Jaishankar Calls Out Europe’s Selective Concern on Rules-Based Order

By Jerri-Lynn Scofield, who has worked as a securities lawyer and a derivatives trader. She is currently writing a book about textile artisans.

Indian minister for external affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar continued to chart an independent multi-alignment policy for India in public remarks yesterday.

Jaishankar appeared at the Raisina Dialogue, a multilateral conference held annually in Delhi since 2016. The event is hosted by the Observer Research Foundation, an independent think tank,in collaboration with India’s ministry of external affairs, and according to India Today, ‘is known to be India’s flagship conference on geopolitics and geo-economics (see Shashi Tharoor thanks EAM Jaishankar for giving him credit at conference, posts selfie | See tweet).

Jaishankar, a career diplomat before being a member of the government, chooses his words carefully and comports himself with dignity (behavior no longer common nor expected in encounters between ministers from different sovereign states). Yet as became increasingly obvious since the shambolic U.S. pullout last summer from Afghanistan, followed by the announcement of the AUKUS security pact last September, and even moreso as India has attempted to steer a neutral course in policies towards the US and Russia  (in spite of repeated U.S. bullying), India’s no longer kowtowing to anyone. Verbally or otherwise.

As the Wire reports in ‘Rules-Based Order Has Been Under Stress Much Before Ukraine’: Jaishankar:

Indian external affairs minister S. Jaishankar said on Tuesday that Europe’s invocation for global unity in protecting the rules-based order in the wake of the Russian invasion in Ukraine is selective, with no such visible outrage when Afghanistan was “thrown under the bus” or in the face of other geopolitical challenges in Asia.

There’s a lot packed into that paragraph and for those readers who’ve not read my previous posts on India’s recent Russia policy, please start here. India’s policy is important, and it’s not being properly covered in the western mainstream medai; I’ve not yet seen attempts to assume a  perspective that seeks to explain exactly what India is trying to do and the context – historical, economic, politica, and otherwise – for its so doing. So, for interested readers who might have missed these earlier posts, here they are, in order):  India Is Mulling Rupee-Ruble Payments System for Trade with Russia  India: Pursuing its National Interest in the Multipolar World; and External Affairs Minister Jaishankar: India Has Concerns About U.S. Human Rights Record. (If you only have time to read one post, I’d recommend reading the second).

The Wire’s account observes that although those who attended the Raisina Dialogue hailed from across the world, the Europeans in attendance were overwhelmingly pre-occupied with Ukraine. Per The Wire:

The veteran foreign minister of Luxembourg Jean Asselborn asked Jaishankar about the justification furnished by the Russian foreign minister during his visit to India last month. He noted that Russia had claimed that its actions were to prevent genocide and to ‘de-Nazify’ Ukraine. “How does he explain it to you… everything that Russia is doing in Ukraine is against international law and the charter of the United Nations?” Asselborn asked.

Jaishankar replied that he didn’t have anything new to contribute, as Lavrov would have “probably engaged more of you in Europe on the subject than he has engaged us”.

It ’s also clear to me that Jaishankar understands exactly what’s at stake for the world order and the world economy – whereas it is by no means apparent that most all U.S. public officials and many of their  European lackeys don’t seem to grasp many elements of basic reality. According to The Wire:

He noted that there “will be no winner in this conflict”, with the knock-on effect of the war impacting every corner of the planet in terms of higher energy prices and food inflation.

As to what’s necessary, a way must be found back to the negotiating table. Over to The Wire::

“Our position is that we all have to find some way of returning to diplomacy and dialogue, and for that, the fighting must stop. I think that is the focus of what we are trying to do,” he said.

But crucially, and remember, the Raisina Dialogue was occurring in Asia, specifically in the Indian capital, Delhi. Per The Wire:

He further pointed out that the Ukraine crisis would naturally pre-occupy Europe at this time “to the exclusion of almost everything else, but there is also a world out there”. “I am very glad that you are sitting in India because it would remind you that there are equally pressing issues in other parts of the world.”

Alluding that European concern about disruptions to rules-based order before Ukraine had been spotty, he said, “In terms of Afghanistan, please show me which part of the rules-based order justified what the world did there. So, let’s see this in the right context.” [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis].

I also appreciated Jaishankar’s trade barb. He seems to be at least one world diplomat who apparently hasn’t imbibed the free trade Kool-Aid. And note that the Modi government in which he serves isn’t renowned for any socialist proclivities. According to The Wire:

He also claimed that when there had been friction with other countries in the region that threatened the rules-based order in Asia, the Europeans had a different counsel. “If I were to put those very challenges in terms of principle when rules-based order was challenged in Asia, the advice we got from Europe was ‘do more trade’. At least we are not giving you that advice,” Jaishankar said, which was greeted with applause among the audience.

Further, at least some of the diplomats present were aware of not-so-distant Indian history. According to The Wire:

The Filipino foreign minister Teodoro L. Locsin intervened that the question of opposing genocide should be asked of India in this context. “…you are talking of the country that sent an army to prevent the extinction of a people who would later become Bangladesh… this is India, the country that answers the call when people face genocide”.

Another important point, one well-known to Indians and Bangladeshis and which was pointed out by reader Fazal Majid in a comment on my India: Pursuing its National Interest in the Multipolar World post, citing  India Times, When Russia Stunned US & UK Naval Forces And Helped India Win The 1971 War.

