Tuesday, December 22, 2009

MNV Nair Memorial Lecture 2009


I am grateful to the Trivandrum Public Affairs Forum for doing me the
honour of inviting me to deliver the MNV Nair Memorial Lecture 2009. I
must have delivered half a dozen lectures in different parts of the
country this year in memory of various distinguished men and women who
had made distinct contributions to different institutions and
communities. But I knew none of them in person and I had to go by the
various accounts of their accomplishments. But today we are honouring
someone, who was a living presence amidst us till 2006 and inspired
many of us to contribute to the intellectual and public life of
Trivandrum. When I returned to this city after nearly 40 years abroad
with fancy ideas about my retired life, it was Sri. MNV Nair, who gave
me a sense of realism about the possibilities and limitations of
Kerala. His guidance and support were crucial in the setting up of the
Kerala International Centre, which has now become an important venue
for promotion of foreign policy awareness and analysis. In paying
homage to Sri. MNV Nair, I would like to acknowledge my own personal
indebtedness to him.

My involvement in environmental negotiations, particularly climate
change, is rather ancient, beginning with the Rio summit in 1992 and
ending with the Berlin Conference of Parties (COP) of 1995, where I
was the Vice Chairman of the Conference and spokesperson of the G-77.
It was the Berlin Mandate, which was formulated under the Chairmanship
of the present Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, that later became
the Kyoto Protocol. But I volunteered to speak on climate change today
because the basic issues relating to the subject have remained
unchanged, though we have reached the 15th session of the COP and the
dramatis personae have changed several times. In fact, the battle that
Indira Gandhi waged against environmental colonialism in Stockholm in
1972 still continues. The essential features of the Indian position
and the position of the developing countries are the same today as
they were at the time of Stockholm.

I do not intend to deal with either the science or the economics of
climate change; I shall only touch upon its political and diplomatic
dimensions. As far as the science is concerned, the International
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Nobel Prize winning body of
scientists, headed by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, has established beyond
any reasonable doubt that human activity of various kinds do
contribute to the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,
leading to global warming. There are still some “deniers” even among
scientists, who believe that either there is no global warming at all
or nature will find its own way of restoring the equilibrium in the
atmosphere. The so-called “climategate” in Copenhagen, the leakage of
some emails purporting to suggest that some scientists in the IPCC
deliberately suppressed some scientific evidence to the effect that
anthropogenic emissions had nothing to do with global warming, did
muddy the atmosphere. Well, there are people who still believe that
the earth is flat and that Darwin’s theory of evolution is sheer
fiction. There is no doubt that it is time that human beings who have,
by their careless and extravagant consumption of the resources of the
earth, caused damage to mother earth, must take corrective action to
reverse the trend in climate change.

As stated earlier, Indira Gandhi had the vision and wisdom to go to
Stockholm in 1972, the only Prime Minister to do so, and to influence
the agenda that the western world was setting to mitigate
environmental problems. The theory being floated in Stockholm was that
the developing countries should desist from using the energy resources
of the earth for their economic development as the developed world
did, but conserve them and preserve the forests and lakes, which have
the capacity to sink greenhouse gases. The developing countries should
also adopt environmentally friendly technologies in their development
efforts. In Stockholm, Indira Gandhi called “poverty the biggest
polluter”, by which she meant that the environmental problems of the
developing countries are simply a reflection of their poverty. The
Stockholm conference finally resulted in an acknowledgement by the
international community of the link between environment and
development and also of the greater responsibility of the
industrialized countries regarding the contamination of the planet.
The “polluters must pay”, said Indira Gandhi, to clean up the mess
that they had created.

The historic Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 refined these concepts
further and formulated several programmes of action to deal with
environment and development in an integrated manner. The UN Framework
Convention on Climate Change (FCC) was one of the two international
conventions, which opened for signature in Rio. This landmark
Convention expressed concern that human activities have been
substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse
gases and that this will result in an additional warming of the
earth’s surface and atmosphere and may adversely affect natural
ecosystems and humankind. But the basic premise in the Convention was
that “the largest share of historical and current global emissions of
greenhouse gases has originated in developed counties, that per capita
emissions in developing counties are still relatively low and that the
share of global emissions originating in developing countries will
grow to meet their social and development needs.” In other words, the
“luxury emissions” of developed countries should be reduced
substantially, while the “survival emissions” of developing countries
should be allowed to grow in a controlled manner. The principles of
the Convention were particularly significant as the protection of the
climate should be “on the basis of equity and in accordance with their
common, but differentiated responsibilities and respective
capabilities.” Specific commitments for reduction of greenhouse gas
emissions by designated developed countries and for provision of new
and additional resources was included in the Convention and the
developing countries had no such commitments, in view of their need
for economic growth. The vision of international cooperation contained
in the Convention based on the balance between development needs and
environment protection made the Convention universally acceptable. A
new compact between the developed and developing countries raised new
hopes for mankind.

