People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 29

July 22, 2007

India’s American Dreams


M K Bhadrakumar


THE United Progressive Alliance government is getting perilously close to bequeathing a foreign policy legacy for the country. It also becomes, inevitably, a sad legacy of the ageing Congress Party in its declining years.


Clearly, the UPA government is diligently following up on a task that the previous NDA government had left incomplete – making India and the United States ‘natural allies’ in the 21st century. The UPA government’s decision to chariot India into the so-called quadripartite format – comprising the United States, Japan and Australia – is a turning point in the Indian foreign policy. India is thereby stepping out to fill a gap in the USA’s Asian strategy. The format has no political rationale except that of ‘ganging up’ against China. We know it, even if we won’t admit it, and the Asian region knows it, even if it doesn’t want to speak about it.


From the viewpoint of the neo-conservative ideology that guides the present US administration’s policies, Delhi’s induction into the US strategic orbit is highly desirable. India is an important neighbour to China. Unlike Australia, which is quintessentially an Anglo-Saxon outpost in Asia’s seamless Pacific borderlands, or Japan, which still bears the cross for its appalling crimes in Asia during World War II, India has a benign presence in much of Asia – culturally and politically.


Arguably, any US policy of containment of China (or Russia) will be ineffectual without India playing a supportive role. As the setting up of the Indian airbase in Ayni in Tajikistan testifies, India can be a ‘proxy’ power for Washington in regions in Asia that militate against direct American military presence. India, which has a miniscule economic presence in Central Asia, and has lost out on accessing the region’s energy reserves, has virtually nothing to defend in the Pamir Mountains. It is farcical to pretend that Delhi aspires to influence the anarchic events in Afghanistan from the Pamir side, either. Yet Delhi is incrementally beefing up its “base” in Ayni.


Certainly, Washington views with satisfaction that India is demonstrating grit to make its strategic presence felt in a sensitive region, which borders China’s nuclear test sites in Xinjiang. In Central Asia, US geopolitical intentions are in serious disrepute. Thus, the entire thrust of Washington’s “Great Central Asia” policy is on encouraging India to be a rival player to China and Russia.




It is likely that the UPA government would in its remaining period in office would unveil three major decisions in the foreign and security policies. First, it is already apparent that the UPA government will be embarking on a massive expansion of its military cooperation programme with the United States. A major power like India seldom makes transformational turns in its national security policy, and, therefore, it will be difficult to roll back what is unfolding for decades to come by successive governments in Delhi.


We may anticipate that the UPA government is hell-bent on awarding to the US the contract for 126 multi-role combat aircraft in a deal worth more than US$ 10 billion, which is billed as one of the largest ever military deals. Of course, the government will go through with the motions of a global tender. Its spokesmen will highlight the charade of decision-making. But like in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s fiction, that will be the stuff of the ‘chronicle of a military alliance foretold’.


Second, the resultant “inter-operability” of the two air forces will pave the way for India to become a participant in the United States’ so-called Anti-Ballistic Missile system. The mandarins in our foreign policy and security establishments have been quietly working on this for sometime. But a defining moment is approaching with the expected first deployments of the ABM system in Asia. The present US administration is keen to ‘lock in’ the ABM programme while it is still in office. Japan and Australia have already indicated their desire to be part of the US’s AMB system.


The quadripartite format – US, Japan, Australia and India – is the requisite politico-military vehicle for the US’s AMB system in Asia. Make no mistake: the exercises, scheduled to be held in the Bay of Bengal in September with the participation of US aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines herald the birth of a security alliance system in Asia.


The nation is being sensitised in bits and pieces about this regional security architecture. The call by USS Nimitz at Chennai port should have been a wake-up call. Now it appears from the inter alia remarks of a visiting US military official that Washington has negotiated a permanent arrangement with Delhi that provides for berthing facilities for US warships in Indian ports. As the UPA government and the Bush administration work hard at closing the Indo-U.S nuclear deal, the country may expect more such surprises.


