India-South Africa Dialogue:Some Impressions

-Inder Malhotra, former Editor, Times of India

At the outset it was emphasised by the host side that the dialogue on strategic partnership between India and South Africa was taking place at a time of "ever closer cooperation" between the two countries. It was perhaps a significant coincidence that President Nelson Mandela was, at that precise moment, on his third visit to India. The growing feeling of Indian Ocean community was also manifest as much in India as in South Africa, both being middle level countries "outside the privileged arc." The historic role of Mahatma Gandhi, a substantial Indian presence in South Africa and the consistent Indian support to the anti-apartheid campaign had laid the foundations of the present cooperation even though, during the British Raj, the two countries were divided by the "British presence" but united by "a common language, a common history and a common ocean."

Trade between the two countries, it was underscored, had risen from 290 million rands to 1.4 billion rands and was likely to shoot up to 4 billion rands by the end of the century. The relationship between India and South Africa was bound to be "special" though strategic partnership need not necessarily be military. Indeed, its non-military dimensions should be emphasised.

Non-military threats and problems were stressed also during the discussion on the overall global security situation and megatrends. One South African participant spoke of "six immutable trends" such as the "pre-eminence" of economic activity, combined with the ability of the MNCs to "trangress national boundaries"; massive population growth; increasing disparities between the most advanced and the most backward; increasing role of non-state actors, especially in Africa; and so on. Also mentioned in this connection, from the South African perspective, was the declining importance of traditional military security (South African arms procurement has declined to just over a third) in comparison with non-traditional security issues such as the fall-out of poverty. One South African speaker made the point that in some developing societies, especially in the African continent, the state itself was the source of insecurity.

As for the larger trends, one South African view was that there were "security clusters around the United States and its allies," that security problems were being globalised, and that regional groupings and individual nations were expected to adjust themselves to this state of affairs. Another South African participant pointed out that in his country, crime prevention was becoming a security issue.

The Indian side, while discussing the international megatrends, took notice of the elements of unipolarity in an essentially polycentric world. So much so that a situation was being reached wherein China alone would be in a position to stand up to the US. Much would depend therefore, on whether the US would then try to establish a balance in cooperation with other major actors such as Russia, Japan, the European Union and India, or would treat it as a bilateral problem between itself and China. In the latter case, it will be a situation of a new Cold War in which countries like India would have to opt for non-alignment.

The Indian side also explained its reasons for refusing to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or to countenance the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in its present form. In response to this, one participant from the host country commented that he discerned some "anti-American sentiment" underlying the presentation. He was told that this was not so. India was keen to have the best possible relations with the US. In fact, America was the largest investor in India and its biggest trading partner. The US was also very keen to take full advantage of India's large and growing market. As it happened, however, disagreements over the nuclear disarmament issue tended to overshadow the overarching relationship.

India, the argument continued, wanted the world to be free of nuclear weapons and could not, therefore, accept US-led opposition to the demand for a time-bound and verifiable programme for the total elimination of nuclear weapons. In the absence of such a programme, measures like the NPT and the CTBT served no purpose other than to legitimise and perpetuate the nuclear arsenals and hegemony of the five declared nuclear weapon powers. From India's point of view, the consequences of this state of affairs became even more grave because of the continuing nuclear cooperation between China and Pakistan. This cooperation was unveiled by America itself. And yet nothing was done about it.

At this stage, another Indian participant made two points. First, that only non-confrontationist, non-hegemonic, cooperative relations, within a polycentric framework, could ensure durable international peace and security. Second, countries like South Africa and India had to be vigilant about the revolution of "shooting expectations," fuelled by the information revolution. A footnote was added by a South African participant who pointed out that the security of poor countries was being endangered also by "money-laundering, the third largest industry in the world."

On regional cooperation along the Indian Ocean Rim, the discussion was remarkable for the convergence of views. Some differences were, of course, there. For example, the South African side pointed out that while it agreed that the membership of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) should expand only gradually, it perhaps was ahead of India in seeking opportunities for more countries to come in. When Pakistan was mentioned in this connection, an Indian participant pointed out that every new entrant must abide by the governing criteria of membership which included adherence to all World Trade Organisation (WTO) norms and obligations. Pakistan was keeping itself out of the IOR-ARC by refusing to honour the WTO requirement of extending the most favoured nation (MFN) status to all other member nations.

