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Home > News > Columnists > Colonel Dr Anil A Athale (retd)


Beware of John Kerry!

October 29, 2004

The recent debate on foreign policy issues between the two candidates for the November 2 US presidential election was dominated by Iraq and the war on terrorism.

The only oblique reference to the Indian subcontinent came in the shape of President George W Bush's assertion that he has succeeded in dismantling ;A Q Khan's smuggling network, which he claimed as one of the major successes of his administration.

Pakistan's nuclear bazaar

However, towards the very end, when the moderator asked Senator John F Kerry what his first foreign policy priority would be if elected, his response was prompt and unambiguous -- non proliferation of nuclear weapons.

He went further, saying he would revive the treaties like the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) and scrap the American programme of development of 'usable' small nuclear weapons.

President Bush on the other hand has been responsible for stalling and virtually killing the CTBT and stressed that he is concerned about the spread of WMD (weapons of mass destruction) to 'terrorist' groups. Bush also stressed his resolve to build the anti-missile defence shield.

Kerry also stressed his preference for a multilateral approach to all issues as opposed to Bush's unilateralism. What all this clearly brings out is that Kerry and his Democratic party have a much more 'ideological' position on proliferation, almost bordering on fundamentalism.

On the other hand, Bush has a more pragmatic approach. Indian think tanks and policy makers ought to take note of the subtle differences between the two and its possible ramifications for India should Kerry win the presidential race in November.

As someone involved with the Americans on this debate since 1991, I am well aware of the entrenched non-proliferation lobby in the US bureaucracy. It is this lobby and Clinton's Democratic administration that stood in the way of better Indo-US relations all these years.

Thanks to President Bush's pragmatic approach, the issue of Indian nuclear weapons got pushed to the background over the last four years and Indo-US relations flourished.

All this may well change if John Kerry wins the presidential election.

Contrary to Delhi's orthodox thinking that Democrats are friendly towards India (a legacy of John F Kennedy), right from Jimmy Carter in 1977, Democratic administrations have put maximum pressure on India on the nuclear issue. With Kerry's election we may well see the return of the American 'Krishna Menon,' that rabid anti-India diplomat Robin Raphael, to the US state department.

Strobe Talbott's recent book reveals that the nuclear issue continues to be the stumbling block between India and US at least as far as the Democrats are concerned. Frankly, none of this would have mattered if there was clear thinking and resolute leadership in place in Delhi. But India's record on this has been dismal to say the least.

Exclusive: The Strobe Talbott Interview

The old strategic orthodoxy of efficacy of 'strategy of ambiguity' has now been replaced by a new one about 'minimum deterrence' as if there is a concept like partial death or partial pregnancy or even partial rape! Independent think tanks like Inpad of Pune have been campaigning for a sane and pragmatic approach for the last 14 years but have found it difficult to get past the television anchors who masquerade as 'specialists.'

Going back to the Kerry-Bush debate, one must point out a very interesting observation by John Kerry (a Senator of 20 years standing), who when responding to the issue of George Bush's pre-emptive strategy, said that in any case throughout the Cold War, the US had a strategy of pre-emptive strikes in place.

Exclusive: The John Kerry Interview

Inpad has been drumming this fact that irrespective of 'declared' strategy of no first use, all nations must be prepared for pre-emptive action in case of conflict. Unfortunately the Vajpayee government was so taken in by its own rhetoric on 'no first use' that it failed to prepare the instruments for pre-emption. The result of this weakness saw Musharraf's Kargil adventure.

The present government owes it to the people of India to clarify where it stands on the nuclear issue.

Under normal circumstances this would have been wholly un-necessary as one would assume that on issues like the survival of the nation there is no politics. But the presence of Lalu Yadav, who had made great fun of the BJP's 'Bum' in Parliament, and the influence of the Communists does raise some doubts.

The Communists, who have been deafeningly silent on the Chinese nuclear programme, were vociferously opposed to Indian nuclear tests. Some among the jhollawallahs had gone to the extent of renouncing their Indian citizenship.

The geographical location of Delhi, close to the Pakistan border, has skewed Indian policies for long. Pakistan, no equal of India in any field (except possibly cricket)looms large on the Delhi horizon. George Fernandes as defence minister did try and rescue our nuclear tests from being dubbed anti-Pak by raising the China question, but obviously failed.

With the 'Sher o Shayari' crowd dominating the media, Indians have been led to believe that peace with our hateful neighbour is just round the corner and that it will be a door to heaven which would solve all our problems. That the two-thirds of India that lies south of the Vindhyas does not give a damn matters little.

Exclusive! The George Bush Interview

Likely Scenario: In line with the Kerry approach of multilateralism, his administration is likely to revive the CTBT. Kerry is faced with defiance by Iran and North Korea, who have begun the process of acquisition of nuclear weapons. Here the 'fundamentalists' in the Democratic party are likely to insist on a multilateral approach that targets not just Iran and North Korea but all states outside the five declared nuclear powers of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (Russia, China, US, UK and France).

It is true that the three 'other' nuclear powers -- Israel, India and Pakistan -- are not signatories to the NPT. There is every likelihood that the Kerry administration may well make the NPT a universal and binding treaty for all nations through the UN.

If Israel is included then the Arab world's opposition will be muted and if India is included then Pakistan will willingly join. Where will that leave India and her nuclear defence capability carefully nurtured from the days of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru?

Is there a way out?

Of course there is! This article is merely an attempt to forewarn. There are several ways that India can safeguard her nuclear capability and yet re-assure the world community.

Thinking out of the box is needed for this. Inpad has been working on it for the last three months or so. But some things are best left unsaid for the time being at least.

After all, transparency does not mean one constructs a toilet with glass walls.


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Number of User Comments: 19




Sub: Beware of Bush

A Rabble Monger, Who cared a foot for UNO and other Countries, preaches democracy Our Good Freind has fallen to his trap. USA is no ...


Posted by Javeed Ahmed M





Sub: I agree somewhat to this article

By somewhat I mean that I agree with all the points I have knowledge of ('sher-o-shairi' & commies)! I think that rest of article is ...


Posted by Nagendra Pratap Singh





Sub: strong india

a very good article in line with other articles of Col.Athale.A popular saying goes as " Beggars are not choosers".It applies well with india which ...


Posted by abhishek





Sub: Beware of John Kerry!

After so many years of experience, we should understand one thing clearly that irrespective of who comes to power in USA (Democrats or Republicans), India ...


Posted by Himesh Shah





Sub: Beware of John Kerry

Dear Col., I just love your thought-provoking articles. What a contrast from the usual insipid drivel that comes from most of the other columinists that ...


Posted by Rajender Razdan




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