Uneasy Ties-July 2009
Walking the tight rope
By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
After a feel-good period under the Bush administration, relations between India and the United States are headed for an uneasy phase. Addressing the 34th anniversary of the US-India Business Council in Washington DC on June 16, US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton spoke about taking the bilateral relationship to the next 3.0 level (while level 1.0 referred to the relationship under the Clinton administration after India’s 1998 nuclear tests, level 2.0 denoted the period under the Bush administration). What she did not say is that given the US’ global geo-political and geo-economic compulsions, the 3.0 level will be disquieting for India as compared with the previous level. During the 2.0 level, US-China relations were strained, New Delhi and Islamabad were genuinely de-hyphenated, and Washington had declared its commitment to support India become a major power; New Delhi had (erroneously) concluded that the US wanted to build India as the bulwark against China in Asia. Therefore, while the US consistently spoke of the bilateral 123 Nuclear Agreement as a victory for global non-proliferation, it did not object to New Delhi’s domestic pronouncements that the Agreement was meant solely to meet India’s growing energy needs as a major power. This position will change under the 3.0 level. On the one hand, US’ relationship with China has been elevated to a global partnership, called ‘G-2’ by Clinton; on the other hand, the US will ask India for some tough contribution on non- proliferation, terrorism and issues concerning Pakistan and Afghanistan.

India’s position on these issues will be better formed if two recent US actions are considered closely. Within days of assuming office, Clinton’s first overseas visit was to Asia including Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and China, while the Middle East was demoted to her second tour. Japan and South Korea are US’ strategic allies. Indonesia is high on the US’ radar as it has the largest Muslim population in the world, and President Obama spent his growing years there. In China, Clinton elevated the bilateral relationship to a global partnership, and asked Beijing to help stabilise the Asia-Pacific region. China is required to temper Pakistan’s support to terrorism as it has more clout with Islamabad than Washington can hope to have. Beijing’s closeness with all Indian neighbours including Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar has not gone unnoticed by the US. The fast growing Chinese Navy (PLAN) impelled Clinton to formalise a bilateral military mechanism with Beijing. (The PLAN has already spoken of a larger role in the India Ocean with the US Pacific Command, undermining the Indian Navy). The message for India is that unless it does not think strategically (political will to construct a vision backed by a doable long term perspective plan for demonstrable overall national power to include military power), it will, without saying so, be equated with Pakistan for stability in South Asia.
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