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India, Big Time

In a bold new policy report, US defence and nuclear expert Ashley J. Tellis says the only option for the Bush administration is to consider India an Asian superpower

India, Big Time
India, Big Time

What The Carnegie Report Says

The United States must align with India because...

  • By 2015, it will have the fourth most capable concentration of power
  • It will be among the five major economies in 25-50 years
  • Can be a counterfoil to China
  • Can stabilise the region littered with failing states
To align with India, the United States must...
  • Help India's power to grow to prevent China's dominance
  • End the illusory idea of military balance between India and Pakistan
  • Endorse India's membership in the UN Security Council, G-8, APEC, International Energy Agency
  • Remove objections to the Iran-India gas pipeline
  • Allow sale of dual-use technology, including nuclear safety equipment

The estimates are in, the assessments are being made as policymakers around the world adjust to the new balance of power in Asia. The rise of India on the global stage is no longer a question but the answer. At issue: how should the world's lone superpower engage an India in full flight to join the big league? The answer: if the United States indeed wants to stay the preeminent player in Asia, it must stop treating India as part of the problem. It must shed old inhibitions, adopt new attitudes and forge ahead with India because it is in America's interest to do so. Half-hearted favours and treats won't do. Current US policy declares India a friend but its practice thwarts New Delhi's aspirations.

A bold, new report by noted defence and nuclear expert Ashley J. Tellis provides a detailed roadmap. Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a prestigious and independent think-tank, looks at India with open eyes, without condescension, and dares to call for radical changes—on the American side. India as a New Global Power: An Action Agenda for the United States breaks the mould of the predictable, the comfortable, the merely tinkering-with-policy attitude that managed to obscure President George Bush's ideas for India in the first term. Outlook obtained an exclusive copy of the Carnegie report to be released next week, with former US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, leading the discussion. During Bush's first term, Blackwill forced many positive changes in US policy despite stiff resistance, with Tellis as his advisor in New Delhi.

Why should the US bother? Well, all current analysis says India is likely to be among the five major economies in the first half of this century and will overtake Japan, Germany, Britain and France at some point in the next 25 to 50 years. "The record thus far amply substantiates the claim that India will be one of Asia's two major ascending powers. It is expected that the Indian economy could grow at a rate of 7-8 per cent for the next two decades. If these expectations are borne out, there is little doubt that India will overtake current giants," Tellis testified in the House of Representatives last month.

In the Carnegie report, Tellis quotes an internal CIA assessment where countries are ranked for national power—weighted combinations of GDP, defence spending, population and technology growth. By 2015, India will have the fourth most "capable concentration of power", after the US, EU and China. The CIA analysis also calls India the most important "swing state" in the international system—a country that could tilt the balance between war and peace, between chaos and order. The National Intelligence Council, CIA's brain trust, compared the emergence of India and China to the rise of Germany in the 19th century and the US in the 20th century in Mapping the Global Future, a public report.

Besides, India is "a potential hedge against a rising China", says Tellis in the report, tying up the threads of worry running through Washington. US leaders are concerned about the growth of the Chinese military, its monetary policy, its vicious attacks on Japan and its increasing power projection capabilities. Both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have sharply articulated their doubts on these grounds. An unbridled China is not in the US interest and by bolstering India, the US can arrest the "growth of Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean rimlands and Chinese penetration of Myanmar", says the report.

Another big reason: the need to preserve order in South Asia. Look at the map and it becomes clear that India is "an island of democratic values and political stability in a region convulsed by religious fanaticism, illiberal governments, state sponsors of terrorism and economic stasis." Every state on India's periphery has "a need to cope with state failure". Afghanistan remains threatened by the Taliban because of Pakistani meddling. Pakistan's own experiment with "enlightened moderation" is by no means a guaranteed success. Besides, its "infrastructure supporting the jihadi groups warring against India remains intact, and continues to enjoy comprehensive state support despite Pakistan's prominence in the global war on terrorism." Bangladesh could be the "next major case of political implosion" while Myanmar remains in the iron grip of the military junta.

If India joined its neighbours "in succumbing to state failure or was threatened by its neighbours' pathologies", it would be "catastrophic" for US interests. A troubled India could unleash the disaffected into the world on a scale that would make "contemporary challenges look small in comparison." Given the importance of India, Bush has rightly set his eyes on enhancing relations. He assumed office wanting to pull India firmly into America's club of friends but for every new idea that bubbled up the powerful US bureaucracy, there were ten to bust it. Still, Bush and former prime minister A.B. Vajpayee, both trying to break the old habit, announced a strategic partnership, thanks to some ideas people, including Tellis.

But the much-heralded Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) was a "precarious" breakthrough, the report says. Bush's second term can make a real difference by demonstrating a true change of the American heart to the people of India. It shouldn't be a teeth-pulling exercise where New Delhi must repeatedly prove its credentials to gain anything. Such an attitude is downright "astrategic". It creates a dangerous situation where the US ends up strengthening China by default purely by denying India the technology it wants.

