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Power Dynamics and Diplomacy: India’s Example

The United States and India have been invovled in a tense back and forth in recent months. It's interesting to note, in this instance, how the United States is not just 'having its way' with Indian officials. Unless you really follow international affairs, it's easy to miss these occasions when foreign leaders actually stand up to the United States, especially when countries that tend to be allies stand up in opposition to a specific event or set of circumstances, and on principled grounds.

From Reuters...

Nearly a month after American authorities arrested India’s deputy consul general in New York, Devyani Khobragade, outside her children’s school and charged her with paying her Indian domestic worker a salary below the minimum wage, bilateral relations remain tense. India’s government has reacted with fury to the mistreatment of an official enjoying diplomatic immunity, and public indignation has been widespread and nearly unanimous.


Some retaliation has occurred. The initial American rationale (that foreign consuls in the US enjoy a lower level of immunity than other diplomats) led India’s government to re-examine privileges enjoyed by US consular officials that are unavailable to their Indian counterparts in the US. These privileges — including full-fledged diplomatic ID cards, access to the restricted customs areas of airports, tax-free shipments of items for personal consumption, and no questions asked about the terms of their employment of local domestic staff — were swiftly withdrawn.

Likewise, the police have removed bollards and barriers that the US Embassy had unilaterally placed on the street in front of its complex in New Delhi, creating an obstacle to free circulation on a public road that India had tolerated in a spirit of friendship. (The government has, however, reiterated its commitment to the US Embassy’s security, even reinforcing the police presence outside.)

Reflecting the deep pain and anger over these recent events, here's a powerful quote from Shashi Tharoor, India's minister of human resource development, from USA Today.

"The cardinal principle of diplomatic relations is reciprocity, and India realized that it had been naive in extending courtesies to the U.S. that it was not receiving in return,"

Polite wording, perhaps, yet powerful given their corresponding actions. In a world where people appear to be unwilling to stand on principle, and when people feel like they always have to play politics, it's refreshing to see examples of individuals/organizations who believe something is completely unacceptable and refuse to tolerate it.

In the greater scheme of things, I'm pretty sure this will get resolved and the two countries will fall back into their relationship of mutual interests. But for now, it's great to see an example of principled and unequivocal opposition - in this case - to arrogant and humiliating behavior.

Primary take away in this... Statements without action is mere posturing. Power is the extent to which you can create a reality that brings those statements to life.