In brief, the U.S., the UK, and China all sided with  (west) Pakistan in the 1971 war in which India weighed in on the side of (east) Pakistan, which achieved its independence as a result of that war and became known as Bangladesh. India’s timely invocation of a then-new  arrangement with the USRR allowed it both to intervene and stop the genocide in east Pakistan/Bangladesh. Over to India Times:

On 3 December, Pakistan launched Operation Chengiz Khan, marking the official initiation of hostilities of the Indo-Pak war of 1971. The Indian response was a defensive military strategy in the western theatre while a massive, coordinated and decisive offensive thrust into the Eastern theatre. On 5 December, United States began attempts for a UN-sponsored ceasefire, which were twice vetoed by the USSR in the security council.

India extended her recognition of Bangladesh on 6 December.

On 8 December, Washington received intelligence reports that India was planning an offensive into West Pakistan.

It was in this situation that the United States dispatched a ten-ship naval task force, the US Task Force 74, from the Seventh Fleet off South Vietnam into the Bay of Bengal.

The task force was to be headed by USS Enterprise, at the time and still the largest aircraft carrier in the world.

The Enterprise weighing 75,000 tonnes was the largest nuclear-powered carrier in the world with 70 fighter aircraft. India’s Navy was led by the 20,000 tonne INS Vikrant with 20 fighter aircrafts.

At the same time, UK dispatched its aircraft carrier HMS Eagle in the Arabian Sea. If went according to the plan, India would be caught in ‘pincer’ attack. The US in Bay of Bengal, UK in the Arabian Sea, while Pakistan on land, India was caught.

The US and UK hoped that China would also attack India.

It quietly sent Moscow a request to activate a secret provision of the Indo-Soviet security treaty, under which Russia was bound to defend India in case of any external aggression.

To counter this two-pronged British-American threat, Russia dispatched a nuclear-armed flotilla from Vladivostok on December 13 under the overall command of Admiral Vladimir Kruglyakov, the Commander of the 10th Operative Battle Group (Pacific Fleet).

Though the Russian fleet comprised a good number of nuclear-armed ships and atomic submarines, their missiles were of limited range (less than 300 km). Hence, to effectively counter the British and American fleets the Russian commanders had to undertake the risk of encircling them to bring them within their target. This they did with military precision.

At this point, the Russians intercepted a communication from the commander of the British carrier battle group, Admiral Dimon Gordon, to the Seventh Fleet commander: “Sir, we are too late. There are the Russian atomic submarines here, and a big collection of battleships.” The British ships fled towards Madagascar while the larger US task force stopped before entering the Bay of Bengal.

The 1971 war is considered to be modern India’s finest hour, in military terms. The quick reaction of the Indian army, navy, and air force; a brass led by the legendary Sam Manekshaw; and ceaseless international lobbying by the political leadership worked well to set up the victory and liberation of Bangladesh.

Jerri-Lynn here. Given this not-so distant history, is it any surprise that India has tried to at minimum steer a middle course in the current Ukraine conflict?  Now back to the present and Jaishankar’s statements at the Raisina Dialogue. Stick with me please,as I discuss Jaishankar’s important point about ‘precedence’ in international relations. Per The Wire:

Earlier, the Norwegian foreign minister Anniken Huitfeldt had described Russia’s action as an example of a “totalitarian state attacking a democracy”. “Indeed, many would say that Russia attacked Ukraine precisely because it is a democracy. How does India, as the world’s largest democracy, see its role in defending free societies globally?” she asked Jaishankar.

After reiterating India’s position on Ukraine, he stated, “The fact is that different countries have evolved a combination of values, interests, history, experience and culture to approach conflicts and specific situations. So, you spoke about Ukraine. I remember less than a year ago what happened in Afghanistan, where an entire civil society was thrown under the bus by the world. Or we in Asia, face our own threats or challenges, which often impacts on the rules-based order.

The former Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt wondered if Jaishankar could fathom whether China would get emboldened in Asia, if Beijing saw that there was no unity among the international community after the borders of a sovereign country were violated.

Jaishankar said that while he “honestly” could not answer the question, international relations “do not necessarily function by precedence”. “People don’t need to see something and say, ‘Aha, that’s what I am going to do!’ That’s how mostly bureaucracies function. But world affairs has a sort of a much more self-driven, self-calculating way of working. [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis.]

And then apparently, Jaishankar couldn’t resist debunking arguments he’s repeatedly heard emanating from Europe during the last few months:

Admitting a sense of frustration, the Indian minister added, “(Let me say) quite candidly, (that) we have been hearing for the last two months a lot of argument from Europe saying that things happening in Europe should worry (us) about it because these could happen in Asia.”

“Guess what, things have been happening in Asia for the last ten years. Europe may not have looked at it. So you know it could be a wake-up call for Europe, not just in Europe, but it could be a wake-up call for Europe to also look at Asia.”

He pointed out that in this region, “boundaries have not been settled, terrorism is practiced, often sponsored by states,” and the “the rules-based order has been under continuous stress for more than a decade”. [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis.]

The key takeaway, according to The Wire:

Europe’s invocation for global unity in protecting the rules-based order in the wake of the Russian invasion in Ukraine is selective, with no such visible outrage when Afghanistan was “thrown under the bus”, said EAM S. Jaishankar.

Thanks from Shashi Tharoor

And now onto another important point. Naked Capitalism readers, among others, have got themseves rather exercised after observing it’s the Modi government that is now stalwartly pursuing India’s multi-alignment policy [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis].

As if that fact alone might provide a reason to discount, dismiss, or question the policy outright.

