- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

The Clinton administration has finally publicly recognized a process that has been going on for some time in South Asia: a revolutionary change in the balance of power the emergence of India as a nuclear power and the strategic decline of Pakistan. The president's trip was historic in the sense that it recognized the end of the Cold War in South Asia and with it the end of the special U.S.-Pakistani relationship that was directly connected to the Cold War.

India, the largest multi-ethnic, multination, multi-religious democracy has now emerged from its old anti-Americanism. India is a nuclear power and should be recognized, without lectures by the U.S. president, as a member of the Nuclear Club along with the United States. India has demonstrated stability and international responsibility. It is a true democracy, a non-expansionist state. The contrast with Pakistan is remarkable a military autocracy dominated by radical Islamicists in the military and dedicated to upsetting the status quo in Kashmir.

The reasons for India's success in becoming a nuclear power stem from its dangerous neighborhood. To the north is its chief rival, China, an aggressive, expansionist, authoritarian nuclear state whose political system is still in flux. The aspirations of the present Chinese leadership behoove the Indians to rely on an existential security system lest the Chinese once again, as they did in 1962, challenge India's sovereignty. India's perennial foe, Pakistan, also a nuclear state, is interventionist in its orientations. I find it extremely curious that before the trip, President Clinton described the Indian Subcontinent as, "the most dangerous place in the world today." President Kircheril Raman Narayanan of India rebuked President Clinton during the ceremony celebrating "new beginnings between India and the U.S." by blunt, straightforward talk, characterizing Mr. Clinton's description is "alarmist."

The Clinton administration continues to subordinate a realistic policy with India to its obsessive neo-Wilsonian idealism when it comes to its dogmatic policy of non-proliferation. Why spend such precious political capital achieved in the president's recent trip by continuously nagging the Indians on the issue of non-proliferation and its nuclear weapons. Why not invite India to become a member of the Nuclear Club instead. The Indian experience with the British Raj, and now the United States, makes them very sensitive to any paternalistic lecturing on the part of the great powers. India is striving to become a major power in international politics, especially in Asia. It is apprehensive of Chinese verbal threats toward Taiwan and Chinese meddling in Tibetan politics.

The president's trip, which was also a personal pilgrimage to India, was a stunning success. He received tumultuous ovations from the Indian people and their parliament. Before leaving India, after accumulating so much public and private acclaim, why not top it off with a declaration establishing a strategic alliance between India and the United States and a formal recognition of India as a nuclear power. Unfortunately, the administration stopped short of such a declaration. If the reason is that the United States wants to balance its relationship equally between India and Pakistan, it is a terrible error. If the reason has to do with the dogma of non-proliferation, it is a serious political mistake. Such a declaration would include a statement concerning America's recognition of India's nuclear power and an Indian acceptance of the responsibility that comes with such power.

President Clinton should have paid attention to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee when he said, according to the March 22 New York Times, "We have the means and the will to eliminate this [Kashmir] menace." The combined "Vision Statement," signed by President Clinton and Prime Minister Vajpayee, summarized the differences between the United States and India. "The United States believes India should forgo nuclear weapons. India believes that it needs to maintain a credible minimum nuclear deterrent in keeping with its own assessment of its security needs."

Unfortunately, the issue of India's nuclear power has created tensions. Who is the United States to tell the Indians to sign the CTBT when the U.S. Congress rejected it? Why should India sign a non-proliferation treaty if it is not a member of the Nuclear Club? This most important issue was not resolved as it should have been during President Clinton's otherwise successful visit to India.

Two statements by Mr. Clinton received extremely different responses from the Indian Parliament. According to the March 23 New York Times, when the president said, "We learned that deterrence alone cannot be relied on to prevent accidents of miscalculation … and in a nuclear standoff, there is nothing more dangerous than believing there is no danger," the response was total silence. But when he said, "Only India can determine its own interests. Only India can know if it truly is safer today then before the tests. I do not presume to speak for you or tell you what to decide," there was tumultuous applause.

President Clinton's trip has elevated the importance of the U.S.-India relationship in the eyes of the leaders and the people of both countries. The president's success in India, despite his lecturing the Indians on nuclear power, should be followed by this and the next president with a clear strategic policy toward India and South Asia. The foundation for an American-Indian strategic dialogue has been established in this historic trip. The next step is to formulate and implement a policy that addresses America's interest in Asia and elevates India to the level of Japan as a major strategic ally in the forthcoming political and diplomatic confrontations with China.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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