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Association for Asian Union & Asia-Pacific Cooperation

A Non-Governmental Organization to promote the idea of UNITED ASIA (Founded 31 Aug. 2001)



Why We Need an Asian Union, (Nov. 2009).



















This discourse is not about what happened and when. This is about what should happen and needs to be done.


            We all know how the institutions of the European Union have changed the scene in Europe. After the devastation of the two world wars, and hundreds of years of struggle for the mastery of Europe, what began as a Coal and Steel Community has culminated in an European Union, with even a common currency, and mixed military regiments. All this has happened in a span of just 60 years. The continent which was the most dangerous region of the world for 200 years, if we go back only to the Napoleonic invasions, has become the most stable part of the world, ready to play a stabilizing role in the rest of the world.



            The mantle of instability and potential danger for the rest of the world has been taken over by another continent, Asia. Whether it is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq and Iran in the Middle East or the Taliban problem in Afganistan and Pakistan and the India-Pakistan confrontation in south Asia, or the Korean conundrum in the East, or more importantly, the Sino-Indian equation, involving one-third of the world’s population, it is Asia which is calling for attention of policy makers and thinkers and those concerned about peace and stability in the world.  There is potential for other wars in Asia. Taiwan and Tibet continue to simmer, and so does the Sino-Indian border problem.



            It is not necessary for Asians to go the whole hog of experiencing a few devastating wars, which in the nuclear age could mean total destruction, before they embark on a path of creating an Asian Union on the pattern of the European Union? Does history teach us anything at all or is repetition inevitable? ” Evolution and progress imply that history need not repeat itself.

Europe remained in a mess until the big powers of Europe continued to play games against each other, creating alliance aimed at each other. The scene only changed when the big powers, initially Germany, France and Italy, came together to cooperate instead of confronting each other. Benelux was thrown in for good measure. The six soon became 9, then 12, then 27, and now some others are still waiting anxiously to join.

There is a clear-cut lesson in this for Asians. Only when the big powers of Asia come together will the scene change. Smaller sub-regional alliances can make only a limited or no impact at all, as illustrated by ASEAN and SAARC respectively. The same can be said of the Gulf Cooperation Council. ASEAN is experimenting with various other combinations like ASEAN +6 , but the real combination has yet to come. ARF (Asian Regional Forum) is a move in the right direction. SAARC can never take off unless the India - China equation changes and when that happens if will take off in no time. Apart from ASEAN, SAARC, Gulf Cooperation Council etc. there are some other laudable initiatives. The president of Kazakhstan launched an initiative under the name ‘Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building in Asia’ (CICA) and the Prime Minister of Thailand under the name of ‘Asian  Cooperation Dialogue (ACD).’ There is also the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). All these have to culminate in a dialogue for an Asian body.

Questions have been raised why China has not settled its border problem with India, when it has done so with most other neighbours including Russia. The Macmahon Line that is the issue in the border problem between India and China has been accepted by China in regard to Myanmar, but not yet in regard to India. Is this a border problem causing a political problem, or a political problem causing a border problem? Where are the two most populous nations of the world heading in their relations? Hu Jintao is also reported to have said, If India and China can come together, the 21st century will belong to Asia. Indian leaders have expressed similar sentiments. The need is to find a framework for making the sentiments real. However, the greater problem with China is lack of Democracy. It may be necessary to proceed with a Democratic Asian Union without China. The very creation of such a body will have an impact on China as the people of that country are longing for moral support.

On the economic side, under WTO regulations, freer trade has to take place any way with or without an Asian Union. What Asian Union may provide is a mechanism for creating safeguards as happened in Europe when the less developed countries of South Europe joined or when the countries of the former Soviet block get assimilated gradually. As UN Development Reports bring out year after year, the gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider and wider. This can only be reduced or bridged if the poor come together.



             There are numerous examples in Europe of the rush to join the organization after the big powers came together to form it. As mentioned above, there is still a waiting list of candidates. However, to illustrate the point it may be worth quoting what the then Austrian Ambassador in New Delhi, Dr. Herbert Traxl had to say on this in February 2001.1 He said, “Austria, as an independent nation, had chosen to keep out of the European Economic Community for decades and was content with being a member of the European Free Trade Area. It joined the community in 1995 when it learnt to perceive the EC as a process of building peace between nations that had been hostile to each other for a long time, especially France and Germany, and establishing a zone of peace and stability”. Dr. Traxl was speaking at a Chamber of Commerce in South India and went on to say that another reason for Austria’s accession to EC was the fact that it found itself affected by decisions taken by the community on several issues such as trade and transportation. Austria then decided it would be better to be “part of the decision making process itself and find friends and allies in the grouping”. He emphasized the advantages from evolution of collective policies on issues such as environment, illegal immigration and international crime, which includes terrorism.

It follows from the above that if the big powers of Asia come together, others will follow, in their own interest, as happened in Europe.


            Islam has become a major issue in world affairs in the wake of what happened on Sept 11, 2001. The phrase “ clash of civilizations” became a topic of public discourse dramatically with Samuel Huntington’s article of that title in the summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, published by the New York based Council for Foreign Relations. Subsequently Prof. Huntington expanded his article into a book “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking or the World Order”, published in 1996. Huntington’s work immediately caught the imagination of intellectuals all over the world. It was widely read and debated and there were both supporters and critics. However the events of Sept. 11, 2001 brought his thesis into sharp focus.