A couple of things to note. First, as I wrote in India: Pursuing its National Interest in the Multipolar World:

“The Union government’s choice of Jaishankar as its foreign policy guru is just one example of Modi’s ability to choose the correct technocrats to implement his policy objectives,” said Dr. Sunandan Roy Chowdhury, editor-in-ihief of the Kolkata journal, Eastern Review.

So, to be sure, this is Modi policy. Yet it has been designed and is being implemented by the country’s foreign policy elite, with the support and assistance of career diplomats.

And a second, crucial point: support for Indian multi-alignment extends across the Indian political spectrum [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis].

In fact, I read it as no accident that Jaishankar himself this week publicly credited Shashi Tharoor for conceiving the multi-alignment idea. Tharoor, a prominent member of the Congress Party, is a writer, public intellectual, current member of the Lok Sabha from Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala since 2009, and former member of PM Manmohan Singh’s cabinet.

And Tharoor – a consummate political operator, and well-known prolific Twitter user – tweeted out the following

Now, prior to returning to India 2007, Tharoor spent decades in the U.S, first earning at age 22 a doctorate  in international relations from the Fletcher School of Diplomacy in Boston. Tharoor then worked his way up the ranks in the United Nations bureaucracy, eventually becoming under-secretary general. In 2006, the government of India nominated Tharoor to vie for the UN secretary general position.

Permit me to quote from Wikipedia here:

…Although all previous Secretaries-General had come from small countries, Prime Minister Manmohan Singhand National Security Advisor M. K. Narayanan felt that Tharoor’s candidacy would demonstrate India’s willingness to play a larger role at the United Nations.[27]

Tharoor finished second, behind Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, in each of the four straw polls conducted by the UN Security Council.[28] In the final round, Ban emerged as the only candidate not to be vetoed by one of the permanent members, while Tharoor received one veto from the United States. U.S. Ambassador John Bolton later revealed his instructions from Condoleezza Rice: “We don’t want a strong Secretary-General.” Tharoor was a protégé of the independently minded Kofi Annan,[29] and a senior American official told Tharoor that the US was determined to have “No more Kofis.”[27] After the vote, Tharoor withdrew his candidacy and declined Ban Ki-moon’s invitation to remain in service beyond the expiry of his term as Under-Secretary-General.

Jerri-Lynn here. Whip smart, with long and deep familiarity with the United States (and its pecularities), not to mention a national of one of the most populous, fastest-growing economies in the world? (And one still less obeisant to neo-liberalist principles than most other ‘advanced’ economies – recent history notwithstanding.) Of course, the Uncle Sam couldn’t allow any person with such qualities to become UN secretary-general. Think of the trouble he might cause!

The idea’s been floated that Tharoor might be a candidate to become India’s PM someday. These rumblings were much, much louder when Tharoor was first elected to the Lok Sabha , before a scandal involving an Indian Premier League (IPL) – cricket – franchise arose and forced his resignation from Singh’s cabinet. An even bigger obstacle might be the aftermath of the sudden death of his third wife, Sunanda Pushkar, after a loud twitter spat and accusations of adultery, followed by her being found dead in a ‘mysterious circumstance’  involving a prescription drug overdose at a Delhi Hotel. These events unfolded one week in January 2014 at the same time the annual Jaipur Literature Festival was underway.

This is a huge event, attended by hundreds of thousands of people, Indians and foreigners alike, including much of India’s literary and (public) intellectual elite (and associated wannabes and hangers on). I was there and I remember the riveting headlines, which began with back-and-forth tweets between the spouses, and culminated in Pushkar’s sudden death.

Anyway, allegations of murder were bandied about and, again according to Wikipedia:

…In May 2018, Tharoor was charged with abetting the suicide of his wife and marital cruelty under sections 306 and 498A of the Indian Penal Code.[94][95] On 18 August 2021, a court in Delhi discharged Tharoor from all the charges.[96]

I therefore think it unlikely that Tharoor could at this point be put forward as a credible candidate for PM of India (even granting the fairly heroic assumption that at some point that idea might have seemed to be a realistic possibility). And of course, the even larger barrier in the way of a Tharoor candidacy is what looks to be the inability  of  the Congress (Party) to forge a viable electoral coalition to allow the party once again seize the PM’s chair.

My point here is simply this: both Jaishankar and Tharoor are pros, and that side-by-side selfie signals, much more vividly than mere words alone could convey that the Indian political elite are united in support of multi-alignment for India.

So, I guess the next question is: India knows what it should do, and is indeed committed to a multi-alignment policy.

What will be the response of other lead players on the world stage to India’s actions?

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  1. drumlin woodchuckles

    Maybe Western political satirists could start referring to the ” rules based order” as the ” calvinball rules based order”. If such satirists could get that phrase accepted into the language, then the whole concept of ” rules based order” might be mocked and ridiculed in mass opinion public for the calvinball rules based order it really is.

    That might be a first step towards exterminating the “rules based order” from existence and wiping it off the face of the earth. Then the more traditional Westphalian State Community could rush to fill the vacuum with an ” international Law Based Order” before the Free Trade Conspirators get the vacuum filled with their desired next iteration of a ” rules based order”. A ” Rules Based Order 2.0″ perhaps.

    1. Mikel

      I’ll believe there is an International Law Based Order when some Western warmongers get locked up – when a UK Prime Minister or USA President and/or advisors are on the line like an African despot.

      1. Altandmain

        It’s not like George Bush or Tony Blair are facing charges over Iraq. It’d only enemies of the Western Establishment that this is ever brought up.

