Indo-US Relations

10 Sep, 1998    ·   140

P. R. Chari reports on IPCS Friday Discussion Group session with Michael Krepon, President, Henry L. Stimson Center

The Friday Group held a seminar with Michael Krepon, President, The Henry L. Stimson Centre, Washington, at the India International Centre Annex on 7 September. Some 25 members attended this meeting.



Initiating the discussions Krepon said he was pessimistic about any dramatic improvement occurring in the present state of strained Indo-US relations due to the leaders in both countries being "distracted" with other concerns. The critical situation in Russia pointed to the danger of their nuclear arsenals getting out of control. The East Asian crisis was beginning to hurt Wall Street. Other trouble spots in US perceptions were Kosovo, Iraq , North Korea and now, after the nuclear tests, South Asia . Clinton was attempting a pro-active foreign policy in China , Ireland and South Asia in his second term, but the Indo-Pak nuclear tests frustrated this policy.



The international nuclear regime has undoubtedly been damaged by the tests and, although each case of nuclear proliferation is unique, there is little doubt they are inter-connected. India and Pakistan bear responsibility in this regard. It did not seem likely to Krepon that the US export controls against India would soon be lifted. India , too, has little room for manoeuvre here. Still, bilateral negotiations were proceeding and it was good policy to keep them out of the media. In his view the positions on both sides have now become inelastic after these prolonged talks.



Coming to the likelihood of the projected Clinton visit to South Asia in November fructifying there were several considerations weighing in the minds of Washington decision-makers. Will it be successful? A failure would result in further bitterness in the relationship. There was widespread criticism of Clinton ’s visits to China and Russia in the US . Will the visit strengthen the BJP government, which seemed to be in trouble? Or should Clinton wait to deal with its successor government? Will the visible trend lines in Pakistan accentuate? A great deal would obviously depend on the outcome of the Jaswant Singh-Strobe Talbott talks. There was consequently need to be more "creative" and "imaginative" in these interactions, but also to consider whether and how they should be re-constituted in some fashion.



During the discussions it was strongly pressed that India ’s security concerns should be taken into account. It was clear that the Government had compromised on some aspects of the wish list presented by the P-5 and G-8. It had thus agreed to a moratorium on further nuclear testing, on establishing a minimum deterrent only and a declaratory no-first-use policy. Public opinion and the political parties would not allow the BJP government to sign the CTBT, and this will be true of any party that comes to power in future. This contention was opposed on the grounds that the 7 demands made by the US catered for India ’s security concerns, and definitive action had been taken thereon either unilaterally or in consultation with the US . There was no national consensus against the CTBT; the real problem was the lunatic fringe in the BJP that wanted India to weaponize irrespective of any costs. But there had to some give on the US side also if it expected India to make so many compromises.



There were other grievances voiced against the US, including Clinton’s plea to Russia during his visit that they stop military supplies to India; unwillingness to accept that India was a victim of the same terrorism emanating from Afghanistan/Pakistan as the United States; failure to appreciate India’s security concerns; inability to understand India’s case on Kashmir; denial of visas to Indian scientists; designation of India as an irresponsible nuclear state and so on.



Some assertions were also made viz. the inevitability of technological upgradation of India’s nuclear and missile capabilities; the stability of a declared, as opposed to an ambiguous, nuclear option; the futility of suggesting any rollback of that option; fecklessness of equating Pakistan with India; Kashmir having a limited strategic role in Indo-Pak relations; possibility of conventional war between India and Pakistan being reduced more; and so on. As opposed to these sanguine beliefs, there was a cautionary view also expressed that the ground situation has deteriorated after the tests in that the artillery duels in Kashmir were qualitatively of a higher order than anything before; foreign terrorists now dominated the terrorism situation there; and China had increased its physical presence in Tibet .



There was a lively debate on the fuller implications of nuclear weaponization. Deployment implied nuclear weapons being readied for immediate utilisation. But it should be possible to keep limited numbers in a de-alerted and ‘de-sensitized’ state in different places. The nuclear ‘pits’ could also be kept separate from the warhead and the delivery vehicle on safety considerations. But it was stressed that India needed missiles of at least Agni-II range to establish a viable deterrent against China . Questions were also asked about where the US locates India within its own strategic defence review, and whether Indo-US relations would improve if Sino-Indian relations deteriorated.



Responding to this deluge of comments and questions Krepon made a few responses. He argued that if India did not trust China ’s no-first-use declarations, why should any other country believe India ’s declarations. He refuted the belief that the US viewed India through the China prism. The nuclear threat being ‘non-trivial’ it was necessary for political dialogue, cooperative actions and concrete steps to be put in place to deal with the implications of the nuclear tests. He agreed that India had not presented its case on Kashmir effectively, but there was too much sensitivity about third party mediation. What then could be the modus vivendi for improving Indo-US relations? His suggestion was that, if the current bilateral talks do not succeed, India and the United States should take unilateral decisions to reduce the nuclear danger.