The journey from Rio to Copenhagen through Berlin, Kyoto, Bali and
other cities, however, turned out to be a great disappointment. The
Rio commitments remained unimplemented both in terms of emission cuts,
financing and technology transfer and each COP diluted the basic
principles farther and farther till the Copenhagen COP moved away from
those principles by excluding the whole concept of legally binding
commitments altogether. The Copenhagen COP ended in a discordant note
when it merely “took note” of an Accord produced by the so-called
major economies, the United States, India, China, Brazil and South
Africa. Most developing countries condemned the Accord and even
several developed countries expressed anguish that Copenhagen had
moved away from the Rio and Kyoto commitments. Of course, the words of
the Rio principles are scattered all over the Copenhagen document and
the commitment of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol is reiterated to
satisfy public opinion, but it contains only a pious wish to “to hold
the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, and take
action to meet this objective.” As for commitment of new and
additional resources, developed countries will provide an amount
“approaching USD 30 billion for the period 2010-2012”. They also
committed to the goal of mobilizing jointly USD 100 billion a year by
2020 as part of the Copenhagen Green Climate Fund, subject to
“meaningful mitigation actions and transparency of implementation.”
The Copenhagen Accord is open for acceptance by the member states, but
judging from the intensity of protests from the developing world—some
called it Floppenhagen, some compared it to the holocaust and some
even accused those developing countries which accepted it as having
betrayed humanity for thirty pieces of silver—there will be few
takers. The only hope is that the negotiations will continue for a
year and a more precise agreement with legally binding commitments
will emerge.

India undoubtedly disappointed the developing world by breaking away
from its ranks to bail out the United States and China, the highest
emitters of greenhouse gases. India went to Copenhagen with a negative
mandate—no legally binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, no
monitoring and no burying of Kyoto Protocol. When it came under
pressure to accept new obligations, it found common cause with the
worst polluters in the world, the US and China, who were also under
similar pressure and let down the other developing countries and left
the conference declaring victory, not only for itself, but also for
the so-called BASIC countries. But the victor in the exercise was the
United States which changed the course of the climate change debate to
a new direction. Unlike in Rio and Kyoto, the United States was not
left alone to defy the world. President Obama accomplished his three
objectives of “mitigation, transparency and financing” the way he
wanted. India, China, Brazil and South Africa let the US off the hook.
Perhaps, this is the first time in the history of the UN that India is
part of a consensus in a small group, which is being disowned by a
majority of the developing countries. It is no great consolation that
we are in the company of three other major developing countries. A new
alliance between the “emerging economies” and the US has been forged
at Copenhagen, but its future remains in question as they begin to
grapple with legally binding commitments, which will be absolutely
essential in any action plan for climate. India and China will also
come under pressure at that time as the concept of per capita
emissions seems to have disappeared from the formulations in

President Obama’s insistence on transparency in actions by all states
figures in the Accord in the form of emerging economies reporting
every two years to the United Nations, which will be subject to
“international consultation and analysis”, a euphemism for
international monitoring. A US spokesman has already claimed that
China and India have set goals for mitigation and that they will be
challenged if they do not reach those goals. The “common but
differentiated responsibilities” of the individual countries, one of
the principles of Rio, has been forgotten as now all the major
economies have the same common responsibilities. In his speech to the
conference, President Obama, with his characteristic mastery of
juggling with words, changed the much negotiated principle into
“common but differentiated responses”. India would have been far
better off without this accord. Waiting out for another year with all
the options open would have been preferable to closing several doors
in an attempt to declare victory at Copenhagen. Minister Jairam Ramesh
did not carry conviction when he declared that the Copenhagen Accord
was good for India and the world. His approach looked more like the
way he himself described the typical Indian attitude towards the
United States: “Yankees go home, but take me along with you!”
The Indian position outlined by the Prime Minister at his plenary
speech was principled, firm and forward looking. He opposed any
dilution of the Convention signed in Rio, particularly the principle
of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and
respective capabilities. “To settle for something that would be seen
as diminished expectations and diminished implementation would be the
wrong message to emerge from this conference”, he said. He went on to
say, “those worst affected by climate change are the least responsible
for it. Whatever emerges from our negotiations must address this
glaring injustice, injustice to countries of Africa, injustice to the
Least Developed Countries, and injustice to the Small Developing
States, whose survival as viable states is in jeopardy.”
Unfortunately, the very countries that the Prime Minister mentioned
felt betrayed by the Copenhagen accord. The transparent and inclusive
process that India had promised also did not materialize in

