Monday, February 27, 2006

Curzonian World View

I refer to a lengthy article by Parag Khanna and Raja Mohan dated February 13, 2006. It is an effort to convince the American policy audience to take India seriously. A shorter, more succinct report around a single theme would have been more effective. Indian foreign policy should speak for itself. This said, there were a few paragraphs of note. I reproduce just one given its insights in an otherwise rambling note.

"The perceived distinction between India's non-aligned past and alliance-oriented future is a complex one.........There has been a continuous trajectory toward a diplomatic posture which is perhaps best described as "neo-Curzonian," after the British imperial viceroy and player of the 'Great Game', Lord George Curzon. Ironically, India's neo-Curzonian world-view is the logical heir to one of the nation's strategic texts, Kautilya's fourth-century B.C. Arthashastra, which locates India at the nucleus of concentric rings of potential friends and foes. A neo-Curzonian foreign policy is premised on the logic of Indian centrality, permitting multi-directional engagement - or 'multi-alignment' - with all major powers and seeking access and leverage from East Africa to Pacific Asia. Such a forward foreign policy emphasizes the revival of commercial cooperation; building institutional, physical and political links with neighboring regions to circumvent buffer states; developing energy supplies and assets; and pursuing multi-state defense agreements and contracts. Today, India has recovered this 360-degree vision, looking west to boost investment from Europe and the Persian Gulf, north to secure stable energy supplies from Central Asia (including Iran), and east for partnerships and free trade agreements with South Korea and Australia. It engages actively in regional fora......while not shying away from potential strategic competition...."

The reference to Lord Curzon is an interesting one. He was Viceroy of India from 1898 to 1905. He focused on India's frontiers, toured the Persian Gulf, and despatched a successful mission to Tibet to frustrate Chinese ambitions. Curzon had authored three books in the late 1800s i.e. (i) Russia in Central Asia; (ii) Persia and the Persian Question; and (iii) Problems of the Far East. Lord Curzon took an avid interest in Tibet, Central Asia, the Persian Gulf and the Far East. He helped consolidate imperial suzerainty in Hong Kong, Malaya, Burma and Aden.

The British presence in Malaya ensured its control of the Straits of Malacca while Aden overlooked the Red Sea. He established a garrison of Indian troops in Lhasa. Afghanistan, Bhutan, Nepal and Sikkim were brought under imperial "protection". Bahrain and Kuwait also became British protectorates. Britain ruled the sea and shaped events deep inside the Asian landmass.

Reference to Henry Kissinger might be relevant here. He wrote in the September 19, 1988 issue of Newsweek, "At the same time, India will play an increasingly international role. Its goals are analogous to those of Britain east of the Suez in the 19th century - a policy essentially shaped by the Viceroy's office in New Delhi. It will seek to be the strongest country in the subcontinent, and will attempt to prevent the emergence of a major power in the Indian Ocean or South East Asia. What ever the day to day irritations between New Delhi and Washington, India's geopolitical interests will impel it over the next decade to assume some of the security functions now exercised by the United States."


Anonymous said...

comparing Manmohan Singh with Curzon might be stretching it. The PM is weak to say the least, a puppet pulled by someone else.

Primary Red said...

As Dr. Singh said in his interview with Charlie Rose that just aired in the US, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

When the dust of our breathtaking history settles, Dr. Singh's tenure will be marked by tangible domestic and foreign achievements "stronger" leaders can only dream about.

By selling him short, in a fit of petty myopia, the Sangh Parivar only embarrasses itself. Our advice -- keep away from their typically meaningless political ideas.

Best regards

doubtinggaurav said...

"When the dust of our breathtaking history settles, Dr. Singh's tenure will be marked by tangible domestic and foreign achievements "stronger" leaders can only dream about.

Examples will help .....

PR, pardon for being amused but Why this obessive love for Congress?
If Congress is your role model for secularism,well, good luck!


libertarian said...

Jaffna: the use of a historical figure to paint a present-day opportunity is intriguing. The point of regional dominance is well-taken.
anonymous, PR, DG: did I miss something? I did not find a reference to Manmohan in Jaffna's piece.

doubtinggaurav said...


He came from nowhere, this is internet :-)

Jaffna said...

Senor Libertarian,

Thank you. You are indeed correct -I did not have Manmohan Singh in mind at all. I merely relied on Raja Mohan to describe the Curzonian world view as increasingly defining Indian foriegn policy, regardless of which Government was in power. This world view (call it Kautilyan, if you may) appears to be India's geo-political imperative. In light of this, Nehru's policy of non-alignment was a mere blip - an aberration.

Best regards

cynical nerd said...

Very interesting Jaffna. I thought this idea was started by Jaswant Singh.

But this seem to keep coming back, check this piece out:

Bush's deification of India is the 21st century equivalent of Lord Curzon's infatuation with the "sacredness of India." It is not born of mystical woolly-headedness; it stems from hard-nosed strategic calculations. Curzon never wanted India and Indians to be replicas of the "mother country". He doted on the robust, traditional values and the squirearchy of the "real India" and perceived the subcontinent as an autonomous power and the natural bulwark against an expansionist Russia. Replace yesterday's traditional values with today's democratic rumbustiousness and the Russian bear with the Chinese dragon and you have the importance of India to Bush.

To the Empire Tory and the Neo-Conservative, separated from each other by a century, India's importance stretched beyond its national boundaries. To Clinton, India is just another exotic photo-op. To Bush, India makes business and strategic sense.

Jaffna said...


Thank you for the link. This is useful.

You are correct in that it was Jaswant Singh who first made the explicit link with Curzon when defining the contours of post-independence Indian foreign policy.

Best regards


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