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Home  > International Relations in the Age of Empire > India - an Empire in Denial  > India & US - the Calibrated Approach

India: an Empire in Denial

India & US - the Calibrated Approach
Nadesan Satyendra
15 April 1992

[see also the Buddha Smiled, 1998]


A copy of a 46-page document, the first draft strategy being prepared by the Pentagon after the cold war, was obtained by The New York Times. The paper said in its report on March 8, that the document, circulating at the highest levels of the Pentagon for weeks, was to be released by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney as a guideline for the administration�s policy in the next decade.

According to The Times report published on March 8, the document said that the United States "may be faced with the question of whether to take military steps to prevent the development or use of weapons of mass destruction," and makes refer-ence to North Korea, Iraq, Pakistan and India.

The Times quotes the document as saying that "we will seek to prevent the further development of a nuclear arms race on the Indian subcontinent. In this regard, we should work to have both countries, India and Pakistan, adhere to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to place their nuclear energy facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards."

The report added that the United States should discourage India�s "hegemonic aspirations" in South Asia and rebuild a military relationship with Pakistan as a counterbalance, according to a classified top policy guideline being prepared by the Defense Department.

The document said that "we should discourage Indian hegemonic aspirations over the other states in South Asia and on the Indian Ocean. With regard to Pakistan, a constructive US-Pakistani military relationship will be an important element in our strategy to promote stable security conditions in Southwest Asia and Central Asia. The Times quotes the document as stating that "we should therefore endeavour to rebuild our mili-tary relationship (with Pakistan) given acceptable resolution of our nuclear concerns."

The newspaper said that though the document is internal to the Pentagon and is not provided to Congress, its policy statements are developed in conjunction with the Nation Security Council and in consultation with the President or his top national security advisers. The influential newspaper said that the document was provided to The Times by an official who believes that US post-cold war strategy debate should be carried out in the public domain.

Indications of the thinking in the Pentagon was evident as far back as March last year when the then Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs Henry S Rowen told a Con-gressional Committee that "Pakistan remains of strategic importance to the United States." Rowen also said that Pakistan could "also con-tribute importantly to our security arrangements for the Gulf," because of Islamabad�s "long-standing military relations with all of the Gulf states." He warned that if Pakistan is forsaken by the US, it could become radicalized and also develop a closer reliance on either Iran or China, or both for its security needs.

The document, being circulated called for "a constructive US-Pakistani military relationship" that would be "an important element" in Washington�s "strategy to provide stable security conditions in Southwest Asia and Central Asia." The document, prepared routinely every two years, but the first one after the collapse of the Soviet Union, says that America�s military mission in the post-cold war era should be to ensure that no rival superpower is al-lowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territory of the former Soviet Union.


India-US & the Calibrated Approach

The ending of the cold war signalled also the end of India�s �non aligned� world role. Today, instead of seeking to lead the non aligned in a bipolar world, New Delhi aspires to be a �big power� in the emerging multi polar world - with, possibly, a permanent seat in the UN Security Council as the badge of that status. India is going for gold.

Nowhere is India�s changed foreign policy stance, more self evident that in relation to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty. That should not come as a surprise. After all, nuclear non pro-liferation is the major plank of US foreign policy in the 1990s. The Gulf conflict showed that, if pushed, the US was willing to go to war to stop nuclear �proliferation�. The recently �leaked� Pentagon papers examining the strategic options that are open , says, clinically, that the US ��may be faced with the question of whether to take military steps to prevent the development or use of weapons of mass destruction�� .

India has responded to US pressures to sign on the dotted line, by continuing to insist that the NPT, is discriminatory, because the Treaty divides the world into the nuclear haves and have-nots. But, though India�s policy pre-dates the 1974 explosion of India�s nuclear "device" (said by India to be for peaceful purposes, but reckoned by the outside world to have been part of India�s nuclear-weapons programme), the nuances of New Delhi�s approach have changed with the end of the cold war.

Now, whilst declaring that the NPT is discriminatory, India is also letting it be known that it does not expect the big five powers (i.e. US, UK, France, Russia & China, who as the victors of World War Two have permanent seats on the UN Security Council and who in addition are the major nuclear powers today) to disarm. Foreign Secretary J.N.Dixit declared recently: �India does not expect the big five to disarm... If they did disarm, any tin pot dictator with a couple of bombs could be a world power �.

The implication was clear: Rather than tear up the NPT, India wants to redefine the number of world powers to include itself. The cry about nuclear haves and have nots is a negotiating chip to secure admission to the �big power club� - once that is achieved, India will be willing to sign the NPT.

Given this approach, of going for gold, India has been luke-warm towards the proposal for five power talks, between India, Pakistan, the United States, China and Russia, leading to a non nuclear pact between India and Pakistan of the kind agreed by Ar-gentina and Brazil.

This proposal was initially made by Pakistan last year. It was then �taken over� by the US and enthusiastically recommended to India by UK Foreign Secretary Hurd. Whether the idea was origi-nally Pakistan�s alone remains a moot point. India�s lukewarm re-sponse was for more than one reason. It was not only that China is an acknowledged nuclear power and Pakistan is, by India�s measure, ahead of India. (Some American officials reckon it would take Pakistan 15 hours to assemble a bomb. There is no such esti-mate for India. Reports that India has a number of bombs already assembled are denied in Delhi.)

India�s General Sunith Francis Rodrigues� response to the Five Power talks,( in an interview published in the Pioneer newspaper on March 14) was blunt to the point of being rude: ��Washington was pressing India to negotiate a regional accord against building nuclear arsenals. When you have a regional grouping, what is the role of these three bandicoots? You have two protagonists and three supervisors. Are they supervisors, are they guarantors, or are they part of this whole arrangement?��

The India Abroad report of March 20 commented that the General was �apparently referring to reports that the US, Russia and China might oversee an anti nuclear pact between India and Pakistan.�� India�s Defence Minister, Pawar who has aspirations to lead the country, was careful in his choice of words to describe the General�s outburst :��I have discussed the matter with the General.. I am satisfied with the General�s explanation. However I feel that such interviews by serving officers are best avoided. I wish he had resisted the temptation.��

It appears that multilateral talks of the kind proposed by Pakistan, US and UK are a non starter - at any rate at this stage of the game play. It seems that India�s negotiating ploy is to �talk about talks� whilst in the meantime opening a security dialogue with the US to make the Indian region a �nuclear safer" zone (not necessarily a nuclear free zone). Such a �dialogue� it is said, will explore, on a bilateral basis, what the Bush administration would expect of Pakistan, China and Russia if five power talks were to begin. The very fact of such bilateral talks with the US will help to raise New Delhi�s world status and give it greater space to manoeuvre.

The process has to be taken step by step, says Dixit who spoke about �a calibrated interaction� between India and the US. Some reports say that Mr.Dixit, during his recent Washington visit, gave �mixed� signals. It was , perhaps, his way of managing and hopefully influencing the end results of the �calibrated� inter-action with the US.

But �mixed signals� is ofcourse, a game at which two can play. When a super power plays the game, it is usually called the carrot and stick approach - a super power usually has a large number of carrots and sticks, after all it is this which makes it a super power in the first instance. The leaking of the first draft of the Pentagon Strategic Plan served the useful purpose, whether intended or not, of letting New Delhi know something about the �sticks� in the US armoury.

The statements in the leaked plan that the US " should discourage Indian hegemonic aspirations over the other states in South Asia and on the Indian Ocean.�� and that ��with regard to Pakistan, a constructive US-Pakistani military relationship will be an impor-tant element in US strategy to promote stable security conditions in Southwest Asia and Central Asia�� would not have gone unnoticed by Foreign Secretary Dixit.

That is not to say that, the US will not prefer to manage its relationship with India without actual resort to force. Clearly, the US would be willing to offer �carrots�, provided New Delhi �plays ball�. The bottom line is that India should not become too big for its shoes. Closer economic, and military ties may help to create what is called euphemistically, an �atmosphere of mutual confidence - but which in truth will all be a part of the �calibrated approach�.

Amongst other matters, the US will also be looking for movement from India in respect of the vexed �intellectual property rights� question and informed sources say that the dialogue with the Bush administration will start in May in Delhi.

Again, the proposed joint naval exercises and additional IMF/World Bank support in the coming months will further enable the two countries to explore, in a measured, �calibrated� way, areas of cooperation.

Mr.Dixit , during his recent visit to Washington, was noticeably coy about specifying the exact location of the joint naval exercises. ��Not in the middle of the Indian Ocean, otherwise they will say too near and that it is Indian hegemony. It is somewhere in the coastal area.��

He did not however say who might complain about Indian hegemony. Asked whether such exercises were not contrary to India�s professed views that the Indian Ocean be declared a zone of peace, Dixit said: ��Why do we discuss in speculation? Who is maintaining the peace there? The Americans, the Russians, the Chinese submarines - so why do we go by nebulous concepts?�� The implication that the � holy cow � of the Indian Ocean Peace Zone was now regarded as a �nebulous concept� was a signal that would have been duly received in Washington and elsewhere.

New Delhi�s foreign policy has also not been unmindful of the warning expressed in the leaked Pentagon plan, ��that if Pakistan is forsaken by the US, it could become radicalized and also develop a closer reliance on either Iran or China, or both for its security needs��.

India has recognised for sometime that to the extent it mends its fences with China, the China-Pakistan axis will not solidify and this in turn will give it greater flexibility to deal with its US relationship. The Brahmins of the Indian foreign policy establishment have always prided themselves about the sophisticated nature of their thinking.

It is reported that India�s talks with China on the border dispute between the two countries have been proceeding well. Both sides realise that demarcation of the border is not going to be achieved quickly but each has its own interest in improving relations. So they will concentrate on issues that can be dealt with easily, such as trade and better political relations. The overall improvement will eventually help to resolve the border issue says Dixit. It seems clear that this will consist of small adjustments to the existing line of control. The future of Tibet may well be an item for a horse deal at an appropriate stage.

But for India to aspire to Big Power status is one thing. To achieve it is another. The Big Five are not about to freely give away their dominant position. It is true that as the US begins to use the United Nations as a suitable and convenient vehicle (as it did in the case of the Gulf War) to secure �common� objectives, it will become increasingly difficult to resist pressures from Japan and Germany for permanent seats on the UN Security Council and a UN voice in determining those �common� objectives.

But, India does not have the economic clout of either Germany or Japan. It may seek to use its nuclear power - in - waiting status to find a place at the High Table. But there are many nuclear powers-in-waiting including North Korea, South Africa, South Korea, Brazil, Argentina and Iran, not to mention Ukraine and Kazakhastan.

However, even apart from the external constraints, India�s central problem is internal. Even with, say, US support, Narasimha Rao may end up becoming a Gorbachev - a powerless spectator of a disintegrating Indian Union. It is not that the US seeks the disintegration of the Indian Union. US preference would be for an undivided but manageable India just as much as its preference was for an undivided but manageable Soviet Union - or for that matter, an undivided but weak Iraq. But the US probably recognises that, in the longer term, it cannot disregard the political force generated by struggles for national self determination - increasingly so, as the decade unfolds.

The political reality is that the peoples of India are as different from one another as, for instance, the peoples of Europe. Whilst it is true that they share a common heritage, it will be idle to pretend that the separate national identities of the Indian Union will not grow and solidify in the years ahead. The opening out of the Indian economy will hasten this process rather than diminish it.

In 1977, President J.R.Jayawardene opened out the Sri Lanka economy and it was thought that the separate national identities of the Tamil people and the Sinhala people, would somehow disappear in the melting pot of private enterprise and the free market. But the opposite happened. National aspirations are usually reinforced by �economic freedom�. In the third world, the free market �pot� is not big enough for thousands of years old �ethnic identities� to melt.

US policy towards New Delhi will be influenced by its recognition that whatever may be the short term calibrated �adjustments�, in the longer term, stability will be achieved in the Indian region only on the basis of some sort of confederal union of the separate nations of the sub continent. It may therefore seek to build up influence within struggles for national self determination both as a way of monitoring and managing them and also as a useful addition to its armoury in managing New Delhi. It is within this matrix of power balances that any national liberation struggle in the Indian region would have to adopt its own calibrated approach, both towards New Delhi and Washington.



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