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HVK Archives: Strategic dialogue with the US

Strategic dialogue with the US - The Economic Times

K Subrahmanyam ()
October 1, 1998

Title: Strategic dialogue with the US
Author: K Subrahmanyam
Publication: The Economic Times
Date: October 1, 1998

In the wake of the Indian nuclear tests the more pragmatically
inclined American academics who had earlier served in the
government and are now in think-tanks have advocated a more
sustained and intensified strategic dialogue between the US and
India. The idea of such a strategic dialogue is not new. There
were attempts in the early eighties. After an interval they
were resumed in 1989. The US defence secretary, William Perry
during his visit to India talked of strategic partnership.

There have been exchanges between Indian and US think-tanks,
between the ministry of external affairs in India and the state
department in the US and between the defence departments and the
Services of the two countries. The Institute for Defence Studies
and Analysis, New Delhi and Centre for Advanced Studies on India
of the University of Pennsylvania have published proceedings of
some of the seminars. Some other institutions both in India and
US have brought out occasional monographs based on Indo-US
interactions. In spite of this continuous low volume
interactions between US and Indian strategic communities it is
difficult to claim that there has been meaningful understanding
and interaction between the scholars, diplomats, service men and
media men of the two democracies.

If better understanding is to be promoted the reasons for this
basic problem in communication between the two countries should
be explored. The Americans used to argue that India's
nonalignment, alleged pro-Soviet tilt, the unrealistic demands
for time bound nuclear disarmament and the policy of nuclear
ambiguity stood in the way of improved mutual understanding. The
Americans looked at international politics in terms of
realpolitik considerations while the Indians professed to look
at it on normative ones. Therefore, it used to be felt that
there was not a common language and common ground between the
two sides. Unfortunately the Indian preference to use normative
language to justify their actions even while they were pursuing
their national interests and classical realpolitik made the
understanding more difficult.

While the above analysis is largely correct it does not offer a
complete explanation. The core problem is the basic distrust
which the US policy towards India over the last fifty years has
instilled in the Indian mind. There is the usual patronising US
attitude to dismiss their policies towards India in the cold war
period as one belonging to the dinosaur period and therefore to
argue it should not be brought up now. They usually overlook the
fact that US policy of connivance of China-Pakistan
proliferation relation has their roots in their cold war
policies towards Pakistan, China and India. There is also the
US policy of obfuscating their policies and putting out
tendentious versions to suit their interests and project them
with immense resources in information dissemination at their
command. Even if the cold war period developments and policies
are overlooked the following major post-cold war developments
have generated very deep suspicions in the Indian mind.

The US connivance of China-Pakistan nuclear and missile
proliferation in the post-cold war period and the US efforts to
disarm India through various proposals on the nuclear and
missile issues rob US of all its credibility in the Indian mind.
The US was aware of China's proliferation to Pakistan from early
'8 Os and it chose to deal with the issue as though it was an
Indo-Pakistan one. The US inability to reach a finding on the
Chinese M-11 missiles in Pakistan recalls to one's mind
President Clinton's use of words to explain away his personal
conduct.

Ms Robin Raphel contributed to the fanning of tension between
India and Pakistan and this is now acknowledged by many US
officials and scholars. Now it is known that Mr Nawaz Sharif's
proposal in 1991 for a conference of five nuclear powers with
India and Pakistan to promote denuclearisation of South Asia was
manufactured in Washington. We also know that the publicised
American version of the alleged 'nuclear crisis' in South Asia
was smoke screen to cover US-Pakistan nuclear policy problems.
The US was fully aware of Pakistan's terrorist activities. In
1993 when Yusuf Ramsey set off the blast at the World Trade
Centre and Aimal Kansi killed the CIA operatives outside the
headquarters of the CIA at Langlay US considered declaring
Pakistan a terrorist state. But when large scale terrorism was
perpetrated in India and Kashmir and western hostages were
killed there was no adequate expression of concern on
international terrorism.

The Chinese proliferation activity was on record in the US
media. It was widely publicised that US has assurances from
China on not proliferating to Iran but there were no
reassurances to India in regard to Chinese proliferation to
Pakistan. The US policy towards China under Clinton
administration has created disquiet not only in India but in
Japan as well. It has been subject of wide spread criticism in
the US itself. In spite of Mr Robert Einhorn's testimony in the
US Congress on 4 February, 1998 that while China was not
supplying full MTCR missiles to Pakistan, transfer of technology
and missile components continue, the US administration certified
that China was no longer proliferating and is eligible to
receive US civil nuclear technology. These do not add to the
credibility of US administration in India.

In 1995 the US arm-twisted other parties to the Non-
proliferation Treaty to get the NPT extended unconditionally and
indefinitely. This legitimisation of the most horrendous weapon
of mass destruction, the US refusal to give a no first use
pledge, the US arguments before the International Court of
Justice on the legality of nuclear weapons and the US nuclear
policy review and stockpile stewardship programme do not evoke
any credibility in the argument that the world community is
moving towards reduction of nuclear danger. They reinforce the
view that nuclear weapons are being used as a currency of power
to reinforce the five-power nuclear hegemonic system derived
from the Yalta-Potsdam dispensation.

These are not cold war issues. Nor are these third party issues
in which India and US hold different views. These are issues of
vital national security interests to India and the US policies
impinge on Indian security. The Indo-US dialogues have been held
on frameworks and agendas prescribed by US and the occasional
Indian attempts to focus on Indian security concerns did not
succeed.

With the nuclear tests of May 11 and May 13, 1998 India hopes to
get a hearing and due attention to its security concerns. Now
non-proliferation can be discussed as a common Indo-US concern
vis-a-vis activities of China, risks in Russia and weapon
acquisition by rogue states. International terrorism will be a
matter of interest to both countries with reference to Osama Bin
Laden's activities against US and India in Kashmir. The balance
of power in Asia can be meaningfully explored as one of
equilibrium among China, Japan, India, Russia and the US and not
one of bipolarity between US and China.

India has now graduated to discussing international relations in
language familiar to Americans. Now India talks of realpolitik,
national security interests and balance of power and the US
talks of non-proliferation norms. India is willing to discuss
current realities and take a pragmatic view of the future. The
US policy makers revert to dinosaur age view about non-
proliferation. A time has come for both countries to talk
realistically about harmonising their respective national
interests without preaching. When they get into that meaningful
exercise they are bound to find there is significant commonality
of interests.


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