Indo-US Relations During the Clinton Administration: Upward Trends and Uphill Tasks Ahead
-P.M. Kamath, retd Professor, University of Mumbai
Today, as we move to the year 1998, it is accurate to say that Indo-US relations are at their best, reminding us of the brief period after the Chinese attack in October 1962. In 1962, of course, the US came to India's rescue more out of its Cold War posture towards China than from a desire to help a democracy. Yet, the period after the Chinese aggression against India was the one when US-India had close relations, as stated by Harry Barnes, Jr. then US Ambassador to India in a Press conference in June 1982.
The current trends indicate a gradual but definite upward movement in relations between the two countries. However, this time, it is economics that has mainly brought the two countries together. There are also national security related trends, which indicate the development of a stable and friendly relationship. But, at any moment of time, these trends can be reversed as there are formidable challenges faced by the two nations in their desire to maintain a durable and friendly relationship.
It is the purpose of this article to discuss these upward trends in Indo-US relations in the security arena in the Clinton Administration and to highlight the uphill tasks which lie ahead of these two vibrant democracies—as the cliché goes—the US, the most powerful, and India, the largest in the world.
However, the path on which the two countries travelled together in the last four years to arrive at the present level of friendly relations was not without its share of pinpricks, thorns and hurdles. Before we can discuss the upward trends in Indo-US relations it is necessary, albeit, briefly, to look at the problems which were threatening to push our bilateral relations downhill.
The downhill trends were witnessed soon after William Clinton's Presidential inauguration in January 1993. As it is, with Bill Clinton, Democrats were returning to the White House after 12 years of Republican rule. Bill Clinton, the then Governer of an insignificant state, Arkansas, was not well informed on foreign affairs. This was evident in what Leslie Gelb, former correspondent of the New York Times, and currently President of the Council on Foreign Relations, stated after a dinner meeting with Bill Clinton in early 1994, that Clinton had probably more information about domestic politics and foreign policy than anyone since Teddy Roosevelt. But he also added significantly, "He thinks he understands things before he does."
This can also be said of many of the officials who came to serve in the Clinton Administration and were experienced in conducting foreign affairs in a Cold War international environment during Carter's Presidency. It was extremely difficult for these officials to reorient themselves to deal with a world without a Cold War and without a rival.
This was very much apparent in many of the foreign policy postures of the Clinton Administration in the very first year: a variety of utterances on the part of Bill Clinton and his officials, particularly Robin Raphel, then the newly appointed Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs. Ms. Raphel questioned the very accession of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) with the Indian Union. To add fire to the fuel, Clinton also promised India baiters, like Ghulam Nabi Fai, self-styled protagonist of human rights in J&K, to work with him "and others to bring peace in Kashmir."
In retrospect, it was not sheer madness but there was a method in it: it was to create a sense of insecurity in the minds of Indian policy makers over the question of national security. For this, the Clinton Administration chose the inexpensive question of human rights. In early 1993, while addressing the members of American Society of Newspaper Editors in Annapolis, Maryland, President Clinton clearly made human rights a part of the American national security policy. He stated, "During the Cold War, our foreign policies largely focused on relations among nations. Our strategies sought a balance of power to keep peace. Today, our policies must also focus on relations within nations, on a nation's form of government, on its economic structure (and), on its ethnic tolerance. These are of concern to us, for they shape how these nations treat their own people as well as others and whether they are reliable when they give their word."
Hence, not only the Indian record of human rights in J&K was used for constant expression of concern by the American policy makers but also the situation in Punjab was used for adverse comment. This concern, so to say, led Bill Clinton to express in a letter to Gary Condit, Democratic representative from California, his resolve to work "for a peaceful solution that protects Sikh rights."
