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India and the U.S. as Allies

MD Nalapat

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently visited the United States, where his country won a strong endorsement as a rising power. The two countries issued a joint statement, pledging that they will cooperate in hi-tech and space exploration industries. In an interview with BEIJING REVIEW, MD Nalapat, professor of geopolitics at the Manipal Academy of Higher Education in India and UNESCO Peace Chair, commented on the closer ties between India and the United States.

BEIJING REVIEW: Could you give your comments on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to the United States and the development trends in India-U.S. relations?

MD Nalapat: Although there have been many favorable comments these days on the “rise” of India, the fact is that it is still a very weak country. More than 300 million citizens are close to starvation levels, and around that number are still illiterate. The physical infrastructure in India—roads, airports, energy, ports—are still of very low standard, while several bureaucratic obstacles to development continue. In India, the media and the courts consider it suspicious if quick decisions are taken. As in the case of every big project, there are interested individuals who make allegations of corruption, even when the project is in the public interest. As a result, big monopolies and dishonest business groups bribe officials to delay or even destroy new proposals floated by rival companies. Crooked politicians and bureaucrats can collect a lot of illegal cash for blocking projects, while at the same time, nobody will bring them to account. In India, delay is seen as normal.

The fact is that even in 2005, India has not reached the level of economic reform that China, under the wise leadership of Deng Xiaoping, enjoyed by 1985. Despite this, I am highly optimistic about India’s future. The reason is that both the sources of wealth as well as the geopolitical situation have at last moved in favor of India.

Increasingly, services and “knowledge industries” are displacing manufacturing as engines of prosperity. These do not need the same amount of physical infrastructure as manufacturing, so India’s handicap does not matter so much. Secondly, although some unwise minds in the Union Finance Ministry are seeking to place constraints on the information technology, services and knowledge sectors, they have not been affected by a slowdown in growth, the reason being the expanding demand for services that the highly trained, English-speaking Indian people are well equipped to provide.

In my view, relations between the United States and India are likely to develop into a full alliance, such as what the United States has with Japan. Although some political parties in India oppose this, the rising middle class in India welcomes such a development and will give it strong support. The new “Cooperation in Farming” announced by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Singh will help convince farmers also to support this, while industrial workers will be happy at the extra jobs that will come when New Delhi and Washington become close allies. Hence, in my view, those opposing an India-U.S. alliance will not be able to succeed in stopping what geopolitical changes are making possible

It seems that the United States is now aiming to boost India as a counterbalance against China’s rise. However, Singh said at the end of his U.S. visit that close India-U.S. ties would not come at the expense of Pakistan or China. How do you evaluate the U.S.-China-India triangle?

Rather than stand by and do nothing while a single power grows in Asia to a level where it becomes as influential as the United States in the Americas during the 19th century, many policymakers in several countries would like to see India reach as close to China as possible, and would be ready to help such a process. Thus, while China will have the disadvantage of a “headwind” caused by a negative reaction to its rise, especially military, India is beginning to get the benefits of the favorable “tailwind” caused by a desire in many to see that the country does not lag behind China.

In my view, it is the “China factor” that has played the biggest role in the increasing international attention given to India by the United States, although this will be denied by the officials of both countries. You will remember that when the United States and Pakistan were active against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan, they denied to the end that they were in fact doing what they were doing, ensuring the defeat of Moscow. Of course, there are other reasons as well, including the importance of India as a source of skill for the Knowledge Economy. Has the fact that India is the world’s most populous democracy played a key role in the transformation of attitudes by Washington toward New Delhi? I do not think so. India has been a democracy since 1947, and yet has been discriminated against by the United States repeatedly, including the transfer of technology. Prime Minister Singh has got the benefit of the shift in U.S. attitude and priorities in favor of India, though it is a fact that he himself is a brilliant scholar who recognizes the substantial benefits that India can get out of partnership with the United States.

About statements, I always look at “facts on the ground” rather than statements. The facts on the ground are that India is trying to compete with China in markets such as the United States, seeking for example that Wal-Mart source more of its supply from India, securing energy supplies and technology and attracting foreign investment. The relationship between the two countries is more competitive than collaborative.

The U.S. policy toward India’s nuclear ambition has changed a lot. Opponents said that Bush’s proposal would undermine global nuclear safeguards. What are your comments?

Global nuclear safeguards have been shown to be ineffective in stopping proliferation. Both North Korea and Pakistan have shown that the existing non-proliferation regime is often unable to stop the flow of dangerous material and technology across borders. India has an indigenous nuclear and missile program that cannot be affected by sanctions. The United States has understood this, and has cleverly decided to work with India in order to stop New Delhi from selling nuclear technology or developing its own “fast bred thorium-based” reactors without any U.S. leverage. Although some scholars say that the Bush-Singh nuclear accord is a defeat for the non-proliferation lobby, the fact is that the United States has no other option. Thirty years of sanctions have failed to stop India from developing nuclear technology. It is good that they have accepted this reality rather than behave like Don Quixote tilting at windmills on his donkey, which is what the non-proliferation “experts” are doing in the case of India.

Both Washington and New Delhi will, I expect, work closely together to ensure that cross-border proliferation gets stopped. All sincere friends of India should welcome getting India on board as an ally in the battle against the spread of dangerous technologies.

How would India balance its relations with Russia and the United States? Is there a preference or a priority?

Russia will always remain a close friend and brotherly ally of India. There is no contradiction between a new alliance with Washington and the old alliance with Moscow. In my view, as India develops as a result of the favorable international situation, Russia will find it of more value as a partner than if New Delhi were to remain backward and isolated.

How do you view India’s role in the UN? What are your opinions on India’s bid for a permanent UN Security Council seat?

Frankly, I find it difficult to understand why the government of India is spending so much money, time and attention on becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council. India has risen despite the fact that it has only a very small formal position in the present UN structure. Of course, bureaucrats will be happy [if India becomes a permanent member of the Security Council] because a few more of them will get high-paying UN jobs. But this will be of no relevance at all to the population of India, especially the poor. Of course, if France, Russia and Britain can be members, India too deserves a seat. However, to me the expansion of India-U.S. cooperation or the greater understanding between India and China are much more important than a UN seat, and I wish the government of India would pay more attention to such issues than spend so much effort begging the international community to accommodate India in the Security Council.