Instead, Bush should aid the growth of India's national power by augmenting its economic and defence capabilities, not jam the brakes. He must abolish the second-class citizenship, support India's bid for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council, pull India out of the "netherworld" of nuclear technology, offer a defence partnership and share information across the board—political, scientific, technological—to show that New Delhi is a real partner. And end the "illusory criterion of maintaining a military 'balance' with Pakistan—an untenable proposition, given the disparities in national capabilities".

Washington can begin the new era with some simple gestures. It can stop the "gratuitous public statements" demanding India sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as "a non-nuclear weapon state," a formulation that defies logic. It can call off the prosecutors who routinely condemn India's missile research. It can allow other countries to support India's strategic programmes.That's just for starters. The report is a thunderbolt of ideas, a shock wave of innovative solutions. It is backed by meticulous research so those married to the status quo can't yawn or dismiss it.

Bush gets it. But to realise the goal, Bush should "enshrine his intention to advance the growth of Indian power in a formal National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) that provides authoritative guidance for the entire government". In other words, nothing less than a fatwa would push the American babus to move. From the earliest days, US presidents, exercising executive power like that of a monarch, have issued directives establishing new policy. The NSDD can state that since there is an "unassailable" convergence of objectives on defeating terrorism, stopping proliferation, promoting democracy and ensuring a stable balance of power in Asia, the "fundamental strategic interests of the United States require strengthening India, supporting its democratic institutions, and assisting in the growth of its national power, integrating India as a friendly nuclear weapon state into the evolving global regime, pursuing a special relationship with it even though New Delhi continues to remain formally nonaligned...."

The Carnegie report says, "Absent such instruction, it will be difficult to ensure that bureaucratic debates actually advance the president's interests." There should be continuous high-level monitoring if the three dialogues—strategic, energy and economic—are to produce anything besides "lofty rhetoric, full of sound and fury signifying nothing". The dialogue leaders must find ways to treat India as a legitimate exception to the existing rules, specially in the nuclear arena. "Of the three outliers, Pakistan and Israel receive subsidies. Only India is currently outside the circle, yet it is expected to contribute just the same toward the realisation of global non-proliferation goals. Beyond a certain point, virtue cannot remain its own reward," says Tellis, articulating the generational frustration in New Delhi.

The energy dialogue must focus on India's growing demand for oil, natural gas and on nuclear energy. As a sign of good faith, the US should champion India's membership in the International Energy Agency, a group of industrialised countries dealing with oil supplies. It should drop objections to the Iran-India gas pipeline specially because the US has not obstructed the G-8 from energy investments in Iran. It is an incentive for Iran to forsake its nuclear weapons ambitions and it helps the Indo-Pak peace process. Nuclear cooperation will be the toughest nut to crack because of the many US and international restrictions on India for not signing the NPT. But the report offers several options.

The US could begin by inviting India to participate in international research on advanced nuclear reactors, something the energy secretary can do with a memo. It can provide useful nuclear safety equipment to safeguard Indian reactors, not the "trivial" stuff it has so far offered, and explore whether India would be willing to put more of its 14 reactors under international safeguards in exchange for "genuine access" to components. The US can also begin re-supplying uranium for the Tarapur reactor, a "contractual obligation" it reneged on.

The strategic dialogue should focus on India's membership in the UN Security Council, in the Proliferation Security Initiative, defence ties, cyber security and space cooperation. There are good reasons for the US to support India's UN bid, the report says. If expansion is inevitable, the US "will have to live with" a larger body. It can either move away from the UN, in which case supporting India has no cost. Or make the effort to shape it, in which case India's presence would "likely be beneficial because there are no inherent conflicts of interest". Tellis is the first prominent US analyst to argue that the US should "not dilute the significance of this endorsement with churlish caveats" and prematurely oppose veto power for India. The support will ring in India as nothing else can and help clean the slate on which ugly words from the likes of Nixon and Kissinger still faintly show.

Tellis has big ideas for the defence sector. He proposes "a comprehensive defence partnership" which can integrate the military-to-military relations, defence trade and production, joint research and operations into a single document that defines an "ambitious vision". Given the strain on the US military, India and the US can sign an MOU on operations in the Indian Ocean given the high-value traffic and India's geographic advantages. Meanwhile, US companies should be encouraged to invest in India's defence sector, something that can help the trade imbalance.

Even though US policymakers think they have done India a favour by offering the F-16s and F-18s, Tellis quite rightly says that defence sales don't have the same resonance in India as they might here. Besides, India can buy fighter jets from other vendors as well. Military technology can't be the main vehicle of fulfilling India's desire for greatness. Instead, Bush should offer a variety of incentives that help India's growth. A free trade agreement which imposes equal burdens on both sides would be beneficial.

On the eve of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit in July, Tellis in the report tries to tackle questions that are always raised but never answered. For America's sake, he looks at India as India looks at itself.

Next Story : India Shining, Act II
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