Council for Strategic Affairs

Council for Strategic Affairs

The New Indo-USA Partnership Poses Challenges for the Future Administrations


The New Indo-USA Partnership Poses Challenges for the Future Administrations   

Guest Column by Dr. Adityanjee
(The views expressed by the author are his own)

The need for a tectonic paradigm shift in the foreign policy establishment in order to nurture the increasingly important Indo-US economic, scientific, cultural and strategic relationship can not be ignored anymore.  The US needs to take unilateral, tangible, concrete and quantifiable confidence building measures (CBMs) in order to reverse the repetitive past sanctions and correct the past wrongs done to a fellow democracy. Meeting these benchmarks will remove the fundamental irritants in the bilateral relationship and enable India to perceive the US as an equal, dependable and reliable strategic partner.  Rhetoric must match the action on the ground. Acceptance of genuine reciprocity in bilateral relations will serve as the guiding principle for future.   
There is increasing warmth in Indo-US relations. US’s strategic opportunity with India has been talked about in recent months. Karl Inderfurth and Bruce Reidel advocated open US support for India’s membership in the UN Security Council and her inclusion in G8 in the “National Interest” magazine.  High hopes and expectations for future were  expressed by the charismatic and hardworking diplomat R. Nicholas Burns in Foreign Affairs magazine. In the same issue of Foreign Affairs   republican presidential hopeful John McCain, while advocating for cementing US’s growing partnership with India,  writes: “We need to start by ensuring that the G-8, the group of eight highly industrialized  states, becomes again a club of leading market democracies: it should include Brazil and India”. Similarly warm sentiments about were expressed by the democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton who writes:  “In Asia, India has a special significance both as an emerging power and as the world’s most populous democracy. As co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, I recognize the tremendous opportunity presented by India’s rise and the need to give the country an augmented voice in regional and international institutions, such as the UN. We must find additional ways for , , , and the to cooperate on issues of mutual concern, including combating terrorism, cooperating on global climate control, protecting global energy supplies, and deepening global economic development”.  Richard Holbrooke lamented the absence of India in the G8 meetings. Policy Continuity plus (PC Plus) as proposed by Inderfurth & Reidel   should be the cornerstone for the future US administrations.  

Clearly, the mutual warmth in the bilateral Indo-US relations could not be better than any other time in the recent history. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had characterized the US and India as natural allies. Current Indian Prime Minister Man Mohan Singh has described the President George W. Bush as the most  friendly US President to India. Credit for this bonhomie also goes to the scholarly Secretary of State, Dr. Condaleeza Rice, the strategic Guru of the current US president, who was chiefly instrumental in changing the rigid, inflexible, orthodox and historically anti-India mindset of the US Department of State and in steering the White House’s thinking towards India in a positive direction.  Undersecretary R. Nicholas Burns himself   worked very hard and had made numerous trips to India.  He had always been optimistic about the future of Indo-US relationship.  He is indeed right when he talks about the lost bilateral opportunities in the past 60 years and a bright potential for the future along with the immense need to do it right this time.  Henry Kissinger recently admitted that he and others in the US never envisaged that the two countries will be so close.  Despite this upbeat mood of the top executive branch of the US Administration, Congressional minions and the Foggy Bottom mandarins have laid down an elaborate “prescriptive plan making extremely narcissistic demands” on the Government of India to harmonize her national laws, foreign policies and strategic interests according to the foreign policy objectives and strategic vision of the US as enshrined in the Henry L. Hyde Act and the 123 agreement.  

A recent state department document somewhat patronizingly asserted that the US will assist India achieve a global power status in the 21st century. Nobody makes anybody a global power.  Nations achieve that status on their own strength. Of course, India shall also do so on her own strength in the near future.  
Future US administrations should ask themselves important and pertinent questions like how the US government can change its own behavior and policy framework to accommodate a rising India’s national and strategic interests and democratic aspirations in a global framework that has essentially been decided by the successive US administrations following the 2nd World War.  International strategic space can not be occupied indefinitely by the victors of the 2nd World War.  US policy wonks should seriously calculate the total long-term costs to the US of “losing India” once again by failing to genuinely engage India in the 3rdmillennium.  
So far, US attempts to engage India have been ambivalent and half-hearted.  US diplomats fail to understand India’s genuine national interests, aspirations and foreign policy and strategic concerns globally.  India is not just another banana republic. India does have a proud history of 5000 years’ old civilization. India is rising fast as a serious economic, industrial, intellectual, cultural, civilizational and strategic power-house in the international arena despite numerous mis-steps in the past 60 years.  Train India Express cannot be stopped any longer despite laying out railroad blocks; the only real alternatives are to board the train or be left behind on the platform! The strategic implications of this changing global balance of power dynamics cannot be minimized any longer by the future US Administrations as the world transforms from its current uni-polar moments to a newly emerging multi-polar reality.  
Missed Opportunities & Recent Snafus:  
After India’s independence, the US as the imperialistic inheritor of the world order following the end of World War II tended to hurt India’s strategic interests by cultivating Pakistan as a client state.  Besides the famous tilt to Pakistan, abusive language used by Nixon- Kissinger duo against a former female Indian Prime Minister and also “stereotyping” of Indians in private but taped conversations in the oval office betrays the contempt successive post-WW II US administrations held India in. In the mid-eighties a young Indian Prime Minister visited the US.  Bilateral agreements on scientific and technological collaboration were signed. The US under the leadership of President Ronald Reagan agreed to sell two Cray supercomputers to India for predicting Monsoon and other weather patterns. Only one Cray supercomputer was delivered; the non-proliferation ayatollahs blocked the sale of second one forcing India to develop her own parallel processing PARAM supercomputer system.

