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Obstacles to Indo-US N-cooperation

By Anand K Sahay in New Delhi
September 14, 2005 18:45 IST
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While the logic of the July 18 Indo-US Joint Statement envisions a fundamentally different type of engagement between the two democracies in theĀ 21st century from the acrimony that separated them in the 20th, it is clear that these are early days yet for positive material change to begin to show.

The road-blocks within the United States - on the question of bringing about fundamental shift by leveraging the nuclear route - appear no less daunting than those on the Indian side. Indeed, these can be said to be greater, given the institutionalised basis of their origin and sustenance. Far too many diverse interests, with a solid capacity for articulation as well as orchestration, are involved.

Let's face it - by contrast, the Indian Left is not influential enough to colour national opinion significantly on an issue of this nature, though it is far from happy about India seeking to establish long-term links with the US. The Right in India engages in shadow-boxing when it points out holes in India-America agreements.

On the other hand, the obstacles in America seem to arise from within the US system and have varied motivations. For instance, the influential Jewish lobby that operates the system with enviable adeptness seems upset for reasons that are quite apart from the merits of the Indo-US civil nuclear co-operation. Its worry is that India does not oppose Iranian nuclear ambitions with vigour.

For the Jewish grouping, a nuclear-capable Iran poses a direct threat to Israel. Congressman Tom Lantos, who recently shot from the hip, could represent this trend. India certainly needs to patiently engage these caucuses to put forward its nuanced approach to Teheran on account of a range of foreign policy compulsions. At the same time, New Delhi needs to persuade them that it does seek to prevail upon Iran to honour its commitments as a Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signatory.

The South Asia ayatollahs in the realm of the think-tanks, academia and journalism, on the other hand, have a different orientation altogether. Perhaps the same could be said for sections of the middle and upper echelons of the anti-proliferation American bureaucracy, especially in State and the country's national security establishment, which are always capable of creating an echo in the country's legislative branch.

This broad bloc appears upset with the emerging Indo-US entente because it has long grown used to the conceptual basis of hyphenating India and Pakistan and finds it hard to accept far-reaching changes that break free of this mould of thought.

Michael Krepon, the noted 'think-tanker' and one-time government disarmament advisor, can be cited as an example of this shade of intellectual opinion. Many of these leading lights happen to be Democrats, an additional reason for them to be at odds with a Republican initiative as symbolised by the Indo-US Joint Statement. Interestingly, in a recent interview to, Krepon even suggested that the Bush administration might have done better to support India for the UN Security Council than it has in broaching civilian nuclear commerce with New Delhi!

Discussion in the context of uncharted seas is natural in democracies. India can at best hope to make a reasoned contribution here. Given that the bumps that could hit President Bush's recent India initiative are located primarily in the US, it is the US administration that might be called upon to do the shovelling.

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Anand K Sahay in New Delhi