    2. Grebo

      I detect no irony in Jaishankar’s use of the “rules-based order” construction. Makes me wonder if he groks it in quite the way we do.

    3. JTMcPhee

      Since neoliberalism thrives on creating disruption and disaster from which profits for supranational corporations can be extracted, maybe a better name for the preferred political economy of the Looting Powers should be the Calvinball “Rules”-Based International DISorder…”

      And from my experience and observation of “law” as a potential guiding principle for Big Relations:

      I’d counsel that the slimy and disingenuous and grasping creatures that draft (lobbyists and corporate lawyers) and “enact”/validate (elected bribed legislators) and apply and enforce (the captured and corrupt executive and judicial elements, and their loopholed and slippery and tilted “laws,” ought not to be entrusted with “governance” that is subject to corruption and “interpretation” and exceptionalism.

      1. Susan the other

        Just thinking about the way “the law” is constructed it seems obvious that “rules-based” social and economic orders are a way to avoid “the law” entirely. Laws descend from constitutions and are written to uphold them. Rules descend from laws and are meant to reinforce them. But none of it is carved in stone; it is all amendable. As necessary. But that’s the whole point, no? If something gets amended it is by broad consensus. A democratic process. So “rules” are actually pretty lawless and out-of-control until they are tethered to laws which in turn are tethered to constitutions and democratic decisions. “The law” only sounds autocratic – too top-down – because a constitution is actually very grass-roots. So if we stick to the logic here, there really isn’t another option than a conservative multi-polar world based on constitutional law.

        1. JTMcPhee

          You think that the Magna Carta and the US Constitution are somehow “democratic” and that even the amendments are based on broad consensus? That’s not the history I read.

          And as an enforcement attorney with the US EPA, I got to see “enforcement discretion” and “regulatory interpretation” used frequently to flout what seemed to me to be the plain meaning and even the more obscure “legislative intent” of laws nominally crafted to protect the broad consensus public from private and government predation and abuse and externalization of manifold harms. I participated in APA rulemakings, where lobbying and corruption led to “rules” we enforcement types were supposed to “enforce” by recognizing them as shields AGAINST enforcement of the intent and language of “laws” adopted by the “consensus-controlled” Congress, interpretation and enforcement having been “delegated” yo the executive agency. And I have seen judges make ruling that ignore or fraudulently interpret both statute, rule, precedent and Constitution.

          And in the global context, private contracts sure seem one heck of a lot more important than any possible consensus-based constitution, and plain old fiscal and physical power, maybe modulated occasionally and slightly by eleemosynary impulses, is what decides conflicts and directs relations and commerce.

          What you describe is what I learned in grade and high school and even early in college is the supposed “model” that drives the system. I started law school believing that there is some “body of laws” that restrains badness and arcs toward goodness and fairness and all that. second and third years of law school and work experience as an attorney disabused me of those quaint notions.

          Self-interest and power control the way things actually work, in most instances and pretty much at every scale. It’s the fear of nuclear annihilation that has kept the powerful in the US and Israel and other nations from grabbing for the brass ring and dictating (worse than they do with the power resources like SWIFT and IMF and CIA and related groups wearing different colors from) who gets what and has what taken away from them.

          And in most instances, people “obey the law” not out of a sense that it’s the right thing to do, but out of fear of enforcement. Your logic needs some examination, I’d say…

          1. Susan the other

            I actually do examine it. What I see is social blowback. When social equity gets too far out of line it gets readjusted. Nothing is perfect. But human consensus and cooperation are really the bottom line. If something has to be defended, that would be it. So, however fragile things are, if we operate from a foundation of consensus we will be able to maintain at least some degree of fairness. I shouldn’t have put it so simplistically. I’m horrified by all the corruption too. But it is an ironic twist of language that “authoritarian” leaders are so negatively stereotyped when they might be more democratic that “liberal” ones.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Glad to hear it. I especially enjoy posting about India. Lots of fun facts and thoughts crawl out of the back of my mind – half-remembered things.

      1. Polar Socialist

        I’ll second Socal Rhino, thank you so much for these insights into the subcontinent that has remained an enigma to me, even though I heard a lot of stories as a kid from my aunt who lived in India for a quarter of a century.

        All due to you I’m currently looking for a copy of The India Way (smiley emoji here)!

        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          It’s unfortunate that copies are hard to come by- and expensive – outside of India, as I know books are as cheap as chips there – and stock up accordingly whenever I visit India.

          Alas, at the moment, the cheapest – and quickest – option in both the U.S. and the UK is via Kindle. I loathe the Evil Empire, but once in a (rare) while – usually to meet a deadline – I succumb and buy a Kindle copy. I justify such weakness to myself by the policy I otherwise follow as to reading physical copies whenever possible, even though eye issues make it far easier for me to read Kindle rather than paper copies. But unless I cannot meet my deadline any other way, I (almost) always opt for paper copies – even though suitably-blown-up Kindle versions are far, far easier on my eyes.

        2. José Freitas

          I’ll third it, I loved reading this article, and hope to be further enlightened in the future with info from corners of the world we don’t normally hear from.

      2. psv

        One more thank you, Jerri-Lynn, for this and other articles you’ve posted about India. Interesting that the support for multi-alignment appears to have broad support among decision-makers.

