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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 28

Dealing with United States

Monday 30 June 2008, by Nikhil Chakravartty

A strange situation of apparently contradictory facets mark the present phase of India’s relationship with the United States of America.

Of late, there is a surfeit of talks about “shared values” ranging from commitment to democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law. To this has been added in recent months, the government’s new economic policy which plays up private enterprise and underplays public sector—at least that’s how it has been taken in the USA. And the government, in the President’s Address to Parliament, has publicly acknowledged that the US Administration has been “supportive” of our endeavour to fight back the economic crisis—presumably in the IMF and the World Bank.

This tilt towards the USA has been pronounced after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the superficial understanding that the world has become unipolar, that is, instead of two superpowers, we would now be under the thumb of one and only one superpower. With the wisdom that discretion is the better part of valour, there has appeared a conspicuous urge to cultivate the USA and to be on the right side of Washington. This was heightened by the American display of military power in the Gulf War.

Our government’s response to certain US diplomatic moves betrayed a very superficial understanding of the basics of the US policy. For quite sometimes, there was a sense of elation that Washington now acknowledges India as a “significant regional power”, playing a leading role in South Asia. This was followed by the US officials volunteering to recognise Kashmir as being part of India and to give up its previous insistence on plebiscite to settle the Kashmir dispute. On the formal plane, this was of course a shift in the US position which, on the face of it, undermines the Pakistani claim on Kashmir.

What is noteworthy is that in the very same period there has been a concerted campaign about the violation of human rights in Kashmir by the Indian security forces. In other words, a case was being built up with plenty of sophistication about India being unacceptable to the entire Kashmiri population in the Valley—and this might help to build up an alibi for UN mediation, maybe through the personal diplomacy of the UN Secretary-General, or a special envoy nominated by him, as was done in the case of Afghanistan. This view can of course be contested since it is reported that the US establishment now does not charge India of having been guilty of violation of human rights either in Punjab or in Kashmir. Could this possibly be a genuinely sincere assessment, or is it a tactical move, since it is known that the big powers cynically exploit the human rights question for purposes of political expediency? It is possible that the sop itself is a sort of quid pro quo extracted from India. Is this in return for the diplomatic recognition of Israel accorded by New Delhi, or for inveigling India to go in for nuclear non-proliferation even if it could not be persuaded to sign the NPT?

The nuclear issue has become an obsession on the part of Washington. There is no serious urge for nuclear disarmament on the part of the USA. In such circumstances, this insistence on nuclear non-proliferation being imposed on the rest of the world amounts to Washington making a bid for using nuclear monopoly to establish its world hegemony. Unmistakably, the US approach to the nuclear question has a distinct touch of the White Man’s superiority—no worry if the nuclear weapons are in the possession of Russia, but it becomes a matter of worry if Kazakhstan retains the nuclear installation. There is all the worry in the world if India and Pakistan have the bomb, or for that matter, Iran and Iraq, but no disquiet at all over Israel’s nuclear programme.

With regard to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons preparedness, the US Administration uses it as a leverage for pressure on India to sign at least a bilateral non-proliferation declaration. It is important to note that the Pakistan Foreign Secretary’s disclosure of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability came during his Washington visit, and this is being neatly suffixed by the stand that an Indian initiative for non-proliferation can help to persuade Pakistan also to abjure the nuclear weapon. The point to note, however, is that with all the threat of penalising Pakistan for making the nuclear bomb, the US Administration itself has sanctioned the sale of conventional military weaponry to Pakistan.

What is also rather extraordinary is that the Indian Government is telling the US Government to persuade two of our neighbours, China and Pakistan, to agree to nuclear non-proliferation. This is a job which New Delhi ought to take up on its own.

In this background, one has to weigh the pros and cons of the emerging Indo-US cooperation in the field of defence. What is being held back from the public of this country is the full picture of this cooperation and its implications. There are many strange features of this cooperation which have rapidly grown in the last one year, particularly after the visit of our Army Chief, General Rodrigues, to the Pentagon. Could it be that this Pentagon yatra gave him ideas which he recently aired landing himself in hot waters in Parliament? It is amazing that the now famous Kicklighter proposals were agreed to without any political debate in Parliament or any consultation with leaders of other parties despite the fact that the ruling party itself does not command a majority in Parliament. What exactly is the role of the newly set-up Indo-US Army Steering Committee? It is said that this military cooperation would help the Indian side in getting familiar with the nature and operation of the hi-tech weapons used by the US in the Gulf War.

Now we find that a joint Indo-US naval exercise will soon take place in the Indian Ocean. Oddly enough, our Prime Minister during his visit to Mauritius last week, formally supported the island republic’s claim on the archipelago that includes Diego Garcia, now the biggest US military base in the Indian Ocean, which will certainly be involved in the proposed joint Indo-US naval exercise. Incidentally, it may be recalled that the Indian Navy did not have any such joint naval exercise with the Soviet Navy despite the fact that the Soviet cooperation towards the building up of the Indian Navy is of no mean order.

The leaked Pentagon document, we are now told, does not represent the official view of the US Administration; though the White House seems to have had a hand in its preparation. But it certainly provides an insight into the Pentagon’s thinking. This document comes out sharp and clear on the need to to break India’s “hegemonistic aspirations” over South Asia, and at the same time manifests a cosy understanding towards Pakistan whose nuclear bomb does not seem to come in the way of the US having plans to use its military strength for the promotion of American objectives in South-West Asia and Central Asia. For the Indian military leadership, the potential adversary has throughout been Pakistan, and from the sixties, China too. Now with all the excitement of having joint military exercises with the USA, our armed forces will be disclosing data on our military capability, the weapons system and the tactical approach with a power which regards Pakistan as a close ally. Would this not jeopardise the confidentiality of our defence preparedness vis-à-vis one of our potential adversaries? It is also known that the US Administration is insisting on prying into our “missile technology programme”: certainly a matter of utmost concern for our national security.

The Members of Parliament were agitated over the US Trade Representative, Carla Hills’ brusque and offensive remarks, threatening to impose sanctions if India did not agree to the American terms on the issue of trade and intellectual property. The Indian plea that since these issues now having been taken up at the GATT, it would be preferable to take them up at the multilateral forum than being dealt with bilaterally, was unacceptable to Carla Hills who seems to want India to bow right now to Washington if it was to escape the clutches of Super 301. Here is an amazing case of a great power demanding open-door for trade and investment in another country, and threatening that very country to submit to its onerous terms and scrap all protective regulations to safeguard indigenous enterprise. So much for “the shared values” and the US’ “supportive” role to help us overcome our economic difficulties.

Our Members of Parliament have been agitated over what our Foreign Secretary said or was made to listen during his Washington visit last week. It is no use blaming the Foreign Secretary. The fault lies with our government not yet having a clear view of how to deal with the USA. Nobody is asking that our government should take an angry, hostile and bellicose posture towards the USA. What is urgently wanted is a full comprehension of the implications of the multi-dimensional nature of the relationship between the two countries that has now been emerging. What is needed is clear thinking of how to uphold our independence of judgement while dealing with a great power which seems today to be dizzy with its own importance as the overlord.

A friendly but firm, unbending stand on the part of this country can go a long way towards helping the USA to take a chastened, realistic view particularly towards the Third World. New Delhi can hardly afford to minimise its important responsibility not only to guard this country’s national interests but help Washington to realise its own responsibility towards the world at large.

(Mainstream, March 21, 1992)

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