Then there was a renewed effort to menacingly use India's nuclear policy to prick at her national security concerns. The American policy aimed first to cap, then to roll back and finally eliminate the Indian nuclear programme. India's concern, arising out of the fact that she was threatened by China, a full-fledged nuclear power on the north-east, and Pakistan, an unambiguously nuclear weapon state on the north-west, was ignored summarily by the US. On the other hand, a successful attempt was made to scuttle India's missile programme under the MTCR (Missile Technology Control Regime). In 1993,the US succeeded in pressurising Russia to abrogate its agreement to sell cryogenic technology to India on the grounds that it violated the MTCR. This was done by imposing limited sanctions against the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)and the Russian space agency, Glavkosmos, for violating the MTCR, Russia was also offered economic aid. India was also openly advised by the US to give up its medium-range missile, Agni and short-range missile, Prithvi. It was also suggested that the Indian missile programme posed a security threat to US military installations on Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
To make matters worse, the US renewed its efforts to sell F-16 war planes, purchased by Pakistan but not delivered, since by October 1990, President George Bush was unable to certify—as required under the Pressler Amendment—that Pakistan was not involved in actively pursuing a nuclear programme. Yet, the Clinton Administration talked of seeking a one-time exception to the Pressler Amendment to enable the transfer of 28 F-16 planes and other weapons systems. To make the threat more scary, the Pakistani nuclear programme was linked to its dispute with India over Kashmir and a nuclear war in South Asia was painted as inevitable.
Narsimha Rao Visits Washington
By mid-March 1994, Indo-US relations had touched the lowest level in the 1990s; the nadir was established during the Nixon Administration in 1971 during the Bangladesh war. Against this background, the then Prime Minister of India, P.V. Narasimha Rao visited Washington, DC, in May 1994. At that time, there were some political pundits who argued in favour of the Indian Prime Minister's visit and there were others who were against it. The outcome of the working summit between Prime Minister Rao and President Bill Clinton surprised many; but for discerning students of Indo-US relations, there was a great deal of method in the madness in the behaviour of the Clinton Administration officials and Clinton himself.
It was as a result of negotiations between the two that all open criticism of India's human right record was withdrawn. Similarly, the pressures created by other security-related insecurities were also relaxed. Then, what was the purpose in mounting pressure on the Government of India almost for a year prior to the visit by the Prime Minister of India? In retrospect, it is clear that the national security related pressure was mounted on India to extract steep economic concessions from India and certain security-related promises and concessions.
It was possible for the US to do so, as India was facing a precarious economic condition in the international economy as she was forced to go in for economic liberalisation, not so much out of conviction, but out compulsion. The compulsion was that India then had foreign exchange reserves hardly enough to pay for imports which could last for seven days. Lee Hamilton, the then Chairman of the House Committee on International Relations, stated, just prior to the visit by Prime Minister Rao, that the US can pressurise India to give up its missile programme since she has recently adopted the policy of economic liberalisation. At the same time, he admitted that a similar policy has not worked against China.
Hence, as an economic concession to the US, India opened up its telecommunications field for the American penetration without any Indian participation. The US promised flow of funds into Indian industries, particularly in the fields of power and infrastructure development. India was recognised as one of ten major markets for American trade and investment. 1995 saw the visits by the then Energy Secretary, Hazel O'Leary, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown and Defence Secretary William Perry in quick succession to promote bilateral Indo-American trade and improve relations generally.
However, Narasimha Rao also made certain important security related concessions to the US. First, it is apparent that Prime Minister Rao informed Clinton that India would not create any problems for the US in its effort to extend the nuclear Non-Prolification Treaty (NPT) indefinitely at the 1995 New York Conference. India did not conduct any anti-NPT campaign globally or even amongst the members of the non-aligned nations. India also did not send any observers to participate in the conference, not even unofficially from the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).
Further, India's soft pedalling the issue of the NPT in particular and nuclear issue in general becomes clear from various utterances of Indian and American officials of the time. India's then Foreign Secretary, K Srinivasan had dismissed the NPT as "not a live issue" between the two countries. Thomas Graham, Jr., Director, US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency(ACDA), stated in an interview to Arms Control Today that, "India has told us on a number of occasions that it will not in any way play a negative role in the 1995 conference. And we expect that this assurance will govern its behaviour."
Second, Rao had given an assurance to go slow on the missile programme of India. After the return of Prime Minister Rao from his visit to Washington, DC, India conducted a test of the Prithvi missile in June 1994. However, subsequently, there were neither any tests of the Agni nor of the Prithvi. The intermediate-range missile, Agni, was, in effect, shelved by stating that it was a technology demonstrator and the experiment was successful. The US officials, in their testimony before the South Asian Affairs Committee, had stated that India's Agni project was in "a period of suspended animation", while the project on Prithvi was in "a period of hibernation."