Huntington defines a civilization as a culture writ large, involving values, norms, institutions and modes of thinking to which successive generations in a given society have attached primary importance. According to him religion is the defining characteristic of civilization. Huntington devotes considerable attention to the collision between Islam and the West. He argues that the absolute nature of Islam that merges religion and politics, the absence of the concept of non-violence in that faith and the fact that it lacks one or more core states that could effectively mediate conflicts have all combined to make Islam a source of global instability. The twentieth century conflict between liberal democracy and Marxist - Leninism is only a fleeting and superficial phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relation between Islam and Christianity. Though at times peaceful co-existence has prevailed, more often the relation has been one of intense rivalry and of varying degrees of hot war. Bernard Lewis observes: “For almost a thousand years from the first Moorish landing in Spain to the second Turkish siege of Vienna, Europe was under constant threat from Islam.” 2

The “Clash of Civilizations,” if one prefers to call it that, has to first be resolved in Asia itself. It is an axiom of science that an experiment is first carried out at a smaller scale; the results, if positive, are then transferred to a larger arena. It is necessary to bring Saudi Arabia and Iran into a dialogue for an Asian Union as they represent the sources of Sunni and Shia Islam respectively. The presence of Turkey, with its comparatively more modern Islamic institutions and secular outlook, will be of immense help. Imagine a table with Saudi Arabia, Iran, China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Turkey and Russia for dialogue, where the civilizations representing the major religious are seated together.  The result will be a “Dialogue of Civilizations” instead of a “Clash of Civilizations.” In fact the very talk of an Asian Union will lead to a dialogue between and among civilizations, so to say. There are extremist elements everywhere, but equally there are moderate silent majorities. This is why Iran has been changing. The silent majority in Saudi Arabia should be enabled to get into the mainstream.

Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Taoism and Shintoism are all Asian religious. There is a certain unity in the diversity in them as there is a common Asian cultural ethos. Once the equilibrium born of that unity in diversity is implemented at the Asian level, it will be easy enough to do so at the world scale. If it cannot be done at the continental level, it definitely cannot be done at intercontinental level. Therefore the sooner we begin talking about an Asian Union, the better it is for the whole world.



             The problem of terrorism also has to be tackled at sub-regional, regional as well as global level. Once a dialogue begins in Asia for an Asian Union, and countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Israel, Pakistan and Afghanistan are a part of the dialogue, along with other major powers of Asia like China, India, Japan, Indonesia and to some extent Turkey and Russia, which are both European and Asian, discussion on curbing terrorism will be easier and fruitful. Existence of a mechanism for dealing with Terrorism at the Asian Continental level will facilitate smoother operation of anti-terrorist measures and will supplement and reinforce other efforts at sub-regional and global level. In the long run, this is the only way to remove the root causes, which have given rise to terrorism.

Lessons Of The Indian Experience In Tackling Terrorism At Local Level: - In support of the idea that terrorism can and should be tackled at various levels, national, sub regional, regional and global, it may be worth examining how the Indian approach of keeping the issues localized and finding political solutions has worked in the past and may work in the future. India started experiencing terrorism and violence, sponsored mainly form across the borders, from the very inception of the country after independence in 1947. First it was in Jammu and Kashmir and later in the northeast. However, it was  the localized political approach, combined with the principle of unity in diversity, which led to the situation that Laldenga, who was leading as insurgency in Mizoram State, gave up violence and became Chief Minister of the State. Similarly, the DMK Party in Tamil Nadu State, which was involved in insurgency in the late 1960s, came to head the state government subsequently. The Nagaland story is similar, and so are the cases of Manipur in the 1960s and 70s and Punjab in the 80s.

Successive elections in Jammu and Kashmir have given the state a representative government, which is trying to give stability to the state in the face of Pakistan-sponsored cross-border terrorism. The terrorists killed in Jammu and Kashmir by Indian security forces include people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, China and Pakistan but the indigenous involvement in terrorism, which was at its peak in the early 1990s, came down drastically by the late 1990s3.

Thus to tackle terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir one would have to have a multiple approach: political solution at home and liaison with security agencies in countries of origin of the mercenaries, in this case Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, China and Pakistan. The existence of an Asian Secretariat with a department handling terrorism would go a long way in tracking down the sources and plugging them. This approach can be repeated in other hot spots in Asia, including Palestine, Afganistan and Iraq.



            Before the US led invasion of Iraq, several justifications were put forward: a pre-emptive strike at a tyrant with a record for unprovoked aggression, redrawing the political map of the Islamic world, control of oil and so on. Regardless of the right and wrong, it would be prudent to bear in mind that starting a war is easier than working through its consequences. The creeping escalation of the war in Vietnam is an example from America’s own history. Beginning with a desire to help the French, the US got slowly sucked into what one of its own generals termed a ‘quagmire’. Iraq became a “quagmire” for the US and Britain. US desperately tried to bring in troops from other countries, particularly from Asia. There was a big debate in India on whether to respond to the US call for sending troops to Iraq, before India decided not to send troops (July 14, 2003), at the invitation of US and UK, who are seen as invaders. India, however, expressed willingness to help under a UN mandate. Similar debates took place in other countries, including Pakistan. Eventually some sort of an Asian solution will be needed in this part of Asia. Would it not be better to have an Asian organization to facilitate this? During the Nato action in Bosnia, it was being said that Europeans should be asked to handle European problems, instead of another continent getting involved. The same could be applied here.



           Value of democracy: “Democracy is not an easy road to follow .......... Successful maintenance of democracy demands the utmost in use of the best available methods to procure social knowledge that is reasonably commensurate with our physical knowledge, and the invention and use of forms of social engineering reasonably commensurate with our technological abilities in physical affairs.”4

                 Does democracy really exist? Take the US example and the onetime neo-con agenda. Those opposed to violence were  in majority but when it came to brass-tacks they were straws in the wind. What prevailed was the neo-con  policy.

                 But does that make it irrelevant? The answer is no. The struggle has to continue and, as John Dewey suggested, more than half a century ago, and many others have done, democracy and education go hand in hand.

