US mindful of mutual interests with India: Joseph Nye

The highly influential American foreign policy expert speaks about the Ukraine war, US, Mearsheimer, Xi and Putin

Joseph S Nye

Harvard University professor and acclaimed American political scientist Joseph S Nye, who is famous for coining the term ‘soft power’, states that the US understands New Delhi’s reasons for abstaining from international resolutions that condemn Russia for invading Ukraine. Although a few American officials had warned that India would pay a cost for its friendship with Moscow, the renowned 85-year academic says that the Biden administration is mindful of mutual interests between India and Washington.

“The US has been remarkably mild in its understanding of India’s reasons for not openly criticising Russia. That reflects the mutual concern of India and the US about Chinese power,” says the widely quoted Nye, emphasising, “Witness the resurrection of the diplomatic Quad.”

Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also called the Quad, is a strategic forum of the US, India, Australia and Japan to protect strategic interests in the Indo-Pacific region and to counter threats from an aggressive China.

In one of his recent essays, Nye blamed the Chinese leader Xi Jinping for not doing enough to end the war in Ukraine that started on February 24. He had lashed out at Xi for “lack of courage and imagination” in helping resolve the crisis and for not seizing the “Teddy Roosevelt Moment” of mediation – referring to what the late American president had done for bringing peace between Russia and Japan following the war of 1905.

According to Nye, soft power, the term he coined in the late 1980s, is “the ability to get what you want through attraction and persuasion rather than coercion or payment”. The opposite of it, hard power, stands for a military action.

Best-selling books by Nye, a prolific author and essayist who has had a highly influential academic career, include Do Morals Matter? Presidents and Foreign Policy from FDR to Trump; Is the American Century Over? Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics; The Paradox of American Power: Why the World’s Only Superpower Can’t Go It Alone; The Future of Power; Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History and so on.

Nye, an alumnus of Harvard, Princeton and Oxford universities, told Open in an interview that he disagrees with scholars who believe that the Ukraine war will mark the end of what has been called America’s unipolar moment. Professor Stephen Walt recently wrote in Foreign Policy that the ongoing war is significant “because it signals the end of the brief unipolar moment (1993-2020) when the United States was the sole genuine superpower and because it heralds a return to patterns of world politics that were temporarily suppressed during the short era of unchallenged US primacy”. Nye quips, “I think the unipolar moment ended with the failure in Iraq. If anything, the most interesting aspect of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been the extent of Western unity. Note that much of Europe did not follow the US on Iraq.”

As with John Mearsheimer’s pronouncements on the Ukraine war, Nye agrees only partly with him. Mearsheimer, who is R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago and one of the world’s most influential realists, has consistently blamed the US and the NATO for precipitating this crisis in Ukraine through their policy of eastward expansion. He is of the view that the US has a Monroe doctrine which effectively dictates that other countries in the western hemisphere have no right to have their own foreign policy. “It is the same policy that the Russians are applying as regards Ukraine,” he had said in a talk, supporting his argument that “the Russians believe Ukraine becoming a NATO member is an existential threat”. He added that while the Russians didn’t protest much when the first two tranches of NATO expansion happened in their neighbourhood in 1999 and 2004, the big trouble started following NATO’s Bucharest summit of April 2008 which issued a declaration at the end of the summit, welcoming Georgia’s and Ukraine’s aspirations for membership in NATO. Mearsheimer maintains that the Georgia versus Russia war of 2008 was a consequence of that. He also states that the coup of 2014 in Ukraine done at the behest of outsiders also resulted in the Russians annexing Crimea the same year.

While Nye agrees with part of what Mearsheimer argues, he has reservations about the root causes of the current conflict. “Mearsheimer is right that the ill-conceived 2008 invitation for Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO was an exacerbating factor for Putin, but chronology suggests a more complex causation. Putin’s view of Russky Mir (the Russian world, a broader and expansion-oriented term for the region that identifies with Russian culture) and the illegitimacy of Ukraine as a nation long antedate NATO expansion. Witness Putin’s hostile speech to the Munich Security Conference in 2007,” notes Nye. Some analysts contend that for Putin, Russky Mir is a larger geographical entity that encompasses many parts of the old Tsarist empire.

Nye, one of America’s most respected foreign-policy experts who had deeply influenced policies of various administrations in the past, has held various official positions, too, besides being an academic and an international affairs advisor. According to the Harvard University website, he has served as Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Chair of the National Intelligence Council, and Deputy Under Secretary of State for Security Assistance, Science and Technology. He is widely credited with forecasting much early the standoff between the US and China following the dismemberment of the Soviet Union.

First published in Open

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