 The US Department of State has been particularly insensitive in the past about the need to engage in a diplomatic, courteous and honorable manner. For example, Robin Raphael, the former Assistant Secretary of State in the first Clinton administration went on to deny the authenticity of the Instrument of Accession that was signed between the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir and the Government of India in 1947. She also made the notoriously disparaging statement that it is very easy to start a storm in a teacup in New Delhi! The same Robin Raphael is now on the payroll of the Pakistani Government as a paid lobbyist of Pakistan.
 Failure of the US to acknowledge till 9/11 that India is a victim of cross-border Jihadist terrorism from Pakistan remains a sore point for India. In the 1980s, the US and the West covertly supported Khalistani terrorists who had committed heinous crimes against innocent Indian civilians. Labeling terrorists as freedom fighters, the US lost any credibility with the civil society in despite a strong fascination for the US by the burgeoning Indian middle class. The Clinton administration chose to remain silent in March 1999 when the two Bamiaan Buddha statues were destroyed by the Taliban.  The US was trying to negotiate an oil pipeline with the Taliban at that time! When Pakistani Jihadist terrorists hijacked an Indian civilian airliner to Kandahar, in December 1999 the US did not sanction or even admonish Taliban.  Perpetual reluctance to genuinely condemn the terrorist crimes against India over last several decades was the greatest US diplomatic folly.
 Successive US administrations (Bush-41, Clinton, Bush-43) have scuttled any serious attempts to reform and expand the Security Council of the UN that would have enabled India to be one of the permanent members of the SC. Except for making some vague noises on the principles of reform, the US has not come out categorically in India’s favor as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.  US could have graciously supported India’s candidate Shashi Tharoor for the UN Secretary General’s position. Reportedly, the US secretly vetoed his candidature enabling Ban Ki Moon to win. Shashi Tharoor would have certainly made a far better UN SG than Ban Ki Moon. Ban ki Moon has been wasting the UN budget on a massive increase in personnel and on staff salaries instead of developmental programs.  He has been accused of packing the UN posts with his South Korean cronies who keep on having side-talks in Korean instead of using official UN languages! US lost a golden chance to reform the UN along with a democratic partner India, and Shashi Tharoor as the SG.  

Morality, Pragmatism and the Foreign Policy:

 Americans are fond of rationalizing their blind and irrational tactical and strategic support for tin-pot dictators and coup plotters world-wide by stating; “Well, he may be a son of a bitch but he is our son of a bitch”! This crass characterization of US self-interests alone as supreme in selectively supporting military dictators worldwide while chiding India for not being democratic enough represents the “Narcissistic Entitlement Syndrome” the whole US foreign policy establishment suffers from. This needs to change if the US has to engage India seriously.
 Nuclear Spring:
 It is unlikely that the US-India civil energy accord will be fully implemented this year. Undersecretary Burns has already submitted his resignation. The US congress deliberately moved the goalposts.  Its slow death despite attempts to resuscitate is currently causing consternation in the US. The US establishment is unable to fathom Indian concerns about this deal that is more about US non-proliferation objectives rather than tending to India’s growing energy needs. Something that was initially negotiated in good faith as civil energy accord, can not be exploited to satisfy the unrealistic objectives of the US non-proliferation lobby. The alphabet soup (NPT, CTBT, FMCT, MTCR, PSI) that tends to drown India strategically has been cooked by the chef US owing to the dated nature of the membership of the club.  The US tied itself into the knots by creating NSG as an instrument to contain India after the 1974 “Smiling Buddha” nuclear test. It is for the US to extricate itself by untying these knots.  The world cannot be frozen into strategic status quo.

