United States Congress at Critical Crossroads with India

The United States Congress finds itself today at critical cross-roads with India on the subject of the passage of the United States-India civil nuclear deal which the United States and India signed on July 18, 2005 at the summit in Washington. In pursuance of the above, the Bush administration has introduced draft legislation in both Houses of the Congress to set its seal for approval on the waivers required to move ahead.

Enough has been written and analyzed on the various aspects and implications of the deal and the draft legislation. It is not the intention to flog these details once again here, but focus on the major issues which the US Congress should bear in mind before derailing this deal.

In the run-up to the introduction of the waiver legislation in the US Congress by the Bush Administration, there was comparatively more overwhelming controversies raked up on Capitol Hill, than in India. It is still on-going on Capitol Hill despite some very eloquent, factual and convincing testimonies given by US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice and Under Secretaries of State, Burns and Joseph on the strategic advantages that accrue to the United States from a passage of this deal.

The US Congress today is at critical cross-roads with India in that it has to decide whether it should allow itself to defeat the US-India nuclear deal under the combined pressure of the Chinese and Pakistani lobbyists on Capitol Hill and the non-proliferation storm-troopers that abound in Washington.

China and Pakistan, singly and in unison, have been strongly opposed to the overall evolution of a United States-India strategic partnership and more specifically the US-India civil nuclear deal. China and Pakistan are engaged in an ongoing frenetic rearguard action on Capitol Hill to scuttle the US-India nuclear deal. This was expected, and also that they would drive a subtle but determined campaign to wreck the US-India civil nuclear deal. Their reasons being strategic, as a strong US-India strategic partnership checkmates their strategic ambitions, which in any future perspective are not US friendly, to say, in the least.

What however is inexplicable to India at large is that what exactly worries the Honorable Members of the US Congress who have been airing their objections or those who are still sitting on the fence and doubtful about the deal. The same is the case with the American non-proliferation storm-troopers and especially those from scientists/scientific think-tanks.

As patriotic Americans, the prime consideration for them should be whether United States national security interests are served or not, and not what China (an emerging threat in US national security perceptions) or Pakistan (a WMD proliferator and complicit in 9/11 bombings) think.

The Honorable Members of the US Congress need only to ponder on the issues stated below to arrive at a positive decision:

  • United States Can Stay Embedded in Asia Only With a Strategic Partnership With India.

  • US-India Civil Nuclear Deal's Significance Is Political and Strategic.

  • US Congress Policy Attitudes Towards India Need Re-invention.

  • US-India Strategic Partnership Would Unravel, Should US Congress De-rail the Nuclear Deal.

  • This paper, without taking too much time of the Honorable Members of the US Congress would dwell briefly on the above issues.

  • United States Can Stay Embedded in Asia Only With a Strategic Partnership with India

Asia in the 21st century presents a forbidding picture to the United States in terms of her national security interests. A rapidly threatening China, a resurgent Russia and an extremely hostile and violent Muslim world confronts the United States. Military flashpoints that are confronting or likely to confront the United States can be listed as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the rapidly rising military power of China, aimed at expelling US military presence in East Asia. Taiwan would emerge as the pretext and the flashpoint.

In the vast expanse of Asia, extending from the Mediterranean to the Pacific, the United States has only three "natural allies". These are Israel, India and Japan--all nations of consequence, politically stable and democratic.

In terms of Israel and Japan, the US Congress does not seem to have displayed any strategic concerns. Then why on India? In relation to Israel and Japan, which are on the peripheries of Asia, the geo-strategic location of India both in terms of her land-mass and her peninsular projection deep into the Indian Ocean ensure her a central strategic role in Asian security affairs. India holds the key to the Asian balance of power, both as a regional power in South Asia and an emerging global power.

President Bush with great strategic vision recognized this reality and gave shape to a strategic partnership with India in substantive terms. This author reflected this in his comments carried in Washington's UPI feature (March 2006) as follows.

"No US President has ever articulated US commitment to assist India's emergence as a world class power."  ... "President Bush has given a significant new direction to a US-India strategic partnership by setting the record straight in South Asia as to American strategic preferences."

That holds good for the US Congress too. It needs to take into account that a US-India strategic partnership is an American strategic imperative and that the US Congress should pave the way for the same with approval for all legislative proposals that come to reinforce the strategic partnership.

US-India Civil Nuclear Deal's Significance is Political and Strategic

The central aim of President Bush when he signed the agreement for a US-India civil nuclear deal was to ensure India's energy security needs are met and in the process assist India to fully realize her potential to emerge as a global power.

The aim of the US-India civil nuclear deal was not to roll-back or cap India's strategic nuclear arsenal. The non proliferation storm-troopers seem to be oblivious or feign to be oblivious to this vital fact. Their main focus is technical and theoretical and does not encompass President Bush's vision.

The Honorable Members of the Congress need to appreciate the following facts:

  • The significance of the US-India nuclear deal is political and strategic. It is not technical or theoretical.

