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Home > News > Specials

The Rediff Special/Josy Joseph in New Delhi

April 25, 2003

This article is thefifth of a six-partseries on Indo-US military relations. The first part dealt with US attempts to gain access to Indian military bases and establish USAF airbases on Indian soil. The second focussed on how access to American technology could be the key to gaining entry to Indian bases. The third highlightedAmerican perception ofIndian decision-makers. The fourth points out the reasons behind India's wariness in accepting Americans as reliable partners.

The series is based on 'Indo-US Military Relations: Expectations and Perceptions,' a US defence department-commissioned study, that is in possession of

Despite the pessimism, distrust for each other and the lack of a common strategic vision, policymakers from both sides agreethe bilateral relationship between India and the United States has improved since 1998.

But there are serious concerns on the American side that the Indians are not focussed on improving the economic relationship. A policymaker in Washington, DC, who saidthe Indians do not fully understand the importance of economic relations, recalled National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra's reluctance to meet then US Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neill one early morning during a visit to the US.

'This view (that economic ties was not a priority with Indian leadership) was reinforced during a recent visit by National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra, when he backed out of an appointment withUS Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neill that could only be scheduled at 7:30 am. Mishra's behaviour left the impression that the economic discussions were not important enough to get him up that early in the morning,' he is quoted as saying in 'Indo-US Military Relations: Expectations and Perceptions,' aUS defence department-commissioned study,that is in possession of

According to the officer, O'Neill, who was leaving Washington that day for the duration of Mishra's trip, had made an extraordinary effort to accommodate Mishra because O'Neill feltthe meeting was important.

Many decision-makers quoted in the report stress that for the military relations to swing up, a strong economic relationship is most important.

Both sides agree that an economically powerful India would be a 'stabilising force in Asia' and only strong economic ties between India and US can sustain 'an enduring strategic relationship and insulate the relationship from political change in either country or future disagreement on strategic issues.'

More importantly, the report feltstrong US investments in India would secure 'a more predictable, long-term American commitment to the Indo-US relationship.'

An American policymaker pointed out that India cannot act like France, described as one of America's most defiant partners in the report. As a result of its deep economic ties with the United States, France, the report says, 'carries political clout that sustains the strategic relationship, even when the French outwardly defy the United States.'

From the US view, trade with India is less than one per cent of the total US trade, and Indians are not dependent on the American market so at present 'either party can walk away from the relationship unaffected,' officials argued in the report. Though from an Indian view, the US is one of its biggest trade partners accounting for some 25 per cent of the total trade.

Presently there are significant asymmetries in economic field that divide the two countries, especially on forums like WTO and that would continue to cause tensions,American officials quoted in the report said.

Several policymakerscredited the Bharatiya Janata Party, current Finance Minister and thenexternal affairs and defence minister Jaswant Singh, Strobe Talbott, deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, the US response to Kargil, thenUS President Bill Clinton and the influential Indian community in the US for 'creating a new context for a military relationship that is measurably different.'

Jaswant Singh is identified as the single most important individual on the Indian side who helped forge a positive change in the bilateral relationship. Policymakers interviewed on both sides for the report speculated thatSingh lost the defence portfolio after the United States did not respond to India's offer to provide unprecedented support after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 'Many Indians explained that Jaswant Singh was seen as too close the Americans,' the report said. Singhheldboth the defence and external affairs portfolios when 9/11 occurred.

Sources inthe Indian intelligence agencies claimhe was a major influencing factor in them offering assistance to the Americans, including access to several intelligence inputs on Osama bin Laden, the Taliban and other Islamic terrorists.

Policymakers on both sides said the BJP was a 'crucial factor in creating the conditions for a new relationship.' 'The BJP pursued a deliberate policy to enhance India's power position in the world, for example by conducting the nuclear tests in 1998, which raised India's profile in Washington and around the world,' the report said.

The Jaswant Singh-Talbott dialogue in the wake of the 1998 nuclear tests too was a very important influence in the growing relationship, according to policymakers. Senior diplomats and military leaders interviewed for the report believeSingh championed 'the Indo-US relationship, despite real political costs,' that of losing the defence portfolio.

American response to the incursions in Kargil in 1999 was also a 'significant turning point in the relationship.' Indians and Americans 'marvelled at how one event could have such a profound impact on changing perceptions after decades of distrust.'

The BJP in power, the Singh-Talbott dialogue and the US response to Kargil together led to the pathbreaking visit of President Bill Clinton to India in March2000.The visit contributed tremendously to improving India's trust in America because Clinton 'showed sensitivities to Indian concerns in his landmark speech to India's Parliament.'

The report also points out the growing influence of the Indian American community. Driven by the IT boom, the number of Indians in America shot up several times in the 1990s. 'Consequently, Indian-Americans have become the most affluent and prosperous minority in the United States, with increasing political clout in Washington.'

By 9/11, the growing Indo-US relations were visible, when India offered in public all assistance to the US. It is another matter that the Americans did not take up the offer and disappointed India. But the Indian offer itself was a marked departure from 1991, when India clandestinely allowed US planes to refuel in Mumbai during the first Gulf War, but stopped it when the assistance became public, according to the report.

Despite the low opinionAmerican policymakers have for someof their Indian counterparts, some Americans find very 'positive' attitudes with the new breed of Indian policymakers. Several American policymakers find their counterparts in the external affairs ministryto be 'forward thinking and highly supportive' of the Indo-US military relationship.

Tomorrow: Immediate areasfor Indo-US military cooperation

Part I: Target Next: Indian military bases
Part II: US tech hold key to Indian bases
Part III: Of insults, obsessions and distrust
Part IV: Drawn, but not ready to fire
Part VI: Spats apart, future's rosy

The Rediff Specials

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Number of User Comments: 14

Sub: this relation is just having potential..........

you see americans . how they behave. so this relation will be in favour of india only when we can be able to see a ...

Posted by anjiva

Sub: Economic Wellbeing!

US style economy and prosperity is not suitable for India. IF India has to achieve economic wellbeing it has to truely believe in "Simple living ...

Posted by Samkum

Sub: Protocol!

Mr Mishra was right in turning down meeting with Paul o'Neal. Why did a economic advisor want to meet national security advisor. This shows the ...

Posted by samkum

Sub: economic times

Any country that directs it's economic policies to make itself poor, will lose not only it's commercial edge but also it's military edge. This is ...

Posted by peter francis

Sub: RE:Indo-American ties

I can't say it much better than what is been said earlier. Americans are only interested in keeping others down so India appears to be ...

Posted by nagendra



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