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Not just about F-16s!

By K Subrahmanyam
March 31, 2005 16:20 IST
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The new US offer to India is not just about F-16 aircraft and nuclear power plants as portrayed in our media.

It is about the US invitation to India to join its strategy for South Asia in which the US will help to make India a major world power in the 21st century.

One can draw a parallel between this offer made by US Secretary of State Dr Condeleezza Rice to Dr Manmohan Singh on March 15 to Henry Kissinger's secret journey to Beijing in July 1971.

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At that time US asked China to join the US strategy to contain the Soviet Union and in return promised help to make China a major world power.

Thanks to US help in terms of investments, transfer of technology, market access in US and the linkage between US multinationals and the Chinese People's Liberation Army-run industrial ventures China has registered phenomenal growth and is now on the way to becoming the second economy of the world.

There are long range US predictions that at this rate of growth China will catch up with the US in aggregate GDP in the next two to three decades and then would attempt to outstrip the US in science and technology.

In the 20th century the military might was the foremost currency of power in the game of nations.

In the 21st century with rapid globalisation there is growing realisation that the power ranking of nations in international hierarchy will depend on their knowledge accumulation and R&D capabilities rather than military might.

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Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq all demonstrate that unlike up to the end of the Second World War,  it is no longer possible to occupy territories against the will of the people even though armed forces could be defeated in wars. This development robs the Clauswitzian maxim of war being an extension of politics of all meaning.

The Cold War was fought and won without a shot being exchanged between the US and the USSR. The US won the war on the basis of its superior economics and technology and strength of its democracy.

In the world order that will develop over the next three to four decades it is anticipated that China may overtake the US as the foremost economy with matching R&D skills. The US understandably is loath to shed its status as the foremost power and is looking for a strategy to prevent China from overtaking it.

In the next three or four decades the population all over the developed world and China would have aged. It is predicted in all these countries the working-age population would be smaller than the non-working population. The fertility rate is falling in developed countries. China adopted one child policy with the result that some of these developments will take place there earlier than in other countries.

India's population will be younger and this country will have a higher percentage of working to non-working population.

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While generally, countries have to depend upon their knowledge pool based on the domestic availability of skills, the US has the advantage of importing knowledge from outside through immigration. The Indian population in the US has demonstrated how much it could contribute to US wealth and science and technology. Therefore it is natural for the US to plan a strategy which would help US in terms of Indian brains even while making India a major world power.

India's English language, democracy, multiculturalism, total absence of clash of national interests after India became a nuclear missile power and India's strategic location, next to China, Central Asia and the Middle East make it a most attractive partner for the US in this 21st century game of nations.

Unfortunately people living in the past still think of military alliances and military confrontation with China.They talk of concepts of territorial imperialism, capitalist exploitation and the like which have become totally obsolete. They overlook the fact that China's economic growth was wholly due to its partnership with US.

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Germany, Italy, France and Britain owed their resurgence as world powers after the Second World War destruction entirely due to US help. So did Japan. The US did not do it out of charity but in its own national interests to contain Communism and bring about the crumbling of Soviet Union due to pressures of containment.

It is now accepted that in the 21st century the economic centre of gravity of the globe will shift from Europe and North America to Asia and from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Out of the six major power centres in the world -- the US, the European Union, Japan, China, Russia and India -- five, all except the European Union, will compete for power and influence in Asia.

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Therefore, India becomes very important to the US. The US proposal must be understood and decided on in this broad strategic framework and not as lollipops to India to balance the US offer of F-16s to Pakistan.

In this larger game of nations Pakistan is not a crucial determinant.

India itself used Soviet help in industry and technology from 1954 to 1990 and US help in terms of PL-480 food grains upto 1974 to build itself up very modestly when international capital was not readily available to be tapped for our development, partly because of our own mistaken policies in the post 1970 period.

When China opted to collaborate with THE US and its economy grew at 8 TO 10 per cent, India missed the opportunity.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has talked of the international climate never being more conducive to India's growth than at present and the need to tap international finance for India's development.

The US has a large influence on the foreign direct capital investment. Without US goodwill China would not have obtained the foreign capital investment on the scale it has received.

The US offer of strategic partnership is a unique opportunity.

The government should enter into consultations with the opposition parties and their own allies to evolve a consensual support to this proposal.

The foreign minister and prime minister must accept the invitations extended to them and try to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the US strategy in the 21st century.

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K Subrahmanyam