Journalist | Writer | Analyst
24 July 2009
The bottom line behind India-U.S. 3.0
On July 8, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described India as an “emerging” global power. Ten days later she dropped the adjective, India’s entry on the world stage coinciding with her own moment of arrival on Indian shores. Ms Clinton was well advised. There is nothing the Indian elite likes more than having its great power ambitions stoked in this manner. But along with great flattery comes greater responsibility. And having declared India wort hy of global power status, American commentators have been breathlessly asking whether the country is “ready” to step up to the plate and play ball. “India wants to be seen as a major world power,” a New York Times editorial noted condescendingly. “For that to happen, it will have to drop its pretensions to nonalignment and stake out strong and constructive positions.”
The purpose behind Ms Clinton’s visit was twofold. First, to build new structures of engagement that might bring Indian thinking on major global issues like climate change, trade and disarmament in line with the “strong and constructive positions” the U.S. takes and away from the alternative consensus India is trying to build at different forums like BRIC, IBSA, G-20, G-77 and NAM. This she did by proposing a strategic dialogue consisting of “five pillars,” ranging from non-proliferation and climate change to trade, investment and agriculture. The second purpose was transactional: how to translate the strategic partnership with India into commercial gains for American businesses.
On both counts, Ms Clinton’s five-day visit was an unqualified triumph. The new strategic dialogue architecture was unveiled, and a strong foundation laid for nuclear and military sales. Both sides pretended to exchange views on burning international issues. But with barely an hour set aside for her official meeting with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, it is obvious that Ms Clinton was not particularly interested in hearing what her Indian hosts had to say on Iran and other subjects. Especially since she had already heard the one thing most important to her — end use.
Setting aside the publicly and privately expressed reservations of its armed forces, the United Progressive Alliance government agreed to an end use monitoring (EUM) agreement providing for the physical verification of defence items purchased from the U.S. None of India’s major defence suppliers imposes such a condition, though of course it may welcome the opportunity to do so in the future now that the country has shown a willingness to open its doors. India also gave in to the U.S. request to identify the two nuclear parks where American-supplied reactors will be installed. This at a time when Washington is attempting to renege on its commitment to facilitate full civil nuclear cooperation with India by getting the Nuclear Suppliers Group to introduce an NPT-only rule for the sale of enrichment and reprocessing items.
Much has been said about how the U.S. insists on EUM arrangements with all its defence customers and that India cannot expect to be given a waiver from a requirement that is embedded in American law. Chapter 4.5.7 of the Pentagon’s Security Assistance Management Manual (SAMM) spells out the EUM condition for foreign military sales: “Sales and assistance may be made to countries only for purposes of internal security, legitimate self-defense, for preventing or hindering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and of the means of delivering such weapons, civic action, or regional or collective arrangements consistent with the United Nations (UN) Charter, or requested by the UN… Proper use of U.S.-origin items is a joint responsibility of the recipient and U.S. personnel. U.S. representatives have primary responsibility until items are physically transferred to the recipient. The recipient then assumes this responsibility, based on agreements under which transfers are made, including transfer to a third party or other disposal or change in end-use.”
As the CAG discovered during his scrutiny of the Jalashva (formerly USS Trenton) landing dock ship India bought from the U.S. a few years ago, American weapons contracts come not just with potentially intrusive inspections but also with a “legitimate self-defence” end use requirement whose interpretation is bound to be contingent on wider political equations. For example, Israel has used U.S.-supplied aircraft and munitions in nakedly aggressive acts against its neighbours countless times but Washington has never held these to be a violation of the self-defence condition. But tomorrow, if India uses an American-supplied jet for an anti-terrorist operation outside its borders that the U.S. does not approve of, the end-use language of SAMM 4.5.7 may well be invoked against New Delhi. The Trenton was sold to enable India to deploy troops for humanitarian missions in the region that the U.S. may be unable or unwilling to undertake. If India tries to use it for “offensive” purposes, however, it may well have to contend with U.S. protests.
Every country that sells arms abroad does so for commercial gain. Many countries also use arms sales as a tool of foreign policy. But only the U.S. uses these sales as a tool of military policy as well. Arms transfers help build interoperability. And they also help shape the way the receiving military operates. What is on offer, therefore, is not an off-the-shelf sale but a comprehensive package whose components are not available for cherry picking. After the EUM agreement will come the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) and a Logistics Supply Agreement (LSA). It is not a coincidence that almost all of America’s customers for advanced military hardware are either formal alliance partners, major non-Nato allies or client states, none of whom has a problem with providing U.S. inspectors access. Before it plunges headlong into a closer military relationship, India needs to carefully consider what this entails.
Part of the problem has to do with mistaken assumptions and flawed understandings in India of what its strategic partnership with the U.S. involves. India assumes that American interests and strategies in the region are congruent with its own. India also believes a strategic partnership means the Americans will understand and share its concerns and priorities on most big issues and, at a minimum, not act against Indian interests wherever there are divergent views. For the U.S., on the other hand, the partnership is all about shaping India’s choices and priorities. It is about ensuring that India does not bandwagon with other rising powers. And acting against Indian interests (as it is now doing at the G8 and NSG) is not seen as a contradiction. That is why Indian apprehensions about President Barack Obama’s commitment to the strategic ties established by George W. Bush were so misplaced. This partnership helped open the doors of nuclear commerce for India but also led to a number of Indian doors being opened for the American side. Surely it would be most un-American for the new administration to not seek entry.
If India-U.S. 2.0 was all about laying the groundwork for cooperation in a variety of fields, India-U.S. 3.0 is where Washington gets to cash in. The U.S. intends to ensure that India honours the Letter of Intent it gave last September promising to place orders for nuclear reactors capable of generating at least 10,000 MW of electricity. The American arms industry — which lobbied hard for the passage of the nuclear deal through Congress — also intends to collect. And the Pentagon, which, in many ways, spearheaded Washington’s outreach to India in the 1990s and again after 9/11, would like to ramp up military-to-military cooperation using common equipment as a springboard.
In the weeks before the Hillary visit, U.S. officials not only worked out the agenda that was to be covered but also announced their intentions loud and clear. It is not a coincidence that the “five pillars” were identified not in the joint Indo-U.S. statement but in a separate “fact-sheet” issued by the U.S. embassy. Sadly, very little of this ideation and articulation took place on the Indian side. If India had a positive, proactive agenda of what it hoped to get out of the visit, this was kept a tightly guarded secret. Certainly, there was no public expression of it. When difficult issues arose in the public domain — like the attempt by the Obama administration to get the G8 to ban ENR sales to India — these were ducked and a senior Minister fielded to tell Parliament that the government was not unduly concerned.
India’s engagement with the U.S. is one of the most exciting and challenging aspects of the country’s foreign policy today. But unless this high-stakes game is handled properly, with planning, foresight and determination, it could well turn out to be dangerous.