The Copenhagen Accord can be defended only on the ground that it
prevented a complete breakdown of the negotiations and pointed a
realistic way in which the worst emitters could be brought into
certain broad commitments even if they are not legally binding or
verifiable. Instead of being a “deal breaker”, as India was rumoured
to be before the conference, it has become a “deal maker”. The
commitment to limit the rise in temperature to 2 degrees, with the
possibility of even considering bringing it down to 1.5 degrees holds
out some hope for mankind. The Accord retains much of the language of
the past to show that the way forward is not a complete break from the
past. The concept of a Fund to finance mitigation of and adaptation to
climate change has taken some concrete shape. The United States is now
a partner rather than a target in the global effort to safeguard the
environment. Cooperation rather than confrontation is the way to go
and these are the days of multiple alliances rather than nonalignment.
These accomplishments must, however, be weighed against the price
India will have to pay for breaking away from the mainstream movement
of developing countries, the charge that the US and other developed
countries have been let off without binding commitments and the
concession India has made by accepting some form of international
monitoring of its voluntary commitments. India has taken a calculated
risk by accepting what was essentially a US-China deal, which was
worked out between them over a year and presented by President Obama
as a way to save the Copenhagen conference from total failure. Only
time will tell whether Copenhagen will lead to a meaningful and
legally binding agreement to halt and reverse climate change.
The Copenhagen conference was remarkable for the demonstration of the
grave anxiety of the world about the deterioration of the environment.
The people are far ahead of their Governments on this issue and even
the most powerful and dictatorial Governments cannot stop the tide of
public opinion and I would like to conclude on that optimistic note.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A diplomat and a politician

T P Sreenivasan remembers Ambassador SK Singh, a dominant figure in
the Indian Foreign Service and the governor of Rajasthan [ Images ]
and Arunachal Pradesh, who passed away on December 1.

Ambassador SK Singh was short in stature and had a squeaky voice, but
he stood tall and made his voice heard as a diplomat and as a
politician. As a diplomat, he was known for being politically savvy
and always at home among politicians of all hues. After he left the
Indian Foreign Service and dabbled in politics, he deployed his
diplomatic prowess to be a successful governor in Arunachal Pradesh
and Rajasthan. He had his ups and downs, but he remained calm and
confident in adversity.

Ambassador Singh was a dominant figure in the IFS during much of my
career, though I worked directly under him only when he was foreign
secretary and I was joint secretary (UN). He was already a legendary
official spokesman when I reached South Block. Though he operated from
the Shastri Bhavan, he was visible everywhere and was recognised as a
guide and a guardian by the New Delhi [ Images ] press corps. He was
clearly a role model for us at that time even though we knew very
little of his work.

I saw him in action first when he was additional secretary (UN and AD)
and I was special assistant to Foreign Secretary Jagat Mehta. He was
quite a popular figure not only because he held charge of two very
important divisions in the ministry, but also because he was close to
the powers that be. Everybody seemed to be friendly with him, but
nobody seemed to know what his next move would be. He was loyal to
Jagat Mehta and served him well at a difficult time when Mehta was
eased out of the ministry. When efforts were made by some to change my
posting to New York after Mehta moved out, he gave me solid support
and made sure that I went to New York. He was gracious and generous
whenever I travelled with him to Latin America and other places from
New York.

His outstanding work in Vienna [ Images ] was well remembered when I
reached there, though he had acquired the reputation of a manipulator
in the UN system. His earlier experience in New York in the Fifth
Committee and the powerful Advisory Committee on Administrative and
Budgetary Questions came in handy for him to use the UN system to
plant his favourites there and to get close to the high UN officials.
He got the Vienna residence and chancery renovated and refurbished.
Though the residence was maintained well by his successors, the office
was allowed to deteriorate and it took me my full term to make it
worthy of the Indian mission. He was a legend in many ways in Vienna.