Third, India has already agreed to co-sponsor in the UN General Assembly a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty(CTBT) and a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty(FMCT). After the Prime Minister's visit, these two treaties, particularly the CTBT, were vigorously pursued by the US and India was in the forefront to support the US efforts. India did not budge from its commitment to the ultimate principle of having a world free of nuclear weapons, even after the US officials publicy stating that their pursuit of the CTBT is mainly aimed at India's nuclear programme.
This was obvious in the public statement by John D.Holum, Director, ACDA, in November, 1995, that the US is keen to secure an early CTBT for two purposes. One, to maintain American technological lead in the world; and two, to cap India's nuclear programme.
This public statement by the US policy makers on their policy objective should have alarmed and alerted the Indian policy makers. However, nothing of that kind happened and Indians participated in the CTBT talks almost till the end in June 1996 before realising that the treaty, as negotiated, was not in India's national interest. Therefore, if one arrives at a conclusion that India sought a way out from the CTBT trap only after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was elected as the largest single party in the Lok Sabha elections of May 1996, it would not be too far from the truth, at least logically.
On An Upward March
Thus, after the Prime Minister's return from the working summit with Bill Clinton, there was no looking back. It was an upward march for Indo-US relations. In the economic field, the US emerged as the largest investor in India mainly in power, infrastructure and many other industries.
The US concedes, however, no substantial gains to India in the security arena. What it did was to lid the issues which it had used to create a sense of insecurity amongst the policy makers in India. These issues like the human rights record of India or her nuclear policy could be revived at any time as no real and lasting solution to the divergence in their perceptions has been found. As such, it is clear that the US as an economically declining power, has only decided to give priority to its economic recovery vis-a-vis India.
This was obvious from the fact that whenever the US perceived a policy in its national interest, it has pursued it irrespective of its impact on India. The best illustration comes in the wake of the Clinton Administration's successful efforts to push a one time amendment to the Pressler Amendment in October 1995. Soon after, the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazer Bhutto's visit to Washington, DC, left no stone unturned to get the Hank Brown Amendment approved by a Republican dominated Senate—though the original Pressler Amendment was also passed by a Republican controlled Congress during the tenure of a Republican President, Ronald Reagan. Despite the protests and expression of displeasure by India, the US government gave to Pakistan military spares and hardware worth $368 million.
The US justified its stand by putting forward three arguments. Briefly stated, first, Pakistan has been a loyal friend and it is illogical for the US to accept the money for the spares but embargo the delivery. Second, in view of the ever growing menace of Islamic fundamentalism, Pakistan needs to be supported as a moderate Islamic state. Third, Pakistan is a link to the Central Asian states which have a huge reserve of hydrocarbon energy resources which could be a field for American exploitation. This would also help the US to keep Russians out from what the latter claim as their "near abroad."
Clinton's Second Term
It is, however, the second term of the Clinton Presidency that shows a greater consistency in improving Indo-US bilateral relations than his first term. The second term of Clinton has been so far indicative of improving relations between the two countries. Despite the political instability in India, the upward trends in our bilateral relations are not affected. On the other hand, there is a positive trend towards keeping up the pace of improvement. This, partly, can be explained on the grounds that President Clinton in his second term, like President Reagan in his second term, looks at his place in the history books. But this is only partly correct, since US policy towards India is not so much going for determine the President's image in the US history books as it is likely to do to Reagan because of his changing the contours of US-Soviet relations beginning from his first summit meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in November 1985.
Hence, the Clinton Administration now dismisses its initial one year after inauguration in January 1993 as "a history of false starts and misunderstandings" in US-India bilateral relations. US Secretary of Commerce, William M.Daley said in Washington, DC, before setting out on his visit to India in the first week of December 1997: "President Clinton wants to make it clear that our relationship with India is extremely important when the time is good and when the time is not so good," given the commitment of the two countries to improve their relations.
Even soon after Clinton's second inauguration in January 1997, there have been trends indicative of the US' desire to improve relations with India particularly in the security area. If one wants to be extremely cautious, one may say, if not to improve, at least to correct some of the past mis-perceptions and distortions. Some of these may be briefly analysed here. First, President Bill Clinton, well before his second term but after his re-election to the Presidency, announced the change of guard in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs by replacing Robin Raphel with Rick Inderfurth. Many of the initial misunderstandings in Indo-US relations were due to the pursuit of a pro-Pakistan policy by the US.