                 Democracy in Asia: One of the fundamental bases of the European Union is democracy and the question may be raised that lack of democracy in major parts of Asia makes an Asian Union unrealistic. However, the progress of the global community in democracy requires that Asia keep pace in this sphere. There are several countries in Asia where different versions of democracy prevail. The largest democracy in the world, in terms of population, namely India, is in Asia. In fact many scholars agree that the single greatest achievement of India, since gaining independence in 1947, is the preservation of democracy. It is perhaps true that democracy has preserved India. The reason why a multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-lingual country of more than a billion people is holding together, while smaller entities like Yugoslavia have broken up, is the existence of democracy in India. Pakistan, which was founded on the basis of Islam, by partitioning India, lost half of the country in 1971-72 because democracy was not allowed to prevail; if the verdict of the elections of 1971 had been respected in the then Pakistan, even with two geographically distant wings, the country may have survived and there would be no Bangladesh.

                   Improved Prospects of Democracy with an Asian Union: There are many factors promoting democracy in Asia, in different parts, and one of the avowed purposes of the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq was also to promote democracy. But even a loose “ Asian Union” is bound to prove infections, carrying democracy from the democratic to the others in a peaceful interaction. In centuries gone by, China sent scholars to India to learn the authentic Buddhist Sutras. The Chinese economy has changed fundamentally; it is no longer a communist economy. Can a capitalist economy and a totalitarian political system co-exist? Change is inevitable. An Asian Union Could direct that change into the right direction. India, in turn, could imbibe some of the Confucian values, which have benefited China, Singapore, and some others.

                   Islam Not Hampering Democracy: Equally important is the case    of West Asia. Are Islam and Democracy incompatible? There are some who believe so. But true Islam and democracy are not incompatible. The largest Muslim country in the world is Indonesia. It has a democratic framework. The second largest is India as it has more Muslims than any other country except Indonesia, including Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Muslims of India have become an integral part of the democratic framework. Bangladesh is doing reasonably well.  Turkey is a good example. The problem in Pakistan is the vested interest of the military, deriving sustenance from US support at various times, which itself was caused by imperatives in the neighbourhood. The brief periods when democracy prevailed in Pakistan, under civilian control, were also the periods when relations between India and Pakistan showed signs of improvement.

                Solution to problems in West Asia also lies in democracy. As Fouad Ajami said in his article entitled “Iraq and the Arabs’ Futures”, in Foreign Affairs magazine for Jan/Feb 2003, “thus far the United State has been simultaneously an agent of political reaction and a promoter of social revolution in the Arab-Muslim world .............. Its power has invariably been on the side of political reaction and stagnant status quo.” The middle classes and professionals in these countries have been thwarted by the US relationships of convenience with the autocracies in saddle. This has hampered the growth of democracy, not Islam.

               Even 9/11 is a bi-product of these same US polices. The targeting of America came out of the terrible political culture of Arab Lands. If the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the physician Ayman al-Zawahiri, could not avenge himself against the military regime of Hosni Mubarak for the torture he endured at the hand of his country’s security services, why not target Mubarak’s U.S. patrons? A Similar motivation propelled the Saudi members of Al Qaeda. “These men could not sack the house of Saud ............ the war against America was the next best thing.”5

              As Bergen Bergen points out in his book on Osama Bin Laden, Bin Laden’s anger was not at America’s decadent culture, but at the support America gave to the regime in Riyadh. After nearly six decades in Saudi Arabia and three in Egypt, what America has earned is the wrath and estrangement of the  frustrated middle class. There is an unfathomable anti-Americanism in Egypt-even among those professionals who have done well through the American connection. America is  also reaping a bitter harvest in Iraq, judging by the number of casualties. The Republicans lost political power too. The sooner America and UK get out of Iraq, after handing over charge to an Asian force, perhaps under U.N. auspices, since there is no Asian Union as yet, the better for them. In fact a factor that enabled Saddam Hussain to emerge as some kind of a “pan-Arab Bismack” was US backing of conservative Arab regimes and the bias in favor of Israel. U.S. role in creation of the Taliban in Afghanistan is well documented. As also mentioned above, in Pakistan, U.S. support to the military regimes, over a long period, has thwarted democracy, not Islam. Thus an Asian Union could even help America in promoting its avowed goal of spreading democracy in the world.



                There are several cold and semi - hot wars within sub-regions of Asia, as between India and Pakistan, between Israel and Palestine, between, Japan and Korea and between the two Koreas. These will subside once the dialogue for an Asian Union begins. The Sino-India Border problem and  the Tibet issue will also benefit from such a dialogue. The fact that both UK and Ireland are members of the European Union has had a positive effect on the Northern Ireland conflict. Similarly, the fact that Greece is in the European Union and Turkey is  aspiring to be a member of the European Union also has had a positive effect on the Cyprus problem, which could otherwise have taken a worse shape. Further,  we can only imagine various other conflicts, which could have arisen in Western Europe, during the last 6 decades, since the end of the Second World War, if there were no EEC/EU.

                  Kashmir: Let us take a brief look at how the prospect of an Asian Union may help in resolving some of the conflicts in Asia. We could begin with the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan. Kashmir is a symptom, not the disease affecting Indo-Pak relations. For more than half a century, efforts have been made to tackle Kashmir in a wrong way. Ask any doctor and he/she will say straightway that what needs treatment is the disease and not the symptoms. The disease to be treated is the partition of India on a communal basis. Pakistan says Kashmir is the core issue for it and India has repeatedly made the point that it is a symbol of India’s secularism. It is a core issue for Pakistan because the very survival of a country founded on the basis of Islam depends on asserting its right to a Muslim majority area bordering it. But Kashmir acceded to India legally as did 500 other former princely states at the time of independence. If Kashmir’s accession is questioned then the whole post-independence legal framework is put in jeopardy. But there is another crucial factor for India. There are nearly 150 million Muslims spread all over India and their future is linked with what happens to Kashmir. Thus Kashmir becomes a core issue for Indian secularism. As already mentioned above, there are more Muslims in India than in Pakistan or Bangladesh.

