Think for a moment about which countries cause the most global consternation. Afghanistan. Iran. Venezuela. North Korea. Pakistan. Perhaps rising China. But India? Surely not. In the popular imagination, the world's largest democracy evokes Gandhi, Bollywood, and chicken tikka. In reality, however, it's India that often gives global governance the biggest headache.
Of course, India gets marvelous press. Feature stories from there typically bring to life Internet entrepreneurs, hospitality industry pioneers, and gurus keeping spiritual traditions alive while lovingly bridging Eastern and Western cultures.
But something is left out of the cheery picture. For all its business acumen and the extraordinary creativity unleashed in the service of growth, today's India is an international adolescent, a country of outsize ambition but anemic influence. India's colorful, stubborn loquaciousness, so enchanting on a personal level, turns out to be anything but when it comes to the country's international relations. On crucial matters of global concern, from climate change to multilateral trade, India all too often just says no.
India, first and foremost, believes that the world's rules don't apply to it. Bucking an international trend since the Cold War, successive Indian governments have refused to sign nuclear testing and nonproliferation agreements -- accelerating a nuclear arms race in South Asia. (India's second nuclear tests in 1998 led to Pakistan's decision to detonate its own nuclear weapons.)
Once the pious proponent of a nuclear-free world, New Delhi today maintains an attitude of "not now, not ever" when it comes to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. As defense analyst Matthew Hoey recently wrote in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "India's behavior has been comparable to other defiant nuclear states [and] will undoubtedly contribute to a deteriorating security environment in Asia."
Not only does India reject existing treaties, but it also deep-sixes international efforts to develop new ones. In 2008, India single-handedly foiled the last Doha round of global trade talks, an effort to nail together a global deal that almost nobody loved, but one that would have benefited developing countries most. "I reject everything," declared Kamal Nath, then the Indian commerce and industry minister, after grueling days and sleepless nights of negotiations in Geneva in the summer of 2008.
On climate change, India has been no less intransigent. In July, India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, pre-emptively told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton five months before the U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen that India, a fast-growing producer of greenhouse gases, would flat-out not accept binding carbon emissions targets.