To those who remember the sometimes contentious and troubled relations between India and the United States, especially during the Cold War, the sight of President Bush and Indian President Manmohan Singh rubbing shoulders and proclaiming eternal friendship last Monday might have seemed a little jarring.
President Bush’s offer to change U.S. laws to allow the transfer of civilian-oriented nuclear power technology to India might even seem strange to those who remember the trepidation following the testing of nuclear weapons by India and its eternal rival Pakistan in 1998.
These developments are hardly alarming, however. While India and the United States are short of being strategic or military allies, things have changed since the end of the Cold War, especially with India liberalizing and desocializing its economy, experiencing significant economic growth and becoming a power whose influence and potential influence in Asia cannot be ignored.
“India’s nuclear tests in 1998 generated something of a knee-jerk response of imposing limits on nuclear
technology transfers,” Rollie Lal, an Asian security
specialist at the Rand Corp., said. “But 9/11 caused a reassessment of India’s importance, and (last) Monday represents a further warming of relations.”
To some extent, given the perceived importance of Pakistan in the wake of 9/11, that event may have delayed warmer relations between the U.S. and India. But India has not only continued to grow economically and as a trade partner, it has also shared intelligence on Islamic terrorist threats in Central Asia and elsewhere. So closer relations seemed inevitable.
Lal thinks U.S. willingness to allow civilian nuclear technology sharing with India reflects a pragmatic approach to nuclear proliferation by the Bush
Under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, whose roots extend to the Eisenhower era (and which India has declined to sign), countries are supposed to get access to civilian nuclear technology only if they give up nuclear weapons. But the treaty didn’t prevent India from acquiring nuclear capability, and the administration apparently calculates that it isn’t about to give up weapons capability, so it might as well work with a rising power that to date has not shared its technology with rogue states or terrorists.
And there’s also the possibility that India could serve as a counterbalance to growing Chinese power in
Asia — although it will be a delicate balancing act, in that India and China are also seeking to reduce long-held suspicions between the two Asian powerhouses.
There are always risks in international relationships, but insofar as this one is built mainly on mutual
economic interests, closer relations between India and the United States carry more opportunity than danger.