                 Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad was born in Mecca to Arab Parents. He came to India and became totally Indian.  He identified himself completely with the political aspirations of the Indian nationalists. He was deadly opposed to the partition.  Delivering the presidential address at the Ramgarh session of the Indian National Congress before independence, he proudly proclaimed: “I am a Muslim and am profoundly conscious of the fact that I have inherited Islam’s glorious traditions ... I am not prepared to lose even a small part of that legacy ... I am equally proud of the fact that I am an Indian, an essential part of that indivisible unity of Indian nationhood.” He was sensitive to the fact that partition would bring about incalculable harm to the minorities in both countries. With prophetic vision, the Maulana told the Cabinet Mission in 1946 “I have examined its likely effect upon the fortunes of Muslims in India... I have come to the conclusion that it is harmful not only for India as a whole, but also for Muslims in particular. And in fact it creates more problems that it solves. Two states confronting one another offer no solution to the problems of another’s minorities but only lead to retribution and reprisals by introducing a system of mutual hostages.”6

                 We cannot and need not undo the partition, but it needs treatment. A positive approach would suggest some kind of a Common Market, South Asian Union, or a Confederation in the Sub-continent. Just as Alsace Lorraine and the Ruhr area, which was the bone of contention between France and Germany, became the starting point of the European Coal and Steel Community, which eventually led to the European Union; Kashmir, presently a bone of contention between India and Pakistan could become the cement to join the two.

               In 1962, when the well-known economist, John Kenneth Galbraith was the U.S. Ambassador in Delhi, and John F. Kennedy in the White House in Washington, there was a good deal of diplomatic activity in the wake of the Sino-Indian border war. The Americans were anxious to help, especially to prevent any enlargement of the conflict in the Himalayas through entry of Pakistan into it. On December 6, 1962, Galbraith wrote to Kennedy, “In my view, incidentally, Kashmir is not soluble in territorial terms. But by holding up the example of the way in which France and Germany have moved to soften their antagonism by the Common Market and common instruments of administration, including such territorial disputes as that over the Saar, there is a chance of getting the Indo-Pakistan dialogue into constructive channels.”7 As per diary of Galbraith quoted in his “Ambassador’s Journal,” published in 1969, Nehru also agreed with Galbraith that the only solution to the Kashmir problem was some sort of a Common Market in the sub-continent, on the European track.

              The Sub-region of South Asia has many complementarities. Historical, geographical, economic, cultural and linguistic factors all point to need for coming together, which will solve not only the problem between India & Pakistan, but also those relating to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. As already mentioned above in another context, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has not made much headway so far, but will take off amazingly once there is a positive Asian level dialogue and the equations change among the major powers of Asia, especially those between India and China and between India and the major Muslim countries of West Asia. This can happen through a dialogue for an Asian Union.

              Palestine: The Israeli-Palestinian problem has also lasted more than half a century. Various efforts, over the years, have failed and the bloodshed continues. So does the suffering of millions. There are some similarities between the partition of Palestine and the Indian sub-continent. Just as Pakistan was  created on the basis of Islam, Israel was created on the basis of Judaism. Both partitions led to large-scale movement of populations and many massacres. Just as India was left with a sizeable Muslim population, Israel was left with a sizeable Muslim Arab population, which has been growing and is like a time-bomb for the state based on Judaism. Here too the partition cannot be undone, but needs treatment.

             Any viable road map would have to be integrative rather than divisive. The problem of the occupied territories, of the Arab population in Israel, which cannot forever remain as second - class citizenry, of the Palestinian refugees abroad, the case of Jerusalem, the Israeli settlements in occupied areas, all need to be addressed in a comprehensive, forward looking plan, in consonance with the democratic spirit of the 21 Century. This is only possible within the framework of a macro approach. Just as dialogue for an Asian Union is bound to have a positive impact on South Asia, it will have a healthy and salutary effect on the most difficult and long-standing issue in West-Asia, namely the Palestinian - Israeli conflict, which, at other levels, is an Arab-Israeli and a Jewish - Muslim problem. Ironically, 9/11 may have paved the way for a solution because some of the Arab countries and Iran, which earlier swore by a policy towards total annihilation of the state of Israel, are now inclined to adopt a more moderate approach, if the legitimate interests and rights of the Palestinian people are protected.

               Korea and Others: In East Asia too, there are legacies of discord. Apart from the partition of Korea, which is threatening to blow up into a nuclear menace, there is a past history of rancor between Korea and Japan, China and Japan, Russia and Japan and Russia and China. These can all submerge in a dialogue for an Asian Union, as happened with various historical rivalries, discords and negative memories among countries of Europe in the context of the European Union.

                 India-China Border Problem, Tibet etc. : As Stephen Cohen, a renowned American scholar said in New Delhi, at a seminar at India International Centre, on January 18, 2005, countries with long standing conflicts need a face-saving device to backont from positions held over long periods and a body like an Asian Union may provide the formulae, as did the European Union.



                  Cooperation at the Asian continental level is not antithetical to organizations at sub-regional level, or to cooperation at the global level. Regional and sub-regional cooperation can reinforce each other and the two together can be intermediary to global cooperation. They are like building blocks at different levels. The whole body has no healthy existence without healthy parts and parts are healthy only when the whole body is healthy. While in relation to sub-regions like Asean, SAARC, SCO etc. dialogue at the Asian level is the macro level, in relation to the global dialogue, it is the micro level.



