Wednesday, October 17, 2007

India must not be overawed by the US because it is no superpower any more

The Manmohan Singh government and the Left Front share a common perception about the United States, though they draw diametrically opposite conclusions from it. The two sides believe that the US is a dominant power. The Leftists term it as hegemony and imperialism. The government and the experts who agree with the government refuse to use those words but accept that the US has a stranglehold over important issues like transfer of nuclear technology. The government and its negotiators of the deal are quite in awe of American supremacy in technology, in the economy and in international power relations. While the Leftists want to resist and oppose the might of the US, government wants to bargain and profit from it. The Left’s attitude can be said to be quixotic because to any realist opposing the US is nothing short of being foolish. On the other hand, government feels literally overawed by the mighty US, and it wants to adopt a pragmatic approach and not stand on silly notions of honour and all that. And both sides will argue that their own approach is the right one.

Ask any government official as to why India did not approach the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) before tying up the bilateral deal with the US, and the person throws his head back in shock, dismay and irritation. He seems to imply: How can you ask such a dumb question? And you try and explain the logic of the other approach. If you had got the IAEA and NSG approvals first, and of course with the good will of the US, then it would have been possible to argue that the nuclear deal is with the entire international nuclear community and not just with the US. Then the government could have escaped the taunt of surrendering to US imperialism. The officials admit that unless the deal was clinched with the US, it would not have been considered by the two international bodies.

A government source gave the example of US clout in nuclear matters. After the July 2005 joint statement of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George Bush in Washington over civilian nuclear technology cooperation, the prime minister visited Moscow. National Security Adviser M.K.Narayanan had Singh’s consent to ask the Russians for fuel supply for Tarapore now that that the US had given a green signal. The Russians had agreed to the request, and the Indian officials felt triumphant. But even weeks after the informal assent, the Russians failed to deliver the nuclear fuel. The US had got to know of it, and told the Russians that they cannot go ahead with the commitment. The official drew the obvious inference: the US is too powerful in these matters, and no country, including Russia and France, would help India unless there was a deal with the US.

If this be the case, then there will be enough sting left in the Left charge that the US is indeed a hegemonic and imperialist power, and that it is not right to kowtow to US power.
There is a need to break out of this closed circle reasoning. The terms of the debate would change if it is argued that the US is not the great power that it is made out to be though it remains a dominant one. The economic, technological and military superiority of the US remains impressive if not overwhelming. What tilts the balance of power in favour of the US is the fact that China, Japan, Russia, France, Germany are guarding their own interests. It leaves the US to remain an unchallenged power. If the others refuse to challenge the US, why should India be the fall guy in the manner of Iran, Venezuela and Cuba?

Though the government cannot afford to be innovative in formulating national strategy, there is a need for India’s strategy experts to draw up alternative scenarios, in which India does not passively accept the US dominance. India will not become a big power on the autopilot mode. The day is not far away when the US would lose its clout going by the law of averages. US domination has lasted from about the end of the Second World War to the end of the Cold War. Since then, the US has remained a big power in an international vacuum. This vacuum is proving to be disastrous for international affairs as can be seen in Palestine and Israel, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar, North Korea.

There is need for a credible balance of power. India must think of stepping out at an opportune moment instead of waiting for the US to facilitate its emergence as a big power. No country becomes big through the courtesy of another. Indians will have to learn to think differently.

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