Event ReportsPublished on Mar 14, 2005
In a talk jointly organized by ORF ORF Chennai and Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras on March 14, 2005, at the University of Madras, ORF Chennai,
Security in India's Neighborhood: The View from Washington
In a talk jointly organized by ORF ORF Chennai and Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras on March 14, 2005, at the University of Madras, ORF Chennai, Ambassador Teresita Schaffer, Director, South Asia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington DC., and former US Ambassador to Sri Lanka spoke on "Security in India's Neighborhood: The View from Washington". 

During the course of her address Ambassador Schaffer touched on security issues concerning the US with a special reference to US-India relations. Some of the observations she made included the following:

In the past few years, the security interests of both the US and India seem to be running on a parallel course. The focus of the US in India's neighborhood fall under two heads: 1). War on Terror; 2). The Rise and Reshaping of Asia as an Opportunity in which India in particular has a big role to play. 

Where 'War on Terror' is concerned, the three countries of interest for the US are Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran. 

Afghanistan - Pre- 9/11, many analysts and strategists described Afghanistan as a failed state and a haven for terrorists. This thinking that Afghanistan was a sanctuary for terrorists became crystallized, post-9/11. While there were military gains, the real gain is the political reconstruction of the country. The focus is now on political stability with democracy and the creation of a strong central government in Kabul.

Pakistan - Pakistan is both part of the problem and part of the solution. The role of the militants as well as the militants' relationship with the military has been matters of endless fascination and debate. In the past, the Pakistan government has tried to have it both ways. The official policy of the US is Pakistan's help on the US's war on terrorism. It is also interested in developing institutions in Pakistan for reconstruction and development. There are encouraging developments which include Indo-Pak talks and Pakistan's economy.

Iran - The US is concerned about Iran's role as a sponsor of terrorism and the nuclear issue. US strategists are fond of saying that a nuclear-armed Iran is not in US interests. In the coming days how will Pakistan and India respond to US concerns on Iran? Will it be a point of convergence?

India in a Changing and Rising Asia - China is rising and is economically strong. Japan has just gone through ten years of stagnation. South Korea is a power. India's role - In the broader Asian context, India is important not just for its size but its rising economic strength in the last ten years despite the meltdown in other parts of Asia. The country is developing closer ties with China and South East Asia.

US-India Relations- In the last 15 years, US-India relations have undergone a revolution. The three factors that have brought this about: Economic Growth; End of Cold War; The Indian Community in the US (in the last census, Indians in the US were numbered at 1.7 million and could now be well over 2 million strong).

The liveliest part of dialogue with India in US-India relations include: Naval cooperation; the Tsunami; Regional Developments (especially with reference to Nepal and Sri Lanka).

The US and India are too big to be in a position to agree on everything. Regarding a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council, UN reform is not on the agenda of the US.

If India can reshape its relations with China then it ought to be able to transform its relations with Pakistan.


Lively participation from the well-attended crowd that included academics, students, serving and retired government officials, and journalists ensued. Some observations and comments given include:

  • The US policy on the Middle East has a bearing on India's oil interests. What is the US grand strategy in the Middle East? A debate is going on regarding the Middle East and Iran. One side feels that it is a unique time in history to reshape the environment in the region and in theory, military action is not ruled out on Iran or Syria. The other side is of the view that US resources have been strained especially in light of 150, 000 US troops in Iraq. One can't say where this debate will end but ultimately, more cautious voices will prevail.

  • The US policy on proliferation appears to be one of doublespeak. While it wants Iran and other countries to stop their nuclear programs, the US Exim Bank has no compunction in granting a US $ 15 billion loan to the Chinese nuclear agency to advance the cause of Westinghouse. This is when evidence is available that the Chinese nuclear agency had itself helped nuclear proliferation in Pakistan and Iran. There is a lobby in Capitol Hill that works for US commercial interests.

  • What are US fears on India getting gas from Iran via Pakistan? It has nothing to do with Iran's nuclear program but is on account of its legal requirements under the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act which requires that the US take action against anyone helping build the economic infrastructure of Iran. However, whether the proposed pipeline starts from Turkmenistan or Iran it has a tremendous opportunity to become a constituency of peace.

  • While an observation was made that Pakistan is both a problem and a solution, many Muslim countries hold the same view of the US and that whenever the US sets out to solve a lot of problems, it ends up creating a lot more problems. The nuclear policy is an example.

  • US policymakers say that the world is a safer place if nuclear weapons are not proliferated all over the world and that there is a tradeoff by countries signing the NPT. However, the US has accepted that India has made its own decision not to sign the NPT and does business with the country accepting this reality.

  • There is not much more optimism about the Sri Lanka peace process now than there was last year. While one party to the ceasefire agreement is accountable to the parliament, the other is not. What is keeping the ceasefire going is that both sides will have to face their respective constituencies. The US still considers the LTTE as a terrorist organization because the group believes that killing other Tamils is its own business, which the US does not.

  • While various US civil rights groups make critical references to Indian security forces operating in Kashmir and the North East - the Indian security forces are operating under extremely hard conditions and India has very vocal civil right groups of its own as well as a very vigilant media and an independent judiciary. The record of the US does not bear close scrutiny with its own record in Iraq and elsewhere and also the cozy relationship it enjoys with countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

  • The history of the US itself has not been very satisfactory, going right back to its treatment of the Red (native) Indians. However, both the US and India have a commonality in reaching towards better human rights records.

  • Until Iran and Burma's relations with the US improves, there will not be pipelines constructed from the two countries as nether of them have the money, expertise or technology to construct transnational piplines.

Report by Kalpana Chittaranjan, Research Fellow, ORF, ORF Chennai

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