Former US Secretary of State Ms Madeleine Albright has lately (Indian Express, June 13 OP-ED) provided an insight into the western mindset about the rest of the world. She was criticising Myanmar for what she thought was putting sovereignty above humanity. The junta at Yangon has accepted aid for its Nargis-hit people on a very limited scale. It has cared more for the security of its power than for the care and comfort of its people. That a leading American could be so ego-centric in her world view is astonishing.
Ms Albright has overlooked that most of Asia and Africa was under the heel of European imperialism for the best part of two centuries. Apart from Japan and Thailand, it is difficult to think of an Asian country which was truly free during that period. Although China was not formally conquered, large tracts of it were harassed and exploited by several powers including her own USA. Does she not realise that fears gathered over, say 200 years, cannot be wiped out in a few decades? Until World War II, in any case, the supremacy of national sovereignty was a universal obsession. Both the world wars were fought on the basis of nationalism.
Thereafter, Europe tired of war, gave up nationalism but its place was taken by the Soviet Union which overran and oppressed most of eastern and central Europe for four decades. The USA was not far behind when it intervened in Korea in 1950, then Lebanon 1958, Vietnam 1960 and so on. Afghanistan and Iraq are the more recent examples. What else but a phantom of an American invasion would first grip an Afro-Asian psyche? The sacredness of national sovereignty would take time to occur to the rulers of many a country. Human costs in terms of the suffering of Nargis-affected thousands would be considered much later. The doctrine of responsibility to protect and the concept of humanitarian intervention, quoted by Ms Albright, would not cut much ice with people who have witnessed so many countries being invaded by the USA over the last 60 years. The Soviet Union has receded from memory since its breakup.
Ms Albright appears to have taken a cue from Europe where many countries have diluted their sovereignty in the light of the human costs incurred due to the clash of nationalisms during the world wars. But that is Europe after the two mega wars wherein the casualties exceeded a hundred million. By the same token, the USA has not diluted any of its sovereignty. On the contrary, Washington has assumed the posture of a super sovereign state which is free to intervene and invade any country at its own free will. Human costs then do not appear to matter! Thousands of its own soldiers have died, not to speak of the lakhs of Afghans and Iraqis who have perished.
Why should the rest of the world change merely because the Soviet Union was collapsing and the Berlin Wall fell? Why should Albright expect an integrated world system free from spheres of influence merely because the two Germanys have come together? In any case, instead of two spheres of influence, isn'tthere now a uni-polar world? Be that as it might, we need to return to the relevance of national sovereignty, especially for a country like India.
We are afflicted by two movements which are openly against the idea of national sovereignty. The first is Islam whose followers comprise 15 per cent of India'spopulation. The Muslim'sfirst, second and third loyalties are to Allah the Merciful, the Holy Prophet and to the ummah or the world community of his religion. In the words of Maulana Mohamed Ali, the Khilafat movement leader, we (Muslims) are not nationalists but super nationalists, and I as a Muslim say that God made man and Devil made the nation. Ali further said, he belonged to two circles of equal size which are not concentric ? one is India and the other is the Muslim world (Gandhi by B.R. Nanda, OUP, page 390). The Khilafat maulanas had insisted and Gandhiji had conceded that the Muslim soldiers of the Indian army would not fight in the event India was invaded by a Muslim army. Early in the 20th century, a Russian inspired Afghan invasion across the Hindukush was considered a live threat. Long before its Pakistan resolution, the Muslim League had endorsed this principle that Muslim will not fight Muslim, no matter whose national he may be.
The second great threat to national sovereignty is the communist movement which considers the nation state an instrument of exploitation in the hands of the rich to keep down the poor. The communist manifesto exhorts the workers of the world to unite. The Internationale is the anthem of the movement. While the Left Front rules the three states of Kerala, Tripura and West Bengal, the Maoists are the violent vanguard of Marxism. And they have moved to some 200 or one-third of India'sdistricts.
The then undivided Communist Party of India had supported the League'sdemand for Pakistan. For the rest of India, it had a two-fold prescription. First, to have an undivided Bengal with a Muslim premier; presumably so that Pakistan could have the whole of Bengal to support it rather than a part as it transpired in 1947. Secondly, to recognise 16 nationalities in the rest of India with each of them having the right to secede from the Union a la the Soviet constitution!
How can Ms Albright and her country ensconced between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans expect other countries to allow their sovereignty to be overridden by disasters like Nargis or tsunami?
(The writer can be contacted at 145, Sunder Nagar, New Delhi-110 003.)