism. Success is hidden and failure is public. Bush has been very successful in preventing other terrorist attacks upon the United States. He has stopped money from flowing to those terrorist organizations. He also helped other countries fight terrorism.
BR: What’s your perspective on the future world order in the context of your counter-terrorist background?
MN: Counter-terrorism needs strong economic development, social development and cultural development. Only in such an atmosphere can we succeed in the war on terrorism. People should be given more rights. I think it is the responsibility of big countries like China, India and the United States, to work together to promote peaceful values and against the violent values of terrorists.
(Beijing Review, Vol 47 No. 51, 23 Dec 2004) [Interview]