India and the Clinton-Bush Administrations: Why Friction to Friendship in the Aftermath of India's Nuclear Testing Is Not Likely to Lead to a Strategic Partnership

By Indurthy, Rathnam | World Affairs, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview
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India and the Clinton-Bush Administrations: Why Friction to Friendship in the Aftermath of India's Nuclear Testing Is Not Likely to Lead to a Strategic Partnership


Indurthy, Rathnam, World Affairs


To the shock of the Clinton administration, on 11 and 13 May 1998 India conducted five nuclear tests, including detonating a hydrogen bomb at the Pokharam site II in the Indian state of Rajashthan, even evading detection by the Central Intelligence Agency. U.S. president Bill Clinton, joined by European leaders, harshly denounced India's action. As required by the 1994 Amendment to the Arms Export Control Act (popularly known as the Glenn Amendment), the administration imposed a wide range of economic sanctions. When Pakistan followed India's lead by conducting six nuclear tests at Chagai Hills in the Baluchistani province, the administration imposed similar sanctions on it. My purpose in this article is threefold: first, to discuss briefly the impact of India's testing on Indo-American relations; second, to discuss why and how relations moved toward friendship; and third, to explain why this growing friendship is not likely to lead to a strategic alliance.

U.S. IMPOSITION OF SANCTIONS

Following India's testing, Clinton reacted angrily and, as noted, swiftly imposed a wide range of sanctions. The sanctions included termination of U.S. developmental assistance to India (about $57 million for 1998); termination of the sales of defense articles and dual-use technology and of military financing; the barring of India's access to U.S. guaranteed loans and credits through such agencies as the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Cooperation; the opposition of loans or assistance by any international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); and the prohibition of U.S. commercial bank loans of credits and exports of specific goods and technology. (1) While in Birmingham, England, attending the G-8 summit of industrialized nations, in a joint BBC television interview with British prime minister Tony Blair, Clinton painted a nightmare scenario of escalating conflict in South Asia. He said, "[I]t is a nutty way to go. It is not the way to chart the future." (2) And Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's letter to Clinton justifying India's action as a consequence of a growing Chinese threat failed to persuade him. (3)

Clinton was joined by administration officials and U.S. congressional leaders who denounced India's action as "dangerous" and called India an "emerging nuclear threat to the territory of the United States." (4) However, there were some members of Congress who were sympathetic to India's position. For example, Senator Patrick Daniel Moynihan (D-NY), a former ambassador to India, noted that "the political leadership in India as much as said they were going to begin testing. There is a tendency at the State Department to say, `Gee, the CIA never told us.'" (5) He suggested that India be admitted to the nuclear club as a quid pro quo for signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). House Speaker Newt Gingrich called the Clinton administration's policy on India one-sided. He said, "I am curious of one sided imbalance, this anti-India bias, and this willingness to forgive the Chinese anything. You had a one-sided policy that a Chinese dictatorship is okay, and Indian democracy does not seem acceptable to Clinton." (6)

At the initiative of the Clinton administration, the UN Security Council, meeting in New York in June 1998, and the five permanent Security Council members--the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China--meeting in Geneva in early June passed two separate resolutions condemning India for testing. In addition, they denied India the nuclear weapon status it had sought and asked that it "immediately and unconditionally" sign the CTBT and the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT). (7)

After having put the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan on the back burner for decades, the general members of the Security Council and its permanent members raised the issue separately again, noting that it was the "root cause of the tensions between India and Pakistan," and advised that they avoid "threatening military movements, cross-border violations, or other provocative acts.

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India and the Clinton-Bush Administrations: Why Friction to Friendship in the Aftermath of India's Nuclear Testing Is Not Likely to Lead to a Strategic Partnership
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