Friday, February 20, 2009

US diplomatic etiquette

I've been reading Jaswant Singh's memoirs, A call to honour. I am not ready to review it yet but I thought I'd share one or two tidbits about American diplomatic- if that's the right word- behaviour.

Singh writes about the build-up to the Pokhran II nuclear tests. The then US ambassador, Richard Celeste, is a bit uneasy about the BJP's intentions. He calls on Singh and tells him he's going away on a longish vacation. He hopes that nothing 'disagreeable' would happen during that time, which would mar his vacation. In other words, India's nuclear plans must be hostage to His Excellency's vacation!

Shows how American diplomats and members of government and also their army commanders are used to throwing their weight around. After the blasts, Secretary of state, Madeline Albright, tells Singh bluntly," You betrayed us".

Strobe Talbott has a slightly different version of the encounter in his Engaging India. He quotes Albright as telling Singh, "You lied to us and that's not what democracies do to each other". Singh has a way with words and was able to hold his own, telling Albright there is a difference between secrecy and deceit!

Singh is honest enough to say that the nuclear option had been kept open by all governments and it was only a matter of when India would test. Narasimha Rao, while demitting office, told Vajpayee that he couldn't do it and he hoped Vajpayee would.

As Singh makes clear, two events more or less clinched the issue in favour of a blast: the indefinite extension of the NPT in 1995; and the commencement of CTBT talks in 1996. Had the CTBT been signed by the US, India would have had to fall in line and that would have foreclosed our nuclear option.

The BJP's achievement was not so much going in for the nuclear tests as managing the fall-out. It was able to persuade the Clinton administration that a nuclear India was not a threat to the US but an asset and that the nuclear capability along with India's economic advancement made India an appropriate partner for the US in Asia. Of course, several other factors contributed to this changed equation, including the end of the Cold War and the rise of China. The Indo-US nuclear deal, negotiated by Manmohan Singh and George Bush, merely built on the formidable groundwork done by Vajyapee and Jaswant Singh.


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Shriniwas K said...

I agree that Manmohan's administration built up on the relationship with USA and Israel via the Nuclear deal. But US interest in dilly dallying with India is also lot to do with the sheer amount of purchases the Indian defense can make from US. India is toted to acquire 150+ multi role jet fighters, helicopters, Naval warfare weaponry and urban warfare tactics from US as Russian arms manufacturing is virtually non existent in research and dev. A strategic partnership built between India and US is a win win situation for both countries as it will bolster the belief in democracy and freedom albeit not extrinsically. India's supply of skilled labor to America has since the past few decades changed perspective of the west about Indians. We are no longer people who want to abandon our homelands and come to US as refugees and drive Taxi's but are now considered smart (maybe not very smart but certainly a force to reckon with) in the technology business. So there is a genuine Strategic, political, and people connect between India and US.

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