SK Singh was a bit restless in Vienna as he was away from the scene of
action, where he always wanted to be, and his appointment to Islamabad
[ Images ] was a bonanza for him. He made such a mark in Islamabad
that it was rumoured that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi [ Images ] would
appoint him foreign secretary by superseding colleagues like AP
Venkateswaran and KPS Menon. But his elevation came only later, at the
fag end of Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as prime minister.

As foreign secretary, he gave me full support during the political
crisis in Fiji. But it was obvious that he approached every issue from
the perspective of the Congress party winning the elections. When the
military government in Fiji ordered me out since India [ Images ] had
not recognised it, he was in panic because he thought that the event
would affect Rajiv Gandhi's election prospects. I told him that the
Fiji policy should be projected as a success, but he was not too sure
of it and his instinct was to hush up my expulsion.

Life as foreign secretary became difficult for him when VP Singh
became PM and IK Gujral became foreign minister. I had seen how much
he used to needle Gujral when he was ambassador in Moscow [ Images ]
and Singh was dealing with administration in the ministry. Gujral was
not comfortable with Singh and prematurely replaced him with Muchkund
Dubey. Singh was told that he would be appointed governor, but nothing
was done till the Congress came back to power. With all his talent and
experience, he continued as governor till his very end.

SK Singh remained a bachelor till he became an ambassador and had
small children when he was foreign secretary. But he was obviously a
loving husband and a fond father.

Singh was in many hot spots during his career for no fault of his, but
the joke at that time was that any country would go up in flames if he
went there. When he was appointed foreign secretary, someone wrote
that everything was ripe for a revolution in India and it would
explode the moment Singh arrived on the scene!

SK Singh had many qualities of head and heart and his was a successful
life both as a diplomat and as governor. He had his detractors, who
thought that he was a master manipulator, but he will be remembered
with admiration and affection by his friends and colleagues.

T P Sreenivasan

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dr Singh's cotton candy visit

By T.P.Sreenivasan

Indian foreign policy', they used to say in the late 'sixties, 'is 80
percent protocol, 10 percent alcohol and 10 percent Tikky Kaul'.
Today, Tikky Kaul has become a distant memory and the percentage of
protocol is certainly less, even if alcohol may be more.

A good percentage of Indian foreign policy today is cold calculation
to cope with the challenges all around. But Washington is still under
the impression that Indians can be won over by flattering protocol and
friendly hyperbole. Those who gloat over the Indian prime minister
being accorded the singular honour of being the first state guest of
the Obama [ Images ] administration should look at the other visitors
who were given no such honour, but went away with goodies in the bag.
Those close to the White House like the prime ministers of Israel and
the UK walk in and out without so much as a gun salute, while the
Indian prime minister gets pomp and splendour and plenty of good
words. Whether this is symbolism or form without substance, only time
will tell.

Dr Manmohan Singh [ Images ] himself set off the flow of sweet words
by asserting that the setbacks to the US economy were temporary and by
expressing confidence that the US would remain a preeminent economic
power. But he went beyond expressions of faith and optimism and spelt
out his agenda in no uncertain terms. He told Fareed Zakaria [ Images
] that India's [ Images ] ultimate goal was to join the NPT as a
nuclear weapons state and expressed the hope that it would happen

In the past, this was implied rather than spelt out in such concrete
terms. In fact, the nuclear deal is seen as an alternative to the
outright declaration of India as a nuclear weapons state. On China
too, Dr Singh was frank and forthright, pointing to the inscrutability
of the Chinese attitude to India. He virtually served notice on
President Obama that he should not take the Chinese at face value.

On Af-Pak strategy, he provided valuable inputs into policy making by
underlining the importance of defeating the Taliban [ Images ] and the
need for the United States to stay in the region till the mission is
accomplished. He did not hesitate to spell out the Indian position on
climate change, however unpalatable it might have been for the Western

As against the clear Indian agenda for the visit, President Obama
seems to have launched a charm offensive, full of admiration for India
and its prime minister and promises of action in the future. Except
for the presence of an uninvited socialite couple at the banquet, the
protocol was perfect and the menu was exquisite. But the visit did not
move the relations further in any of the areas of special interest for
India. It has merely raised expectations.

The Indian and the US delegations, we now know, burnt the proverbial
midnight oil to conclude an agreement on setting up of an enrichment
facility, as agreed upon in the deal. There is optimism that only one
more sitting is required to dot the 'i's and cross the 't's in the
agreement. But the agreement on the setting up of a separate facility
under IAEA safeguards was a done deal under the 123 agreement, by
which permission was already given for reprocessing. The Obama
administration will be merely implementing the deal by drawing up the
procedures and modalities. Much more needs to be done in the US and in
India for the nuclear trade to flow and there is much hesitation among
the new czars in the State Department to contribute to India's nuclear
capability. They would rather let the rest of the world meet Indian
requirements than take the responsibility for Indian capabilities.

