Elevated Expectations: India Under Modi

Narendra Modi sworn in as Prime Minister of India. May 27, 2014. (Narendramodi/Flickr Commons)

On May 26, 2014, Narendra Damodardas Modi was sworn in as India’s 15th Prime Minister. In his inaugural address, he outlined India’s “shining” future under his command. But, not all are convinced. His role as a Hindu Nationalist and leader during the 2012 Gujurat riots, which claimed the lives of over 1000 Muslims, leaves many skeptical of his agenda. I posit, however, that despite his past and potential shortcomings, Modi’s leadership will be a boon for the country and the region.

Modi won the national elections in a landslide partly due to his successes as Chief Minister of Gujurat (a position he retained for 13 years). Under Modi’s leadership, Gujurat became an economic powerhouse. Although the province accounts for only 5% of India’s population, it produced 16% of the entire nation’s industrial output and 22% of its exports. While the rest of the nation’s economy stagnated, Gujurat’s economy boomed, winning praises from business leaders and politicians alike. Modi’s pro-business stance brought, among other benefits, electricity to nearly every village in his province. To the common man’s eye, Modi was a politician who ‘got things done’.

Modi’s prime ministerial campaign – which embodied his energetic style – brought these local successes to the national spotlight. Over six weeks, he travelled over 200,000 miles and spoke at 500 rallies. He appeared at 800 more as a live hologram, solidifying his reputation as a tech-savvy, modern leader. Ultimately, Indians believed in Modi: a record 66% of citizens—urban and even rural, once the Congress Party’s electoral stronghold—voted in his favor.

Modi’s success can also be read as the Congress Party’s failure. The Gandhi family focused their campaign on ‘stopping Modi’, rather than promoting their own agenda. Yet, even if they had, victory was unlikely. Voters were tired of the high inflation rates, stagnant growth, ineffective leadership and corruption that defined the pro-Gandhi administration. Modi’s predecessor, Dr. Manmohan Singh, left office with his tail between his legs.

Though Modi won, a contingent of detractors believes that he, like other Indian politicians, has no substance. The Times of India published an article in late 2012 highlighting his “ten broken promises” that were made ahead of the 2007 state election. Despite public criticism, Modi kept his seat then and won the Prime Minister seat this month. The validity of these claims is now irrelevant, for the electorate has made its decision. The real question is what future Modi will bring for India.

Businessmen are heavily expecting a prosperous one. On May 22, after election results were known, the Indian stock market shot up into the top 10 of the world, surpassing Australia. The MNI (Market News International) India Business Indicator shows that ‘business confidence’ reached an all-time high this May, as the country began eagerly preparing for what it anticipates will be an economic boom.

The expectations of India’s general populace are, unsurprisingly, exceptionally high for Modi. His leadership style, I suspect, will be direct and decisive—a welcome improvement over Manmohan Singh’s decidedly quiet and ineffective one, which left the nation to the whims of corrupt officials. Yet, a potentially authoritarian, right-leaning and religious nationalist does lead one to wonder about India’s relationship with Islamic neighbor and long-time rival, Pakistan. Surprisingly, however, tensions seem to be easing gradually. Modi offered Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif an invitation to the inauguration, and Sharif accepted. The two later met and even agreed to begin trade normalization talks. As a gesture of goodwill, Pakistan released 151 Indian fishermen imprisoned for unknowingly crossing the border; the Sri Lankan government quickly followed suit.

Narendra Modi met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif (right) at his inauguration. May 27, 2014 (Narendramodi/Flickr Commons).

Caption: Narendra Modi met with Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif (right) at his inauguration. 2014. (Flickr Commons/Narendra Modi)

Modi’s rhetoric to and concerning Pakistan also seems to send a clear message to the US and the West. In a recent interview, Modi suggested that India and Pakistan could face the enemy of poverty together if the two nations can establish mutual trust. Additionally, a new relationship is possible if Pakistan can effectively stop harboring terrorists. In both statements, Modi appears to suggest that India can manage Pakistan on its own. Furthermore, Modi hinted at a shared strategic objective between India, Pakistan and the US to reduce terrorist activity in Pakistan. Thus, US-India relations should only improve in the coming years. Modi’s pro-business, pro-foreign investment stance should not only bolster the Indian economy, but also invite more US companies to take advantage of untapped markets and decreasing economic protectionism.