              We live in times when the word “Globalization” is a part of everyday vocabulary. To be a part of everyday vocabulary is not the same things as common sense. However, the discovery of today is the accepted fact of tomorrow and the common sense of the day after. The revolution in communications and travel could not but result in a global society. Moreover, world economy is inextricably interlinked and operates on all continents simultaneously. The ideal form for today’s world would be a “World Federation” or “Global Union”, but that is still for the day after. Today we have to restore a certain balance, which maintained world peace for long stretches of time in different periods of history, and may help tomorrow.

             It is true that balance of power systems have existed only at certain times in history and for the greater part of history, empire has been the typical mode for the world system. As Henry Kissinger points out in his book “Diplomacy”, “Empires have no interest in operating within an international system; they aspire to be the international system. Empires have no need for a balance of power. That is how the United State has conducted its foreign policy in the Americas, and China through most of its history in Asia”. But in the 21st Century the very thought of an Empire running the world is highly repugnant. We are in an era which was preceded by a long history of colonialism, imperialism, exploitation and a worldwide anti-colonial and anti-imperialist phase. There is no going back to the “era of empires”. 9/11 and the continued killing of soldiers in Iraq and Afganistan  is a chilling reminder that the era of empires is gone . Pakistan could be another theatre soon.

            So if the imperial system is a thing of the past and a democratic Global Union is still far off, perhaps for a few decades, if not a century or two, the only alternative is to bring about some form of the balance of power system. At the same time, a bi-polar world of the type that existed during the cold war cannot be imagined today. Thus the only feasible model is of a multi-polar world. Two poles are already visible, namely America and Europe. Africa is formally a Union but its capacity to play the role of another pole is obviously too little at present.

             It has also been shown above, why Asia has to be taken as a whole, and not in parts, because that would be dangerous not only for Asia but for the whole world. China, Russia, India or Japan can play the role of a viable 3rd pole only if all of them or some of them join hands along with other Asian countries, as happened in Europe. So a tri-polar world is more viable for the near future than either a bi-polar or a multi-polar one. The spilt in Europe during the Iraq crisis and the existence of the Atlantic Alliance show that the role of Europe in this world order is not exactly that of a pole to balance America. That balance has to come from somewhere else. It could be from Asia or a combination of Asia, Africa and parts of Europe. A third force is usually a positive element even in the domestic politics of nations having the two-party system, as e.g. in Germany, U.K. and France and in the emerging order in India. This holds a lesson even for the international system. But this tri-polar system will not have the rigidity of the cold-war bi-polar system. What we are looking forward to is not another cold war. It will have scope for evolution, combinations and permutations to suit particular needs, situations and crises.

             Paul Kennedy’s study of “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers” analyzed economic change and military conflict from 1500 to 1988. The chief message of his study was that “the international system is subject to constant changes, not only those caused by the day-to-day actions of statesman and the ebb and flow of political and military events, but also those caused by the deeper transformations in the foundations of world power, which in time make their way through to the surface.” Surprisingly, he spoke of the ‘pentarchy’ of the United States, the USSR, China, Japan and the E.E.C. as the likely pattern for some time to come, just on the eve of the collapse of the communist empire and the USSR. This fallacy occurred because he was making an assertion in contradiction to his own sound discovery after study of 500 years of history, regarding the crucial relevance of global productive balances, technological innovation and military spending, in the rise and fall of the great powers. It may be worth repeating here Bismarck’s famous remark about protagonists of an international system that they travel on “the stream of Time”, which they can “neither create not direct”, but upon which they can “steer with more or less skill and experience.”8 The lesson to be learnt is that the balance of power in world affairs has to be reinvented in different epochs.



             Is UN the answer in seeking the new world order, instead of a new balance through a tri-polar / multi-polar world? The reality has been thrown sharply into our faces during the recent Iraq crisis and other crises in the past. However, we had to say, “The UN is dead, long live the UN”, because UN has several other roles to play. If there were no UN, we would have to invent one. The role of specialized Agencies of the UN and certain peace-keeping operations are commendable; but in key political issues, UN has had a very limited role.

            Useful Role of Specialized Agencies: There would be total chaos in the rapidly globalization world if the various Specialized Agencies of the UN  did not regulate various things. Air travel on the world-scale would be in total mess, with planes colliding every now and then if the “Civil Aviation Organization” was not there to regulate air travel. Communications would be in total disarray if the “International Telecommunications Organization” did not exist. World health would be in serious jeopardy, as the recent SARS and Swine flu crises showed, and various other epidemics have shown over the years, if there was no WHO. International trade world be in a state of perpetual trade wars if there were no WTO or its predecessors. The list is endless. Then there are institutions like UNESCO, UNICEF, ECOSOC and the various Economics Commissions for different parts of the world.

            Some Useful Peace-keeping Operations: UN has also played a role from time to time in peace-keeping in different parts of the world. Every year on May 29, an “International Day of United Nations Peace-keepers” is observed, in pursuance of resolution 57/129 of the UN General Assembly, adopted at the 57th Session, on 11 December 2002. On that day, 55 years ago, the first UN peacekeeping operation, UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) in the Middle East was established. More than half a century later, that operation is still going on. In 1949, UNMOGIP (UN Military Observation Group for India and Pakistan) was created, after India took the issue of Pakistani aggression in Kashmir to the U.N. That group still exists in a skeleton form. With the outbreak of the Cold War, the UN Charter’s concept of collective security collapsed in the face of political realities. Since the end of the Cold War, the system of collective security has worked on some occasions and failed on others. Cambodia is an example of the former, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq of the latter.

