India May Walk the US Way

Close friendship comes at the cost of national security (August-2005)

Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab

For the Bush administration, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s 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, appears to have been accomplished to the US’s satisfaction. Though Bush administration’s style differed from Clinton’s, it never lost sight of the objective: capping India’s nuclear weapons and delivery systems’ capabilities. 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 he placed  under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards), all loopholes for India building up a credible nuclear deterrence appear to have been plugged. Prime Minister Singh, however, has assured Parliament that the understanding with the US will be on strict reciprocity basis.

As of now, India has preferred its energy security requirements to its national security imperatives. This is when it is evident that nuclear energy needs will still be met by oil and gas imported from West Asia and else-where. In this context, 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 coproduction is a far cry for various reasons, decks have been cleared for the US defence companies to deal directly with the Indian industry. While no one has said that the US will be favored over other nations in defence production the feeling that this would happen is in the air.

On the third US requirement of India continuing to maintain good relations with Pakistan. Manmohan Singh decided to stand on his own. He made it clear on US’ soil that relations with Pakistan cannot improve unless President Musharraf dismantles the terrorist infrastructure from his land and that under his occupation. Considering that President Bush does not expect Musharraf to do so, Washington decided to ignore the statement made by the Indian Prime Minister. After all, in private, he would not have spurned the US insistence that India will do its utmost to keep the peace process going with Pakistan.

In return, the US did not concede to the two Indian requirements: US support for Indian’s entry into the UN Security Council, and transfer of US high and dual-use technology to India. On the first issue, the US was rather blunt. US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice made it clear that the US only supported Japan’s membership bid to the High Table. This, of course, did not dampen the Indian belief that the US will help it become a major power in the 21st century. On the other issue of high technology transfer, there is a bit of intrigue. Speaking to Doordarshan news channel three days prior to Manmohan Singh’s US visit, Secretary Rice said that movement on the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (which will lead to US high technology transfers to India) had stalled for a while, but progress is now being made. However, the Indo-US joint statement mentions that the NSSP launched in January 2004 has been completed. Considering that we know that the NSSP had three phases and both countries had completed only phase one, the sudden end of the NSSP is inexplicable. In all probability, as the junior partner in the relationship, India may have accepted to go slow on high technology trade in sensitive and restrictive areas. However, regarding trade in non-sensitive technology areas that concerns the private sector in both countries, tangible progress seems to have been made. Called the High Technology Cooperation Group (HTCG), this initiative predates the NSSP. It is well known that while the US had preferred progress on the HTCG, India wanted movement on the NSSP, according to the Indo-US joint statement, both sides have agreed to upgrade the HTCG into a Science and Technology Framework Agreement for joint research and training between the two private industries. Overall, it looks that for India, either it is the US way, or the highway, as they say. Unless, of course, India decides to be firm.


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