Impossible Allies: Nuclear India United States and the global order
Sitakanta Mishra ·       

One of the current critical discourses in international politics is concern for "equality" when inequalities persist among nations. Nations often emphasize the congeniality of values among themselves, notwithstanding their material and physical differences, to strengthen mutual understanding and pursue their national interest. Terms like "alliance," "strategic partnership" are carelessly used, but mutual accommodation is the law of post-Cold War statecraft. C Raja Mohan's Impossible Allies underlines the need for realism to accommodate both domestic compulsions and systemic formulations culminating in interest-driven national discourse wherein morality stands circumscribed.

Many eyebrows have been raised over the Indo-US strategic partnership and the euphoria attending India becoming an "ally" of the US. Many are leery over the US's vow to raise India to its natural potential. Those who favour the new relationship are criticized as "stooges selling national interest" and those who oppose it are branded Cold Warriors. Impossible Allies traces why a hegemonic-status-quoist power (US) is ready to share the mantle of leadership with a sovereignty-mongering nation (India) by rewriting international norms. Raja Mohan strongly argues that India will neither be a "dependent state nor will become a close ally like Britain"; rather "it is more likely to emerge as an Asian France" cherishing its shared interests and alliance relationships with Washington.

In Bhishma's teaching, to which Raja Mohan is partial, "the force of circumstances creates friends and foes"; India's choice to partner the world's sole superpower in the post-Cold War era is explicable. But why is the country that led the charge to "cap, reduce and roll-back" India's nuclear programme willing now to change its perceptions and persuade other nations to accept New Delhi as an exception to the rules of the international nuclear regime? In the author's belief, "a unilateral America and a revisionist India had a solid strategic fit" in the post-Cold War era. There is a mesh between the US and India's grand strategy. If the US grand strategy aims at pre-emption, regime change and democratisation, India also strives to rewrite the rules of the global order to facilitate its entry to the high-seat of the Security Council, which marks a parallelism between India's interests and those of America.

Cold War dynamics had estranged the two democracies despite their often converging national interests. With the end of Cold War, India has "steadily moved towards thinking structurally" about the world and less as being a victim of the prevailing world order. After Pokhran-II, the world has accepted India's concerns and its need for strategic space. India is also mindful that its aspirations could not be realized without the dominant power agreeing to redraw the global order. On the other hand, the imperatives of American security need India as "a swing state" to maintain a stable and liberal international order. Raja Mohan has identified eight convergent objectives in this regard: insulating Asia from the domination of any single power; fighting terrorism; containing the spread of WMD; promoting democracy; fostering economic growth; preserving global commons; promoting energy security; and safeguarding the global environment.

Though the foundations of the Indo-US rapprochement were laid by the Vajpayee government, the Clinton Administration did not budge on the non-proliferation front. In the world trend-line survey made by the Bush Administration in his first term, China loomed large and India was perceived as a potential balancer to Chinese power in Asia. Thus, the US's offer to strengthen India's capabilities to emerge as a great power was linked to Bush's Asia policy. Critics hold that the Indo-US nuclear deal is an inducement to draw India into an alliance against China. Raja Mohan says that this alliance is indeed devoted to achieving a stable politico-economic-security relationship. India's strategic behaviour has always been "shaped by structural factors rather than by ideology", and India has a long history of maintaining balanced relations with Russia, China and its extended neighbourhood.

Exposing the folly of the sceptics of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal, the author argues that the US was the first nation to encourage India's nuclear and space programmes. Claiming the deal to be the "deal of the century", which seeks to end the three-decade nuclear apartheid against India, he warns against the self-reliance stance of our techno-scientific community. Effective diplomacy requires right decisions being made at critical moments. India needs to recognize that its political choices could alter global outcomes. Being a great power, India, must come out of the "autonomy" box, since alliances are important tools of major powers foreign policy, and the "search for alliances was always a part of Indian strategic behaviour".

However, shared interests do not mean that India will subordinate its national interests. Differences between both countries cannot be overlooked as India is a "sovereignty-conscious country", while US has no history of sharing leadership. Factors like "differential in raw power," competing national preferences, differences in negotiating styles and tactics, absence of any tradition of cooperation, and diversity of domestic interests may not allow both countries to form a formal alliance. The author reiterates that the US has the "habit to lead," and India has "no experience of [being] a junior partner". Hence, the possibility of sharing leadership is bleak; whatever engagement emerges would have to be sought on equal terms.

The author's extreme position on the attitude of the scientific-bureaucratic community, described as "reluctant" and distrustful is debatable. In fact, their attitude is based on suspicions of US policy since they have been its worst sufferers, personally and institutionally. Owing to their unfamiliarity with diplomacy, they are conservative and it will take some time for them to come to terms with the present realities.

Raja Mohan's witty interpretation of the imperatives of Indo-US relations and the success stories of India's foreign policy, despite some editorial slips, make Impossible Allies a must for policy-makers, academia and those with an interest in this subject.