Price of a partnership

PRESIDENT George W. Bush’s visit to India, during which a further "understanding" on the July nuclear deal was clinched, is a good occasion to survey the Indian elite’s changing but confused attitudes towards the US.

By Praful Bidwai

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Published: Sat 4 Mar 2006, 9:22 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 5:44 PM

An opinion poll commissioned by "Outlook" magazine among urban lower-middle class and higher strata in nine cities says 66 per cent of respondents believe that Bush is a "friend of India". Yet, 50 per cent believe Washington is "closer to Pakistan" than to India. Strangely, 49 per cent think that this ‘friend’ hasn’t done "enough to help India" fight terrorism. But an even higher 55 per cent still believe that "India can trust the US" when she’s in need.

A whopping 72 per cent think the US is "a bully". Fifty-nine per cent even think India has "compromised on its foreign policy" by getting too close to it. And yet, 46 per cent "love the US". (Only 14 per cent "hate" it.)

Another recent survey by the Pew Research Centre in the US (June 2005) shows that 71 per cent of urban Indians have a favourable opinion of the US —the highest such proportion among 16 countries surveyed. Only 41 to 45 per cent in most Western European countries have such an opinion. Only 42 per cent of people in China and a miserable 23 per cent in Pakistan do.

Other surveys show that poor people, who constitute a majority of India’s population, are far more critical of Washington, but that India’s upper crust is much more pro-US than even the middle class. This elite is now severely re-aligning India’s foreign policy in Washington’s favour with evangelical zeal.

Indian policy-makers seem to suffer from amnesia about the character of the US as a domineering power in search of a global Empire, and about Washington’s role in spreading insecurity everywhere, including the volatile Middle East and North Africa region.

This assessment isn’t based on knee-jerk anti-Americanism or nostalgia for non-alignment. It derives from an analysis of the driving forces behind US policies and actions. The US is engaged in an aggressive project to reshape the world. The project’s contours are revealed in documents like the National Security Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review of 2002, 44 National Security Presidential Directives signed by Bush, the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, and reports of the National Intelligence Council, including Mapping the Global Future (December 2004).

The US wants to establish "full-spectrum" global strategic dominance and prevent the emergence of a potential rival anywhere, including most importantly, Eurasia. It wants unfettered neoliberal globalisation. To achieve this, the US must control resources such as oil and gas and reject any limits on consumption. Washington will beat back any challenge to its hegemony by waging preventive or pre-emptive wars.

The most articulate formulation of these ambitions is in the Neoconservative Project for a New American Century ( The Project seeks to indefinitely prolong the "unipolar moment" which arose with the Cold War’s end. The primary means to achieve this are military, in keeping with Washington’s armed clout. US defence spending, now $450 billion-plus, exceeds the military expenditure of the next 14 nations put together.

Under Bush, the Neocons have become the most powerful group in command of US policy. Their influence is visible everywhere: in the terrible mess in Iraq, the rush to further develop Weapons of Mass Destruction, the atrocities in Abu Ghraib, and in the refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court. It’s impossible to understand these actions without reference to Washington’s strategic goals.

To achieve these goals, the US needs a system of alliances which co-opt numerous states and contain or counter possible challenges. That’s where formerly non-aligned India comes in. The US has recruited India into a "strategic partnership" among other things, to counter China. India’s location and her emergence as an economic power make it special. That’s why the US offered last year to "help India become a great power in the 21st century".

India has dutifully reciprocated US overtures. Indian actions include support for Bush’s Ballistic Missile Defence ("Star Wars") plans in advance of his closest strategic allies; silence over the abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty; offer of military bases for the war in Afghanistan after 9/11 (something India never offered to the USSR); endorsement of the US position on climate change, including its latest Asia-Pacific Partnership; and of course, the two IAEA votes against Iran. To these must be added the 30 India-US military exercises; high-level military conferences; and $990 million worth of American arms imports since 2002.

India maintained a deafening silence on the 2002-03 US campaign for war on Iraq right until the day before the invasion, when the Opposition forced a Parliament resolution. India came close to sending a division for Iraq’s post-war "stabilisation".

Bush’s visit consolidates this partnership. Its thrust is strategic and comprehensive, covering nuclear cooperation, economics, agriculture, space, scientific research, energy, the Container Security Initiative (intrusive checks on shipments for supposedly "anti-terrorist" purposes), and medical trials (using Indians as guinea-pigs).

Some agreements will undermine multilateral arrangements like the Climate Change Convention. They’re not in India’s "enlightened national interest." In a greatly asymmetrical relationship, the stronger partner always calls the shots, the weaker partner follows. All that India will gain if the nuclear deal goes through and is ratified by the US Congress —a far-from-certain prospect —is legitimisation of its nuclear weapons and second or third-rate status as a US ally.

Indians must pause and ask if the cost involved —complete betrayal of the Gandhi-Nehru legacy of peace, and abandonment of the promise to return to the global nuclear disarmament agenda and fight for a multipolar world order —is worth the price.

The question might be irrelevant for the worshippers of nuclear weapons and defenders of the "right" to visit mass destruction upon unarmed civilians. But for citizens it matters. A worthy foreign policy cannot be divorced from moral clarity and universal humane values. The India-US partnership runs against such values. Soon, Indians will find they cut off their nose to spite their face.

Praful Bidwai is a veteran Indian journalist and commentator. He can be reached at

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