Third, New Delhi will accordingly calibrate its relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. NATO delegations have paid unpublicised visits to New Delhi. This emanates out of NATO’s transformation as a security organisation with a global reach. NATO is in Afghanistan. NATO is forging ties with Japan and Australia (and Israel). As a senior US official recently put it, Washington visualises the NATO to be a “trans-Atlantic institution with global missions, global reach, and global partners”.




The ABM system is at the very core of the US geo-strategy. It is the principal means by which Washington hopes to arrest the trends toward multi-polarity in world affairs. Washington estimates, rightly so, that multi-polarity will become unsustainable if the 60-year old global strategic balance and stability is irreversibly altered in its favour. The paradigm boils down to offsetting Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrence and forestalling China from developing one.


The prevailing strategic nuclear balance runs counter to the New American Century project, which envisages the US’s unquestioned global dominance. Today, only strategic nuclear weapons can produce a deadly nuclear threat to the United States. Therefore, in order to establish its decisive military advantage in a unipolar world, the United States has to break the strategic nuclear balance and seek absolute nuclear superiority. That is to say, the ABM system, which aims at gaining first-strike nuclear capability for the US, is in actuality the spearhead of a contest between unipolar and multipolar world order.


The real paradox, therefore, lies insofar as the US geo-strategy runs contrary to the democratisation of the world order, which is what the UPA government leaders have been proclaiming from time to time as the axiom of India’s foreign policy. In other words, while paying lip service to a Russia-India-China dialogue, UPA government is in actuality collaborating with the Bush administration’s policy of ‘containment’ of Russia and China.


Evidently, in order to create an appropriate setting for India’s entry into the US strategic orbit, it has become necessary to deliberately atrophy India’s traditional ties with Russia as well as to disrupt the momentum of the Sino-Indian dialogue. At a time when practically the entire world is tapping the enormous business potentials stemming from Russia’s resurgence, UPA government’s economic czars remain disinterested. By subjecting India’s relations with Russia to a state of masterly inactivity, the government is distancing Delhi from Moscow, which in turn, creates the space and raison d’etre for India’s accelerated military cooperation with the US and Israel.


Equally, the recent diatribes against China by sections of Delhi’s strategic community aim at undermining the climate of trust in Sino-Indian relations. What do they want from China? China shouldn’t reiterate its known position on Arunachal Pradesh! China shouldn’t build a rail system connecting Tibet! China shouldn’t make a road leading to Mt Everest! China shouldn’t develop communication links in its border regions with India! China shouldn’t expand cooperation with its neighbouring countries such as Myanmar or Nepal! China shouldn’t make investments in the Indian economy!


If Gwadar port is developed, if Karakorum highway is widened or if Hambantota harbour is dredged, then, that must be certainly for ‘encircling’ India! It doesn’t need much cleverness or erudition to realise that China sources 90 per cent of its oil imports from the Gulf region, and China is keen on making this energy corridor efficient and secure. Besides, if India is politically disabled in its region, with indifferent ties with almost all its neighbours, what has that got to do with China’s policies?


Sadly, we are fantasising about a dream that Washington held out – that the US would make a world-class power out of India. History bears testimony that such things do not happen in real life. We must be realistic. The current fluidity in the international situation demands an open and inclusive approach by India rather than one that divides Asia.


Americans of insight – treasury secretary Henry Paulson or World Bank president Robert Zoellick – and even ‘realists’ of American conservatism like former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz admit that China’s economic rise offers an opportunity for the US. Despite the wide gap between the ideologies and social systems of the two countries, they visualise that a constructive partnership with China would be of global significance. It was Zoellick who famously referred to China as a ‘stakeholder’ in the international system. After all, if a World Bank chief thought so, how could the UPA government think otherwise?


(The writer is a former ambassador belonging to the Indian Foreign Service)