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Wednesday, 10 November 1999

To Believe or not to Believe in Uncle Sam

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)


Prime Minister Narasimha Rao's style of functioning is based
on consultation and consensus. After a progress of consultation,
the Prime Minister gently steers the different players into
accepting a consensus that ideally incorporates the strong points
of both sides while avoiding the pitfalls. If this process has not
worked in the all-important issue of relations with the Clinton
administration in Washington, it is because the views of the
opposing players are too contradictory to reconcile.

On one side—which at present seems to be the stronger
one—stand the principal secretary to the Prime Minister,
A. N. Verma, the finance secretary, M. S. Ahluwalia, and a few
elements of the scientific community such as Dr. VS.
Arunachalam, tipped for an important post in the government.

This group has been the object of sometimes uncharitable
comment on account of their alleged propensity to 'toe the
Washington line'. However, officials close to the trio affirm that
they are motivated not by extra-national considerations but by
a genuine belief that in today’s unipolar world, it is in India’s
best interests to accommodate the US. In the present context, this
would imply effective (as distinct from open) acceptance of the
American demand that India’s nuclear and missile programmes
be capped and then rolled back.

In contrast, the opposing group - which comprises the heads
of the country's defence and scientific establishment - wants
these two programmes to go ahead so that operational systems
can be in place by the end of the decade. They argue that one of
the few high-tech fields in which India has attained world
class - thanks to the support given by lawaharlal Nehru and
Indira Gandhi - should not be throttled under US pressure. In
particular, they are against the reported advice of the first group
to accept the US proposal for bilateral capping agreements in the
nuclear and missile fields.

This second group points out that the US wants to curb 'not
just activities in these two fields, but also capabilities developed
over four decades'. They point to the deterrent effect of high-
technology weapons and claim that if these had been fully
operational and deployed, 'Pakistan would not have dared to
wage a proxy war with India in the Kashmir theatre'. Further, it
is pointed out that Pakistan's nuclear programme is 'clandestine,
rudimentary and based on borrowed and stolen technology',
whereas the Indian one is 'transparent and indigenous'.

This group claims that the Americans are hyping up the
Pakistani programme 'to convince the Indian public that a
capping of both would be an even-handed measure, rather than
directed against India, which is the factual position'.

Analysts within the commerce and planning bodies of the
government of India too are sceptical of US promises, this time
of economic concessions in exchange for throttling our nuclear
and missile programme. They point out that the Union finance
ministry has, during the past three years, unilaterally dismantled
most of the protective devices sheltering domestic industry, and
has given foreign companies an access to Indian markets and
companies ’unprecedented even in the West'. And yet, 'despite
such a unilateral set of concessions to western interests, India has
not been given a single tangible concession in return. Indeed, the
pressure is increasing for yet more concessions.

These economic policy analysts point out that the US
administration has to contend with a protectionist US Congress
in giving concessions to India. They point out for example that
the 1978 Nuclear Non-proliferation Act prohibits the US
administration from giving access to certain high technologies to
countries such as India that have not signed the NPT or accepted
full scope safeguards. Signing a regional pact, while it would
have immediate effects on our nuclear programme, would
therefore not automatically guarantee access to top-quality
American technologies in sensitive spheres. They also point to
protectionist measures such as the 1988 US Omnibus Trade
Competitiveness Act to reinforce their claim that the Clinton
administration's dangling of (obviously unspecified) carrots is a
mirage.

Scientists in the nuclear establishment point to Tarapur as a
reason for not relying on US assurances. They point out that the
Americans not only backed out of the Tarapur agreement long
before its period ended in October 1993, but also refused to take
back the spent fuel, as they were obliged to do. Further, the US
has till now even prevented India from reprocessing the spent
fuel itself. As for analysts in the economic ministries - barring
finance - they point to the post-Marrakesh revival of Special 301
and Super 301 by the US administration to illustrate their
contention that the US has one standard for itself and another for
countries perceived as being weak.

Experts within the strategic defence establishments point out
that the US has itself generated tensions in the Indian defence
neighbourhood, by arming Afghan Mujahideen who are now
infiltrating Kashmir, by arming Pakistan which is engaged in a
covert war with this country, and by permitting the sale of
advanced aircraft and technology to Taiwan and, now perhaps,
China. Indeed, these analysts claim that it is the US defence
industry that is behind the Clinton administration's pressure to
cap and roll back India's nuclear and missile programmes, 'so as
to increase the market for US armaments and to nip future
competition in the bud'.

Officials connected with the negotiations on GATT that have
taken place over the past five years claim that 'too much was
conceded too soon in the very beginning'. They give as an
example India's agreeing in April 1989 to allow the GATT
Uruguay Round package to include not just goods but also
services, norms, standards and 'intellectual property'. This
concession gave western countries a significant bludgeon against
labour-abundant economies such as India’s. They say that the
Indian system of leaving such negotiations to officials should be
dispensed with, and Parliament consulted in all crucial stages.

These officials deny that they have a 'confrontationist' agenda
on lndo-US relations. They say that they are simply against the
present policy of making concessions without clear quid pro
quos, and are also against throttling programmes that will give
a future economic superpower its own protective strategic
umbrella. However, some of their allegations - about
'international arms dealers' and such other unsavoury types
influencing government policy - seem to verge on the fanciful.

One man, and one man alone, will have to decide which of
these two sets of options to plump for in the tough negotiations
that will take place next week in Washington. Life must be lonely
these summer days in 7 Race Course Road.



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