A fascinating and potentially game-changing geopolitical pas-de-deux unfolded in Copenhagen. The international media and punditocracy christened the United States and China the new G2
in reference to the expected preeminent leadership roles the two hold among their respective developed and developing country contingents. What increasingly became clear, however, was that a different G2 was influencing the agenda: China and India
India demonstrated that, while it wants an alliance with the United States and its Western allies, a subservient allegiance is not an option.
This was clear in the way India approached a key Copenhagen sticking point—verification. India had been down this road before with the U.S.-India nuclear deal, where Washington’s insistence on external verification was seen by some Indian strategists as undermining India’s sovereignty and security, and as a potential excuse to impose costly sanctions.
Indian concerns about verification created an opportunity for China which, despite the vastly different mix of emissions in both countries, was able to entice India into an alliance. India brought along its IBSA partners, South Africa and Brazil, and it was this expanded group, meeting in conclave, that President Obama gatecrashed in his search for solutions.
Two very important messages were delivered in Copenhagen. First, India told the West it could no longer be taken for granted—it had options. Second, China told India it would be open to a new relationship based on mutual interest.
Going in to Copenhagen, visions for the conference were more varied than many realized. The West primarily thought it was negotiating a trade deal (as evidenced by the drop in EU carbon trading prices after the talks failed to deliver a climate market deal). China, too, was negotiating a trade deal, but remained open to opportunities to gain larger strategic advantages. India, on the other hand, sought a stage to drive home its major geopolitical positions.
Coming out of Copenhagen, the conference’s narrative is clearer: This was geopolitics pure and simple.
India—home to the world’s most populous democracy, a thriving economy, and one of the world’s largest English-speaking populations—is a natural U.S. ally. Its recent experience with the United States on nuclear cooperation, however, has made it wary. Such paranoia gave Beijing an opportunity to entice Delhi into an alliance at Copenhagen. Despite China’s development of Pakistan as a nuclear client state, ongoing border disputes and skirmishes, and other conflicts between the two emerging powers, Beijing succeeded.
If the United States and its Western allies are to coax India (and by extension, a substantial portion of the developing world) into going along with an ambitious emissions reduction program, or indeed any other trade regime, they will need to desist from seeking to impose measures that Delhi regards as protectionist and self-serving.
For the West, moving the world’s most populous democracy to its side, and not China’s, is worth certain concessions. Not just for the sake of a climate deal, but also for larger strategic purposes. At Copenhagen, the West incorrectly lumped India with China, and this mistaken assement proved to be self-fulfilling.
Analysis of India has long suffered from “hyphenation.” First it was India-Pakistan, now India-China. At the beginning the India-China link was competitive, but Copenhagen has shown it has the potential to become cooperative. India should be assessed on its own terms. If geopolitics abhors a stand alone, however, then the time has come to rehyphenate democratic, economically strong, English-speaking India. It would be in the United States and its allies’ benefit to create a new cooperative link: India-U.S.
A longer version of this article was originally published by UPI-Asia.com.
Cleo Paskal is a fellow at Chatham House in London and author of Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map (Palgrave). Scott Savitt, a former Beijing-based correspondent for United Press International, is the author of the forthcoming memoir Crashing the Party (Atlas). ©Copyright Cleo Paskal and Scott Savitt.
Photo: Prime Minister of India Manmohan Singh. Courtesy World Economic Forum.