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The US needs India!

By Ram Narayanan
September 14, 2005 21:30 IST
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In the concluding part of his presentation on Indo-American relations soon after George Bush's re-election as US President, Indian-American activist Ram Narayanan lists the significant areas of cooperation and constraint between the two nations.

Part I : 'India has what US lacks

Let me now turn to three specific areas that are significant for US-India relations in the Second Bush administration.

  • Military and security issues,
  • Economic ties, with special reference to high tech cooperation, and
  • Working together to strengthen democracy in the Middle East.

On the military front, matters seem to be moving at last, but still not fast enough.

One serious roadblock in drawing the US defense industry immediately into a long-term relationship with India, perhaps, is the Indian perception that the US is not a reliable supplier because of past sanctions. America needs to work on it to satisfy India that this is not so.

A second factor is the long-standing military relationship between India and Russia, which has worked well and which encompasses many of the items that are in the US basket.

Therefore, the US-India defense collaboration will necessarily be restricted to select items that are more sophisticated than what Russia offers. In those items, the US and India need to forge ahead in joint research, design and development, and manufacture of weapon systems.

US shares anti-missile know-how with India   

In the area of cooperation in economic and high-tech fields, first in regard to NSSP (Next Steps in Strategic Partnership), I am told that all US laws have the caveat built in -- 'President or Congress can waive the regulation if it is in US national interest or if not doing so will harm US national interest.' I am sure all of you remember MNNA (Major Non-Nato Ally) status/democracy-related sanctions/nonproliferation sanctions -- all involving Pakistan! And you know what happened.

Also, let's not forget the 1994 agreement to supply reactors to North Korea -- when it was threatening to withdraw from NPT and build bombs.

That brings me to my point. As of this date, the US promises much -- but when pushed on deliverables, claims it is bound by existing laws and regulations. Let us remember that caveat -- any law, any regulation, can be waived, if the US determines it is in the national interest to do so.

N-pact with India will deepen relations: US   

From there, let us proceed to another unambiguous statement -- it is in the US national interest to waive whatever regulations currently stand in the way of technology transfers to India.

So, in regard to the NSSP, let's not keep beating around the bush. The proof of the pudding -- which is the granting of high-tech licenses by the US administration for export to India -- will be seen only when, to start with, the US administration can make the case to treat India as an exception.

The first step is for the administration to waive regulations that stand in the way of greater high-tech cooperation between the US and India.

6 Indian N-facilities off US Entity List   

The next step will be passage of new legislation in the Republican-controlled Congress. The White House and the Administration have to begin this process. NSSP, as such, will not mean much without additional legislation. So, that's where action is required.

Finally, we come to an issue close to the hearts of both nations -- working together to strengthen democracy in the Middle East.

India's success as a multi-ethnic, functioning democracy offers valuable lessons to many of the newly evolving democracies like Afghanistan and Iraq. Iraq stabilizing as a democracy is in India's vital interest.

A part of South Asia has been the epicenter of terrorism and the biggest nuclear proliferation efforts. An extreme form of Islam has been nurtured and promoted in that part of South Asia.

'Yet,' as our distinguished keynote speaker and India's leading security affairs specialist, Mr K Subrahmanyam said in a recent article, 'democratic India, with the second-largest Muslim population, has been free of the Al Qaeda infection.'

In his letter congratulating President Bush on his reelection, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said: 'In our own neighborhood we welcome the successful holding of Presidential elections in Afghanistan, which is in consonance with the vital interests of both our countries. We all have a stake in the early return of Iraq to the international mainstream as a democratic country. India is ready to contribute to the electoral process early next year.'

What US business wants from India   

Again following a meeting between the Indian prime minister and the US defense secretary, a press release stated: 'Dr Singh agreed with Mr Rumsfeld that a return to democracy in Iraq and the strengthening of Iraq's secular credentials would be in the interests of the people of Iraq. Dr Singh said India would help in the reconstruction of a secular and democratic Iraq.'

The signs could not be clearer. Even given the political constraints that a coalition government imposes, the Indian government is ready to work with the US, it is ready to make an important contribution to the process of stabilisation of democracy in Iraq.

The war in Iraq: Complete coverage

India may not -- given those political constraints -- be in a position to provide troops. But then, India can be invaluable in the area of training Iraqis to take over the security of their own nation -- a task for which India is uniquely fitted, given the fact that it has always shared a rapport with Iraq, and will not be greeted with the suspicion that Americans face.

The possibilities are enormous -- what is needed, now, is for the US and India, and Iraq and India, to sit down and work out operational details.

Let me conclude, with the two main premises of my brief: One -- make no mistake, that, as the 21st century advances, China will mount a serious challenge to the current US position as the world's economic and military superpower, and as the leader in technology.

And two -- if the US does not wish to end up playing second fiddle in a global orchestra, it is very, very clear what she needs to do. And who she needs to do it with.

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Ram Narayanan