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Saturday, 15 June 2002

India and Russia: With China or the U.S.? (UPI)

M.D Nalapat


MANIPIL, India, June 15 (UPI) -- Under Russian President Vladimir Putin ties between India and Russia have recovered the closeness that was a geo-political given until the Yeltsin years. Before, the Mafia ruled in Moscow and external interests manipulated the two countries into compromising national interests for protection abroad.
Today, India's best friend has recovered from the chaos of those years and is on track to restoring its superpower status and responsibilities. New Delhi and Moscow come as a package. An alliance with the one implies an accommodation with the other.
While the United States is a bi-continental -- in fact, quadric-continental -- power thanks to its superb cultural amalgam of Europe and Asia, Russia is equally so because of geography.
Unfortunately, thus far, the hidden opposition of France and Germany -- eager to retain their shared domination over Europe, a control that would dissolve in the event of Russia's entry -- has prevented Moscow from being offered terms for integration into European structures that are commensurate with its potential.


Similarly, China has worked with success to prevent India from playing the formal role in Asia that its location and strengths entitle it to.
Since 1962, Beijing has reinforced the countries around India in an alliance designed to contain New Delhi. It is only the economic modernization begun in the 1990s -- in the teeth of opposition from China's political allies in India, the left and what may be termed the Buffalo Belt -- that has enabled New Delhi to escape from such restraints and begin flexing continental muscle.
After a delay of three decades caused by adherence to the foreign policy nostrums of founding Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, India has begun expanding its ties with the necklace of nations beginning with Japan, South Korea, the territory of Taiwan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore.
The holdout is Australia, which for commercial reasons is enthusiastically playing the Beijing game of trying to keep India confined to the "South Asia" box. It is not accidental that the shrillest condemnation of each Indian nuclear and missile test has come from Canberra, a capital in angst over its self-declared goal of carrying the "White Man's Burden" in a sea of brown.
Where India goes, Russia can follow.
Were Moscow to reinforce the potential alliance between New Delhi and the littoral states of the China Sea and the Indian Ocean, the strategic benefits both to it and to the other partners would be immense.
Fortunately, there is no Paris or Berlin in Asia blocking the integration on acceptable terms of Russia's strategic interests with the "necklace" of alliances emerging with Japan as the northern prong and India as its southern counterpart. However, there is a rival vision, one promoted by the emerging superpower, the People's Republic of China. While it had been courted in the 1970s and for the subsequent two decades by the United States, today Washington is rediscovering the strategic tensions that underline the competing interests of itself and Beijing.
After a period of belief that Australia was a sufficient southern "jaw" to the emerging Asian network of alliances designed to keep China in check, U.S. policy circles appear to have accepted that only India has the depth needed to fulfill such a task.
Today, despite the hostility of a State Department mired in the Cold War past, the U.S. Defense Department is pushing for engagement with India. Clearly, shared traditions of democracy and a common language virtually mandate that India and the United States will be partners within the decade. This implies an accommodation of Moscow's interests, in view of the "Siamese twin" relationship between the two old friends.
Worried about the U.S. diplomatic push to isolate it, Beijing is attempting to play the card of a tripartite alliance between itself and the New Delhi-Moscow duo. However, this is less out of conviction than necessity. Within the Chinese Communist Party, where numerous senior cadres have illegally acquired properties in Europe and the United States, a significant faction still believes that the deal nearly consummated with an obliging Bill Clinton -- of China being the United States' strategic partner in Asia the way the European Union is in Europe -- can yet be reached.
To such optimists, Taiwan would be a small price for the United States to pay to ensure the goodwill of China.
The problem with such logic is that it confuses China with the Communist Party of China. While the former is welcome in a future security calculus, it will apply only after the Communist Party is removed from office the way the CPSU was by 1991. Under the straight-talking George W. Bush, the irreconcilability between continued Communist rule in China and U.S. national security interests has become overt. Unless Beijing were to agree to a much-diminished role in Asia, essentially subsidiary to the U.S.-led "necklace of allies," tensions with Washington are likely to intensify.
India and Russia face a choice. Should it be a linkup with Washington or with Beijing?
In both countries, there are those who favor one or the other option. In large part, the answer will lie in the U.S. ability to escape from the restraints of its Cold War past and offer the New Delhi-Moscow duo terms that acknowledge the India-Russia alliance to be the cornerstone of strategic dominance for whichever is its partner in the world of the new century.
(Professor M.D. Nalapat is director of the School of Geopolitics at the Manipal Academy in Mangalore, India.)

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