This is a major gain for India as the personality factor makes important changes in the way a policy maker approaches an issue. In early 1994, the then Director of the South Asian Bureau, visited this author to discuss certain issues in US-India relations. Then I had made a suggestion to him that if Robin Raphel is shunted out of the South Asian Bureau, at least half of the problems in our relations would disappear.
Second, there was a change in the US approach to relations with India and Pakistan. US policy makers at different levels made it clear that their relations with India would no longer be a prisoner of US relations with Pakistan. As though to emphasise this point, Rick Inderfurth, on his first visit to India, first came to India, then visited Pakistan and came back to India before returning home. India, of course, has been always against the US policy of equating India and Pakistan, particularly after the birth of Bangladesh in 1971. In 1977, when Prof.Myron Weiner of MIT asked me as to what he should report to the White House—that had called him for consultation—as of great concern to Indians, I had told him to inform the then Carter Administration to stop equating India and Pakistan or determining their relations with India on the basis of the status of Indo-Pak relations.
Third, and very importantly, moving beyond the cosmetic changes, the US gradually, through a step by step diplomacy, has come to accept India's point of view that Pakistan has been promoting across-the-border terrorism in Punjab, the north-eastern states in general and more particularly in J&K. Thus, there is a congruence of perceptions over the menace of terrorism between the two countries.
This was indicated when the US took the first step to extradite Daya Singh Lahoria, a terrorist accused in the assassination bid on the former Youth Congress President, Maninderjit Singh Bitta. Until then, the US had always dilly-dallied on the question of extradition of terrorists wanted by India while always insisting on the other foreign governments to extradite suspected criminals to stand trial in the US. For instance, their insistence that two Libyans suspected of bombing a Pan Am plane in 1985 or their success in getting Pakistan to extradite Ramzi Yousef suspected of bombing the World Trade Centre (WTC) in 1993.
The second step was signing of an extradition treaty between the two countries in August 1997 though this was pending for a long time. This will now enable India to seek extradition of terrorists responsibile of the assassination of General Vaidya, now languishing in the US prisons.
The third step was declaring the Pakistan-based terrorist outfit called Harkat-ul-Ansar as a terrorist organisation. This was vehemently opposed by Pakistan. When it did not succeed, Pakistan disclaimed the fact that the outfit is based in Pakistan and began to state that it is actually based in Kashmir. But it is a fairly well known fact that Harkat-ul-Ansar is an organisation consisting of about one thousand members of whom more than 750 are foreign nationals and it is funded by Pakistan's ISI (Inder-Services Intelligence).
The fourth step was for the visiting Under Secretary of State, Thomas Pickering, to state categorically during his visit to New Delhi in October 1997: "Both of us are committed to work together to enhance our capacity to fight terrorism, whether it is sponsored from the moon or from any other corner." This resolve was also discussed between Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral and US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, during their meeting in late November 1997 while the latter was on a brief visit to South Asia.
The cynics who are perpetually unable to see anything good in Indo-US relations might point out that the US is offering to wage a joint fight against terrorism because of its own adverse experience of domestic and international terrorism. The Americans had the most shattering experience of domestic terrorism in the bombing of Oklahoma in early 1995 in which 168 people lost their lives and 850 persons were injured.
There are also experiences of international terrorism. Americans as the representatives of the only surviving superpower, are often targets of attack by the international terrorist groups having collective grievances against the US. Thus, Ramzi Yousef held Americans responsible for the plight of Palestinians in the Middle East. Hence, he planned to destroy the WTC in New York in 1993. Similarly, two Americans were victims of kidnapping of foreigners in Kashmir in July 1995 along with two Britons, a German and a Norwegian. They are suspected to have been kidnapped by Al-Faran, considered as a front organisation of Harkat-ul-Ansar by the American policy makers.
But American genuineness in their commitment to fight the menace of terrorism can be shown by referring to certain pronouncements of Bill Clinton. At the time when Pakistan handed over the suspect of the WTC bombing, President Clinton said that the handing over of Ramzi shows that "terrorism will not pay; terrorists will pay." Again, in September 1996, in his address to the UN General Assembly, he urged that the international community should ensure that terrorists have "no place to run, no place to hide."