      3. Susan the other

        I almost skipped it because I only have about a 3-hour window of good concentration. But came back today. I’m getting very interested in India because it is definitely a good counterweight to neocolonialism. I’m really glad (relieved even) that India is doing its own thinking. It’s like our current iteration of democracy (liberal democracy) is growing up. All the older siblings who think they know best are being challenged by the younger, more sophisticated ones. And we Westerners are now the “old emperor” – as China calls us.

    2. Ignacio

      +1. I Very much appreciate the historical context on Bangladesh in the 70s.

      I have the sense that European diplomats are sounding ridiculous in their remarks. Apart from Afhganistan we can think of Syria, Yemen or Iraq as examples that have been treated in a very different way reinforcing this European selectivity. The Norwegian claim on Russia attacking democracy seems to be something directed to a ‘childish’ audience suggesting either little respect for the Indian public or, more probably, the very same Norwegian diplomat being extremely childish and naive about India and Asia in general.

      1. Petter

        I suspect the latter – naive about India and Asia. She is a life long Labor Party member, former head of Young Labor, never a wrong step on her way up the hierarchy. She represents Norwegian values, ostensibly universal values, actually Enlightenment, western values, not universal at all.

        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          Thanks for the Norwegian details. The inference you derive from her background and experience makes a great deal of sense. That still leaves me wondering: aren’t these people briefed? I mean, by now the war has been going on since February, and India’s been consistent in its policies.

          Not to mention that Jaishankar wrote a book in 2020 that’s exactly on point, a blueprint for current Indian policies.

          So, assume you too were headed off to India for a high-level diplomatic conference. Wouldn’t you do your homework and seek to understand the logic behind the host country’s policies? Maybe even read Jaishankar’s book?

          These issues are debated daily in the Indian press. India has lots of good English-language newspapers. (In fact, when circumstances take me to Calcutta/Kolkata, I generally read physical copies of six newspapers daily. Plus check on-line only sources, e.g, Scroll, The Wire.) Some NC readers have now discovered the lively daily debates broadcast on Indian English-language TV, by Arnab Goswami of Republic TV. These can be found on Youtube or via the network website, with some bits disseminated via twitter.

          Reminds me of a rather difficult law partner for whom I once toiled. A demanding – but fair – taskmaster, provided you did your job conscientiously and immediately took responsibility for your mistakes and omissions. When junior lawyers messed up – often b/c they didn’t do the basics, e.g. reading the text of the legal rule they were supposed to be interpreting – this man would whisper into the ‘phone, to force the listener to strain to hear the well-earned reprimand, “You know, these rules are publicly available.”

          1. Lune

            It’s sheer arrogance. It’s not a “big” (i.e. western) diplomatic conclave, like Davos (every western snob’s dream conference), and India is a poor country. No way they can educate someone to a standard higher than even middling Western schools. Besides, we know all the smart Indians have left the country to take up tech jobs in SF, so their diplomatic corps must be second tier.

            The western parochialism of assuming that western values are “universal” and anyone who dares espouse something different is at best naive and ignorant, at worst evil, appears to be alive and well. They all revere Kissinger and simultaneously advocate a “rules-based order”. The fact that their heads haven’t exploded from that oxymoronic stance is solely due to the fact that those heads are pretty empty.

  2. ChrisPacific

    Looking at the quotes from Indian and Russian diplomats and comparing them to US statements, it strikes me that the US is starting to sound more and more like North Korea in diplomatic terms. North Korean statements generally sound like they were written by an angry 12 year old boy. The US isn’t quite there yet, but it’s about on par with, say, an angry 16 year old.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      I’ve also been struck by these differences as well. Also, as I’ve noted about Jaishankar before, not only does he hold a doctorate in international relations, focusing on nuclear diplomacy, IIRC, but I’m impressed by what he’s done and by what he’s written.

      For example, he put his academic nuclear expertise to good use in negotiating the U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement. He’s married to a woman of Japanese origin and speaks Russian, English, Tamil, Hindi, conversational Japanese, Chinese, and some Hungarian.

      Before taking up the post as Modi’s minister for external affairs, while a career diplomat, he served as India’s foreign secretary (e.g. the senior career civil servant role) as well as India’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, China, and the U.S.

      Now, in the West, and in the U.S. especially, there’s an undue emphasis placed on credentialism. We should distinguish credentialism from true expertise. I’m not saying we should pay attention to Jaishankar’s words because he holds a PhD. But surely his languages, his experience, and most importantly, his words themselves – and if you haven’t bought a copy of his 2020 book, The India Way, I recommend you do so – should count for something.


      1. ChrisPacific

        It used to in the West, I think. One of our former US ambassadors was a similar type – not as impressive as Jaishankar, but with a long diplomatic career and genuine track record of achievement and expertise.

        He was the last of them, though. He was replaced by an ex-MLB player with an endless supply of me-and-my-good-buddy-Barack stories (apparently he was one of his top campaign fundraisers) and zero diplomatic experience. Others since him have been the same type.

        I’ve made a note of the book. It’s nice to read what the grown-ups have to say once in a while.

        1. Ben

          You are referring to Mark Gilbert, right?
          To give credit to Barack Obama though, he was sent as Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa. Probably the one place in the whole world where he can do no harm :)

  3. Mikel

    The alleged “rules based order” will continue to create havoc and confusion to delay the implosion of their economic system that constantly sh – – – the bed. “Oh, look…it’s this crisis!” There’s one crisis – the alleged “rules based order” that is past its expiration date.

  4. David in Santa Cruz

    Yes, thank you for this.

