Originally Published 2010-10-13 00:00:00 Published on Oct 13, 2010
As the US President is scheduled to visit India next month, there is a lesson for both sides in the 1972 Nixon-Mao summit in Beijing. While the Americans and the Chinese exchanged views on everything, the focus was firmly on the big strategic picture.
Reach out to the US Through Obama
The parallel is not exact, but the Asian scene in which President Barack Obama’s visit to India takes place next month is not entirely different from the one in which President Nixon visited Beijing in February 1972. Of course, there is no cold war between Beijing and Washington, or between Beijing and Delhi; the G- 2 absurdity lies buried, but the Sino- US relationship will remain close and of singular importance to either partner. However, because of the rise of new powers on the world stage, the Asian strategic scene is in flux and the search is on for a new equilibrium of peace and stability in the Old Continent. The United States’ relations with China & Japan are well established. USRussia relations are evolving in a mutually agreed direction. Forward movement in US- India relations was interrupted with George W. Bush’s exit from the White House. There is need for clarity of purpose and direction on both sides, which, hopefully, the forthcoming summit will provide. American aims have been made clear: Washington recognises India as a rising power with important regional and world roles. Senior American officials have been saying that the President’s visit will transform US- India relations into a defining relationship of the twenty- first century. The President himself has said that he wants to make history in Delhi. Much will naturally also depend on how our authorities, parliament and people treat this visit. It is time to close the books on the past, put small things aside, and forge a forward looking relationship worthy of the world’s two great Democracies. Interests There is a lesson for both sides in the 1972 Nixon-Mao summit in Beijing. While the Americans and the Chinese exchanged views on everything under the sun— including their shared contempt of India — the focus, all the time, was firmly on the big strategic picture. The Chinese did not ask for much, but there was much giving by the greater power. That meeting laid the foundations of China’s future dynamism and dramatic economic growth with the West’s help. The obvious areas of common American and Indian interest and future cooperation are defense and security including Cyber security; enhancement of India’s economy and market through industrial and agricultural development; energy; and collaborative exploration of outer space. There is a good deal of on- going cooperation between the two countries in education and agriculture. India now needs a second Green Revolution which American scientific and technological cooperation will greatly facilitate. In energy and environment- related issues, there is no virtue, or national gain, in our fronting for China. In contrast, India is still a very low carbon economy. We should, therefore, look for deals with the US and the leading European countries to enhance & harness our alternative energy resources, such as shale gas. Since the mid 1990s defense cooperation between the two countries has made some progress, but much more is needed for modernisation of India’s military. India should initiate the process by opting for 126 multi- role fighter jets from the US. Deals of this magnitude should be struck with an eye on political and strategic gain: in that context the choice between Sweden Sweden and US should be obvious. There is huge scope for cooperation in space, and in the Indian Ocean. Maritime security is of common concern to both countries. Sooner or later China is bound to enter the Indian Ocean. It is for India, the US and other established maritime powers to manage this new development in such a way that the Chinese navy’s advent in the Indian Ocean is not conflictual or confrontational but peaceful and cooperative. In view of India’s large and growing interests and responsibilities in the Ocean and its outreach regions, India’s maritime capabilities will require considerable expansion in the next 10 to 15 years. Pakistan It is to be hoped that the solemnity, the logic and the high strategic purpose of President Obama’s visit will not be marred by bureaucratic wrangling over small things. Once the larger relationship is in place, matters like visa fees, outsourcing, entities lists, tariffs etc. will get resolved without too much argument and noise. Because of the hang- ups of a long, estranged past, we often, tend to be a little too demanding, or unnecessarily inhibited in responding even to wellmeaning American initiatives. A case in point is our Nuclear Liability Law. In June this year, President Obama had gone out of his way to back a reprocessing agreement. Our liability legislation virtually excludes private American suppliers from competing in the Indian nuclear energy market. What a reward for a country without whose initiative and generosity, India would have remained a nuclear pariah! American grievance in this regard is justified; it should be appropriately addressed. There is an impression in Washington that “ the big thing India wants is Pakistan’, that it will ask the President to pressure Pakistan regarding cross- border terrorism, or urge him to stop supplying arms to Pakistan. India’s Pakistan obsession is a thing of the past, and Americans should be disabused of their false notions of imagined Indian complexes. We have the strength and the confidence to deal suitably with Pakistan on our own in any eventuality. In their predicament with Pakistan, the Americans deserve our understanding and sympathy. For successful conduct of the war against Taliban, the Americans need Pakistan, and the smart Pakistani Generals have the US over the barrel. We should leave them alone to sort all this out in their own way in their own good time. Proliferation In Afghanistan our economic and social development work is popular with the people, and its worth as a stabilising factor is beginning to be recognised by the US. It is too bad that Pakistan does not like what we are doing for the good of the Afghan people. Clearly, Americans are not going to quit Afghanistan in a hurry, and certainly not in defeat at the hands of Taliban Lashkars operating from bases in Pakistan. If they propose any more practicable ways of India helping them, we should consider them. For the rest, CTBT, FMCT, are nonissues. India will sign the first when all the others have done it; and we can now safely engage in FMCT negotiations. As regards nuclear disarmament — President Obama’s amour propre — Indian and US positions have converged. We should give a full- throated positive endorsement to the President’s initiative. I believe there are gains for India in the Proliferation Security Initiative and we should be part of it. We should also offer, for the President’s consideration, to sign the NPT as a nuclear weapon power. This will lead to its natural culmination President Bush’s Nuclear Energy initiative. I always feel vicariously humiliated when our government asks every visiting dignitary to support India’s case for permanent membership of the U. N. Security Council. U. N. reform is 10, perhaps 15 or 20 years in the future. There is strength, and dignity and power, in not asking. Why can’t we learn from the Chinese to be patient and wait for our time? (The writer is President, ORF Centre for International Relations and a former foreign secretary) Courtesy: Mail Today, 12 October
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