The US has, of course, promised to join hands with India in fighting terrorism, whether it is sponsored from the moon or from across the borders. Thank God! India is not as of now facing any terrorist attack from the moon. But India definitely faces terrorist attacks from Pakistan. Hence, before suspecting the US motive in joining hands with Indian policy makers to fight the menace of terrorism, we need to ask the question: is the government of India serious about fighting terrorists in J&K?
Our present record shows, unfortunately, a lack of seriousness on the part of the Government of India to effectively deal with the threat of terrorism ever since it started in J&K in 1989. This lack of seriousness can be demonstrated with certain concrete evidences. First, so far, it is pointed out that over 32,000 people have been arrested in Kashmir for terrorist activities but not a single one has ever been convicted so far. This is in sharp contrast to the US handling of the cases under terrorism. Mc Veigh, conspirator in the Oklahoma bombing in 1995 has been awarded the death penalty and another, Terry Nicholas, is currently facing trial. The same is the case with conspirators in the WTO bombing case of 1993.
Second, TADA in India has been revoked; but no new law to effectively handle the cases of terrorism has been enacted. Hence, prosecution is afraid of terrorists and defence lawyers taking advantage of built-in loopholes in the law to protect terrorists charged with heinous crimes. Again, it can be contrasted with the US experience. With one experience of domestic terrorism in Oklahoma, the US took strong measures to curb terrorism such as passing a law to confiscate funds of organisations suspected of promoting terrorist activities. The Clinton Administration also proposed several other measures which could violate the American "traditions of due process," as pointed out by Professor Philip B. Heyman of Harvard Law School.
This lack of seriousness arises from the mistaken co-relationship created by our ruling class between terrorism and the religion of terrorists. The late Beant Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab, said in an interview with the Sunday Observer that people in Punjab "had mistaken terrorism for some religious movement. But now it has been established that terrorism has nothing to do with religion." Terrorists in Kashmir have not only killed pundits but their own co-religionists, as the killing of the Kashmir University Vice-Chancellor shows.
However, it is vote bank politics, wherein every political party tries to placate Muslims by creating an impression that strong measures against terrorists would alienate Muslim voters. The Indian state is not fighting Muslims; it is fighting terrorists, who happen to be Muslims in the case of J & K as they happened to be Sikhs in Punjab. If the Indian state could fight Sikhs in Punjab to curb and subdue terrorists, why not do the same in Kashmir? Is not the hesitation explained by the fact that Muslims constitute a numerically strong minority while Sikhs are not important as a vote bank outside Punjab, and Punjab is anyway lost to the Akali Dal—a regional party—and not important to other national parties?
Without a seriousness of purpose in fighting terrorism, what is the use of asking the US Administration to declare Pakistan as a terrorist state? On the other hand, India ought to appreciate the great change in the US attitude where in December 1993, it had taken Pakistan off from the watch list of terrorist states, where it was initially placed by the Bush Administration, to have again given a warning, so to say, to Pakistan to behave or else face the prospect of being declared a terrorist state.
The second area where there is a developing congruence in the perceptions of the US and India in their bilateral relations is Kashmir's relevance to maintain India's secular character. The Americans have taken over a decade of terrorism and destruction in Kashmir to realise that so-called national self-determination in J&K is a camouflage to hide the terrorists' plans to create a homogeneous community by driving out Kashmiri pundits. As the State Department Policy Planning Staff member, James Steinberg said: "It was ironic that some self-determination movements have very undemocratic aims, such as the creation of a homogeneous mono-ethnic state." These officials are reported to have rejected the principle of self-determination in relation to Kashmir and advocated a "non-secessionist solution" to the problem of Kashmir.
This is, of course, not a policy statement from the government but a statement by the officials of the US government in a seminar. It, however, is important as it came from a government official involved in the policy making process. India needs to pursue this line with the US without prejudice to her claim that J&K is an integral part of India.
Uphill Tasks Ahead
There are many areas which still elude any congruence in the perceptions of the two nations. Only one such issue, of India's nuclear policy, with particular reference to the CTBT, is taken here for discussion. How India arrived at where it is today over the CTBT has already been mentioned in the beginning. The present international position is that the CTBT cannot come into force until India joins it. But the question of India's joining can at least be postponed till the US Senate ratifies the CTBT.