    Dr. Jaishankar is The Real Deal: a career diplomat and former Ambassador to both the U.S. and China; Foreign Secretary and Minister of External Affairs of the world’s second most populous nation. He speaks English, Russian, Tamil, and Hindi and is conversational in Japanese, Mandarin, and Hungarian. He did briefly work for Tata Group after retiring as Foreign Secretary in 2018, but in more of an honorary P.R. role. He is quite clear:

    Our position is that we all have to find some way of returning to diplomacy and dialogue, and for that, the fighting must stop. I think that is the focus of what we are trying to do.

    This is in fact a scathing criticism of the U.S. Secretary Lavrov has made the point that America’s so-called “diplomats” are simply pushing more sales of U.S.-made weapons and U.S.-controlled fossil fuels. I mean, Raytheon and the Pine Island SPAC? Come on, man!

  5. Troglodyte

    Non-alignment to me, an admitted dilettante, suggests a desire to create a separate sphere of influence in the current scramble for great power recognition.

    I suspect that the scuttlebutt about JAUKUS were true.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        I will again offer my suggestion that France be made part of the Quad so it can be the Quad Plus One. Then we could call it . . . AuFUKUS. Australia France United Kingdom United States.


        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          Alas, it’s too bad alliances aren’t constructed so as to generate great acronyms.

          France was incensed by the AUKUS deal, as part of which the US agreed to supply Australia with nuclear submarines. Australia then cancelled an existing contract under which France would have supplied it with submarines.

          India was annoyed because it thought it was first in line to receive those nuke subs.

          On the back of AUKUS, France and India are stepping up bilateral meetings, etc., with the aim of expanding their connections.

  6. The Vole

    An interesting extra detail here is this isnt an Oxford Union Debate, so arguments of hypocrisy which one might reasonably and compellingly marshal about your opponents hypocrisy would be impolitic between serving officials … no “whattaboutism” from Jaishankar re: Saudi “cheap gas/barbaric values” Arabia, Israel (“let’s follow international law/the UN”), Iraq (“war on false pretenses”) …

  7. The Rev Kev

    India has a different history since Independence which people either do not know or forget in western capitals. Recently I watched a video by this high-ranking Indian guy and I wished that I had saved the link. In it he was talking about the times that India had been left swinging in the wind by the west. What really grabbed my attention was when he was talking about how ‘in the early 1970s, there was scarcity in the world grain market, soaring prices and famines in several countries of Asia and Africa. The commercial grain trade was expanded at the expense of food aid.’ India had to go hat in hand to the US for grain to meet the shortfall which was humiliating. People in India went to bed hungry – this guy too – and I think that he said that people were encouraged to have a food-free day once a week. India swore never to go hungry again and putmassive public investment in agriculture which helped solve those famines. But they did not forget. Even in recent history, the west left Afghanistan but grabbed their money on the way out the door and that money, like Russia, will never be returned, But it was up to Afghanistan’s neighbours to deal with this catastrophic mess with their own resources. So when you have some guy from Luxembourg finger-wagging at the Indians, I can imagine them not being impressed.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Re that food aid issue, I discussed in my India Is Mulling Rupee-Ruble Payments System for Trade with Russia post cited above the humiliations LBJ imposed on then Indian-PM Indira Gandhi in order to send American wheat – necessary so that Indians wouldn’t starve.

      Such history isn’t easily forgotten. Nor should it be.

      I’m not a religious person. But I often recall the passage from Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address reproduced around the perimeter of the ceiling of the Lincoln Monument in Washington, DC.

    2. The Vole

      Speaking as an Indian Citizen but one who has lived in SF Bay Since age 2 …

      To me the Central Fact of USA Hypocrisy is “picking Pakistan over India” … at least since the 70s.

      I had to laugh and laugh when the USA “found” UBL in PAK and took him out without consulting their ally.

      I mean there are hard cases but some things like “is smoking good/bad” are not close calls.

    3. eg

      I don’t imagine that the Global South is terribly interested in lectures about “morality” from either the USA nor their former European colonial masters …

  8. ChrisRUEcon


    You made do that “Friday” Daaaaaaaaaaaaannnng, JLS …

    Alluding that European concern about disruptions to rules-based order before Ukraine had been spotty, he said, “In terms of Afghanistan, please show me which part of the rules-based order justified what the world did there. So, let’s see this in the right context.”

    I am so happy to see emissaries of the Global South confronting this in the open now – that horrible violent hypocrisy.

    Good on him, and good on India.

    And thank you for the 1971 history!

  9. RobertC

    This is the hurdle India must overcome, culturally as well as economically: India vs China GDP Per Capita*

    And it will only happen if India undertakes a clear vision of the future unclouded by its fraught past.

    But I fear India will be unable accomplish this, even with the welcoming hand China has extended, for two reasons:

    1. With the exception of statesmen of Jaishankar’s and Tharoor’s caliber, I suspect the remainder of Modi’s foreign policy and national security bench consists of Antony Blinken’s and Jake Sullivan’s.

    2. The widening spread and penetration of the Hindu nationalism poison across and into all aspects of daily life.

    * from Demographics push China-India-Russia triple entente China at some point may dump its Pakistan investment and emphasize India ties, upending strategic calculations

    1. SocalJimObjects

      The thing that has always struck me as “weird” (can’t think of another word) about India is the need for English to bridge the communication gap between various regions in the country (like North vs South), whereas people from different regions in China would just communicate using Mandarin. When I was still working in the Valley, I actually asked a number of Indian coworkers about this and they pretty much said “yeah English is our lingua franca”. Does that mean India is more like a Frankenstein country i.e. something that’s cobbled together from really different parts? It’s hard to imagine such a country having a coherent approach on just about anything.