Securing Indian Subcontinent:

India is surrounded by countries that are either failed states or are on the path to become failed states. The inability of these failed states to sort out their internal problems generates neighbors’ envy and of course tendency to adopt a “victim” role and internationalize any minor problems. Overzealous US support for the now defunct Gujral Doctrine further emboldened some of these failed states to project their internal problems on to India. Some of these failed states have tried to play global power politics by inviting superpowers into the region to contain India’s economic, industrial and military rise.  These failed states in the Indian subcontinent have historically played their China card or US card against India on numerous occasions. Rationalization of state sponsored cross-border terrorism directed against by the US diplomats in the pre 9/11 era is still fresh in the minds of Indian policy planners.
A rising India would like both US and China to stop trying to spread their influence country after country in the immediate vicinity of India.  India would not condone alien superpowers if they invade India’s sacred strategic space.  Near abroad region around India should remain free of the superpower rivalry between the US and China.  Just like the US did not tolerate nuclear missiles in its backyard triggering the Cuban missiles crisis in the 1960s or the Russia currently having difficulty tolerating Poland and Czech territories as part of US’ Strategic Missile defense shield, India certainly would not wish to see a nuclear armed and unstable Bangladesh or a nuclear armed and unstable Myanmar joining the company of a nuclear armed and unstable Pakistan.
 Historic Tilt towards Pakistan:
 The soft underbelly of the US giant is the failed state of Pakistan and Jihadi Terrorism emanating from it. As we speak, the unraveling of recent events in Pakistan, murder of Benazir Bhutto and the continued US support to the failing dictatorship of General Musharraf reflects the intellectual bankruptcy of the Bush foreign policy team. Robust support for serial military dictatorships in Pakistan has been the normative behavior of successive US administrations. The infamous tilt shown historically by US administrations towards Pakistan and directed against India’s strategic interests did affect the nature, quality and dimensions of Indo-US relations in the past 60 years. Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark in their recent book entitled “Deception” accuse the US Dept of State of suffering from a severe case of “Clientitis” vis a vis Pakistan. Since 2001, the US has provided the terrorist state of Pakistan military aid worth 11 billion dollars without any results. You do not fight terrorism by providing Pakistani military machine with nuclear capable F16 fighter jets. The US policy on can be summarized in one sentence: “Support the latest military dictator”! Nation states do make historical mistakes and reap the harvest of those mistakes. The now defunct Soviet Union did commit strategic mistakes and certainly paid for it. India also has committed strategic mistakes and has paid dearly for them.  The same holds true for the only global “hyper-power”.

India, US and China:

 Since 1970 the US cultivated communist China as an ally to the horror of the entire democratic world. During the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, Nixon & Kissinger encouraged China to attack India. Later on, while India was targeted as an enemy nation by the 301 and the super 301 US trade protection laws, China was granted most favored nation (MFN) status annually by the US Congress.  China’s transfer of nuclear technology and bomb design to Pakistan in 1988-1989 did not evoke any response from the George H. W. Bush administration. Chinese transfer of Ballistic Missiles in the early 1990s to Pakistan did not elicit any sanctions from the Clinton Administration. Though the US honeymoon with China is now over, the US continues to allow communist China to buy nuclear reactors but sanctions a democratic India even now.
India does not wish to be used as a US proxy to contain China in the Asian theatre as India believes genuinely in the inevitability of a multi-polar world. A newly resurgent India will deal with China on her own steam. India does not need to ally with US against China as it certainly would not gang up against US in company of Russia and China in accordance with the Primakov Doctrine. Yes, Chinese behavior does cause for concern in India. The US needs to understand that India will engage each and every nation and geo-political entity on the basis of her own strength, sovereignty and national aspirations without being bullied by anyone. India is a democracy and would definitely find it easier to work with other democracies in the international arena. A resurgent India will not feel apologetic about her bilateral and multilateral relationships with other democratic nations in Asia and elsewhere.

The Long Journey Ahead, Indeed:

 Credibility of the US as long-term strategic partner of India shall depend upon changes in US behavior.  Continuation of “prescriptive” approach and frequent demands on India to change her foreign policy in accordance with US strategic objectives by insignificant members of the US Congress or minor bureaucrats will not take future US administrations anywhere. Opportunistic shifting of goal-posts in civil nuclear energy deal and reneging on previously negotiated bilateral and multilateral agreements in the past do not inspire confidence.  India’s sensitivities as the largest functioning democracy have to be understood clearly.  In a democracy, all important decisions are taken by the people & the parliament of that country and not by demarches of foreign governments!
 Guiding Principles and Benchmarks for Future:
We certainly have the glorious opportunity to synergize the strengths and creative energies of two largest democracies.  There are strong people to people relationships now. Pew research survey of world-wide attitudes suggests a lot of goodwill in India about the US. For the Indo-US strategic relationship to move forward, the US will have to make unilateral concessions by making a clean break from its past Cold-war mindset.  The US will have to give up the “prescriptive approach” towards India. Since both the Bush administration and the Man Mohan Singh government are lame ducks now, honest new beginnings can be made by future US administrations in dealing with a resurgent India.

(Dr. Adityanjee is the President of Council for Strategic Affairs, New Delhi, India.  The Author can be reached at email