An intervention from the host country emphasised that the idea of an Indian Ocean community dated back to Nehru, and that South Africa and India were at one in opposing Australia's attempt to bring "outsiders" in. Another point made was that South Africa was interested in access to the mineral resources of West and Central Asia. The IOR-ARC had enabled Pretoria to discover the potential of useful cooperation with Oman.

On the merits of having a permanent Secretariat for the IOR-ARC, it was generally felt that the present arrangement was adequate and could slowly be expanded. It was also argued by some that the regional cooperation could be used as a "route to globalisation." Why couldn't Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), etc be converted into WHAFTA (Western Hemisphere Free Trade Agreement) ranging from Vancouver to Vladivostock?

During the discussion on the painful subject of landmines, light weapons and narcotics trafficking, there was a large measure of consensus. It was agreed, for instance, that the continuing spread of small arms, which began in the Cold War but persists still, poses a grave threat to security. No fewer than 69 civilian aircraft had been brought down by shoulder-borne SAMs. In India, RDX smuggled from outside, led to 13 serial blasts in the city of Bombay. In an even more bizarre incident, small arms were dropped in eastern India from an AN-12 aircraft, flown by a US-based Danish national, that had taken off from Karachi.

One Indian participant drew attention to the fact that Canada had started the Ottawa process with a view to ensuring that there was a complete ban on the spread of small arms and landmines by the end of 1997. The US had not even bothered to attend the meeting.

Someone else pointed out that it was not correct to blame non-state actors alone for the spread of small arms, narcotics trafficking and terrorism. Several states and their agencies were also involved. The State Law and Order Restoration Committee (SLORC) of Burma, for instance, was known to patronise notorious druglords.

Yet another Indian participant made the point that Hutu militias were found to be in possession of arms originating from Pakistan. The smuggling of arms into Bosnia by Iran, of all countries, was cleared and endorsed by the National Security Council of the US. He also underlined the growing problem of mercenaries, typified by a Lieutenant-Colonel of the British SAS operating in Papua New Guinea in return for $38 million. At this rate, MNCs would be recruiting mercenaries to fight in areas of importance to them. Attention was also drawn to the startling fact that, in a single transanction, 75 million AK-47 rifles were imported into the United States. For what purpose?

In the course of the discussion on bilateral cooperation, the possibilities of maritime cooperation for fisheries protection was mentioned. Note was taken of the "strong presence" of the US Navy in the Gulf region of the Indian Ocean, the presence of more than a dozen French vessels, the building up of the Australian Navy and the development of a two-front Indian Navy.

One view was that maritime cooperation need not be confined to policing the Indian Ocean. Building up of port facilities and maritime infrastructure and training of personnel were important areas in which India and South Africa could collaborate, especially because the 75-year-old South African Navy was at present somewhat run down.

While some South African participants said that the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was somewhat "moribund" and South Africa, because of its prolonged isolation in the past, was not fully aware of its ramifications, an Indian speaker argued that the passing of the NAM leadership to Nelson Mandela next year would be an excellent opportunity to revive NAM because Mandela was unquestionably the most distinguished and prestigious leader of the Third World.

In order that this can be done, the political leadership and strategic community in South Africa will be well advised to familiarise themselves with the basic tenets of NAM, especially on the issue of nuclear disarmament. South Africa, as the only country to have first produced nuclear weapons and then destroyed them, occupied the moral high ground. This must be used to promote the demand of the majority of mankind for complete elimination of nuclear weapons.

Despite repeated requests by the Indian side, the host side refrained from outlining South African policy on the nuclear issue on the ground that none of the participants was specialising in nuclear policy, and the matter could be discussed with those with expert knowledge of the subject.

An opportunity for this was provided by a meeting organised by the Indian High Commission. All questions raised by the South African participants in this meeting were answered by the Indian side which made the point that those trying to perpetuate their nuclear monopoly and hegemony were not prepared to countenance even the no first use doctrine. China had recently declined to agree to the American proposal that the two countries should de-target each other's cities. The Chinese argument was that the US must first subscribe to the no first use principle. Under these circumstances, measures like the CTBT had no meaning. Ironically, the nuclear hegemons were framing counter-proliferation strategies envisaging use of force in the cause of "non-proliferation".

Underlying the two-day discussions was one constant thread, at once noteworthy and encouraging. Both sides conceded that while most dialogues only aimed at developing strategic understanding and eventual partnership, the discussions between India and South Africa were rooted in the premise that the two countries were already strategic partners.