      To your list, I would also add 2(b), the caste system and its deleterious effect on society. Bloomberg reported on this previously, but people who belong to the Dalit caste system, even the ones who somehow managed to get into the elite IITs would do all they can to avoid working with other Indian people.

      1. Ram

        India had a lingua franca, even before English. During the Islamic rule from 12-18th centuries CE, Persian and Urdu were link languages. Before that, Sanskrit, Prakrit and Pali were the link languages. People like princes, merchants, envoys and spies simply learnt more languages. It’s no as hard as it sounds. The languages have a lot more in common than they are different. The alphabets are similar (though the scripts aren’t). Many common items have same/similar-sounding names. Grammar and sentence construction are very similar. The shopkeepers and taxi drivers in any metro city like Delhi, Mumbai can converse in atleast four languages with ease.

        My best experience was hearing a Tibetan refugee shopkeeper in Karnataka speaking fluent Tamil. He was a descendant of Tibetan refugees who came to India in 1959. I asked him how many languages he knew. He said, “Hindi, English, Spanish, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Telugu and Bengali”. That’s seven Indian languages and two non-Indian languages for a 30 year old person.

        1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

          Speaking lots of languages isn’t regarded as some special accomplishment for taxi drivers, shopkeepers, or hotel workers, etc. in India. It’s just something you learn to do, to do your job better. I mentioned above that I regularly read six newspapers when I’m in Calcutta/Kolkata.

          I occasionally watch cricket with the doorman at a favourite hotel there. He too reads lots of papers each day, in several languages. Plus switches back and further among several TV channels. He’s also very good at imitating people of different Indian backgrounds or nationalities checking into the hotel. Complete with spot-on accents.

          1. John Zelnicker

            When I backpacked across Europe during the summer of 1971, I found that the locals in most countries learned several languages starting in about the first grade.

            The first new language would be introduced in the first or second grade, the second a year or two later, etc. By the time they graduated from high school, which in Europe was the educational equivalent of a 2-year Associate degree in the US, they usually knew 5 or 6 languages other than their own. Mainly English, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, and sometimes Chinese.

      2. Lune

        Yes and no. Technically, the 2 national languages are Hindi and English, and every middle schooler is supposed to learn both. But things are different in practice. In north India, the link language is Hindi. For Muslims, it’s typically Urdu (which is very similar to Hindi except written in Arabic script). South India is where English is the primary link language, mainly because Hindi was always thought of as a northern language, so south Indians preferred learning English rather than Hindi.

        That said, this is all merging. The popularity of bollywood movies means south Indians are less averse to speaking in Hindi. And the tech / outsourcing jobs requiring English means most young north Indians become very fluent in English.

        Among young educated Indians, they’re typically fluent and commonly use both English and Hindi, along with whatever regional language might be their actual mother tongue (plus the language of whatever region they’re currently living in).

  10. John Zelnicker

    A masterpiece, Jerri-Lynn.

    I learned more Indian history from this post than I ever learned in school. Thank you.

    I can’t help but admire Jaishankar for his willingness to confront the hypocrisy of the West, particularly the US and Europe.

    Sadly, we just won’t learn and I fear the consequences of the US refusal to face facts and the reality of a new multi-polar world. If we don’t smarten up real quick, the result will be a WWIII that will last about 6 weeks before we’re all roasted in a nuclear conflagration.

  11. Sputnik Sweetheart

    When the British left India, it was divided into two countries and what is considered India today was a mass of formerly occupied areas, princely states that had to be annexed by force (eg. Hyderabad) and colonies of other foreign powers (Pondicherry and Goa). Post-independence India has also had separatist movements including Kashmir and Nagaland.

    Indian states have been formed through linguistic division and the split of Andhra Pradesh from the Madras Presidency is the biggest precedent. There is a fierce importance on preserving languages and language policy and making Hindi the national language would upset that and lead to political conflict and linguistic erosion so official languages are Hindi and English and English is used at the federal level as a medium of communication between the Central government and the States. A three language policy is enforced in the education system where the student learns English, Hindi, and the language of their region. Most regional languages are also protected by the Indian constitution, although there could be more done to encourage smaller languages and printing texts that are not English.

    What you have to remember about Indian nationalism is that it was a defensive reaction to British rule and formulated by intellectuals who also spoke English and acted in institutions created by the British. This cosmopolitan idea of nationalism proposed securalism and pluralism and has managed to survive for 75 years without any coups, although there have been some moments of authoritarian rule (Indira Gandhi’s Emergency period). Modi’s government is looking to replace this form of nationhood with one that is more homogenous when it comes to religion and language. During the pandemic when classes moved online, there was a push by the government to skip textbook chapters on the Indian Constitution.

    If you’re interested in more about post-independence India, I would recommend:
    India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha (fairly patriotic, extremely long and straightforward history that explores the cohesion of the Indian state)
    The Indian Ideology by Perry Anderson (a much shorter book, a more critical viewpoint on the cosmopolitan ideals I mentioned and how they are supported by backward ideas on caste and religion)

    1. Sputnik Sweetheart

      Sorry, I can’t figure out how to edit this but it was a reply to SocalJimObjects’s comment above.

  12. Ram

    Jerri-Lynn, Thanks for this series of articles on India.

