United States - India Strategic Partnership Reviewed

In the 21st century the global power balance and peace and stability would be greatly determined by the inter-play of strategic and political equations between the United States, Russia. China, and India.

The United States and Russia have been Cold War adversaries. The United States and China have fought a direct war in Korea in the 1950s and a proxy war in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.The present relations of the United States with Russia and China, even after a decade and a half into the post-Cold War era can at best be termed as adversarial if not hostile, despite the rhetoric.

India as the fourth key global player of the 21st century was spurned and frowned upon by the United States during the Cold War. This was due to United States dislike of India's independent foreign policy stances which at many a time were not convergent with the US strategic agenda.

India began to be noticed and factored in US strategic calculus only in the latter half of the last decade of the 20th century. It was due to the burgeoning unfolding of India's military and economic potential. India's nuclear weapons tests in 1998 was the defining moment of India's power assertion . At the turn of the millennium in the last year of the second Clinton Administration the US and India seriously sat down to transform to transform US-India relations into a strategic partnership.

In 2005 under the second Bush Administration and another Government of a different political dispensation in India the transformation was cemented by two agreements, namely (1)The Defense Framework Agreement, June 28, 2005 and (2)Joint Statement of the US-India Summit, July 18, 2005, which provided for a comprehensive transformation of US-India relationship by cooperation in the fields of civilian nuclear energy, dual-use technology, space and commerce. The centrepiece of this Summit Meeting was the US commitment to help India gain access to civilian nuclear energy requirements by getting the US Congress to amend regulations and likewise by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). India in return had to provide certain reciprocal measures and guarantees in the nuclear field. India was recognized as a de-facto nuclear weapons power and as a responsible one, too.

This was a historic development and was intended to pave the way for a more substantive strategic partnership for the future.

Analytically, what needs to be recognized in both countries is, that:

1. The agreements are a product of a bi-partisan political support in both countries.
2. They span two different political dispensations in both countries.
3. The intention on both sides was to secure their respective national security interests by seeking convergent strategic interests

In the United States domestic debate for those opposing the deal, the following needs to be recognized:

1. India has not signed a "military alliance" agreement. What it has signed are agreements of cooperation in the fields of civilian nuclear energy, defense, space, dual-use technology and commerce.
2. India by doing so has not bartered away its strategic autonomy or the right to define its national strategic agenda.

While the opposition in India has been muted and confined basically to the Leftist Parties, the opposition in USA is spanning an important and wide spectrum encompassing the US Congress, the nonproliferation lobbies in Washington and what can at best be termed as remnants of the "Cold War Warriors" in the US Establishment. The last named two are taken by India in its stride as a natural out come in any democracy, including India. However, what is disconcerting for Indians, if not for the Indian Government, are the discordant voices in the US Congress.

Indians have a high regard for the Honorable Members of the US Congress and also believe that they have a good grasp of international strategic realities and what best secures United States national security interests. Indians expect that a higher standard of visionary debate takes place in the Congress and not a low-down one to serve narrow vested interests or lobbies traditionally opposing India.

The intemperate statements of Rep Tim Lantos stating that India has to vote with USA to isolate Iran and that how India votes could make or break the July 18 Indo-US nuclear deal smacks of imperial haughtiness, political blackmail and a lack of grasp of strategic realities. It also betrays an attempt to define India's strategic agenda. None of this is acceptable to Indians at large.

To the discordant voices in the US Congress a central message that needs to be given is that so far they have only dealt with nations in equal potential to USA, only as adversaries, namely Russia and China. There they could adopt confrontational and combative approaches without bothering for the others sensitivities. For the first time in their history they will be now dealing with a friendly global power in the making. The US Congress has to reorient itself to adapt to this new equation. Confrontational attitudes and political blackmail need to be replaced with a sophisticated respect for India's sensitivities both strategic and political.

India cannot dictate the above but hopes the negative voices in the US Congress does not translate into Indian public opinion to pressurize their Government, as a consequence, to veer away towards other strategic constellations.

India has averaged a sustained economic growth rate of 7-8% without substantial civilian nuclear energy power generation. An approval by the US Congress of the July 18 commitment of the US President could accelerate this growth. A non-approval would not impede India's growth; however it could negatively impact on Indians at large , if not the Indian Government. India's foreign policy issues are increasingly intruding into India's domestic political debate.

India would be looking forward to President Bush's visit to India in February 2006. It is fervently hoped that to make the visit as a historical transformation of USA-India relations he comes armed with the Congressional approval for the July18 nuclear deal; alternatively, he exercises his prerogative for a "Presidential Waiver in US National Security Interests' in the pursuance of his vision.  


More by :  Dr. Subhash Kapila

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