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Why the United States needs India

By K Subrahmanyam
January 02, 2006 14:26 IST
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K Subrahmanyam, the legendary strategic affairs expert, begins an exclusive column.

When international politics changes very fast and traditional diplomacy is inadequate to cope with those changes, statesmanly leadership would have to come up with imaginative statecraft to meet the challenge of a transformed world observes US Secretary of State Condeleezza Rice in her article in The Washington Post of December 11, 2005. Such statecraft will take time to find popular acceptability. Therefore the leadership has to exercise patience in order to bring about changes in popular perception.

In the US, it took both time and effort on President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's part to convert the United States Congress which passed the Neutrality Act at the beginning of World War II to the position when it declared war on the side of the Allies.

Similarly, the policy of containment had to be pursued diligently and non-provocatively while there were great pressure on the US to confront the Communist bloc frontally. Then Secretary of State Dean Acheson is the acknowledged role model for Dr Rice. Henry Kissinger, President Richard M Nixon's national security adviser, had to plan his move for the US opening to China in utmost secrecy, even keeping then Secretary of State William Rogers out of the decision-making loop. Even after Kissinger and Nixon visited China in 1972 it took several years before formal diplomatic relations could be established between Washington and Beijing.

Dr Rice, following Acheson's example, is attempting to transcend the existing conventional doctrines and debates of the past and transform volatile status quos that no longer serve US interests. She recognises that the prospect of violent conflict between great powers is becoming ever more unthinkable.

Major States are increasingly competing in peace, not preparing for war. Therefore, the US is cultivating partnerships with Japan, Russia, the European Union, China and India. Thereby a more lasting and desirable form of global stability is being built leading to a balance of power that favours freedom. This development is unique in the history of the last 350 years.

To sustain US pre-eminence in this global balance of power and to win the peaceful competition with other powers, especially China and the European Union, the US needs India's partnership.

Secretary Rice and her colleagues consider India a natural partner, economic interaction with whom will enable the US tackle some of its long-term economic problems. The US and India have a convergence in terms of central security challenges they will face in the future such as terrorism, proliferation of chemical, biological and nuclear technologies, international crime, narcotics, HIV/AIDS and climate change. Both countries are democratic, secular, multiethnic, multicultural and federal and pledged to the supremacy of civilian control over the armed forces.

In the light of the above worldview and perception about India, it is logical that under the leadership of Dr Rice, who has great influence over President George W Bush, the US has decided to help India in its moves to become a world class power in the 21st century. Her worldview envisages India as a crucial factor in the development of Asian balance of power and world balance of power.

In India's industrialisation and development as a world power, energy is a core issue. President Bush and Secretary Rice are of the view that for the energy problems of the 21st century for large energy consumers like the US, China and India there are no simple hydrocarbon solutions. Therefore, it is essential to unshackle India from the bondage of the Nonproliferation Treaty and allow it free access to civil nuclear energy as the world re-evaluates the role of nuclear energy and re-embarks on research on both new generation fission and fusion reactors.

This vision and statecraft implied to translate it into reality, in Dr Rice's words, are ambitious and even revolutionary. However, she asserts that it is not imprudent. As happened on earlier occasions her ideas will take time to win acceptability in view of the heavy overburden of conventional wisdom.

There are already voices in America which question whether her views are shared by other branches of the administration, especially the Pentagon. Others have serious doubts about her premise that American statecraft 'must now be guided by the undeniable truth that democracy is the only assurance of lasting peace and security between States.' Her consequent assertion that 'implicit within the goals of our statecraft are the limits of our power and the reasons for our humility' is bound to raise eyebrows all over the world.

If the logic of Dr Rice's worldview is not accepted then her statecraft would not make sense to people. One of the major problems in advancing the US-India partnership, which is derived from her worldview and statecraft, is the lack of credibility in her worldview and policies on the part of an overwhelming majority of both the Indian and US elite.

In India, there is lack of credibility in the US being able to remedy the 'Freedom deficit' in the 'broader Middle East.' Many would cite the US tolerance of General Pervez Musharraf and its inability to persuade Pakistan to advance towards moderate Islamic State status as proof of the impracticability of her strategy.

But Dr Rice has no illusions on this score. She herself says that at the end of her term in office 'no one will be able to know the full scope of what our statecraft has achieved.' At the same she asserts her abiding confidence 'that we will have laid a firm foundation of principle -– a foundation on which future generations will realise our nation's vision of a fully free democratic and peaceful world.'

It is in this spirit her moves in nurturing the India-US partnership needs to be interpreted. It may not succeed in yielding significant gains to both sides in the immediate future. Between the two countries there are shared values, common threat perceptions, mutuality of economic, technological and strategic interests.

Their shared vision was reflected in the joint statements of then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and then US President Bill Clinton and of President Bush and Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. But they were not backed by the powerful logic of Dr Rice's worldview spelled out in her article.

On both sides widespread realisation is yet to dawn that in times of unprecedented change there must be transcending of doctrines and debates of the past to achieve transformation of volatile status quos that no longer serve one's purpose. In the US nuclear proliferation specialists are indulging in nitpicking on the basis of NPT logic which they insist should apply to India.

In India too, scenarios of Cold War and past US 'perfidy' are recalled to question the feasibility of the implementation of July 18, 2005 joint statement.

In India there is a small group which understands and goes along with Condoleezza Rice's logic. If the compulsions on the US and the stakes the US has in its partnership with India are understood properly then there will be enough confidence in the US that it means what it says when it declares its intention to help India in its moves to develop into a world class power in the 21st century.

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K Subrahmanyam