Monday, June 19, 2006

Korea, India and Interests

I wished that some of the loud cheerleaders for the democracy peace theory of international affairs (as well as those who maintain that democracies AUTOMATICALLY track to a pro-American direction) had been able to attend one or both of these events held at the magazine and center last week.

On Wednesday, the ambassador of the Republic of Korean, Lee Tae-sik, gave a very interesting address. While most attention was focused on North Korea and missile test issues, his opening statements were quite interesting. He stressed the importance of common democratic values in helping to forge and maintain the relationship and alliance between Washington and Seoul, but his paens to shared values quickly gave way to a discussion of practical interests: security, economics, trade. South Korea is a democracy, and this is a good thing, and it helps to strengthen ties, but South Korea is important to the United States first and foremost because of its geographic position, its location in a dangerous neighborhood, and an increasingly interconnected economic relationship.

On Friday, former ambassador to India Thomas Pickering delivered quite an interesting presentation. But one of the points he reminded his audience was that because India is a democracy and because there continues to be different schools of thought about the direction of India's foreign policy--including a number of political parties that do not want to give up India's role in the non-aligned movement (and I might add those who want to balance a tilt toward the United States by hedging bets with Russia and China). U.S. and Indian interests are tracking in close symmetry right now, but that does not mean New Delhi is going to walk in lockstep with Washington. In fact, precisely because India is a democracy, it is not going to be in a position to always echo U.S. preferences.

Pickering (and for that matter, Henry Kissinger, Geoff Kemp, and Bob Blackwill, all in their respective TNI contributions) recognizes the need for a nuanced U.S.-India relationship, working to advance shared interests and working to ensure that disagreements can be minimized. All recognize that India is not going to carry U.S. water in the Persian Gulf or vis-a-vis China. I am concerned, though, that this kind of nuance is lost on the Congress, which may see the U.S.-India nuclear deal as equivalent to a quid pro quo, of automatic support for the U.S. on a whole host of issues. This tension is also rising in the U.S.-ROK relationship, and again, it will be interesting to see how it may play out as a proposed free trade agreement is negotiated.

Aren't you merging the democracy/peace theory with some other theory about tracking with U.S. interests?
Chinalawblog, no he isn't. There is a version of democratic peace theory prevalent in some Washington circles about democracies not fighting each other and that as countries become more democratic their interests converge with those of the United States. Anatol Lieven has been one of the main people to argue that it is a mistake to extrapolate from the central and east European experience (where countries that did democratize like Poland also become more pro-American over time) to the rest of the world, but it took some of the election results in the Middle East to get more people to pay attention.
One can make the argument, I think, that East Asian states calculated that it was in their interests to democratize because it would give their security and economic interests a better hearing in Washington. South Korea wouldn't have a free trade opportunity if it was still under military rule.
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