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January 2002


Letter from U.S.A.


Indo-US Military Alliance:

Could  Our Independence Be Bartered Away?


By Sreeram Sundar Chaulia

“We would follow it even if there was no other country in the world that followed it”  - Jawaharlal Nehru on India’s Foreign Policy.


At the dawn of freedom, Nehru kept India out of power blocks and military alliances with the sagacious conviction that its independence and principle-based foreign policy cannot be bartered away to the whims of big powers.


That mantra still holds good. Many Cold War allies of the United States- Sadat’s Egypt, Suharto’s Indonesia, Fahd’s Saudi Arabia, Zia’s Pakistan and Mobutu’s Zaire-are today failed states hopelessly unable to define their distinct place in the world, maintain internal stability or territorial integrity. This is because USA has a track record of using allies to the point of reducing them to puppets and parasites of the metropolis and then discarding them. American alliances come with expiry dates and the prospect of fatal withdrawal symptoms. 


The much-rumoured proposition made to India by the Bush administration for a “major military alliance” in recent months must be viewed perspectively with this hindsight. From hints conveyed by the Defence Minister, it is obvious that there was correspondence between Washington and New Delhi throughout September and October over the precise modalities of this alliance, although the Prime Minister has denied the existence of such an exchange.


One cannot be sure how firmly the Cabinet Committee for Security rejected the idea. It is also not clear whether our decrepit National Security Council has vetted the US proposal carefully until now. But if India’s independence and stature in the world are to remain in tact, this alliance must be rejected sans equivocation.


Admittedly, the main obstacle to bilateral relations during the Cold War was divergence on national security issues, but there has been increasing meeting of minds on this subject anyway since the end of the Cold War, without formal alliances. Robust military-to-military cooperation between India and the US has been occurring right from the 1991 ‘Kicklighter Initiative’. So firm had ties become by Clinton’s second term that joint military exercises were being planned before Pokhran intervened.


Following India’s endorsement of NMD, the suspension of military contacts since 1998 was done away with and the train came back on rails. General Henry Shelton visited India in July 2001 and the Defense Policy Group underwent revival. The two sides have also been striving for enhanced navy-to-navy cooperation to ensure free navigation through the Indian Ocean. 

Why was it necessary, on top of all these positive developments, for America to now propose a treaty-bound alliance? The answer lies not in an icing-of-the-cake consummation of previous commonalities but actually in a desperate search for allies after September 11.


Never before has the US been as wary of the genuineness of its extant allies as during the current war against terrorism. US policymakers are consistently mulling over the superfluous support being extended by most of the Arab world against Islamic jihad.


Revelations on the close ties between Osama bin Laden and members of the influential Saudi oligarchy and the symbiotic relationship between Pakistan’s intelligence and the Taliban have dented the confidence of Washington in existing relationships and set the tone for a wooing of India for a formal tie-up.


Extreme insecurity and uncertainty, coupled with internal tumult and double-game exposes in many seemingly friendly regimes, are the main propellants of the proposed “major military alliance”. As such, it is intended to redress the proposer’s dilemmas and is selfish and one-sided.


Consider what the other side will get from this entangling alliance. American bases, training facilities and intelligence establishment in India could convert us from a freedom-loving oasis of Asia into a semi-colony and satellite lacking voice and dignity on the world stage. Increased American infiltration of Indian air, land and waterways will, in practical terms, mean:


· definite meddling in Kashmir (without the guarantee that the US won’t eschew its old preferences for Kashmiri “self-determination”)

· definite usage of India to settle American scores in the region (entailing a situation when New Delhi will start having partners and foes as per the logic of ‘my ally’s enemy is my enemy’)

· definite hurt to Sino-Indian ties at a time when the two have common causes at the WTO

· definite doubts in the minds of our friends in Moscow who fear America’s expansion into Eurasia

· definite slide into dependency of Indian defence structure on commercial adjuncts of the Pentagon like Lockheed Martin & Co.


India’s dignity and leadership in the third world and the developing South will also take a severe beating if it starts being identified as a camp-follower. The slippery slope will apotheosize when the US, a la Japan and South Korea, becomes the guarantor of Indian security and an overseer of India’s fate in the comity of nations.


Hopefully, the BJP-led government, laden with avowed US aficionados and ‘realists’ like Jaswant Singh (putatively the original mastermind of the military alliance idea in June 2001), would pay heed to these clear pitfalls, weigh the pros and cons, and not sell India’s interests, legacy and soul.


(This article was first published in India Day After from Delhi.)


[Sreeram Sundar Chaulia studied History at St.Stephen’s College, Delhi, and took a Second BA in Modern History at University College, Oxford. He researched the BJP’s foreign policy at the London School of Economics and is currently analysing the impact of conflict on Afghan refugees at the Maxwell School of Citizenship, Syracuse, NY.]