Narendra Modi’s reputation is one of an uncorrupted and effective domestic leader who seems already able to navigate the international arena. His past is, admittedly, somewhat spotty and his relationship with the Hindu Nationalist group, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), somewhat concerning. Yet, the Indian public has elected to move past this in hopes of gaining a leader who will prioritize development over cronyism. Modi has raised expectations, promising anti-corruption efforts, modernization and good governance. He must deliver on his promises and fulfill these expectations, for if he fails, the dreams of millions of people will be shattered and the nation will be left lost.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

A New Grand Strategy for a Changing World

American political thinkers en masse have not engaged in meaningful debates on American grand strategy since George H. W. Bush’s proclamation of the ‘New World Order’ in the early 1990s. There have been sincere yet misinformed attempts to change America’s role, including the globalization prophets of the Clinton years, the Terror Warriors of the Bush years, and the liberal re-setters of the Obama years. However, no major faction of thinkers has articulated a practical and influential foreign policy capable of protecting America and the liberal international order in our changing world.

Dollarnote siegel hq

The reverse side of The Great Seal of the United States. ‘Novus Ordo Seclorum’ is Latin for ‘New World Order,’ the main theme of George H. W. Bush’s successful foreign policy. This order has been called into question in recent years. September 20, 2009 (U.S. Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons)

Remodeling America’s grand strategy will be difficult. In the near future the necessary lights will return to the foreground and shape the debate towards the best possible ends. At the moment, though, it would be beneficial to examine what coming paradigm shifts may look like to prepare us for the shock.

First, the supposedly transcendent norms of democratization and liberalization that swept the globe and led to a new world order over the last two decades are, in fact, not false illusions, but rather social and political constructions whose dissemination has been made possible only by the geopolitical situation of the Post-Cold War world. American hegemony, an interconnected international economic order focused on the United States, Europe, and China, the political bankruptcy of Communism, and the lack of dominant powers in any of the non-North American regions of the world created an environment wherein general interstate peace, the deepening of trade flows between the world’s major economic hubs, the spread of Western-encouraged democratization and liberalization, and multilateralism as standard diplomacy seemed to be basic forces of history rather than historically-contingent phenomena. The success of internationalism and American ideals blinded American political players to some of the unfortunate realities of international political life.

The global geopolitical situation has certainly changed over the last two decades, particularly with the assertiveness of China and the adventurism of Russia over the last six years. The resurgence of other political and economic centers of power, particularly in Russia, China, and Iran, and to a lesser extent India and Japan, has threatened American hegemony. Economic troubles in the US, Europe, and Japan, coupled with resurgent economic nationalism, have stalled the progress of the global commercial and financial order, proving globalization to be a double-edged sword. The ugly offspring of ‘democracy’ in Egypt, Libya, Myanmar, Pakistan, and other developing nations, as well as the local mutation of American-style liberalism in East Asia, Latin America, and even Western Europe of all places, have threatened formerly ‘universalist’ liberal values. Russia’s forays into Georgia and Crimea, China’s posturing with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan, and Iran’s manipulation of the situations in Syria and Iraq have brought the phantasmal ideals of perpetual peace, the triumph of multilateralism, and the end of interstate war to an ironic stalemate.

Moreover, innumerable trends in areas beyond the economy and politics are demanding a fundamental rethinking of how we manage foreign policy. Exponential technological advancement in fields as diverse as information technology, biotechnology, communications, energy, transportation, and manufacturing are restructuring societies, militaries, and economies. The ‘New Medievalism’ – a localization of many political units and the transition of duties formerly embraced by the state to various non-state actors such as corporations, non-governmental organizations, stateless nations, cartels, and insurgent groups – has resulted in a new anarchic political dynamic that cannot be managed by traditional statecraft alone. Environmental change, demographic shifts, and other unpredictable historical forces will continue to shape international and domestic politics in the coming decades.

How can the principles of liberal world order, American pre-eminence, and the balance of power be maintained in a world where increasingly assertive regional powers bolster their presence along their frontiers while developing societies crumble in the face of insurmountable domestic odds?

To start, the United States should determine whether or not maintaining the balance of power in every critical region of the world is feasible. Preventing the Russians from dominating Eastern Europe, the Iranians from intervening in the Greater Middle East, and the Chinese from bullying East Asia has certainly kept America the predominant power in those regions. At the same time, it has cost America blood and treasure, alienated three potential partners, and prevented those states from crafting local political orders that might be far more effective at stymying anarchy than the internationalist pretensions of the Western elite, who are proving to be far too incompetent at handling their own problems to be trusted with the affairs of others.