The Obama administration is still taking the NPT, CTBT and FMCT route
with regard to India. The deal, for them, is a temporary measure till
the edifice of nuclear non-proliferation is built on time-tested
pillars. To deal only with the participation of American private
companies in nuclear trade is to evade the real issues.

Perhaps, Dr Manmohan Singh's expectation that India would eventually
be admitted to the NPT as a nuclear weapons state has arisen from
Hillary Clinton's [ Images ] suggestion that the US should work with
India to develop a 21st century version of the NPT. But the White
House has shown no enthusiasm for the idea and her statement is being
seen as evidence of the fissures developing between her and the
president on some foreign policy issues.

The prime minister may have noticed that the US is seeking new
concessions from India such as a moratorium on fissile material
production and signature on the CTBT as new measures over and above
the provisions of the nuclear deal. The question being asked is not
what more will be done for India in the nuclear field, but what India
would do to support the US agenda on non-proliferation.

Clearly, discretion demands that we do not ask for anything new in
this area and operate the NSG exemption to our advantage. Nothing is
farther from the minds of the nonproliferationists in the US than the
recognition of India as a nuclear weapons state. That proposal should
await a more propitious moment.

The Indian visit took place as President Obama was finalising his new
Af-Pak policy, which came to light within a week after the prime
minister left Washington. There is hardly any evidence that the advice
of the prime minister made any difference to the surge cum exit policy
outlined by the President on December 2, 2009. In what may well be the
first time in history, the prime minister virtually endorsed an
occupation force in Afghanistan. He stressed the importance of the US
staying the course in Afghanistan and defeating the terrorist outfits
there. No joint efforts were discussed or approved in Washington and
the leaders merely agreed 'to enhance their respective efforts' in

President Obama did 'consult' the prime minister on phone before
announcing his new policy, but it appeared to be in the context of
India's possible assistance to training the Afghan forces. While
President Obama stressed his continuing interest in Pakistan even
beyond the war, he made no mention of the terrorist threat to India
even obliquely on account of Pakistan's sensitivities.

Dr Manmohan Singh was uncharacteristically blunt on China in public in
Washington and he may have been even more direct in his private
conversation with President Obama. But, as an economist, the prime
minister may well have understood the logic of the US policy towards
China at this critical moment in the global economic crisis. He must
have, however, stressed the inadvisability of assigning any special
responsibility to China in resolving the problems in South Asia. But
beyond assuring India of no external intervention in India-Pakistan
matters, President Obama could not have given any cause of comfort for
India in the context of China.

Nobody had expected any movement in India's quest for permanent
membership of the UN Security Council during the visit. But the
formulation in the joint statement on this issue is even weaker than
before. In the statement, President Obama merely 'looks forward to a
stable and prosperous India playing an increasingly important role in
world affairs' without any reference to UN reform.

On the vital issue of climate change, there was a comprehensive
understanding in Washington, which reflects the Indian position
accurately. Neither side conceded anything new in this context, but
the balanced text indicates the way Copenhagen conference will go in
finding a political compromise without specific agreements for
concrete action. The subsequent India-China-Brazil-South Africa
position has reinforced the perspective of developing countries on the
issues in Copenhagen and the battle lines have been drawn. The
Washington statement has only helped to identify the issues.

If the objective of the visit was to demonstrate the continuity in
bilateral relations beyond the Bush era, that has been attained by the
assertion of India's indispensability by President Obama, recalling
President Clinton's statements in 2000. But beyond that, the US
appeared to be looking for Indian concessions for favours received,
not to go the extra mile to meet Indian aspirations.

Those who have eaten cotton candy can understand the feeling in India
a week after the visit. The colourful and huge cotton candy is
attractive and mouth-watering. It melts in the mouth and satisfies the
sense of taste and smell. But it finishes too soon and leaves the
consumer no more satisfied than before. A certain sticky mess remains
around the mouth and a sense of emptiness persists. If left exposed
for a time to the atmosphere, it becomes less fluffy and coarse and
eventually disappears.

The visit was pleasing in every respect and full of symbolism, but
there is no guarantee that the promises will be fulfilled. The Obama
administration itself has been high on promises and low in
implementation so far and the Indian case may be no exception