US-India can till then postpone the issue and pursue other alternatives and other important issues in their bilateral relations. It is necessary as the policy so far pursued by the US towards India of threatening to impose sanctions has not worked; but it has worked only to limit their bilateral interactions in other areas. As "A New US Policy Toward India and Pakistan: Report of An Independent Task Force," sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations, 1997, states: "Despite US non-proliferation efforts, both India and Pakistan have become de facto nuclear weapons-capable states and show no sign of changing course. Such behaviour has triggered US sanctions, which in turn have constricted US bilateral relationship with both countries. This is unfortunate, because the current situation calls for more rather than less US engagement. For increased engagement to occur, however, there needs to be an understanding across both the executive and legislative branches of the US government that reversing these countries' de facto nuclear weapons status is currently extremely unlikely."
Thus, to achieve such an understanding, what needs to be done is to skirt the issue of nuclear policy. If India and China—two adversaries—can agree to skirt the border dispute that has plagued their relations for the last three decades, it should not be difficult for the US and India to skirt the CTBT and proceed to discuss increased bilateral cooperation in other areas including nuclear cooperation between the two countries. India needs US nuclear energy cooperation—to increase the power output as a part of the economic liberalisation policy. But this cannot be in return for India signing the CTBT.
The fact that given the goodwill and strong commitment to improve relations, it can be done, is shown by the understanding on nuclear energy cooperation reached by the US and China during the visit of the Chinese President Jiang Zemin to Washington, DC in October 1997. President Clinton has already taken the step to certify to Congress that China is not engaged in cooperation with Pakistan in the development of its nuclear weapons programme. If the US can do it in relation to a Communist country, that too one likely to emerge as its adversary, because of economic compulsion, India also should be able to achieve it.
I had long ago in 1980 pointed out how India's rhetoric on the CTBT is going to hurt the Indian nuclear option. This was repeated again during the period when India was collaborating with the US on the issue.20 But policy makers in India are not prone to read or listen to what others, particularly in the academic world write or say. Be that as it may, Indian policy makers now say that India needs to keep her nuclear option open in view of the nuclear threat on her northern borders. But in a changed world scenario, how long can India keep her nuclear option open? India needs to be realistic on the question. Hence, instead of parrot-like repetition of "keeping the nuclear option open," India needs to consider the avenues open for Indo-US cooperation in nuclear and non-nuclear areas, without considerably affecting her security interests.
India has at least three options still open on the question. First, India's nuclear programme cannot be a threat to US security under any circumstances; though Americans can and have spoken of a threat perception to their military installations in Diego Garcia, it is a far-fetched thought even for national security experts to think in terms of a nuclear threat to each other between the two democracies. Hence, India had offered, and can renew the earlier offer of "no first use of nuclear capability."
Though the US itself has refused to commit to such a policy, China and Russia have committed to a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons. China and Russia are weaker powers in comparison to the US militarily. Yet the US as the strongest power refuses to commit in favour of a no first use of nuclear weapons. But only in the India-Pakistan equation it is Pakistan as a weaker power which refuses to commit itself to a policy of no first use. This should not be difficult to discuss given the development of confidence between the two countries.
Second, the option that is available to India is, of course, to translate the nuclear option into reality. Though there could be strong reactions from the Western powers, especially the US, these countries will not risk their economic benefits for imaginary and futuristic security threat perceptions arising from India going nuclear. The only other outcome will be that Pakistan may also go nuclear. It is better for policy makers to live with a realistic threat perception than an ambiguous one. But in this option, the real problem is whether India can digest a complete turnaround on the policy which has always spoken of keeping the nuclear option and also working towards a nuclear-free world.
Third, India can bargain for certain concessions for signing the CTBT. Here it is clear that by foreclosing the option of going nuclear, India will be lowering her security preparedness permanently. India will be in effect, freezing her nuclear knowhow to the level of the 1974 explosion results. Hence, the US should be willing to provide the computer simulation testing device to India so long as China continues to be the ultimate security threat to India.
