July 05, 2008

More than three seconds

"Realpolitik" pronouncement that sounds weighty until you think about it more than three seconds (one of plenty-four):

"India can’t improve the lot of its citizens unless it holds its own against the world’s powers." (found here).

Also stated here as:

"projection of power is necessary to create the conditions for human development through trade and culture."

All right, let's see. Iceland, Singapore, Korea, Norway, Taiwan, Japan and Germany after being devastated in WW2, arguably even Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, Botswana until it was hit by AIDS a decade ago: all these countries managed to "improve the lot" of their citizens, all somehow created the "conditions for human development."

Iceland was Europe's poorest country early last century; it is now among the world's wealthiest. Botswana has gone from being one of the world's poorest countries at independence in 1966 to Africa's richest and about the world's 50th richest by last year. Etc.

In what sense did any of these countries "hold its own against the world's powers"? In what sense did any of them indulge in "projection of power"?

And consider this from the viewpoint of countries that tried this "projection of power" to the exclusion of all else. Yep, I'm talking of those exemplary examples of doing right by their citizens: the Soviet Union under paragons like Stalin and Khrushchev, Germany under Hitler, Japan led into WW2 by Hirohito, Italy under Mussolini, China under Mao. Each certainly indulged in "projection of power".

Result: each brought immense suffering to its people.

The lesson of history is clear: the countries that concentrate on giving their citizens a reasonable life are the countries that become fundamentally strong, successful countries. India will improve the lot of its citizens not by worrying about "holding its own against the world's powers", whatever that might mean, but by focusing squarely on its citizens.

For example, one explanation of Botswana's success goes like this: Botswana "wisely us[ed] revenue generated from diamond mining to fuel economic development through prudent fiscal policies and a cautious foreign policy."

For example, in his Collapse, Jared Diamond describes the "great success story" of Iceland as "thanks to its abundance of fish, geothermal power, and hydroelectric power from all its rivers." He also explains how Icelanders recognized the shortsighted ecological mistakes they made early in their history, and worked to "take corrective action."

Such is the stuff of realpolitik, if you ask me. Not hand-waving about the "projection of power."

***

Postscript: You might want to look at this analysis of Norway's success, by an Icelandic economist. Among other things, he writes:

The decisive factor was the people. Norway, of course, always had its natural resources; but it was only with the advent of educated labour that it became possible for the Norwegians to harness those resources on a significant scale. Human capital accumulation was the primary force behind the economic transformation of Norway.

11 comments:

Kavi said...

Projection if power is not as necessary. If you add value and become powerful enough : you dont have to 'project'. The country would be truly powerful !

Your examples of Botswana & Iceland are revealing enough. We need dedicated and persistant work where it matters the most.

Infrastructure. Development. Reducing inequality. Capitalising o n diversity. The list is a long one. These sound cliched dont they !?!? That is the problem with empty 'projection' without concrete work done on them !!

Kunal said...

>>In what sense did any of these countries "hold its own against the world's powers"? In what sense did any of them indulge in "projection of power"?

Well, Iceland took part in three series of naval conflicts with the UK (the Cod Wars) as they unilaterally expanded their Exclusive Fishing Zone outwards. Each time, the Brits capitulated, after some pretty serious conflict in the waters around Iceland. The Icelanders claimed and successfully defended a 200 nautical mile EEZ 18 years before the concept was recongised in International Law. SOunds like "projecting power" and "holding their own" to me.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Kunal: glad you brought up the Cod Wars. Which is why Iceland is a good example to think about.

The question is, had Iceland managed to "improve the lot of its citizens" before the Cod Wars? Or were the Cod Wars a "necessary" precursor to the country's development?

I think Diamond's point is clear: the recognition by Icelanders of the terrible mistakes the early settlers made -- which had left so many of them poor and starving -- and how they worked to turn that around, was what set them on the long road to prosperity. Along the way they learned to use their resources -- fish being one -- to bring prosperity too.

For example, Diamond writes: "Iceland's economy was stimulated by the rise of trade in dried cod caught in Iceland waters and exported to [Europe]". When did this happen? "The Late Middle Ages." A little bit before the Cod Wars you mention.

It is not my argument that a country should not be prepared to defend its interests. It is my case that a country can work to "improve the lot of its citizens" without first finding it "necessary" to "project power".

