Academic journal article Strategic Forum

A Golden Opportunity: The Next Steps in U.S.-Indian Relations

Academic journal article Strategic Forum

A Golden Opportunity: The Next Steps in U.S.-Indian Relations

Article excerpt

Key Points

President Bush has made closer relations with India a priority, thereby intensifying a process begun by the previous administration. Strengthening U.S.India ties and cooperation on Asia-Pacific security issues can advance national interests in regional stability by reducing the risk of nuclear war on the subcontinent.

The first step in the process is to peel away remaining punitive sanctions against India. Although symbolic of the commitment to nonproliferation, sanctions are manifestly ineffective and counterproductive in South Asia. This applies to Pakistan as well as India.

Only India can initiate changes in the regional security atmosphere. The administration should focus on encouraging New Delhi to follow policies of restraint. Improved security relations will create equities that enable Washington to further encourage restraint.

Restraint would mean resuming a dialogue with Pakistan on nuclear issues; not deploying nuclear weapons; no further testing; and defining a minimum deterrent that engenders greater stability, that is, does not create incentives for either a first strike or for Pakistan to enhance its deterrent.

U.S. policy should link expanded bilateral ties to regular and more substantive military-to-military contacts. China and Pakistan may feel threatened by improved U.S.-India relations, and Pakistan may seek help from China or North Korea. Washington should counter this possibility by reassuring Beijing and also rebuilding badly damaged relations with Islamabad.


The Bush administration promotes broader security relations with India as a priority yet maintains wide-ranging sanctions against this giant of the subcontinent to punish it for its 1998 nuclear tests. The administration inherited policies that restrict high technology and military exports to India, mandate that the United States vote against some development loans to India from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, and limit cooperation with the Indian military establishment. The administration is in the process of lifting restrictions on high-level military contacts and is consulting with New Delhi on its plans for missile defense, a concept that India has applauded.

Indian leaders would welcome closer ties with the United States. Prime Minister Vajpayee believes that the two are "natural allies." India has long been interested in America as a source of technology and investment and as a market for its exports; it now hopes that bilateral cooperation will leverage its power in a sphere that extends from Southeast Asia to Central Asia and the Persian Gulf.

The overriding American priority for India is regional stability--the avoidance of nuclear war on the subcontinent and of heightened tensions with China. At the same time, India's gathering economic strength, its commitment to democracy, its potential to act as a stabilizing force in the Asia-Pacific region, and its role as a market-democracy alternative to Chinese dictatorship are all factors that reinforce the logic of improved relations.

A decade of deregulation combined with booming software exports have made India one of the fastest growing economies in the world--over 6 percent a year. The reforms result from a system of democratic governance that has united a diverse country of "a million mutinies" and brokered a process of slow but peaceful change and modernization. An elected parliament, an increasingly assertive judiciary, a free and lively press, and a boisterous civil society will remain characteristics of Indian democracy in this century. The country's underlying strength is its educated middle class, which numbers about 300 million (in a population of one billion), many of whom are English speakers and aggressively entrepreneurial. The overseas extension of the middle class is the Indian diaspora, which helps establish links that serve India's political and economic interests. …

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