Balancing the Indians and Pakistanis, the Iranians and Israelis, the Japanese and the Chinese, and the Russians and the Europeans has perpetuated regional rivalries and conflicts and prevented the emergence of other hegemons. These rivalries serve America’s strategic interests in preventing the rise of challengers, but in light of present shifts in the balance of power, it is not clear whether the United States has the resources or will to perpetuate such situations and serve as the global lever. While allowing the emergence of regional hegemons is nowhere near ideal, it may be worthwhile to have go-to strongmen in the world’s critical regions who would be, if not dependable, at least predictable. Such a global concert system, populated by regional leaders as Germany, Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, Japan, and Brazil, and maintained by the United States, would certainly provide a more orderly international system than the vaguely law-based equality of all states existing on paper today.

Geopolitics South Russia

This geopolitical map of the South Russian frontier depicts some of strategic movements the Russians have been making in recent years. March 6, 2014 (Spiridon Ion Cepleanu/Wikimedia Commons)

Now, it may be worthwhile to stymie potential challengers. But if current political, economic, and demographic trends are to be trusted, it appears that this will ultimately be a futile endeavor, as developing nations transition into middle-class economies, their subsequent power may be too much for us to keep in check, and our attempts at policing will certainly invite contempt.

America would benefit from maintaining a liberal world order through control of the seas and dominance in military and economic might wherein fellow developed nations would come to the table, manage their own affairs, solve mutual problems, and generally strive to keep order around the world. American values could be promoted, but it would not be wise to export them and seek to impose them on our fellow states. And if the world trended towards war, it would be far easier to manage such a crisis in a world of developed states with mutual understandings, rather than a polarized world of the decadent West and the resurgent rest.

The international system is presently enmeshed in a period of great stress and tension, and a new method of thinking about politics will have to conquer the decadent contemporary orthodoxy. The statesmen of the future must engage in these discussions and seek dynamic and creative solutions – the fate of our nation demands nothing less.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Combating Modern Slavery with Fairtrade

“I dedicate this award to all the people who have endured slavery and the 21 million people who still suffer slavery today.”– Director Steve McQueen, on accepting the Oscar for 12 Years a Slave.

Steve McQueen at TIFF 2013

Director Steve McQueen at the Premiere of “12 Years a Slave” at the Toronto International Film Festival. September 6, 2013. Chris Cheung (via Wikimedia Commons)

At last month’s Academy Awards, Steven McQueen accepted the golden statue for Best Picture, one of the night’s most coveted awards. McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is a historical drama based on the true story of Solomon Northrop, a Northern free man kidnapped and enslaved in the antebellum American South. McQueen chose to use the Oscar platform to illuminate an issue that is often overlooked in modern society: slavery. His quote, found above, was broadcast to 43 million viewers and merits discussion.

The word slavery often evokes, among other things, historical images of the East India Company, the transatlantic slave trade, and Southern plantations. Unbeknownst to many, slavery has experienced a resurgence in the last half century. Today, it is estimated that anywhere from 21 to 30 million people around the world are slaves. People forced into prostitution or uncompensated labor, children forced into marriages and war, and victims of human trafficking all qualify as modern slaves. Moreover, not only does slavery exist in today’s society, it is also a thriving industry. In fact, there are more slaves today than at any other time in human history.

Developed nations typically experience a low rate of slavery due to a number of circumstances including national wealth and political stability. Factors such as enforced rule of law and low rates of corruption can ensure harsher penalties for perpetrators and reliable protection for victims. Stable, developed nations, like the United States, Canada, and Australia, all have low rates of slavery (i.e., below 0.05% of the population). Although comparatively low, this rate is nevertheless significant and embarrassing.

Modern incidence of slavery

Modern incidence of slavery, as a percentage of the population, by country. Data taken from the Washington Post and Walk Free Foundation. October 19, 2013. Kwamikagami (via Wikimedia Commons)

On the other hand, many developing nations face poverty, political instability, and war, and thus are likely to have a high rate of slavery. Inadequate law enforcement and rampant corruption allow perpetrators to go unchecked and undisciplined. The world has experienced exponential population growth, mostly in developing nations, which, coupled with rapid development, has resulted in over-crowded cities and many jobless citizens. Those citizens living on the margins of society are more vulnerable to slavery. For example, states within the Sub-Saharan African, South-East Asian, and Eastern European regions are home to some of the highest rates of slavery in the world. In particular, India has the world’s highest population of slaves at 1.1% of the population, or 14 million people.

McQueen is an advocate for Anti-Slavery International, one of the many organizations dedicated to combating slavery with the implementation of an unorthodox approach. Since slavery is strongly associated with poor economic development, organizations like Anti-Slavery International are using “Fairtrade” to help eradicate slavery by creating stable incomes and improved working conditions for farmers and their families. Fairtrade employs cooperatives and independent small farmers, and thus, unlike foreign development aid, seeks to establish self-sufficient communities. Further, Fairtrade is a market-based strategy that encourages sustainability by elevating trading standards. World commodity prices tend to be volatile and in response, the Fairtrade minimum price was established to ensure that farmers are paid for the cost of their sustainable product, regardless of market prices. Consumers pay a higher premium on products, which allows money to flow into impoverished places. The producers of these goods are able to earn a fair wage and support themselves through their work.