It is also my case that history gives us examples -- that I mention in my post -- of countries that have decided on "projection of power", and the destruction they have consequently brought on themselves (not to mention the cost to the rest of the world).

Projecting power for decades could not mask the miseries of life in the Soviet Union, could not stave off its utter disintegration.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Sorry, I mistakenly pushed the button before finishing...

In Hitler's case, you could argue that his projection of power was explicitly in the name of improving the lot of Germans. The argument for "lebensraum" was that Germans needed the space and the resources available in Poland and parts further east, in order to develop and live better lives.

IS German prosperity today due to Hitler's policies? Or to whatever Germany did to rebuild after the destruction he led the country to?

Sudhakar Nair said...

D, have to say I tend to disagree. Think it is important for nations to create an area of influence, and that's how it's people prosper. I would argue that formations like MErcasud, NAFTA, EU are ways for individual nations come together to create that area of infleunce, in cases where they are each too small to do it themselves in todays' world.

If that's what's meant by "projection of power", then I agree with it.

Sudhakar Nair

Kunal said...

>>Or were the Cod Wars a "necessary" precursor to the country's development?

Uh, well, I'm no expert on the Icelandic economy, but it seems to me that when you say that

>>Jared Diamond describes the "great success story" of Iceland as "thanks to its abundance of fish, geothermal power, and hydroelectric power from all its rivers."

it seems to me that without its fish stocks, Iceland would perhaps not be as happy a place to live in as it is today. This is keeping in mind that even today after the diversification of their economy 40% of Iceland's exports are fish. And without the Cod Wars, Iceland would not have been able to defend the very fish stocks that were the key to its prosperity. Ergo: no Cod Wars -> no prosperity.

Anyway, when you speak about how Iceland can trace its prosperity to decisions they made re the ecology, I don't necessarily disagree with you. No one said the ability to project Power is a sufficient condition to achieve prosperity (the USSR and the Third Reich disproved this notion quite emphatically, IMO). It does seem to be something of a necessary condition.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Kunal,

I'll admit that perhaps what we are arguing over is nuances.

But let me try this again. As an example of the projection of power, you mentioned Iceland's Cod Wars in the middle of the last century. You say, "no Cod Wars -> no prosperity." Meaning, if I'm getting you right, that they were a "necessary condition" for Iceland's prosperity.

Diamond's whole point is that Iceland began on the road to its current prosperity in the Middle Ages, when two things happened: first, they recognized the ecological mistakes of the past and began taking corrective action; second, they began exporting cod to Europe, which he explicitly says "stimulated" their economy. (Which, it seems to me, would produce prosperity). You seem to agree with all this.

How then are the Cod Wars that happened hundreds of years later a "necessary condition" for Iceland's rise to prosperity?

That Iceland felt it necessary to fight the Cod Wars to protect its interests (and prosperity), I am not contesting. What I am contesting is the suggestion that it was the Cod Wars that led to Iceland's prosperity. The suggestion, in other words, that that particular "projection of power was necessary to create the conditions for human development" of Iceland.

Sudhakar, phrased like that, I have no argument either!

Kunal said...

>>I'll admit that perhaps what we are arguing over is nuances.

Heh. The fact that we can have long arguments over subtle points of logic while discussing Icelandic foreign policy is why I love the Blogosphere.

That said, would Iceland be as prosperous today if it had allowed unrestricted international fishing in what is now its EEZ? If not, then yes, the Cod Wars were a necessary condition. I'm not saying the determination to protect their own against foreigners is the only thing that made Iceland prosperous, I'm just saying that prosperity would not be possible without it.

When you speak about Icelandic prosperity having its roots in decisions taken in the Middle Ages, you are disproving the notion that willingness to project power is the exclusive cause of a nation's prosperity. No arguments there. When you speak about the USSR and the Third Reich screwing up phenomenally in spite of their quite vigorous foreign and military policy, you are denying that power projection is a sufficient condition for prosperity. I agree with you here as well. Where I do not agree with you, and where I feel you haven't really responded to my point, is whether projection of power is a necessary condition for prosperity. To prove me wrong (in the Icelandic context) you have to show that the Cod Wars had nothing to do with Iceland's current economic state, or that it would be where it is today had it not decided to project its power far into the North Atlantic.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Kunal, you just touched on the reason I plod about the blogosphere too! Like you, I believe everybody in the blogosphere should actively argue Icelandic foreign policy ...

