Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The China factor in Indo-US nuclear deal

I have repeatedly argued that the Indo-US strategic relationship, centring for the moment on the Indo-US nuclear deal, is intended mainly to counter China's growing influence in Asia. Strategic affairs expert K Subrahmanyam once again expatiates on this theme in an article in TOI today.

He argues, as US academic John Garver did in his book Protracted Contest (the authoritative work on Sino-Indian relations), that China has tried hard to keep India as a South Asian power by building Pakistan as a nuclear counterweight to India. That would mean India cannot really challenge China in the overall Asian sphere. The US and also major European powers want India to balance China in Asia; they now want India to break out of the India-Pakistan equation. That is part of the rationale for the nuclear deal.

The Chinese strategy of dominating Asia, which all other major powers view with concern, needs India to be kept tied down perpetually by a nuclear-armed Pakistan. The reason why liberating India from technology apartheid sponsored by the US is popular with Russia, France, UK, France and Japan is their desire to see a balance of power in Asia. In the 21st century it is not envisaged there will be wars among major powers. But there would be a constant balancing of power. China when fully developed can only be balanced by a billion-strong India if it develops itself. The other major powers of the world have a vital interest in this. Hence, the US nuclear agreement, India-specific IAEA safeguards and NSG waiver.
There is another angle to the deal which Bodhisatva Ganguli touches upon in the lead article in ET today. The nuclear deal is an enabling device for transfer of sensitive defence and advanced technologies to India. It is odd that this argument has not been made strongly enough in defence of the deal. Is it because it is not something that can be sold in the US in the face of strong opposition from proliferation hawks?

The forthcoming debate in parliament should illuminate these issues and also elicit a better understanding of the limitations to which India will be subject. The final decision on the Indo-US nuclear deal can then be taken by the political class as a whole in full knowledge of the trade-offs implied.

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