             In Critical Issues UN is Like a Sweeper in a Circus: At crucial moments, in the face of key issues, the UN had to make way for an alternate international system and its role was confined to taking care of the humanitarian problems left behind by the actions of the powers that be.  In a circus, after an act by a group of elephants or other animals, a sweeper has to appear and clean up the mess left behind. In critical issues, the U.N. has a similar role. It has to take care of all the humanitarian issues, the refugees, the prisoners and so on, left behind by the actions of major power.  The circus goes on.

             Can a Reformed U.N. help?: There is much talk of a reformed U.N.O. as the solution to the problem of world governance. It is rightly said that a system devised 58 years ago, on the basis of the outcome of the Second World War does not reflect the reality of the present day world. This is very true. The Security Council is an outdated body. There is a good case for its expansion. Names of countries like Germany, Japan, India, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa etc. have been mentioned for inclusion as Permanent Members. But there is no real move by any Permanent Member, nor will they give up their own Veto Power or add new members with Veto Power. That brings us back to square one. UN is an inter-governmental organization and in the final analysis governments conduct their policies on the basis of national interest. Revision of the UN charter will only be possible when the power equations change in the world, not vice versa. It will be easier to revise the UN charter, if their is an Asian Union in Asia, as there is an European Union in Europe and not vice versa. It is a question of Idealism vs. Realism.



           It Would Be In The Interest Of The US: After this survey one may ask, what is in it for me? Why should U.S.A. the only Super Power, go out of its way to create another center of power? We have seen above that the era of imperialism is gone for ever. In the complex world of today, it is impossible for any one state, however powerful, to dominate it. As Jonathan Schell says, “the larger question, facing not only the United States but any country that might be eager to establish an empire is whether the connection between military and political power-snapped by the world revolt of the 20th century-can be restored. Does power still flow from the barrel of a gun or a B-52 bomber? Can the world in the twenty-first century be ruled from 35,000 feet? Can cruise missiles build nations? Modern people have the will to resist and the means to do so. Force can confer a temporary advantage, but politics is destiny.”9

             It would be in the interest of the United States to encourage and help in the formation of an Asian Union. Only a short-sighted view will find fault with the suggestion or harbor suspicions or apprehensions of creating a rival center of power. The U.S. helped in the creation of what is today the European Union. It must have known then that there would be times when differences of opinion may arise between the US and the new entity, but the balance was in favor of a positive approach, which has proved to be sound.

            Because of the size of the Asian continent, the diversity of races, religions, cultures and languages, and various historical elements, an Asian body, call it an “Asian Union” for the sake of identification, on the pattern already known and existing, will be a loose organization. It cannot have, in the foreseeable future, the cohesion of a strong international persona with the potential to assume an aggressive international role. It may function as clearing house for solving Asian problems of all kinds - political, economic, defense and terrorism related, of transport and communication, of health and epidemics, of culture and religion and so on, at the Asian level, without jeopardizing the peace, tranquillity and interests of the people of other continents. It is said that US wanted to transform Europe into a loose body by supporting its expansion through inclusion of more and more countries, specially in the east, earlier part  of the Soviet System. The solution sought in Europe already exists in Asia. It can only be a loose body.

              Further, if the US helps in the creation of an ‘Asian Union’ in Asia, the charge of “unilateralism” and imperialistic ambitions, which is heard more and more, will go away There will be less or no risk of getting stuck in quagmires far away from home. There will be an additional mechanism for tackling Asian conflicts and terrorism emanating from Asia.

             Then there is the economic angle. Eric Hobsbauwm argues that with the exception of its military superiority in high-tech weaponry, the U.S. is relying on diminishing, or potentially diminishing, assets. Its economy, though large, forms a diminishing share of the global economy. It is vulnerable in the short term as well as in the long term. At some stage it will be obvious that it is much more important to concentrate on the economy than to carry on with foreign military adventures, especially with unemployment at a high level.

             E.U. will also benefit from an Asian Union: For the European Union too, it may be useful in the long run to have a sister in an Asian Union. Both “old Europe” and “new Europe” have an interest in a smooth and peaceful management of world affairs. Playing Asian countries against one another is a thing of the past and exploiting rivalries among or between any of them can be dangerous or counter-productive, as can be seen from the history of the Indo-Pak conflict, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the saga of Sino-Japanese or Korean relations and so on.

            Russia, Turkey and Egypt can be links with other Continents: Russia is in a very special position, being both in Europe and Asia, and so is Turkey. Egypt is in a similar position between Asia and Africa. In the final analysis, all boundaries are artificial and the designation of the Urals as the dividing line between European Russia and Asian Russia is the same. But for historical and practical reasons, we have to accept these divisions, without losing sight of the essential unity. New Russia can play the role of a crucial link between the two sub-continents of Eurasia. History shows vividly the role of Russia in the fate of Europe, whether in the era of Napoleon or Hitler, or the half-century after the Second World War. Lessons of the past can be ignored only at peril both for the present and the future. That the geo-political role of Russia in Asia is of a crucial nature is obvious. It has played a balancing role between India and China, the two most populous nations of the world and will continue to play an important role in central, southern and eastern Asia. Turkey may be a candidate for the European Union, but the larger part of its territory is in Asia and the geographical, historical, economic and cultural links, especially with central and western Asia overshadow its European ambitions. It can also be a positive link between Europe and Asia, which it literally is.

