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A creeping alliance

Bill Clinton came to India in 2000 in the last year of his presidency and when he was ?damaged goods?.

india Updated: Feb 07, 2006 00:23 IST
A.G. Noorani
A.G. Noorani

Bill Clinton came to India in 2000 in the last year of his presidency and when he was ‘damaged goods’. President George W. Bush comes in March, less than three years before he relinquishes the tenancy of the White House and when his popularity is at an all-time low. Anti-Americanism — for that matter, blind rage against any State — is demeaning and harmful to the national interest. Every major power, Russia and China included, has set its sights on favours from the US. Only we are prone to excess; alike in affection or hostility. The Indo-Soviet entente, an affair of the State, was treated as an affair of the heart.

As an alliance, its objective was known to all — to counter the Sino-Pak alliance. What precisely is the objective that India’s alliance with its ‘natural ally’ aims to accomplish? Three related questions arise. Does India share America’s objectives and approve of its tactics? While we seem clear, at least in our own minds, about what we want from the US, have we cared to ask what all the US seeks from India? Indeed, what is its agenda in Asia, especially in South Asia? During the cold war, there was ‘the other’ power to turn to.

The sole superpower of today feels it can exact compliance: on Iran today, on Syria tomorrow. But India is no pushover. The US realises that whenever India resists linkages the US imposes on limited accords.

In an incisive analysis of “the changing nature of military alliances”, Bruno Tertrais regarded India and Israel as strategic partners. “A broader definition of military alliances would include those that do not imply a security guarantee. In today’s parlance, they are often called strategic partnerships and include the recognition of common security interests as well as provisions for strong military cooperation to various degrees. Examples of such partnerships today include the US and Russia, Turkey and Israel, Israel and India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, as well as china and Asian states such as Pakistan or Burma.”

A fortiori India and the US “permanent alliances do remain useful in several ways for US partners. In addition to a security guarantee, allies gain access to US technology and political-military circles… The combination of the 9/11 attacks and the war in Iraq have made the concept of ‘alliance’ fuzzier as well as a potential source of misunderstanding... Are not the bilateral strategic partnerships between some Western-oriented States stronger and more solid than some more formal military alliances?... In fact, the very term ‘alliances’ may be a growing source of strategic misunderstanding.”

What does it mean to be an ally in today’s dynamic world “without a single definitive threat?” Tertrais holds that ‘ally’ covers so many different meanings that the time may have to discard it altogether.

If this is so of Nato, all the greater the need for clarity in respect of India, which is not a “major non-Nato ally”, a status accorded to Pakistan on March 18, 2004. What are India’s diplomatic objectives, besides access to US technology? As PM, Atal Bihari Vajpayee put forth a charter of demands at the Asia Society in New York on September 28, 1998, while expressing “my belief that India and the US are natural allies”. The BJP’s gripe at growing Indo-US relations after it lost power is par for the course. Vajpayee listed the points “where the shoe pinches us”, while complaining of “American reluctance to accept us as a responsible member of the international community”. As if the role India could play in that capacity and its self-esteem depended on American acceptance.

India was ignored in US policies on Afghanistan and on the Asia-Pacific region; most of all on “South Asian issues”. Concretely, “technology denials” hurt us. Vajpayee pleaded passionately “for restructuring of Indo-US relations not just because they will help India”, but he added meaningfully, “also because they will help the US itself”. Given his subsequent overtures one can guess what he was prepared to offer.

Imagine our lot today if public opinion had not prevented the BJP regime from sending our troops to Iraq in July 2003. Expansion of defence relations, technology transfers, trade, cooperation between the armed forces and co-production of military hardware do not obscure the fact that we have little political leverage to influence US policies. But, then, which other country has? Ask the Europeans.

The US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, left none in doubt here as well as in Pakistan during her visit in March that the US will determine “a military balance that preserves peace”. Former US Ambassador Robert Blackwill’s claim that “the entire notion of a South Asian regional military balance… has now been explicitly cast aside by the administration” is manifestly false. The US has a wider concern: China and “balance of power in all of the Asia-Pacific region”; i.e. between the US and China. India will be a convenient second counterweight.

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran indicated on November 28 that India was willing to partner the US to balance the power equation in India. Both could “contribute to creating a greater balance in Asia”. India will be a junior partner abiding by the US’s agenda.

The US’s motto is “it’s the mission that makes the coalition”. India will not be the US’s sole Asian partner. The US’s European allies complain that it takes prime responsibility for waging war and then leaves its allies in local peacekeeping quagmires. It demands leadership for the planning and conduct of operations. Allies are relegated to second-class roles. “The United States does the cooking and we wash the dishes.” The Nato allies rushed to invoke Article 5 of the 1949 treaty and offered help the very day after 9/11. It was spurned. Nato was not involved in the military operations of Enduring Freedom.

The US believes that in the end it must work “with allies, if possible, but without, if necessary”. Its disagreement with Nato allies centres, as Reginald Dale puts it, on “how the world should be run”. At the same time, Bush scoffs at “a unified Europe to balance America”. A powerful India will be distrusted.

Significantly, hawks on relations with neighbours are the most ardent advocates, if recent converts, to the American connection. Rapprochement with China and Pakistan will impart leverage to Indian diplomacy. The alternative is an intensified cold war, mounting defence expenditure and subservience to the American agenda. Relationships must be based squarely on our interests. We must not be caught gradually in an embrace from which release would be difficult. One suspects that it is that very embrace which some in New Delhi pine for.

First Published: Feb 07, 2006 00:23 IST