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'US-India relationship has indeed been oversold'

April 19, 2012 19:48 IST

George Perkovich, vice president, studies, and director, Nuclear Policy Programme, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, believes that with the United States-India nuclear deal in limbo, the lack of convergence between Washington and New Delhi on Iran, climate change, the World Trade Organisation, and stagnation of defence cooperation, the US-India relationship has indeed been oversold.

This is the third part of a four-part series.

Part I: India not oversold, but over-hyped: America Inc

Part II: 'Passivity won't work for India on this trajectory'

One of the discussants at the conference titled 'Is the US-India Relationship Oversold,' Perkovich said, "The one-word answer is yes."

Going back to 2005 and the announcement of the US-India nuclear deal, he said, "If you look at what has happened since thenÂ… where there was supposed to be billions of dollars coming to US vendors, not to mention other international vendors, there is no US business in the nuclear sectorÂ… In terms of the US, I would say it's many, many years away, and I would say never from (the perspective of) building nuclear power plants in India."

Perkovich, who for decades has worked on the challenges of international relations, nuclear deterrence, non-proliferation and disarmament and was once a speech writer and foreign policy adviser to Senator Joseph Biden, now vice president, said, "Also in the nuclear domain, India has wanted membership in the non-proliferation organisations, something the US sought, but from a standpoint of a relationship and the interests, India has wanted to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group in order to weaken it -- or at least to keep it from being strengthened -- whereas the US has wanted to strengthen it, and you can see it in the successful efforts (by Washington) to strengthen the rules, regulating transfer of uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities, which then India has staunchly opposed."

On defence cooperation, he said, "There is less now than there was before, and India still hasn't signed three essential memoranda that is required by the US defence department to increase that cooperation -- one on logistics, one on inter-operability and one on geo-spacial cooperation. These agreements were supposed to have been done years ago and there is no sign that they will be done anytime soon."

He also spoke of the disappointment when, after the nuclear deal issues, India didn't award the medium multi-role combat aircraft multi-billion dollar contract to American defence manufacturers.

Perkovich, author of the award-winning and highly acclaimed India's Nuclear Bomb and recently the much-read essay on 'Toward Realistic US-India Relations,' said, "There is a kind of aversion in India to more intense defence interaction with the US. So, again, oversold, it seems to be, and the answer is self-evident."

He also spoke of how India opposed the sanctions on Iran and gave outlets for its oil exports, India's stand opposite the US on votes on Libya and Syria in the United Nations, disappointment when the Indian government failed to open up the market for retailers, and India taking a position contrary to that of the US in the World Trade organisation negotiations.

"So, from the standpoint of economic engagement and economic interests, again, more disappointment," he said.

"On climate change, again, India has taken a position in a sense, leading the opposition to the US and EU positions in climate change, and you can go down the list," he said.

He added, "If the optimists, who were overselling the relationship, years ago had said we are making a transformation, we are making a great effort, the US will initiate some of these changes and as a result of that, we are going to have a relationship with India that's as good as our relationship with France, it still would have been oversold, but it would have been fairly within the realm of possibility. But, instead what was promised was way beyond anything at the time that people would say was like our relationship with France and so, it's been totally oversold."

Perkovich said he didn't fault India on any of these points and lay the blame of the "self-proclaimed realists in the US who are doing the selling." "They neglected the realities of Indian identity and politics," he said.

"India has always insisted on strategic autonomy, and it will probably always will. So, it will never be drawn close to another major power in the way that people here were creating the expectations that it might. That includes balancing China," he added.

Perkovich also faulted "the ideology of democracy and the valuation of democracy," which he said "led to a real misunderstanding of what democracy means both in India and here."

He said, "It's precisely because we are both democracies that we are not going to have the kind of relationship that was fantasised early on. India's Parliament will always do things that profoundly irritate the US and the US Congress will do things that irritate India."

He added, "The very fact that we are democracies requires some transactional productivity and satisfaction and that's going to be really hard given the different interests. But to be romantic about it, it seems to me, is to be totally deluded."
Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC