Change can bring apprehension and there is big change afoot in US-India relations as President Bush arrives in Delhi. His administration has expressed its determination to move beyond decades of coolness, mistrust and false starts to forge an enduring strategic alignment with India. The vision for this strategy is captured in the July 18, 2005 joint statement between President Bush and Prime Minister Singh and its centrepiece is the agreement on civil nuclear cooperation. But the US goal is even more ambitious than what is articulated in that statement: Washington has essentially decided that it is in long-term US national interests to support India’s ambitions to be a global power.
For the administration this new direction is a “no-brainer”, but for many members of the US Congress and the bureaucracy this new vision threatens time-honoured practices and policies. There is the visceral fear of globalisation and out-sourcing among the representatives of the rust-belt states. There is anxiety about the impact of the US-India civil nuclear agreement on the Non-Proliferation Treaty among arms controllers. There is doubt in the human rights community about India’s real commitment to putting shared values into practice in dealing with regimes like Burma or Iran.
On the Indian side there are also great anxieties in some quarters, even though the Manmohan Singh government has clearly seen and articulated the logic of sustained US-India partnership. There is anxiety that globalisation and “Americanisation” will threaten India’s own rich cultural heritage. There is worry that the US will cause Delhi to drop its traditional non-aligned status and pull India against its will into strategies to fight Iran or contain China. There is suspicion the US is really using the guise of civil nuclear cooperation as a ruse to put an end to India’s nuclear deterrent.
Anxieties and misapprehensions have caused past efforts to invigorate the US-India relationship to be stillborn. They won’t this time. Still, the voices of angst will not go away and must be addressed.
To the anti-globalists on each side, the message is clear. Globalisation is going to happen and, indeed, it must happen if India is going to attract the investment it needs to sustain job creation for the growing ranks of younger workers entering the work force and if the US economy is going to sustain its innovation-edge in the service and software sectors. Recognition of this new reality in the US probably explains why the anti-outsourcing debate that dominated the then secretary of state, Colin Powell’s March 2004 visit to Delhi all but disappeared by the time Condoleezza Rice came to Delhi in March 2005 to declare the new US-India strategic partnership. And when it comes to the issue of protecting family values and respecting diverse religious traditions even while supporting global economic engagement, one would be hard pressed to find two world leaders with more in common than Bush and Singh.
To the American arms controllers the message must be that while India may never join the NPT, India needs to be a leading member of what one US Congressman calls the “non-proliferation team”. The treaty is increasingly standing out as a necessary but hardly sufficient tool in the effort to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. India’s nuclear export control record is exemplary and now the international community needs India’s active help in the IAEA and in counter-proliferation efforts such as (but not limited to) the Proliferation Security Initiative. The July 18 joint statement builds the groundwork for such a partnership and ultimately strengthens the international community’s toolkit against proliferation.
To those in India who harbour suspicion that the real target of the July 18 agreement on separation of civil-nuclear facilities is India’s nuclear deterrent, I would point out the compelling logic for the US of helping India with its civil nuclear development on its own merits. The US economy needs low oil prices. Demand for fossil fuels from India and China will drive those prices up unless Delhi and Beijing are able to meet a significant portion of that demand through nuclear power. The environmental arguments are just as compelling. This does not mean that everybody in Washington or Paris or Tokyo or Moscow sees this the same way and a credible agreement on civil-nuclear separation is critical if the Bush administration is going to push through the necessary legal and policy changes at home and in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. That agreement may or may not be ready by the time the president arrives in Delhi, but the larger psychological breakthrough has been made and those that seek to hold up an agreement in the short-term are almost certainly swimming against the tide of history in the medium to longer term.
To the Americans who question how far shared values take us when it comes to policies on Burma or voting in the Human Rights Commission I would urge the macro-view. The direction of Indian votes in the UNHRC or policies on Burma are important, but these are only tactical decisions and are not necessarily measures of a nation’s soul. And it is the heart and soul of India that makes it a valuable global power. As a multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracy, India’s rise has a “demonstration effect” on China that is critically important for the US. We are not trying to contain China and China is not trying to directly challenge the US’s pre-eminent position in Asia. But the US is trying to shape China’s behaviour in areas ranging from intellectual property rights protection to civil society. India’s success based on free markets, a free society and rule of law cannot be ignored by Beijing and can shape Chinese choices just as much as the US Seventh Fleet or the US trade representative’s negotiations.
This also forms part of the answer to those in India who fear that India’s move away from traditional non-aligned policies will lead to entrapment in US global strategy against China or Iran or other adversaries to be determined. The strategic value to the US of India playing a larger global role is based on India’s own values and not on Delhi doing Washington’s bidding. Washington is confident that as India expands its global reach and impact, it will do so most effectively in partnership with other major democracies. It was the US, Japan and Australia that worked with India in the regional core group to respond to the 2004 tsunami. It was Japan and Australia that pushed for India’s inclusion in the inaugural East Asia Summit in 2005 against Beijing’s quiet resistance. And ultimately it will be some combination of the US and other major democracies that see the value of finally pushing through India’s bid to become a permanent member of the Security Council.
Moreover, it is India’s interests to shape US foreign policy choices by building on this strategic partnership. There are only a handful of world leaders who can command immediate US attention and India is on the cusp of being one of those few nations. When India’s main thrust was in the non-aligned movement, Delhi had very little influence on strategic thinking in Washington even though American presidents often made decisions that had an important impact on the lives of Indian citizens. As US and Indian naval vessels train together, as US companies expand their investment in India, as US and Indian diplomats work in partnership rather than opposition in multilateral forums, the Indian view will come to be an increasingly important input in US strategy. This is a development Indians and Americans alike should welcome, because it will bring out both of our better natures to the betterment of international society as a whole.
Michael Green was special assistant to President Bush for national security and senior director on the National Security Council staff for Asian affairs until December 2005 where he coordinated US India strategy