Fairtrade helps to develop higher social and economic standards in places that and for people who need it most. It is the hope that these people will be given the opportunity to provide for themselves and avoid exploitation. Buying goods through Fairtrade will halt the cash flow to companies that maintain low production costs with the use of slave labor. Although the problem of modern slavery is a deeply complex issue, one can only hope that Fairtrade will be a factor that contributes to its eradication.

The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect those of the Glimpse from the Globe staff and editorial board.

Affairs, Betrayals, and Accusations: The Shashi Tharoor Scandal

Shashi Tharoor WEF

Shashi Tharoor at the World Economic Forum (via Wikimedia Commons).


In what could only be described as a soap opera, an unbelievable scandal hit India and Pakistan this past January. The very public incident involved the Indian Minister of State for Human Resources Development, Shashi Tharoor, and his wife, Sunanda Pushkar. A Pakistani journalist named Mehr Tarar also played an important role in the drama that played out mostly on twitter. The “he said-she said” situation caused national outrage and confusion, some might even go as far as claiming national embarrassment on the part of the government. One thing is for certain, the incident served to highlight the ever present tensions between India and Pakistan.

Shashi Tharoor is a renowned politician who served as the United Nations Under Secretary General for Communications and Public Information where he undertook a large number of initiatives, including the United Nations’ first ever seminars on anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia. This groundbreaking legislation helped earn him a nomination for the Secretary General position within the United Nations. Although he wasn’t chosen, Tharoor returned to India where he rose to become a prominent government official. Both Tharoor’s celebrity and high-ranking position make him a desirable subject for many journalists, including one Mehr Tarar.

Mehr Tarar, a journalist for The Lahore, reached out to interview Tharoor last summer. A few months later, Tarar posted cryptic tweets about the new secret love of in her life, as well as tweets publically admiring Shashi Tharoor. Naturally, Tharoor’s wife began to suspect something unusual was going on. On January 15th 2014, Pushkar went onto her husband’s twitter and revealed, to his 2 million followers, the supposed private messages between Tharoor and Tarar declaring their love to one another. In response, Tharoor declared that his twitter had been hacked. Then, Pushkar confirmed that she wrote the tweets and began claiming that Tarar was stalking her husband and that she was an undercover ISI agent who was trying to infiltrate her marriage to gain political information.

This was a very serious accusation, with the implications involving deception and international government interference. Historically, there is palpable tension between the two south Asian countries. Decolonization and subsequent partitioning of India in the 1940s left bitter feelings of rivalry for many in the region. These feelings lead to conflict from time to time, especially in the hotly disputed Kashmir region, a location Tarar has visited many times for her employer.  With Pakistan’s nuclear power status in mind, an accusation like this could only exacerbate tensions. In short, a silly scandal could have very serious impacts on a region where stability is never assured.

Tarar quickly released a statement vehemently denying any affair or association with the ISI and expressed her belief that this claim would place her family in danger. Within 24 hours, Pushkar retracted her statements and released a joint comment with her husband stating that she did not write the tweets. The reality of an election year was likely the motivating factor for the sudden change in Pushkar’s story. It is clear that the back and forth public bickering between an important government official and his wife could only be a negative influence on public opinion.

However, things took a shocking turn the following morning on January 17th when it was announced that Pushkar was found dead in the hotel she and her husband had been sharing. In the wake of this tragedy, a large amount of attention was placed on Tarar and the supposed ISI connections that she had. An equal amount of speculation was placed on Tharoor and many theories from poison to government espionage have begun to surface with regards to Pushkar’s untimely death. The medical examiner ruled out foul play and there is an ongoing investigation into whether Pushkar committed suicide. However, this has not stopped India’s population from wildly speculating about the death of the chief minister’s wife. It is unclear what impact this incredibly public scandal will have on Shashi Tharoor’s chances in the national elections that are quickly approaching. The opposition has wasted no opportunity to criticize Tharoor and hammer him with accusations and condemnation. As is apparent in the United States, public opinion can make or break a national election. Only time will tell what impact this seemingly petty scandal will have on the Indian elections and the region as a whole.

