More than a month after India wrapped up its nuclear deal with the US, former national security advisor Brajesh Mishra on Tuesday said the perceived threat from China to US interests in Asia prompted Washington to offer the deal to New Delhi in 2005.
Mishra also said that the trajectory of the India-US relations under the administration of president-elect Barack Obama remains unclear.
“Obama is an unknown quantity for India and a complex personality,” Mishra said at a seminar on the India-US nuclear deal, which reopens global nuclear trade for India after a gap of over three decades.
The seminar, organized by the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi-based think tank, explored the ramifications of the deal on strategic equations among Asia's leading players like China, Russia, Japan and ASEAN.
“The deal is done and the US (under Obama) is not going to go back on it,” he said.
Recalling his conversation with an unnamed US diplomat, he said the US felt that China's twin objectives around 2004 were to get the US to move out of Asia and to increase its military capabilities vis-a-vis Washington.
Washington later on conveyed these concerns to Beijing, Mishra said.
“After the Iraq war, around 2004 the sentiment in the US against China became stronger. The US felt that the Chinese kept Washington out of the East Asia Summit,” Mishra, who served as national security adviser under the former National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, said.
“A broad strategic understanding was reached in Washington on how India and ASEAN could be co-opted to contain China,” Mishra.
“The objective was the same: to retain US preeminence in the region at all costs,” said Mishra, an influential Vajpayee aide.
“The deal will be a plus point in the India-US relations. But its strategic implications involves China,” he said.
Over the last three years, Mishra has made remarks in support of the nuclear deal, but has also voiced reservations about some of its aspects, which could negatively impinge on India's nuclear deterrence.
Mishra's cautious remarks in support of the nuclear deal sometimes put him at odds with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), during whose government he served as national security advisor. The BJP has opposed the deal on grounds that it will compromise India's nuclear sovereignty.
The Manmohan Singh government has denied many a time that the nuclear deal was driven by a larger plan of containing China.
Lalit Mansingh, a former foreign secretary, partially agreed with Mishra and placed the deal in the larger strategic context of the US' quest for continuing hegemony of the world.
“Only China can challenge the hegemony of the US in Asia. It was felt that India is the only country that can balance China,” Mansingh said.
Mansingh, however, struck an upbeat note on the future of the India-US relations under the Obama dispensation.
”Although Obama has come to power on the promise of change, you will see the least amount of change in one area: India-US relations,” he said.
“There will be a continuity in strong India-US relations. Nothing is going to be as effective as India-US strategic partnership,” he added.