RIP K. Subrahmanyam -- a good source, a clever wit, and a good man

Committed, courageous and consistent in his abiding engagement with national security and the global strategic environment for almost 50 years, K Subrahmanyam , KS or Subbu, as he was better known, who passed away on Wednesday, reports India's Economic Times newspaper.  Subrahmanyam will long be remembered for his singular and distinctive contribution to 'Bharat Raksha,' the defence and protection of India and its core interests, the paper said. 

I had only just met KS, when I was invited to a discussion panel at the Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis that he was chairing.  My attendance was predicated on the event being off the record, so I didn't take notes, but I was struck by the precision of the signature KS wit, his straight shooting, and the readiness with which he had dropped his anti-US position and taken up a contrarian point of view on China -- about which he went away from his supposed stance as a hawk and preached an engagement based on "soft power."

I called him soon afterward, and I was hoping to make him a regular source.  But the next time I phoned, he informed me that he was feeling too ill to talk, and I wished him good health--only to read yesterday that he never got better. 

Below is the text of that last interview:

1) You mentioned that Obama has little choice but to make India America's leading partner. Why is that so? Based on current behavior, do you think the US realizes it?

Because China has become the second power in the world, and the Chinese are interested in closing the gap and becoming the number one power in the world. If the US doesn't want to lose its pre-eminent position as technological and economic power, it must race with China and keep ahead of China in knowledge generation. In order to do that, since China has 4 times the pop of the US, and has started outproducing the US in engineers and scientists, the US has got to draw on a reservoir of talent. The only reservoir of talent that is English speaking and has the same value system as the US is india.

2) How do you foresee the India-China-America-Pakistan relationship developing in the future?

It's not a four-way relationship. Actually, China in its drive for power has used North Korea as a launchpad, and armed North Korea with nuclear weapons. China has armed Pakistan with nuclear weapons, and Pakistan, in turn, protected by its nuclear shield is using its derivative, terrorism, as an instrument of politics against India, the US and Europe.

The two non-democratic forces, China's authoritarianism and pak's fundamentalism, are allied with each other. China is the only majorpower in the world that is not democratic. It is a question of democratic versus anti-democratic forces. Today, half the pop of the world lives under democracy.

3) I'm interested in your idea that the Indo-US alliance vis a vis China will not be a NATO-type, deterrent-based partnership....

Those are all 20th century, bygone tyupe of things. People must realize that the Cold War is over. Because people don't understand this, both in the American and Indian establishments, the Americans are saying you have to do this because we had this legislation in the cold war. Similarly, India says our because of our traditional stance of non-alignment, we need to remain autonomous. They need to think this through. The real question is: Is the future world order going to be governed by democratic values or one party state values.

4) It seems to me that China's success in foreign policy shows that we were naive to think that the days of realpolitik ended with the Cold War. In that context, how important are the "shared values" that both India and the US keep emphasizing?

Realpolitik is different from Cold War politics. Most of the PLA is still under the Cold War mentality. But I'm not saying contain China, I am saying intensify engagement with China. We have got democracy as our weapon. This challenge should be met by new methods. Therefore the world has got to mobilize on the values of pluralism, secularism and democracy and meet China's challenge and the jihadi challenge of Pakistan.

5) Has China changed the game for foreign policy in Asia -- and even Africa -- with its aggressive embrace of realpolitik?

That is the reason why the only way of countering China and its expansionism and at the same time generating pressure on the Chinese population ... is for the network of democratic powers to emerge and internationally press democratic values using information technology. Don't contain China, engage China. Get more Chinese tourists to your place, let them be exposed to democracy. It's not classical realpolitik.

6) How can the US and India cooperate to influence China without presenting the threatening image of encirclement or containment?

Next Obama is going to Indonesia, an Islamic country which is pluralistic and democratic. He should get Indonesia into such a network. South Africa, which has got a Mulsim population, Bangladesh, which has a Muslim population, but it's Supreme Court has struck down Islamism.....

7) Are there any concrete steps that you see as "musts" for Obama's visit to India, in order to keep the strategic partnership moving forward?

Everybody has got his own choice as what should be the must do items. Somebody thinks it's the UN Security Council, somebody thinks its the export controls.

My point is to look beyond all these steps. If you agree on the big picture, then you can tell the bureaucracies to please forget about the Cold War, please forget about the past framework that we have, and please understand that the US and other democratic nations of the worlds are partners in promoting a democratic, secular world order.