Include Human Rights Considerations in the NDAA
July 7th, 2020
This month, as Congress moves forward with the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), policymakers must re-examine our relationship with India, particularly when it comes to the military support the United States provides to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and his Hindu-nationalist BJP party. We urge Congress to highlight India’s continued violations of basic human and democratic rights during discussions around the NDAA, and to send a message that the relationship between our nations cannot move forward until the BJP’s campaign of suppression and disenfranchisement ends.
Last week, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) released a 20 page summary of its NDAA draft, and today the full text was released.The summary opens by articulating the guiding principle for US defense strategy as “strategic competition with authoritarian adversaries that stand firmly against our shared American values of freedom, democracy, and peace,” and specifies only two violating countries: China and Russia. In addition to calling out these two adversaries, Congress should broaden the scope of the NDAA for a more consistent, values-led foreign policy, in which all human rights abusers and opponents of democratic values face difficulty receiving military and other forms of support from the United States. Those countries that have adopted China-style repression during the COVID-lockdown should be put on notice that further US military support is contingent on reversing these disturbing trends. In our desire to hold China accountable, we should not excuse and empower bad actors who are engaged in precisely the same behavior.
The Indian government under Prime Minister Modi has shown particular eagerness for adopting China-style tactics in both domestic and foreign policy. These similarities have been documented in detail, and they include the suppression of domestic religious minorities, mass surveillance of the population, government censorship of news media, targeted campaigns against journalists and political leaders and long term disruptions in internet service to stop the free flow of information within and outside of Indian territory.
The United States cannot credibly confront China and Russia’s manipulation of the international system and dubious record on human rights and democracy while rewarding like-minded actors. While India may appear to be a western ally in its border confrontation with China, the two nations are embroiled in a conflict for regional dominance, not one over values. India is an increasingly unreliable and provocative actor both domestically and internationally. When considering attacks on democratic norms, jailing dissidents and human rights advocates,oppressing minorities, and exploiting the international system, Beijing and New Delhi are rapidly mirroring one another. India's aggressive proclamations and actions regarding the capture of surrounding territories have angered Nepal, Pakistan, and China-- all of the countries it borders, and has led to ongoing violence. Sri Lanka also continues to harbor strong, lingering anti-India sentiment. India is driving the region into China's arms, despite these countries being keenly aware of the debt-trap diplomacy of Beijing. Reflexively supporting India is hurting the US image in the region. The US has a tremendous opportunity to serve its ideals and interests by advocating for genuine democratic values and regional security through international accords, while providing a basis for positive engagement with the region. Uncritically supporting India eliminates those possibilities.
We urge all advocates for human and democratic rights to engage their elected representatives and tell them that we must be consistent in upholding the American values we claim to defend. The 2021 NDAA must not only call out China and Russia, but all nations that have turned their backs on freedom, human rights and democracy. There are a variety of ways to incorporate these values into the NDAA, including through support of Amnesty International’s effort to replicate human right’s focused language in last year's NDAA. The NDAA is an important opportunity not only to call out our adversaries, but to pressure our so-called friends to be better. It should not be wasted.