You are here

Nuclear Deal and the Future of Indo-US Ties

Air Cmde (Retd) Ramesh Phadke was Advisor, Research at Institute for Defence Studies and Anaysis, New Delhi. Click here for detailed profile
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • July 17, 2008

    Now that the IAEA Draft Agreement is on the World Wide Web and the Communists have withdrawn their support to the UPA, it is reasonable to assume that the next few steps will also follow in good time. The alacrity with which the Americans have drafted their letter to the 45 members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group is remarkable and shows that the Bush administration is indeed very keen to see the deal through before its term ends at the end of the year. What we are not so sure of, however, is the future of the UPA and the Congress. But given the overwhelming support for the deal from quarters such as the SP, it seems that many doubters will finally come around to accept the deal as something that is in India’s interest.

    Fears of restrictions on India’s freedom to test in the future are also somewhat unfounded and exaggerated. India is a reluctant nuclear weapons power and would like to continue to work for elimination of all nuclear weapons. India would, therefore, be more than happy with a ‘minimum’ deterrent and is unlikely to be interested in a huge weapon stockpile. As North Korea has recently proved, deterrence does not require too many nukes.

    How we develop our relationship with the United States in particular and the NSG members in general will depend largely on our diplomatic acumen. “Winning Friends and Influencing People” should be India’s mantra, without being shy of befriending the Western Bloc simply because it is seen as belonging to the imperialist camp by the Indian Communists. It must be remembered that during the halcyon days of the Sino-US honeymoon in the 1970s and 1980s, the US bent over backwards to meet almost all Chinese demands. It was during this momentous period that the People’s Republic milked the US and its European friends for modern technology including super computers, access to many universities for its students and above all assistance to build a strong strategic industrial base. The then US under Secretary for Defence Bill Perry specialising in smart weapons technology led many delegations to the PRC and gave it valuable support to develop its arms industry. The famous ‘Peace Pearl’ programme was designed to specifically help the PRC build a modern fighter aircraft. It is a different matter that the Tiananmen Square incident put paid to the programme in late 1989 when the PRC came under arms embargo. Despite this, the Chinese managed to keep alive their links with Israel and extracted much benefit from the Lavi design of which the Chinese J-10 fighter is a modernised copy. Let it also not be forgotten that recently the Russians allowed the Chinese to export the JF-17 ‘Thunder’ fighter aircraft with a Russian engine to Pakistan.

    As a result of their association and their fast improving economy, the Chinese were soon able to stand on their own in the all important area of armament development with numerous arms enterprises of the Soviet era design being transformed into state-of-the-art industry of the third/fourth generation. Would they have achieved even a fraction of this capability without befriending the US and the West?

    There is every chance that with improved Indo-US relations, India too can look forward to American assistance in many cutting-edge hi-tech fields such as aero-engines, electronics, radar, UAV and UCAV, civilian/commercial aircraft manufacture and a host of other weapons, missiles and air defence platforms, and not just outright purchase of aircraft.

    It is also important to remember that even with an overwhelming proportion of its weapon systems being of Soviet/Russian design, the Indian Armed Forces never once followed Russian war fighting doctrine, strategy or tactics and thus remained up to date with Western thinking unlike the Chinese who took a long time to absorb Western technology and methods of employment of advanced weapon systems. India’s armed forces are therefore eminently suited and ready to derive immediate benefits from this relationship. Whether we like it or not, the US still has considerable clout and participation in the European arms market and can easily facilitate or stop arms exports and technology transfer to India as it has done in the past. It may be recalled that following the sanctions in the wake of the 1998 tests, the Indian Navy’s Sea King helicopters were grounded for want of spares as these spares had come from the US although the helicopter was of British make.

    There are many other areas where India can benefit from US assistance. Alternative/renewable energy technology such as fuel cell, solar, ethanol, biomass, coal based methane, gas, oil refining, mining, agriculture and in a variety of other related fields India can collaborate with the US and the West for technology transfer. The ‘offset agreements’ in future arms purchases may also be more meaningful and beneficial as it is hoped that no Indian entities would be barred from doing business with their US counterparts. India’s quest for self-reliance and rapid all round development in the armament industry may also fructify sooner than later.

    The US is, however, not used to dealing with just ‘friends’, it likes to deal with Allies whether most favored or somewhat distant. It may sometime appear as if the US embrace is too restrictive and cramps the Indian style. But Indians proved quite adept at dealing even with an antagonistic United States at the height of the Cold War and still extracting food aid and assistance for the Green Revolution. The fact of the matter is that the two democracies have learnt along the way and are today better placed to appreciate each other’s needs and sensitivities. The nonproliferation Ayatollahs in the United States must learn to view India in a different light and the Indians must be more pragmatic and stop conjuring up a post-American world. The US will continue to wield considerable influence for many years to come even if it sometimes appears that it is helpless in dealing with some of its implacable adversaries. The benefits of the Nuclear Deal are thus not restricted only to US assistance for India’s civilian nuclear programme.