Why U.S. Russia-Centric Nuclear Policy is Obsolete

This past month, President Obama put forth America’s new global nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament strategy in Berlin. In his remarks, the President included proposals for various initiatives including a new bilateral nuclear stockpile reduction plan with Russia, a pledge to initiate new treaties banning fissile material production, support of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the usual commitments to contain Iran and North Korea (Obama 2013). While these initiatives are productive for moving towards a nuclear-free world and containing short-term threats, the Administration’s new nuclear strategy fails to sufficiently address two pressing issues that represent great threats to long-term U.S. national and global security interests: the nuclear standoff between Pakistan and India, and the tactful development of China’s nuclear arsenal. It appears the U.S. is still operating in an immediate post-Cold War mindset where bilateral reductions between Russia and the U.S. remain the central theme of U.S. nuclear policy. However, if the U.S. is to ensure long-term global security, it should stop focusing on Russia and instead make Pakistan, India, and China top long-term priorities of global nonproliferation and disarmament efforts.

Negotiated bilateral reductions with Russia should no longer be the core of U.S. disarmament efforts. While the U.S. and Russia still maintain the greatest number of nuclear warheads- 7,700 and 8,500 total inventory, respectively- both sides have established command and control structures including advanced warning systems, vastly improved safeguards to prevent theft by transnational actors, and an established communication hotline to ameliorate any potential misunderstandings (Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation 2013). The former nemeses have learned valuable lessons from the Cold War and no longer represent a great threat to global security, especially as each state continues on a successful 20-year reduction in nuclear arms. The U.S. should instead direct its attention towards two countries that are engaged in a situation that may be much more dangerous than that of the Cold War: Pakistan and India.

Unlike the U.S. and Russia, both Pakistan and India are increasing the number of tactical nuclear weapons and lack the aforementioned communication and warning measures (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute 2013). Pair these alarming developments with Pakistan and India’s tumultuous history and a shared border, and the world has a serious threat of nuclear conflict. Indeed, a border skirmish or misinterpreted military training exercise could very well escalate to a nuclear conflict. In addition to the more traditional threat of nuclear war, Pakistan represents a dire nuclear proliferation threat. Some experts have asserted that Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world due to the possibility of transnational actors gaining access to its nuclear material (Cirincione 2012). Indeed, the Nuclear Threat Initiative ranks Pakistan 31/32 out of countries that possess weapons-usable nuclear material in terms of nuclear materials security (Nuclear Threat Initiative 2012). India lacks sufficient safeguards as well and therefore has received a poor rating of 28/32 (Nuclear Threat Initiative 2012). The U.S. should be making this potential hot zone a top priority of its nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament policy, not the Kremlin’s more secure, declining nuclear arsenal.

As Russia and the U.S. work towards decreasing their nuclear stockpiles, China is the only one of the five original nuclear weapons states that is increasing its nuclear arsenal (Kristensen and Norris 2011). Expert assessments of the number of Chinese nuclear warheads vary dramatically due to the opaque nature of China’s nuclear program. While the majority of experts agree that China maintains at least 250-300 nuclear warheads (Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation 2013), other reports indicates China maintains as many as 3,000 nuclear warheads (Wan 2011). China is also estimated to have produced enough plutonium and highly-enriched uranium for up to 1,660 warheads (Kristensen 2011). These estimates should be very alarming, but China’s growing arsenal is often under-addressed in public U.S. nuclear policy circles. Why? Certainly the entrenched economic relationship is a deterring factor from addressing China directly, but this should not prevent the U.S. from engaging China bilaterally and multilaterally on this issue. China is a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and can be easily brought into the disarmament conversation. Pakistan and India represent a greater challenge since they are not part of the NPT, but both countries could be included in the international nonproliferation regime through other less restrictive bodies, such as the Nuclear Suppliers Group, for further engagement aimed at encouraging peaceful development of their respective civilian nuclear programs in exchange for reductions in nuclear warheads.

Current U.S. nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament efforts are ineffective at addressing long-term nuclear concerns. The U.S. Government is taking positive steps by hosting international forums such as the Nuclear Summit every 5 years, but these chat shops are not enough. The situation between Pakistan and India demands immediate attention and China needs to be called out on its growing nuclear weapons arsenal. As part of its overall nuclear strategy, the U.S. needs to make a central shift away from Russia in order to bilaterally and multilaterally engage China, India, and Pakistan. This pivot will be tricky because of competing U.S. strategic interests in Asia, and because India and Pakistan are not members of many established nonproliferation treaties and agreements. However, the U.S. should recognize that its long-term security interests necessitate inoculating these problems in their early stages rather than waiting for a nuclear disaster in South Asia or the emergence of an even more heavily-armed China.

The author would like to thank Bradlee McAuliffe and Matthew Woo for their contributions to this piece.