    A few factoids and trivia:

    1. Raisina Hill is the name of the elevated portion of groundi n New Delhi that houses the Indian Parliament, Prime Minister’s office and Ministerial Departments. It is what Capitol Hill and Whitehall are to the USA and the UK, respectively.
    2. The first amendment to the Constitution of India, made in 1951, (among other things) placed restrictions on the freedom of speech. The government justified this “in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence” (Reliigious tensions were high because of the partition of the country, and mass displacement of people. So this restriction was necessary at that time, though the state has abused this power a lot). This is an example of what Jaishankar is referring to when he says, “The fact is that different countries have evolved a combination of values, interests, history, experience and culture to approach conflicts and specific situations”. It’s a fascinating contrast to the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
    3. The Modi government has a number of non-politicians holding important cabinet posts usually held by politicians. Appointing a diplomat for Foreign affairs, and an economist for Finance is not unusual in Indian government. But this goes beyond that: the Minister for Commerce and Industry is Piyush Goyal, an accountant; Hardeep Singh Puri, another formaer diplomat, heads the strategically important ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas; Ashwini Vaishnav, a career bureaucrat, heads Railways, another important ministry; atleast 4 more former bureaucrats hold junior minister posts in key departments.
    The political significance of this is that all these ministers do not have independent political clout. They serve at the Prime minister’s pleasure, and so they diligently carry out his wishes. This makes the administration more presidential and staves of challengers.
    4. Shashi Tharoor would have risen a lot more in Indian politics. But he was perceived by the Congress Party as a potential rival to Rahul Gandhi (who is far less charismatic), and was thus sidelined. Tthe aforementioned cricket scandal was used as a pretext for this. Tharoor endearing himself with Jaishankar might be a feeler to join BJP and revive his political career. Notwithstanding all this, the conclusion that the entire political class in India supports the government’s position is correct. In fact, the BJP is the party with most affinity to the West. Everyone else who has a public position on international affairs — the Congress party, the Communists — all stand farther than BJP when it comes to the West.
    5. India is not taking a neutral stand on this out of just commercial considerations like oil and commodity prices. When India started buying more weapons from the West in the last decade, Russia started acting like a jilted lover. It started selling military hardware to Pakistan, conducted joint exercises etc.(https://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-russia-military-idUSKCN11T17F). New Delhi was obviously alarmed, and placated Russia by promising to buy more weapons. This is simply realpolitik.

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Thanks for sharing these points, only one of which I’ll pick up on here. I’ve mentioned above Modi’s use of talented technocrats to implement his policy objectives (quoting Dr. Sunandan Roy Chowdhury). Your point 3 fleshes out crucial details.

  13. Jeff V

    It might be interesting to ask the US government what operations they would like to carry out but have been unable to do so because they are against the sacred rules-based international order, to the detriment of US interests.

    However, I’d be worried that answer wouldn’t be the predictable “Well none, actually” but a list of truly horrible things that even Stalin might have found morally objectionable.

  14. Sergey P

    Thank you so much Jerri-Lynn! I have spent quite some time in India, and am a huge fan of Indian people. They are sincere, kind and passionate. It is I think marvellously enshrined in India’s motto, “Truth alone triumphs”.

    I am puzzled why many a political scholars do not speak of India, when discussing the new multi-polar world. US, naturally. China, of course. Russia, maybe, I don’t know. But I see it absolutely clear that India is not just a great power, but a fundamental one for the XXI century. And visions of this new world, filled with genuinely different peoples, learning to understand and respect each other, feels my heart with great joy.

  15. Expat2Uruguay

    Thank you Jerry Lynn for the informative article! There was something I had trouble understanding, and it is here where you have added emphasis to something you’re quoting, but I don’t understand what it is that you’re quoting. That is to say what is the original source of these passages?

    Thanks from Shashi Tharoor

    And now onto another important point. Naked Capitalism readers, among others, have got themseves rather exercised after observing it’s the Modi government that is now stalwartly pursuing India’s multi-alignment policy [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis].


    And a second, crucial point: support for Indian multi-alignment extends across the Indian political spectrum [Jerri-Lynn here: my emphasis].

    1. Jerri-Lynn Scofield Post author

      Please read it now. I didn’t intend to emphasize parts of any quotations, but instead to bold my own words. The confusion crept in b/c earlier today, I corrected some typos in the text and at the same time inadvertently disturbed a formatting command. So when you read the post, the two passages you reproduced seemed to be quotations. They’re not. They’re my own words.

      I corrected the formatting error as soon as I noticed it and I hope resolved the confusion.


  16. Irrational

    Thank you, JLS, for this awesome article. It looks like the Indians are the adults in the room with more of a grip on the situation than the Europeans, who remind of a herd of lemmings.
    I have been talking to colleagues at work recently and they have fully subscribed to the Putin-madman-who-cannot-be-trusted, so no point in negotiating. When I try to point out that maybe we are imposing our narrative on the situation and maybe Ukrainian pronouncements are slightly biased, they look at me like I am insane. Your article helps in this respect, too ;-)

  17. Sound of the Suburbs

    What are the rules?
    You must set up a real estate ponzi scheme and wreck your economy.

    Do we have to do that?
    Afraid so, we’ve all been doing it in the West.

    Modi created a ponzi scheme of inflated asset prices in real estate, but it collapsed.
    The collapse in asset prices fed back into the banking system, which is what normally happens.

    Even the sensible Germans have succumbed and are setting up their real estate ponzi scheme now.
    Better late than never.

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