top of page

The American Hug and The Chinese Frown

The US uses countries and leaders when it suits it and when it feels that such use is in its national interest. If a situation arises when it concludes that they are no longer of use to it, it has no qualms of conscience over discarding them. The history of the US’ bilateral relations with other countries is littered with such instances of its going back on its obligations in its national interest.

2. You don’t have to go far to find an example. Look at the US’ relations with Pakistan. So long as the US was engaged in a cold war with the USSR, Pakistan was Washington’s privileged ally.When the USSR collapsed and the cold war ended, Pakistan was downgraded in its importance. After 9/11, Pakistan and General Pervez Musharraf were toasted once again as front-line allies.If Pakistan fails to deliver on the terrorism front or in the unlikely event of the so-called war against terrorism losing its present importance, we will have another steep turn in the US policy towards Pakistan.

3. To maintain a balance, it is important to keep this in view in the current debate on the pros and cons of the recently-concluded agreement on Indo-US Civil Nuclear Co-operation, which is often referred to as the 123 agreement—– a reference to the relevant section of the US law relating to nuclear co-operation.

4. Even if our agreement with the US is satisfactory in every respect from our point of view, it is no guarantee that there will not be another Tarapore trauma. After our first nuclear test of 1974, the US did not hesitate to break its solemn contractual obligations and starve the US-aided power station of fuel to punish us for the test.

5. The US will observe the provisions of the 123 Agreement so long as it suits it and it looks upon India as of importance to it in its pursuit of its global designs and ambitions. If a day comes when the US decides that India is no longer of such importance to its national interests or when it fears that India’s indigenous nuclear projects are detrimental to its nuclear agenda, it will not hesitate to throw the 123 agreement into the waste paper basket and try to enforce its will on India.

6. What is called for is not an unwarranted euphoria generated by spins and wishful-thinking or counter-productive criticism, but a careful identification of the various scenarios in which the implementation of the agreement can turn sour and we are confronted with another Tarapore-like situation. The purpose of such an exercise should be to have a clear idea of the various fall-back options that would be available to us and to keep ourselves in readiness for being able to use them. One does not see evidence of such an exercise.

7. There is a need for a three-track approach. First, to keep pressing ahead in our quest for nuclear self-sufficiency so that we can produce one day all the nuclear power we need through our own resources and efforts. Second, to force open the doors to international nuclear commerce so that we can buy our requirements of power stations and related technologies till such time as we reach the goal of self-sufficiency. The recently-concluded agreement with the US is one of the initial steps in our attempt to break open the doors, which are till now shut against us. And third, to keep ourselves mentally and in other ways prepared to meet a situation in which the doors might again be closed against us before we reach the goal of self-sufficiency. A comprehensive exercise to cater to these three tracks is the need of the hour.

8. Unfortunately, the national debate on this subject has got stuck in a “for or against” syndrome. If one is for it, one can think of dozens of reasons for supporting it. If one is against it, one can equally find dozens of reasons for opposing it. The question now is not just one of “for or against”, but how to protect ourselves from the vagaries of US perceptions and policy-making and any bad faith in its implementation by the US.

9.More than the agreement itself, the circumstances surrounding the negotiations which preceded its finalisation and the changing attitude to the US amongst the present political leaders in power in New Delhi and the small group of officials and non-official intellectuals advising them should be a matter of concern to public opinion. The negotiations and the background against which these were conducted brought out certain defining characteristics of the leaders and their advisers. Firstly, the lack of transparency. All Governments in India have tended to be less transparent than they ought to have been, but none has been more opaque in policy-making than the present one. Second, the noticeable contempt for those expressing reservations about the present policy of the Government towards the US in general and this agreement in particular. One could sense an orchestrated attempt to ridicule and discredit them. Even Indira Gandhi, during the emergency, had not indulged in such tactics to discredit her opponents. Third, an uncritical fascination for the US and a disquieting belief that India’s ultimate salvation and its emergence and recognition as a major power lie in close relations with the US and a readiness to be subservient to its policy goals. Fourth, a greater willingness to be sensitive to the views and concerns of American legislators and moulders of public opinion than to those of India.

10. The US is an important country. It is in India’s interest to maintain the closest of relations with it without damaging our sense of national dignity and the needs of our national interests. It is at the same time important to ensure that our pursuit of close relations with the US and the manner in which we are doing so do not create wrong perceptions of India in the minds of other countries such as China, in the Islamic world and in our own Muslim community, which has made us proud by keeping away from pan-Islamism and the global jihad of Al Qaeda brand.

11. Rightly or wrongly, there is a perception among large sections of thinking people in our own country that the pursuit of close relations with the US has been at the cost of the independence of our decision-making in matters concerning foreign policy today. It could be in matters concerning economic policy tomorrow. We have seen examples of this in our vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, our maintaining a studied distance from the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, our discreet silence on the deaths of hundreds of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq due to American air strikes, the welcome accorded to US naval ships which are engaged in the military operations in Iraq, and our letting ourselves be inveigled into a closer working relationship with the US,Japan and Australia.

12. There has been no proper examination of the likely impact of our US-induced policy changes on our relations with China and on the attitude of our Muslim community. There are already indicators of Beijing’s concern over the direction which our foreign policy has been taking at the nudge of Washington DC. The Chinese opposition to our becoming a permanent member of the UN Security Council and the lack of American enthusiasm for the idea frustrated our ambitions. We no longer talk of our quest for this.

13. A consensus in the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) on removing the restrictions on civilian nuclear trade with India would depend ultimately on the Chinese willingness to go along with it. Would China, which is concerned over the new directions of the US-induced foreign policy of India, support us without reservations in the NSG? Would China be unresponsive to Pakistani concerns on the implications of the Indo-US Agreement for it?

14. Pakistan uses the continuing Chinese willingness to help it in the nuclear and missile fields as the most important yardstick for judging the priority attached by China to its relations with Pakistan. Beijing, therefore, loses no opportunity to underline its willingness to continue to assist Pakistan in this field.Not many India noticed that the statement, which emanated from the Chinese Embassy in Islamabad on the Lal Masjid raid by the Pakistani commandos, included a reference to China’s assistance to Pakistan in the civilian nuclear field.It referred to the completed Chashma I nuclear power station and to the under construction Chashma II and then highlighted the on-going talks on possible Chinese assistance to Chashma III and Chashma IV.

15. What was the need for referring out of context to this in a statement on the Lal Masjid?It was obviously meant to reassure Pakistan that Beijing’s unhappiness over the attacks on its nationals by the jihadis would not have any impact on the priority accorded by it to its relations with Pakistan and to its continuing interest in assisting Pakistan in the nuclear field.

16. The US has ruled out any civil nuclear co-operation agreement with Pakistan on the ground that India is a special case. Will a Beijing, piqued by perceptions of India letting itself be used by the US against China, treat India as a special case in the NSG and agree to lifting the restrictions on India without simultaneously lifting those on Pakistan? These are questions which have not been adequately addressed in the debate on the US-induced new directions in our foreign policy. (3-8-07)

(The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

2 views0 comments