Additionally, the US should commit to suport India's claim for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council with a veto power. This should balance India's loss of the nuclear option by the gain of veto to safeguard her vital security interests. If the US has no hesitation what-so ever in supporting the claims of its two World War II adversaries—Germany and Japan—there is no reason why the US should hesitate to support India which continues to attract American investors and is a vibrant democracy. As the Asia Society Report on "South Asia and the United States After the Cold War" states: "As the international community considers expansion of the Security Council to include countries such as Japan and Germany, strong consideration should be given to the inclusion of India." (emphasis added).
Such support to India is also in the interest of the US. The US as the only surviving superpower in the world today, faces a challenge to its supremacy from Communist China. China's aspiration for a superpower status is well known from the time of Chairman Mao. China as the only Communist power sees itself as an ideological rival of the US. Its territorial ambitions in the South China Sea like the claims over Spratley Islands also indicate a likely development of conflict of interest between the US and China.
Chinese scholars also share this perception of the US being a security threat to its ambition of a superpower status. This is evident from a Chinese pamphlet entitled "Can China's Armed Forces Win the Next War?" This anonymous pamphlet, according to Ross H. Munro also perceives not only the US as a major threat to its power, but a "US-China confrontation" looming large.
India also sees China as its ultimate security threat despite improving relations. This was recognised by the Parliamentary Committee on Defence in 1995. It is not necessary here to list all the reasons but suffice it if we remember the unsettled border dispute pending between the two, the Chinese nuclear weapons trained at India, China's close collaboration with Pakistan in their development of nuclear weapons and missile capabilities and Chinese development of a blue water Navy in the Indian Ocean which indicate that Chinese policy towards India is one of assertion of power.
Hence, the US and India can collaborate strategically in South-East Asia and South Asia to limit the growing power and ambitions of China. Of course, today strategy is a loosely used word in the relations among the major powers. China and Russia speak of strategic partnership; even the US and China speak of "strategic partnership," while the US and India conduct a "strategic dialogue." Yet when the chips are down, the US will find a strategic relationship with India to be more lasting and beneficial than one with China.
The success of these options will to great extent depend upon increased economic interdependence of the two economies. Though the US is the largest trading partner and the largest investor in India, the US direct investment in India since the economic liberalisation was set in since June 1991 is only $2 billion while the US has an investment of $42 billion in China. Thus, there is a tremendous opportunity for further US investment in India. Reciprocally, the US can also support India's search for a global economic role by supporting the latter's membership of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).
None of these were either proposed seriously or pursued by the government of Narasimha Rao as he was in constant search of political stability. Subsequent governments were too weak to pursue these measures as they continued to govern on borrowed time. What India needs is a strong and stable government. Till that happens, the two governments need to at least continue to talk on the above options in a friendly atmosphere.
However, until India gets a strong and stable government, any of the issues with divergent perceptions can be activated by the US to push Indo-US relations downwards. These possibilities are always open to the US. This is clearly demonstrated by occasional half-thought statements from the high officials of the US government as illustrated by President Clinton equating the Kashmir problem to Bosnia in his speech in Akron University26 or Secretary of State Albright calling the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) "Hindu separatists."
The ability to shoot from the hip is not an exclusive quality of the Americans. It is well matched by Indian policy makers. Thus, Indian Defence Secretary, Ajit Kumar publicly called off his vist to the US to attend the Defence Policy Group (DPG) meeting in the first week of November 1997 in Washington, DC on the grounds that his counterpart in the DPG meeting, Frank Kramer, Assistant Secretary of Defence, is an official lower than him in rank, though in the past, Indian Defence Secretaries have held such meetings with this very official as their counterpart. In power play, it is the supporting power behind the negotiator that is more important than the rank of the counterpart in diplomatic negotiations. Is it not a fact that many visiting American officials are entertained by Indian politicians at a higher level? Prime Minister Rao had several meetings with Robin Raphel though she was only a low ranking official in the State Department.
Earlier Prime Minister I.K.Gujral had rebuffed the US suggestion to advance his date of visit to New York to address the UN General Assembly to September 23 rather than September 30, 1997. An Indian official then reportedly said: "The Americans are behaving in typical Big Brother fashion by asking Gujral if he can come a whole week earlier." But within a day, Gujral accepted the US proposal and claimed a successful meeting with Bill Clinton. Then, why accuse? This is the price the two democracies have to pay, and can pay provided they have a primary interest to promote the upward march of Indo-US relations.