Increasing divergences bog down Indo-US strategic partnership
Saturday November 06, 2010 11:41:31 AM,
A. Vinod Kumar, IANS
In an era where even a strategic
partnership between India and China is theoretically possible, the
unrelenting emphasis on India's strategic relationship with the US
often seems a fashion statement. As relations between the world's
largest democracies get intensely scrutinised, diplomatic niceties
constrain both parties from accepting that increasing divergences
are pushing back the partnership to the basics.
While squarely blaming the Obama administration for causing a
major share of reversions, seldom considered is the fact that
dogmatic incompatibilities prevailed from day one of the
partnership, which were consequently overlooked as issues not
central to a maturing relationship. Seven years down the line,
areas of divergence now threaten to outnumber the areas of
convergence - a peculiar situation that dominated India-US
relations during the years predating the bonhomie.
As President Barack Obama now strives to elevate the quantum of
interdependence and coherence of common interests with an
'indispensable' partner, long-standing disagreements come back to
the fore with negligible concord seen on key global issues.
At the core of the dissonance is the moot question: can asymmetric
powers have a strategic relationship which, most importantly,
signifies an egalitarian equation? Will it risk projecting a
hegemon-client state relationship where the latter ends up as a
feeder to the hegemon's interests? Will the pressure of
reciprocity confine the relationship to a give and take equation,
thereby eroding common interests? These fundamentals remain
unaddressed even as the debate veers around the question of 'what
one did for the other'.
The partnership began with recognition of major divergences and
attempts to understand each other's position. Initiatives like the
Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) led to concrete
agreements on sensitive areas like nuclear and defence
cooperation, though without rectifying historical dichotomies.
Facilitating India's integration into the non-proliferation regime
- the driving theme behind the nuclear deal - remain unfulfilled
as India refused to accede to the regime's cornerstone, the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), while Washington failed to
reform the outdated edifice to suit the emerging environment.
The defence cooperation agreement, on the other hand, has evolved
into a supplier-vendor framework with actual potential for
comprehensive defence partnership being eroded. Despite common
threats and interoperability emerging among the forces, India
resists any ideas of union between the two democracies which
resembles a military alliance.
Flowing from such ambivalence is a host of lingering issues,
including high technology, nuclear liability legislation,
counter-terror cooperation and Security Council membership, which
have predictably taken centre-stage in recent weeks. Though
explanations from both sides have been traded to justify their
positions, concrete attempts to resolve the underlying causal
factors largely remain uninitiated. At the core is Washington's
endless desire to force India's compatibility with its foreign
policy goals, ranging from Af-Pak to counter-terror to
non-proliferation. This raises a pertinent question: can a
strategic partnership endure when the dominant partner pushes its
interests at the cost of the other?
Nowhere is this feature more visible than in the Af-Pak dynamics.
Besides catering to the Pakistani obstinacy of not allowing any
strategic space to India in Afghanistan, Washington has
effectively insulated action against Pakistan-based terror groups,
especially the 26/11 perpetrators, by concentrating overwhelming
focus on the Taliban. But for occasional exhortations on Pakistan
to act against these groups, little effort has come from
Washington to rectify the mockery of 26/11 investigations. It is,
although, ironic that India has to depend on Washington to
safeguard and promote its security interests in the region. A
greater affront was the administration's decision to continue the
perennial flow of billions as counter-terror and political
assistance into a hub of terrorism, despite realising that a major
chunk end ups with the anti-India machinery in Pakistan's security
establishment, which also plays a double-game in the anti-Taliban
Washington's reluctance to change its traditional tilt towards
Pakistan, thus, prompts a natural poser: what has India gained
from the strategic partnership that Pakistan has not, without one?
More importantly, will the partnership justify its raison d'ętre
when India's interests are consistently undermined in Af-Pak?
Opacity and conflicting interests were hallmarks on the
counter-terror front as well. US officials intensely argue that
the access to David Headley was unprecedented and that it embodied
India's significance in its counter-terror framework. This is to
ignore the struggles that Indian officials underwent in contrast
to the smooth access US sleuths had to the 26/11 culprits. The
resultant friction best testifies how Washington determines the
terms of such cooperation and refuses to initiate best practices
through comprehensive cooperation.
A new irritant in the partnership is said to be the nuclear
liability bill whose supplier liability provisions disappointed
the US nuclear industry, and has subsequently been projected as a
spoiler for nuclear cooperation. This argument is made despite
realising that the bill came after intense domestic debate.
Legislatures in democracies are naturally expected to endow
greater importance to their populace than tailor laws to suit
industry requirements. For a country traumatised by the Bhopal gas
tragedy, putting in place sufficient compensatory structures is
vital to initiate its part of the nuclear renaissance.
Finally, the US support to India's permanent membership in a
reformed Security Council has been touted as a litmus test for the
strategic partnership. American experts suggest that this could
come only when India shows greater reciprocity by backing US
policies globally. Such assertions imply pushing India to turn a
client-state with its foreign policy surrendered to US interests,
which even hard-core US allies could desist doing.
Common interests were supposed to shape this strategic
partnership. Yet, there is minimal convergence on common goals and
perceptions on the emergent world order. With its dominance in
southern Asia fast eroding, India as a major power (which
President Bush promised to facilitate) is the best bet for
Washington to promote its interests in the region, especially in
the face of an aggressively-rising China.
The Obama administration could be clearer on what it expects from
India, and New Delhi on what it can give. The partnership could
then pursue only what is pragmatic.
(The author is
Associate Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New
Delhi. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org).
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