- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 12, 2000

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is scheduled to meet with President Clinton toward the end of this week, and will also meet at Blair House with leading American specialists on the Indian-American relationship. There could be no more propitious time to announce a new American policy: Washington's willingness to accept India's world power status that will begin with a U.S.-India strategic dialogue. This is in step with the president's symbolic trip to India in March 2000.

The United States has underestimated India, its political, economic and military potential. A Sept. 11 CATO-commissioned paper by Victor Gobarev addresses this issue, "India as a World Power: Changing Washington's Myopic Policy."

The author points out two of America's mistaken attitudes toward India. One is related to the administration's obsessive concern with nonproliferation, and "continued insistence" by the United States that India "liquidate its nuclear arsenal." The second point is the administration's involvement in the Kashmir issue in its most narrow context rather than its wider strategic concern, i.e. war against Islamic fundamentalists. Insistence on American intervention in the Kashmir dispute is detrimental to general American interests in South Asia. This policy must be reversed, and issues of proliferation, Kashmir, terrorism and other strategic concerns must be emergent from a United States-India strategic relationship. India, and not China, is America's natural strategic partner.

To address the balance of power in South Asia, the United States must seek to lure India away from the emerging Russia-China-Iran-Pakistan entente, and be reversed to favor real American and Indian interests. An American strategic partnership with India, the largest democracy in Asia, which is becoming Asia's greatest economic power, could resolve the issue of proliferation by offering India its well-deserved role as a member of the nuclear five club. Why should India be less significant as a democracy and emerging capitalist power than Great Britain? India joining the club will bring an end to the bickering over its nuclear development. Not until the Chinese, the Iranians and the Russians change their pernicious behavior of supporting rogue states and the Chinese cease their support of the Pakistani nuclear program, can the issue of the India-Pakistan nuclear relationship be addressed.

Resolution of India-Pakistan disputes can be realistically assisted only in the context of an U.S.-India strategic relationship. I concur with Mr. Gobarev, who writes: "Current American national security interests with India, such as deterring a nuclear arms race in South Asia and restricting exports of nuclear technology, are no doubt noble. But is it productive to treat the decision by the world's largest democracy to develop nuclear weapons the same way we treat pariah states' nuclear ambitions? Is pressuring India to forgo nuclear weapons our best option?"

Mr. Gobarev addresses what he calls worrisome signs of a Russia-India-China axis. "Signs of an emerging Russia-India-China strategic alliance with an unmistakably anti-U.S. bias are causing growing concerns in U.S. policy circles." We are well aware of the effort of former Russian president and foreign minister, Yevgeny Primakov, to establish a Russia-India-China axis. This must be nipped in the bud.

The clear answer to the future balance of power in South Asia, the end of jittery nuclear proliferation and terrorism must be an American recognition of India as a world power. By the year 2025 India's gross domestic product is expected to surpass those of Germany and France, making India the world's fourth-largest economic power. In the area of economic globalization, advancing liberal and democratic values, Mr. Gobarev argues that the maximization of the number of friendly states in Asia is axiomatic to American national interest.

One wonders why the administration spent most of its two terms subscribing to an antiquarian, anachronistic Cold War policy of balancing the U.S. relationship between India and Pakistan. The bickering over nuclear proliferation has only retarded America's real goals in the area.

What is more natural than for the most populous democratic country in Asia, which is becoming a major economic power, to become an American strategic partner? Contrast this with the dubious and failing Clinton policy of seeking a strategic partnership with China. China is no strategic partner for the United States. It is a rival of the United States. In Europe, the Russians are ready to become strategic partners with Europe and the United States, but not in Asia.

The present regime of Iran must be isolated, and the present Pakistani regime must end its terrorist campaign in Kashmir. The answer to both is a strategic partnership between India and the United States. We have to work toward dissolution of the China-Russia-Iran-Pakistan axis that is being formed.

Failing to recognize the strategic importance of India to the United States and vice versa will jeopardize the balance of power in Asia and will strengthen the emerging alternative axis. We must guarantee that India does not become a partner to the China-Russia axis, because its role would strengthen the alliance considerably. It is unfortunate that American media and especially the Congress do not perceive the real American interest in South Asia and the need to lower the level of Chinese aspirations even in a non-revisionist China. There are three major powers in this area: Russia, China and India. Russia no longer is a significant power, even if things reverse within 20 years. But the unrelenting effort to accommodate China and seek strategic partnership with the Chinese, to beg it to end its verbal war against Taiwan, is perplexing. China is part of the American consciousness. India is not. China was central to America's Pacific policy. The relationship with China has gone up and down throughout the last two centuries.

In 1949, the Republican Party spoke of the "loss" of China. But we don't speak of the loss of India, since India was part of the British Empire, not part of the American political or intellectual consciousness.

To institutionalize and strengthen this strategic relationship, we also must envelop it in the recognition of India's history, culture and politics. And above all to remember that India is the world's leading democratic state.

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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