But more seriously.

you have to show that the Cod Wars had nothing to do with Iceland's current economic state, or that it would be where it is today had it not decided to project its power far into the North Atlantic.

But why should I "show" this when I did not claim it, let alone believe it? After all, you will remember that I wrote earlier on this page: "That Iceland felt it necessary to fight the Cod Wars to protect its interests (and prosperity), I am not contesting." So I'm not trying to say that the Cod Wars contributed nothing to Iceland's current prosperity -- on the contrary, certainly they did.

But what were the original claims that prompted my post?

First, that "projection of power is necessary to create the conditions for human development."

And second, that a country "can’t improve the lot of its citizens unless it holds its own against the world’s powers."

I'm saying, Iceland's case disproves this, because the roots of its rise to prosperity lie in the Middle Ages, when Icelanders worked to correct the disastrous ecological mistakes of the early settlers, and when they began trading in cod. (Diamond's analysis which I quoted to you -- recall he wrote that the economy was "stimulated" by this trade, which would seem to me to be a good indicator of a step towards prosperity).

You have cited the Cod Wars as an example of this projection of power. Yet Iceland clearly "created the conditions for human development" and "improved the lot of its citizens" long before the Cod Wars.

You seem to agree with all this. So what are we arguing about?

Let's be clear: A "necessary condition" for some state X is one that must be satisfied before X comes to be. You're saying Iceland's projection of power, as embodied in the Cod Wars, was a necessary condition for Iceland's rise to prosperity.

Well, the rise to prosperity began centuries before the Cod Wars. This you agree with. By definition, then, the Cod Wars were not a "necessary condition".

As an aside, you should visit Iceland. Fascinating country on many levels, not just cod.

Pankaj said...

I wonder if there is a single correct answer to this issue.

India is doing several projects in Afghanistan. Some of these are humanitarian in nature. Others are strategic in nature. An example of the latter is the road being built in the Nimroz province which will link Afghanistan to Iran. These strategic projects are likely to help (a) India gain easier access to central Asia and establish a presence in the area, (b) Indian firms gain access to Afghan markets, (c) India counter Pakistani influence in Afghanistan. The present Afghan government, though limited in its influence in the country, is actively encouraging India in these projects. To protect Indian citizens working on these projects India has deployed its own para military forces. Despite this there have been Indian casualties, the latest being in the suicide bombing at the Indian embassy at Kabul.

Does the presence of Indian government organisations such as the Border Road Organisation in Afghanistan amount to a projection of Indian power? Does the presence of its paramilitary forces there amount to such a projection? Does the presence of an Indian Air Force base across the border from Afghanistan, in Tajikistan, amount to a projection of power?

If the answer is yes, the next question is: is such a projection of power required to be done by India? The answer probably depends on whether one feels that the activities India is undertaking in Afghanistan will benefit Indian citizens or not. If these activities are beneficial to India and Indians, can then be done without a gradually increasing projection of power?

Sidhusaaheb said...

'Projection of power', I believe, does not necessarily mean flexing of military muscle. It could very well be done through the flexing of economic muscle.

As is clear by many of the examples presented here, the countries that focussed on building up military muscle ended up doing little good for their own citizens in the long run, besides losing the ability to 'project power' at all, in the long run, whereas those that concentrated on building up economic muscle not only managed to tremendously improve the lot of their citizens, but have improved their ability to 'project power' to a great degree, as well.

If we look at India's attempts to 'project power' through armed conflict and by working to improve the lot of its citizens, which of these would come out on top?

India applied the same formula that Pakistan is currently applying in Kashmir, which is training and arming insurgents and sending them across the border to fight the neighbouring country's armed forces, in what is now Bangladesh (Mukti Bahini) in 1971 and later on in Sri Lanka (LTTE). These were followed by the 1971 Indo-Pak war and the sending of the Indian Peace Keeping Force to Sri Lanka (which incidentally resulted in more than twice the number of casualties being suffered by the Indian army than during its Kargil operations in 1999).

How much good has the 'projection of power' in both these cases done for the common citizen of India in the long run?

On the other hand, take India's efforts at liberalising its economy and helping make Indian businesses globally competitive, besides promoting development in the country through the promotion of foreign investment, over the past few years, resulting in tremendous economic growth.

Which of the above two have helped increase India's 'influence' or shall I say increased its ability to 'project power' to a greater extent, all around the world, and is likely to do so over the years to come?