            Importance of an Asian Union for Africa and Australasia: Africa and Asia have been arm-in-arm in the struggle against Imperialism, Colonialism and Racialism. During the cold war, their cooperation flourished under the banner on the “non-alignment movement”. Some say that movement has lost its relevance after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war. Some others, however, believe that the basic ideals and principles of that movement have become more relevant after loss of the balance of power existing then. In the political sphere, that movement enabled small, weak and poor countries to safeguard their dignity, independence and the freedom to pursue their own independent foreign policies. The need for such a safeguard still exists, and may have become greater in the face of the threat of “unilateralism” of the single Super Power. In the economic sphere, that movement rallied countries of the so called “Third World” in a struggle for a just international economic order, against the growing disparity between the rich and the poor, the north and the south. Those problems still exist and are becoming acuter by the day. Ultimately, peace and tranquillity in the world also depend on a just and equitable economic order. No one is going to gift such an order to any one. Only concerted action by the have-nots will lead to amelioration in their situation. Then there is the forgotten issue of disarmament, without which there can be no fair allocation of the resources of the planet. So in the struggle in all these issues, concerted cooperation between the African Union and a future Asian Union can play a significant role.

             Australasia has a role similar to that of Russia, Turkey and Egypt, as  a link between continents, as Australia and New Zealand are ethnically more European but geographically close to Asia.


ASIAN RELATIONS CONFERENCE OF 1947, ITS 40th ANNIVERSARY IN 1987, And 60th Anniversary in 2007.

                The first “ Asian Relations Conference” was held in New Delhi in March 1947, even before India achieved independence. Bidding farewell to the delegates, Mrs. Sarojini Naidu of India had said,” we have set the great wheel of destiny in motion again and the hands of time will not stop the revolution of the wheel. In years to come ......... the work we have done today will remain, will survive and will be the beacon star to all those who seek freedom, fellowship, equality....”10 The expectations arising from that conference were not to be immediately realized. The newly independent countries of Asia had to go through difficult periods of conflict and tension. The cold war following the end of the Second World War led to various alliances and entanglements, which kept Asian counties far apart and even raised high barriers among them. Fortunately that cold war is over.

              It may be appropriate to mention that in October 1987, an “ Asian Relations Commemorative Conference” was held in New Delhi to observe the 40th anniversary of the first Asian Relations Conference of 1947, to consider once again the question of Asian countries working in tandem for common causes. Curiously, this commemorative conference was held just on the eve of the end of the cold war between the West and the Soviet Union which had interrupted the coming together of the Asian countries. At that time no one believed that the fall of the Berlin wall was imminent. Intellectuals, scholars, artists, and public figures from all over Asia attended the Commemorative Conference. The initiative for this Conference had also come from India.

             Speaking at the inaugural ceremony, the then Prime Minister of India, Rajiv Gandhi said, “at the Asian Relations Conference (of 1947) Nehru brushed aside apprehensions that the gathering of Asians was directed against any other continent or people. In the most famous passage of his speech, he had pointed out: “For far too long we of Asia have been petitioners in Western courts and chancelleries. That story must belong to the past”, and had added: “We have no desire against anybody, ours is the great design of promoting peace and progress all over the world”. Rajiv Gandhi further said, “it is the same message, which we send again to all the continents of the world as we gather together at the Commemorative Conference.”  He added “ The Asian drama continues, a drama of swift change, drama of self-discovery and of self-assertion. The Asian dilemma also continues, the dilemma of modernization, without sacrificing what is valuable in our tradition, the essential Asian challenge lies in reconciling change with continuity.”11  The then Vice President of India, Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, said at the opening ceremony on 2 October, which also marked the anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi: “ As Asia comes into its own, and regains the due position, not just the problems of Asia, but also those of the world, will find Asian solutions.”

             In 2007, the 60th Anniversary of the First Asian Relations Conference was celebrated in a big way by the Association for Asian Union where Ambassadors of several Asian Countries in New Delhi expressed support for the idea.



               It is time to pick up the threads of 1947, 1987 and 2007 now and weave a new tapestry, which will also take in various other threads started in the meantime by the wheel of time. These are the various initiatives at regional or sub-regional cooperation in Asia, mentioned above on page 2. ASEAN, SAARC, ARF, GCC, CICA, ACD and SCO and all other similar efforts have to culminate in dialogue for an Asian body.  The initial name could be ‘Asian Economic Community’ or ‘Organization of Asian Unity’, if not ‘Asian Union’.

             India took the initiative  earlier and could do the same again, for reasons both of history and geography. If one looks at the world map, India is right in the centre of Asia. Historically, from times immemorial, India has interacted in a positive manner with the rest of Asia, before and from the time of the great Buddha, through the Middle Ages in the era of Islamic domination, to the anti-colonial struggle of the modern times. India should fulfil her destiny.

            However, this is not just India’s destiny, but of Asia as a whole. Therefore, any other country is equally qualified and entitled to take the new initiative.  Smaller countries of Asia will have a major stake in the future Asian Union, as the smaller countries of Europe have in Europe. The headquarters of EU are not in Berlin, Paris or London, but in Brussels. Others institutions of the EU are scattered all over Europe. Many Asian cities will be in line for those roles. To mention a few, Manila, Bankok, Singapore, Kathmandu, Colombo, Beirut, Dubai, Bahrain, Kuwait, Ulan Bator and Seoul are all potential seats of institutions of the future Asian Union. Even a united Jerusalem will have a major role to the immense benefit of both Israelis and Arabs.



                                                          “A Vision for South Asia"


When I was Ambassador of India in Greece between 1984-88 Gorbachov’s Glasnost (transparency) and Perestroika (reconstruction) were all the time in the news. On the 7th of January, 1988, the then East German (GDR) Ambassador in Greece, H.E. Horst Brie came to meet me. In the course of the conversation I asked him whether Gorbachov’s policies could lead to reunification of Germany. His reply, which was very firm and clear was “Oh no, no. India and Pakistan will be reunited before Germany”. His logic was that no European power really wanted this: not France for sure, not Britain either. He added, unlike India which in the past had been a unity for long periods, Germany was united only for a short time from 1871 to 1945 and the main motivation for this was the rivalry between the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern dynasties. I had forgotten this conversation but had a note of it in my diaries. Sometime after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the eventual reunification of Germany in 1990, I was reading some old diaries and saw this note. I was struck by the fact that in contrast to, what my then GDR colleague had said, Germany stood united while India and Pakistan are still at loggerheads as they have been since the partition of 1947. But this conversation gave me hope that what happened in Germany could happen in the sub-continent, given the right approach of an enlightened leadership, in our area, as happened in Europe.

