US Presidential Elections: Implications for Indo-US Relations

22 Nov, 2000    ·   437

Report of the IPCS Seminar held on 17th November 2000

Speaker: Chintamani Mahapatra

Prof Mahapatra commenced his presentation by describing the process of the US Presidential election under and the US Constitution. He said the US constitution was not democratic and was, in fact, an elitist document. The electoral process was archaic like the dinosaur, and should be kept in a museum and not practiced.

The current election was not the only one that witnessed a close race between the two candidates: John F Kennedy became President with only a margin of 0.02 percent of the votes cast, later, Nixon became President receiving only 0.07 percent more votes than his opponent.

At least three reasons can be ascribed for the close fight between Gore and Bush. First, the American economy has been doing well for the past eight years and there are no major differences between the economic policies of both the candidates. Secondly, on the foreign policy front, with the end of the Cold War there is no real threat to the United States; differences between the foreign policies of both the candidates are marginal. Thirdly, with both Bush and Gore belonging to the same generation, and neither being a charismatic personality, neither attract large votes in their favour. 

Implications for India

There is a better understanding now between India and the US and a closer relationship has been forged, especially after Bill Clinton visit’s to India. What makes this development significant is that it is a post-cold-war, post-nuclearization and post-Kargil development. With the elections still undecided at this juncture, what are its implications for India?

Generally it is believed that a ‘Democrat’ President is more sympathetic to India than a Republican, which is not true. Whether Bush or Gore becomes the President of the US, he would focus on the American national interests and not those of India. However, a closer analysis of the stand taken by both leaders on vital issues would help predict what would be the nature of Indo-US relations. 

First, on the CTBT Gore has announced that he would  place it before the Senate, but is doubtful whether he would do so. Bush does not support the CTBT and considers the Treaty to harm the US national interests, but he may be vigorous on the proliferation issue. Neither Bush nor Gore will be sympathetic to India’s views on the CTBT. 

On Pakistan, both consider it to be a long trusted ally and may not like to isolate Pakistan, especially a nuclear Pakistan under the control of a military regime.

On China, Gore may pursue the same constructive engagement policy of Clinton. Though Bush has lambasted China and considers China to be a strategic competitor and not a strategic partner, he may not pursue the same policy when he becomes the President. Thus on Pakistan and China, both Gore and Bush do not have major differences.


Questions and Observations

·                     Whichever party comes to power, it is going to confront the same international situation in which the US is facing challenges from Europe, Middle East and the Asia Pacific region. Both Bush and Gore would pursue the national security interests of the US. How can India exploit this situation in its favour? 

·                     Instead of waiting for the US to initiate a strategic relationship with India, it should take the lead and announce what role it could play in the American strategic framework. With the present international order being anti-American, especially in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific, it would be in India’s interests to figure in American security calculus.

·                     India, in the long run, will become important for the US, and Pakistan may lose its importance. 

·                     India will assume a significant role only if it takes a positive initiative vis-à-vis Pakistan.

·                     How can India attract US attention? On the foreign policy front, India should ignore China in its dialogue with the US.  On the economic front, India should create suitable conditions to attract capital.


·                     Anti- Americanism is only a temporary phenomenon, especially in the Asia-Pacific. Most of the states, where anti-American feelings are prevailing, have provided military bases to the US, and would be willing to provide them again in the future. 

·                     If India would like to play an increasing role in the American security framework, the best way would be not to raise the issue of China. The moment the China issue is raised, the US starts questioning why India is bent on considering China to be a threat. There should be a common understanding among the various political parties in India about how Indo-US relations should be pursued.

·                     Pakistan will not lose its significance in the American framework for three factors. It is an Islamic country, it is ruled by a military regime, and now possesses nuclear weapons.

·                     It is essential that India takes the initiative to commence a dialogue with Pakistan before the latter makes any dramatic step to attract the attention of the new President and the world community.

·                     The foreign policy of India should be Asia-specific, and not merely Pakistan oriented or focussed on the Asia-Pacific.