  • Politically, the deal is a re-affirmation of the fact that the United States and India repose a mutual trust in each other to forge a strategic partnership arising from shared convergences of global and regional security interests.

  • Strategically, the deal is a conscious attempt by the United States, envisioned through its President, that if India has to be a worthwhile strategic partner, then its latent power attributes need to be maximized.

  • India's civil nuclear energy programs are a critical component of India's economic growth and energy security, and all these assist in India's emergence as a global power.

  • India as a strategic partner of the United States, which is a global power under challenge, cannot be a "strategically de-fanged power" i.e. without strategic nuclear assets.

The US-India nuclear deal needs to be viewed by all concerned in USA in the above perspective.

US Congress Policy Attitudes Towards India Need Re-invention

It is suspected that many members of the US Congress still continue to view India in Cold War perspectives. Here one would like to add that those Cold War perspectives of India were patently wrong. While deciding their vote on the US-India civil nuclear deal, the Honorable Members of the US Congress need to themselves answer the following questions:

  • Has India ever been in military confrontation with the United States like China (Korea, Vietnam)?

  • Has India like Pakistan indulged in WMD proliferation or was complicit on the 9/11 bombings?

  • India is a global power in the making, politically stable, economically resurgent and a vibrant democracy. With such credentials, do US lawmakers seriously believe that with a US-India nuclear deal in its pocket, India would turn out to be a long range threat to the United States?

The answers to all the above is a big and resounding NO.

As this author has written elsewhere that the basic problem with the US Congress is that for far too long, it had dealt with near-equal powers like Russia and China, who were confrontational in their stances towards the United States and with clashing strategic interests. For the first time in history, the US Congress is being faced to deal on a strategic matter with an emerging near-equal power like India which is not confrontational to the United States, nor has India had any history of confrontation with the United States. And therein lies a perplexing challenge for the US Congress in de-ciphering India's future strategic intentions and its future impact on United States security.

The answers to the above stand asserted in the testimonies of US Secretary of State and other officials of the State Department before the Senate and House Committees.

As the United States and India embark on the path of a long range strategic partnership, the US Congress needs to re-invent its policy attitudes towards India. The US Congress would need to learn that commensurate with India's attributes of power, size, location and military capabilities, the US Congress would have to be more accommodative and respectful of India's strategic sensitivities.

The US-India strategic partnership is an exceptional partnership in the making and hence the US Congress also has to adopt exceptional policy attitudes towards India.

Besides the above, the honorable members of the US Congress cannot be oblivious and would be answerable to the millions of Indian American voters who generously bankroll their election campaigns.

US-India Strategic Partnership Would Unravel, Should US Congress Derail the Nuclear Deal

Partnerships are based on a sense of trust and viable strategic partnerships evolve only with an "exceptional sense of mutual trust." This particularly applies to the US-India strategic partnership which took over half a century to evolve from decades of estrangement. Rightly or otherwise, the US-India civil nuclear deal has emerged as the centre-piece of the US-India strategic partnership. For India at large, it defines the future credibility of a strategic partnership with the United States.

To India at large, which is far more politically conscious than the average American citizen, the US-India civil nuclear deal has become the focus of overwhelming Indian public attention.

In the perceptions of India at large, it appears to them today, that it is only the US Congress which stands in between the successful passage of the "waivers" for the deal to go through and civil nuclear power projects in India to start making their appearances.

It is this which led this author to assert in his comments to UPI, Washington feature that:

"The US Congress has to revise its attitudinal approaches towards India. India is not a confrontational power to US national security interests, as are China and Russia."

"If the US-India relationship goes of the rails in the future it would be in large part due to US Congress insensitivities toward India."

So strong and passionate is the feeling in India on the successful culmination of the US-India civil nuclear deal without any tinkering, additions or conditionalities by the US Congress, that it would be an under-statement to state that should the deal be blocked by the US Congress, the US-India strategic partnership would unravel.

Concluding Observations

The United States and India have for far too long stood on the wrong side of history as the world's two remarkable democracies.

After six decades, when US President Bush and the US Administration on one had and the Indian Government on the other hand, have moved forward to together stand on the right side of history, the US Congress should not become a stumbling block in this endeavor.

India in all these years has moved forward despite US sanctions. It has moved forward gradually but surely. It will continue to do so, even if the US-India civil nuclear deal is blocked by the US Congress for reasons extraneous to the main issue.

At stake is not India's future or her security. At stake is United States national security interests and whether the United States could stay embedded in Asia in the face of all other options ranged against her. India is the United States best security bet in the unfolding Asian strategic drama of the 21st century. The US Congress should not let the United States loose this bet.

Plain-speaking, the United States today needs India strategically more than India needing the United States. This is a harsh reality that has to be contended with by the US Congress. This is alluded to even by American scholars in the same UPI Washington feature carrying this author's views.  

Courtesy: with permission from Dr. Kapila


More by :  Dr. Subhash Kapila

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