- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 5, 2001

The symbolism is striking. In the same week that tensions between the United States and China escalate over the spy plane incident, Indias second-ranking leader arrives in Washington as a counterweight to Chinese power in Asia.
The visit of Foreign and Defense Minister Jaswant Singh offers an opportunity for the Bush administration to accelerate the thaw in the long-troubled India-U.S. relationship that began with the end of the Cold War. But regrettably, the administration has been in disarray over India policy, with the presidents national security team at odds over whether to treat New Delhi as a friend or foe.
The atmosphere for the Singh visit was poisoned recently when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld criticized Russia for selling civilian nuclear technology to "countries like Iran, North Korea and India, which are threatening the United States, Western Europe and countries in west Asia."
By contrast, Mr. Rumsfelds deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, referring to the "enormous common interests" that India and the United States share, has declared that "building a healthy relationship with India is very important to our whole Asian strategy." Secretary of State Colin Powell pledged to give "a high priority to engaging very broadly with India, a powerful country soon to be the largest country in population on the face of the earth."
Mr. Rumsfeld referred to India as a threat because it has acquired nuclear weapons. Yet National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, writing in Foreign Affairs, viewed a nuclear India as a stabilizing offset to a nuclear China. The United States should no longer bracket India with Pakistan, she suggested, "thinking only of Kashmir or of the nuclear competition between the two states." Instead, the United States should recognize Indias "potential to emerge as a great power" and treat it as a factor in the overall Asian balance of power with Beijing.
Far from posing a threat, India is actively seeking closer ties with the United States. Trade and investment relations are soaring as the Indian economic growth rate nears 7 percent and New Delhi increasingly pursues business-friendly economic reforms. The distrust over security issues that marred relations during the Cold War has been rapidly declining, though Mr. Rumsfelds barbed statement showed that old suspicions die hard.
President Bush, working voters of Indian origin, pledged during his campaign to remove the economic sanctions imposed by President Clinton in the aftermath of Indias 1998 nuclear tests. Mr. Rumsfeld, backed by John Bolton, undersecretary of state-designate for security affairs, wants to keep the sanctions in place, State Department sources say, while Miss. Rice favors ending them.
Mr. Singhs visit should be the occasion for burying the self-defeating sanctions policy. Pressuring India to reverse its commitment to develop nuclear weapons merely strengthens Indian hawks who oppose closer relations with Washington and favor an all-out nuclear buildup that would stimulate nuclear arms races with China and Pakistan. By the same token, U.S. acceptance of the reality of a nuclear-armed India would strengthen moderate elements in the Indian leadership who want to restrain the size and character of the buildup.
The principal objective of a U.S. policy designated to encourage nuclear restraint should be limiting the number of warheads. Other key U.S. goals could be keeping Indian nuclear forces under civilian control, reducing the frequency of missile tests and formalizing the de facto Indian restrictions that now exist on the export of nuclear technology. Getting India to sign the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would be a desirable goal if, and when, the United States itself ever signs the treaty.
Moderate elements in New Delhi share many of these objectives but would need U.S. quid pro quos to make them politically supportable, starting with an end to economic sanctions. The sanctions have blocked $3 billion in multilateral aid credits for power projects and other economic development priorities.
Together with lifting sanctions, the United States should greatly reduce the sweeping restrictions on the transfer of dual-use technology that were imposed after the 1998 tests. These restrictions cover many items with little relevance to nuclear weapons.
The most important step that the United States could take to ease nuclear tensions and strengthen Indian advocates of nuclear restraint would be to relax the existing U.S. ban on the sale of civilian nuclear reactors. New Delhi urgently needs to expand its civilian nuclear power program to help meet its burgeoning energy needs and finds it galling that China is permitted to buy U.S. reactors, while India is not.
American policy should be based on a tacit recognition that a multipolar Asian balance of power in which India possesses a minimum nuclear deterrent will be more stable than one in which China enjoys a nuclear monopoly.


Selig S. Harrison, a senior fellow of the Century Foundation and a senior scholar of the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

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