India and the U.S. as Allies
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
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
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
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.