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'US is not out to undermine India's strategic autonomy'

February 02, 2012 09:30 IST

Daniel Twining, a consultant to the US government on international security matters and a former member of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, has described as "a canard," the contention in some circles, both in New Delhi and Washington that the United States "somehow wants to undermine India's strategic autonomy."

Twining, who served as Foreign Policy Adviser to Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, argued strongly that "what we want is for India to be strategically autonomous and to be successful and to prosper and to be a driving, vibrant democracy, and that it emerges as one of the world's largest economies and spreads its wings in terms of its strategic horizons."

"That would be good for us irrespective of whatever kind of alignment the US and India have," he said.

Twining, who was among the panel of American, who discussed the future of US-India relations from the US perspective at the conference on India as a Global Power, declared, "The future of the liberal order in the world actually may hinge on the success of the Indian experiment in terms of a democracy in developing economy democracy to rise in a Chinese-like fashion."

"Essentially, in ways that put to bed the notion that you need a Beijing consensus of kind of strong-hand authoritarianism in order to prosper as a developing giant country," he said.

Twining, who is currently writing a book on US grand strategy in Asia after the Cold War, predicted that "India's success as a rising democracy does have important spillover implications, and that doesn't mean that the US and India ever have to do democracy promotion in the way that say the US and European countries work on democracy promotion in the world."

"But our interests on so many issues pull in the same direction," he said.

Twining reiterated, "When you think about the future of Asia, the future of liberal order in the world, the future of the global economy, and the future of democracy, India plays this swing vote if you will."

Doug Bandow, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, who served as a Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, said a prosperous India would not only be an asset to its own people, but also for the global order.

Such an India, he said, could envisage Delhi being "active in the international affairs, a partner for security, not an ally, expecting or giving security guarantees with the United States, but active in its own region and globally."

Bandow argued, "The growth of India is potentially very important because it comes at a time where the US feels the need to retrench," and consequently "the rise of India helps suggest there won't be a void—which some people fear—but rather the reordering of international affairs."

Sadanand Dhume, resident fellow at the neoconservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, said that even though India may not be in the business of promoting democracy.

"In the future, necessarily democracy is going to become more important for India, not only in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, but also in Pakistan, to the extent that even though India may have cooperated more with military regimes in the past, it is in India's long-run interests for Democrats in Pakistan to gain control over the national security apparatus."

"So, in that deeper sense, not simply in terms of elections or not having elections, but in terms of Pakistan emerging as a more democratic policy," he said.

Thus, Dhume cast doubts over whether in India's immediate neighborhood, "This sort of idea that India doesn't have vital interests in promoting democracy is going to hold."

He predicted that over the next 10,15,20 years, "as China rises in South Asia, India is going to find that it is even more and more in India's interests for these societies to be fundamentally democratic."

George Perkovich, vice president for studies and director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, described the US-India relationship as "a courtship," with no marriage in sight.

"There's not going to be a marriage here and we should quit pretending that."

However, he said, "There can be a really good friendship," but argued that "I have to say may never rise to the level of the US relationship with France -- which puts it in perspective, but is a solid friendship."

Meanwhile, Twining said that it was not India but the US that has had a very inconsistent relationship with China and noted that in the case of New Delhi, it has "practiced the policy of balancing power in Asia since 1962."

He said, "The great illusion was this period from 1947 to 1962, particularly this period after the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950 -- this illusion that somehow brotherhood and bhai-bhai could compensate for a lack of any kind of material strategy vis-à-vis China."

Twining said, "Consequently, these balance of power dynamics are inherent to the structure of the Asia region, they are inherent to the very strong differences in identity and culture and interests between India and China, and the US has no particular interest in aggravating that quiet competition."

"But it is very real and they are irrespective of anything the United States does," he said.

Dhume said that while the balance of power aspects tend to get emphasised in many arguments, he added that while "those are probably out there in the future," the reality of it was that today India is not even one of the US's top 10 trading allies.

"And today, India and the US, though there are exercises and so on, India's military potential has not been reached to where it becomes that significant."

However, he said, "In terms of balances of values question, India, right now, today, is already there. It is fully formed. It's not a question of what the promise will be in 10 or 15 years."

Dhume said "Of the two -- balance of power and balance of values -- I would say balance of values is that much more important because India is already a compelling example of democracy, pluralism, freedom of speech, whereas it may be a compelling force in the balance of power questions in 10 or 15 years."

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC