President George W. Bush should embrace India as the key strategic partner of the United States in Asia. President Richard M. Nixon’s opening to China to obtain an ally against the Soviet Union has exhausted its advantages.
At present, the Peoples’ Republic undercuts the United States at every turn, whether on human rights, democratization, nonproliferation or Taiwan. Indeed, Zhu Chenghu, a major general in the People’s Liberation Army, threatened last week to unleash nuclear weapons against the United States: “If the Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition on to the target zone on China’s territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons.”
Accordingly, Mr. Bush should use this week’s visit by India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to thicken military, economic and diplomatic ties, the equivalent of an “opening” to India on the installment plan.
As Lord Palmerston lectured, “We have no eternal allies and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and these interests it is our duty to follow.”
The post-Cold War, post-September 11, 2001, U.S. and Indian interests generally converge. Both cherish democracy, the rule of law, secularism, nonaggression and religious pluralism. Mr. Singh has displaced India’s historical nonalignment infatuation with allegiance to “those who defend the values of liberal democracy and secularism across the world.”
India champions religious diversity and decries fanaticism. India’s prime minister is a Sikh, its president a Muslim, and the leader of the ruling party, Sonia Gandhi, is a Roman Catholic, but her children are Hindu, and a former vice president was a member of the untouchable caste.
In contrast to Britain’s “home-grown” Pakistani terrorists who perpetrated the London subway and bus suicide bombings, no Indian Muslim has ever been complicit in international terrorism. And India’s Muslim population is the world’s second-largest after Indonesia’s.
India has desisted from quarreling with the United States over Afghanistan and Iraq. It has not carped about Guantanamo Bay detainees or interrogation practices. Neither country holds territorial ambitions. Both staunchly oppose proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, seek a stable and democratic dispensation in Pakistan and Nepal, and align with Israel.
India and the United States are nations of entrepreneurs. Small businesses in the United States surpass 22 million, and India sports proprietors at every street corner. India is slowly shedding the socialism of Jawaharlal Nehru for the free enterprise of the United States with privatization and deregulation. India’s GDP 2004 growth approximated 81/2 percent. As Adam Smith, celebrated author of “Wealth of Nations,” would have applauded, the U.S. economy is strengthened by efficient outsourcing to India matched by “in-sourcing” of Indian brains and talents.
In the early 1990s, for instance, Indian-Americans accounted for 10 percent of all start-up companies in Silicon Valley. About 75,000 Indians are enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education, the largest cohort among foreign exchange students. In the lodging industry, Indian-Americans own 12,500 hotels with a combined market value of $31 billion.
The U.S. “opening” to India should begin with sharing civilian nuclear technology to address India’s spiraling energy demands and reduce any incentive for “unholy” natural gas and oil alliances. President Bush should authorize trade in dual-use technologies; seek admission of India into the nuclear club of five under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; designate India a major non-NATO ally; and support India as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
On the military front, a promising initiative was launched last month when U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and India’s Defense Minister Pranab Mukherjee inked a 10-year agreement on joint weapons production, cooperation on missile defense, and the prospective lifting of export controls on sensitive military technologies. India’s defense procurement budget is nearly $18 billion, but antiquated U.S. defense sales restrictions confine the share enjoyed by American companies to a microscopic $90 million, or 1/2 percent.
The State Department bureaucracy could arrest a flowering partnership with India. As generals are notorious for fighting the last war, diplomats are notorious for sticking to a strategy in blind imitation of the past. Thus, former U.S. Ambassador to India Robert Blackwell recently recalled fighting a cadre of antiproliferation State Department zealots preoccupied with punishing India as a “rogue” nuclear nation. They ignored India’s impeccable credentials as a responsible nuclear power, in contrast to the irresponsibility of China and Pakistan. Further, India has moved out of the nonaligned orbit and ended diplomatic fraternity with Russia.
U.S. bureaucrats foolishly persist in treating Pakistan and India as equals. That persistence refuses to recognize the Cold War is over; and, that while Pakistan is an important short-term ally in defeating al Qaeda and Taliban, India is vastly more in the long-term strategic battle against global terrorism and nonproliferation. Pakistan has assisted the nuclear and missile programs of North Korea, Iran and Libya; and, its madrassas continue breeding terrorists at an alarming rate.
If President Bush is searching for a legacy, an opening to India is on the White House doorstep.
Bruce Fein is a constitutional lawyer and international consultant with Bruce Fein & Associates and the Lichfield Group.