For the Bush administration, Prime Minister Manmohan’s Singh visit to the United States from July 18-21 has indeed been a historic one. The process started by the Clinton administration in 1998 after India’s surprise nuclear tests, has been accomplished to the US’ satisfaction. Though Bush administration’s style differed from Clinton’s, they never lost sight of the objective: capping India’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems. In the Indo-US joint statement signed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush, India has conceded to two US’ demands: by agreeing to a roadmap for separating the military and civilian nuclear reactors (the latter to be placed under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards), all loopholes for India building up a credible nuclear deterrence have been finally plugged.
India has preferred its energy security requirements to its national security imperatives. This is when it is evident that nuclear energy will only be a small percentage of the nation’s total need for energy. The bulk of energy needs will still be met by oil and gas imported from West Asia and elsewhere. In this context, Manmohan Singh’s public reservations about the Iran gas pipeline understanding, which was music to US ears, is particularly regrettable. It is another matter that the dynamic Mani Shankar Aiyar is no pushover.
He met the Prime Minister immediately on his return from the US to emphatically clarify that the Iranian connection has not been abandoned. The other US demand to raise the military relationship to the highest levels has also been met. There will now be more military transparency, implying that the US will have a better understanding of Indian military thinking and strategy, which is a key step towards ‘joint interoperability’. This is what the US has with its important friends in Asia, and also desires with India for stability in the region as Washington perceives it. India has also accepted the US proposal for co-production of American equipment for use with the Indian defence services. Even as co-production is a far cry for various reasons, decks have been cleared for the US defence companies to deal directly with the Indian industry, both public and private. While no one has said that the US will be favoured over other nations in defence production, the feeling that this would happen is in the air.