               Not only the GDR Ambassador who was with me in Athens, but many others have talked about  re-unification of India and Pakistan in quite a routine way, while  in the sub-continent one seldom hears words like “ Re-unification” or “Confederation. An Ambassador of Egypt invariably spoke lamentably of the partition of India and always showed a belief that sooner or later this historical mishap would be undone. An Ambassador of Iran said, he felt the same way.

              Debates on Partition have raged in India since 1947 and still there are seminars and lectures on the pros and cons of the same. But Fate is ruthless. It is another name for Evolution, which itself is another name for History. We cannot undo the past in its entirety. However, there is thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. One is reminded of Hegel. This is how Evolution proceeds and so does History.

               The partition of the sub-continent cannot be undone, nor is it necessary to undo it. It has served its purpose. While the Two-Nation theory, which was propagated to secure the partition has been buried in the battle fields of the Bangladesh war and the fact that India has more Muslims than either in Pakistan or Bangladesh, the partition has been useful in establishing identities of the successor states. Imagine the interminable debates and conflicts regarding the National Emblem, Flag, National Anthem and National Awards of a post-Independence India, if there had been no partition. While the Two-Nation theory was false, phases of history are facts. The successor states are products of different phases of history. What the partition has done is to enable the successor states to establish their identities and this is conducive to achieving synthesis.

                In Political Science, a Confederation, as distinct from a Federation, requires Sovereign entities with distinct identities. As per Webster’s New World Dictionary a Confederation is a league or alliance of independent nations or states whose central authority is usually confined to common defense and limited political cooperation. This is what the countries of South Asia should strive to achieve, for their own peace and prosperity and that of the region as a whole. This in turn will also contribute to Global Peace.

              The matter has acquired greater urgency in view of the nuclear status of both India and Pakistan. Nuclear weapons are not weapons of war but weapons of deterrence or assured mutual self-destruction, or a Cold War. Is it necessary to go through another Cold War or war by Terrorism to reach the foregone conclusion; when there is also a risk of mishaps accidents or miscalculations? The way the Cold war was won by the West was by wearing the other side down in the race for nuclear arsenals. The hollow communist economic system gave way when the pressure became unbearable. If that scenario is repeated here, Indian political and economic systems being on a sounder footing and bigger in size and scope will in all probability come out victorious. The Nuclear status of India and Pakistan could also be used for a positive result, thus turning a challenge into an opportunity.

             If we look at the developments in the Europe, since the Second World War, there is an amazing scenario in which the two main adversaries of continental Europe, namely France and Germany, countries that had been at loggerheads for supremacy for about 200 years, if we begin from the time of Napoleon, have become the main pillars of a United Europe. How did this happen? It would appear that the struggle for the mastery of Europe, which included several wars, made the two protagonists realize that it was impossible for either side to get the better of the other, and the good of both lay in a path of cooperation and working together. They started with modest cooperation on “Coal and the Steel Community” was born. It grew into the European Economic Community and then into the “European Union”. Their cooperation was so successful that from 6 countries they became 9, then 12, then 15; and then 27. Some others are waiting anxiously to join the EU.

            While India and Pakistan may not have gone through two world wars, the struggle between the ideas represented by the two has gone on already for at least four times the period taken by France and Germany to achieve enlightenment. If we take the invasion of Mohammed Shahabuddin Ghauri as the starting point of that struggle, then it is already a period of 800 years as against the 200 years taken by France and German. This period of 800 years saw many ups and downs for both ideas, including subjugation by a third force, namely British colonial rule, which is as bad as the two World Wars, if not worse. If India and Pakistan lay the foundation of a Confederation in the Sub-Continent, other countries of the region will come in before long, as happened in Europe. What is more, the example of South Asia may even inspire the warring countries of the Middle East to benefit from a good example.  Even if a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine is achieved, it can only be a temporary one. A confederation of the two, with a united Jerusalem as the Capital would be the ideal solution for this long-standing sore in World Affairs, which is also a serious threat to World Peace.

              In this context it is necessary to re-educate the intelligentsia as well as the masses on the true interpretation of the Holy Quran. Verses 4 & 5 of Sura Al Baqrah (2nd Sura) of the Holy Quran ask true Muslims to respect and believe in what was revealed to Muhammad and to others before Muhammad. Sura Al Baqrah verse 4 reads: "And who believe in that which has been sent down to you (Muhammad) and in that which was sent down before you and they believe with certainty in the Hereafter" Verse 5:"They are on guidance from their Lord, and they are the successful." Verse 6:"Verily, those who disbelieve, it is the same to them whether you (O Muhammad) warn them or do not warn them, they will not believe". I learnt Arabic when I was Ambassador of India in Lebanon and have verified the original text as well. The quotations are from an English translation of "The Noble Quran" by Dr. Muhammad Taqi-ud-Din al Hilali, Professor of Islamic Faith and Teachings, Islamic University, al Madinah al Munawwarah, Saudi Arabia and printed in King Fahd Complex, Madinah, Saudi Arabia. The book was a gift to me from the Saudi Ambassador in Delhi. If Allah’s command to Muhammad and his message of tolerance and secularism is spread all over, our world will be a place of harmony and peace.