August 19, 2009

Strategic blunder?

Kanwal Sibal
Monday, August 17, 2009 21:18 IST Email

The controversy over the End Use Monitoring Agreement (EUMA) reflects the political difficulty in establishing "strategic ties" with the US.

Many countries are now our strategic partners but what it means in practical terms remains undefined. It implies that India and our partners have long-term common interests which our respective policies will promote to mutual advantage on a sustained basis.

In reality, either manifest differences of policies and interests exist between us and our declared strategic partners, or on issues of critical importance mutual support is not extended because of a reluctance to take a clear position as other interests have to be balanced.

How is US arms aid to Pakistan, which bolsters our strategic enemy, compatible with an India-US strategic partnership? How is its position on Kashmir consistent with it? Instead of recognising the democratic success of recent elections in Kashmir, US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, during her visit, made a bow toseparatist sentiments by advocating a solution that takes into account "the feelings of the Kashmiri people".

Despite claiming that the fight against terror is collective and terrorism cannot be differentiated, Clinton focused on the al Qaeda and the Taliban and avoided identifying the jihadi groups targeting India.
She tried to please India by making general statements on terrorism and not displease Pakistan by going into specifics. Why should not the US choose, in the strategic perspective, democratic, pluralist, secular, law abiding India over a failing state like Pakistan reeling under religious extremism and terrorism, with links with state agencies.

With the US the relationship cannot be one of equals because of its overwhelming power; it cannot be unequal either as that would be politically unacceptable.

Much can be gained by a rising power like India from building strong ties with the US, which is the world's foremost power, its largest market and the most advanced country technologically.

But the price is high as the US strategy is to fit rising countries into the global system designed and dominated by it. This is projected as countries bearing their share of global responsibilities, of becoming responsible stakeholders in the existing arrangements.

This explains our dilemma: we want to be close to the US and yet want to keep a distance. We are flattered by US overtures, but feel unsure about the extent of our response.

Any real strategic partnership ought to include a strong defence component. Efforts to build a defence supply relationship with the US would be normal. The problem comes from attitudes of patronage that underlie US policies towards others.

While the US can offer some very advanced defence material, its military sales and transfers are accompanied by end use monitoring requirements that in many ways infringe upon the sovereignty of the recipient country.

Why should the US want to periodically inspect the equipment it has sold for good money to countries that are not its allies or for whose defence it is not responsible?

As an independent country we can legitimately question EUMA's constraints. Other countries selling arms to us have no such inspection requirements. The end user certificate of India's sovereign and responsible government against unauthorised transfers of equipment and technologies to third parties and for protection of IPRs suffices.

In the case of Trenton purchased from the US recently there is a bar on deploying it for offensive purposes. What would be the consequence if tomorrow we use US supplied equipment to launch limited strikes in response to a major terrorist attack from Pakistani soil?

Could the US object to this as an escalation and not an exercise in legitimate self-defence? Prudence requires attention to such issues even as we explore possibilities of expanding defence ties with the US. We claim success in having persuaded the Americans to inspect at a time and place of our choosing and ensuring that future amendments to their EUMA legislation will become applicable only after mutual consultations.

This is not good enough, as it limits the problem in some respects but does not resolve the basic issue. About future amendments it is doubtful we will be able to resist US pressure as the continuity of the relationship could be disrupted, and modernisation, updating and even servicing of the existing equipment could become problematic.

On the eve of Clinton's visit, a State department official said that the US was working with India on EUMA, which was part of the fulfilment of the important initiative that India and the US had signed in the area of nuclear cooperation.

After the visit, the State Department spokesman Robert Wood called EUMA a landmark event, which was important for US's global non-proliferation efforts. Through this agreement India had been brought into the nuclear non-proliferation stream, he said.EUMA's linkage with non-proliferation and nuclear cooperation needs an explanation.

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