Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, August 1st, 2021

Basics of US Nuclear Politics in South Asia


Basics of US Nuclear Politics in South Asia

Since the days  of its  first nuclear explosion in May  1974,  India  gave  a strong foothold  to the  US  against China in  the region. It was the result of India’s recognition as a responsible nuclear power but  US took keen interest in removing the  other impediments in the  way of nuclear deal.  As a follow up action, India and  the US made changes in its  internal laws  to accommodate the  new deal.  Apart from  passing the  Agreement from  Legislatures of the respective country, the  US enacted the  Hyde  Act and  India established an  understanding with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on the issue of nuclear plant supervision and  nuclear safeguards. The  understanding between India and the US was furthered when the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) waived restrictions on India’s nuclear import. It opened India’s option to buy  enriched uranium, nuclear technology and  other materials  from different countries of the world in  order to generate electricity and industrial development.
Beginning of Indo-US Nuclear Understanding
Even   before the  advent of  India as  an  independent, sovereign country in the comity  of nations, the  world’s balance of power  went in  favour of nuclear capability. For long  in  the post-war period the power politics appeared developing a bipolar pattern–the concentration of most of the world’s power, military, industrial and  otherwise in  the  two  super powers and  these two  powers–USA and  USSR  in contrast with the multi-power world of the  past, seemed to have   emerged as  the major determinants of international politics.  Of the two, the USA was first to become  a decidedly nuclear power in mid-1940s and  the release of nuclear energy has  revolutionalised the concepts of national defence and  strategy along  with  the  art of planning the realisation of military goals. It has  always been  a consistent policy of the  United States to protect its national interests with all  possible means, however, immoral they  may  be  and  never allow  a prospective and  upcoming contender to proceed ahead so that it may challenge the  might of the US. This  is called  “real politicking” and  was very much eulogised and  theorised by American scholars and  policy-makers like Morgenthau, Kelsen and Henry Kissinger during past decades after the Second World War. In  the context, the  question of the importance that South Asia acquires in the US interests and scheme of priorities remained a persisting debate and there is a difference of opinions. One school of thought accords a very  low priority to South Asia  since  it is geographically distant  and  economically uninspiring  from  the US point of view. The other school regards the US involvement in  South Asia  is  being  strategically vital and  therefore, deep and  pervasive. However, over the years, the second  opinion gained weightage and  it was  felt that as  long  as  the United States had  an  adversary relationship with both China and  the Soviet Union, the  US would  remain concerned with minimising their role in  South Asia. Accordingly, the US  involvement in South Asia fluctuated, depending upon  its intensity and  style  of competition with other great powers at the  global  level.
Policy dilemma with a super power
India, with its  independence in August 1947,  shared a lot of common  ideals and  institutions such  as  democracy, freedom of press, freedom of religion, respect for individual  liberty, human rights, independance of judiciary, federalism etc. But the foreign policy  of a country, far from  being  an  independent variable, depends on number of factors, which  especially include domestic concerns and  institutions  of that  country. It is  the domestic context in which  a country’s foreign policy arises. The domestic context pertains  to those important aspects such  as the geo-strategic location, historical, socio-cultural and  politico- economic  environment of the country which  prescribes the parameters within which  the foreign policy-makers of a country have   to shape  its foreign policy.  This   significance of the international milieu in the shaping of Indo-US relations notwithstanding, policy  convergences or  divergences between two democracies have often been explained mainly in the context o f  e x t e r n a l  e n v i r o n m e n t .  I n   t h e   p e r i o d   o f  C o l d   W a r rapprochement, and  difference between two countries took fair amount of time due  to both  internal and  external compulsions. From the start, the United States is  a  super power whereas India is a middle power. And further, a superpower’s domestic compulsions may  not  be directly related to its  relation to any one regional power while  a regional power’s approach to international politics is invariably linked to the role of the global power in its internal and  neighbourhood politics. In  the circumstances, it is  quite natural that the US  perceives its national interest in global  context while  India’s immediate concern often  hinges around preserving its  internal autonomy. A super power could accommodate another super power, because the alternative would  be equally devastating to both.   But the relationship between a super power  and  a middle power  is of different kinds. The  former may  not accommodate the latter while  the  latter cannot allow itself  to be a satellite of the former.
US understanding of South Asia
On the issue of Indo-US relations there are some who believe that bilateral relations ‘should  be separated from  the  strategic and  multilateral issues and  such  analysts argue that on some issues which  do not  directly affect  their bilateral relations, the countries may afford to have disagreements, However, in practice, this is not feasible. First, because there is interaction and mutual influence between bilateral  and  multilateral issues. Second, there are some middle range issues which  belong to both worlds. One  such  issue is the nuclear relationship between the  United States and  India. It directly affects the vital interests of India, if not those of United States. It is a part of the international debate on nuclear non-proliferation in  which  both the  US  and  India are  active participants, championing opposite points of view. On India’s  part, its commitments to the peaceful use  of nuclear energy is firm,  although, at times, it has  been subjected to some strain. During the stewardship of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s commitment in  this respect was  unequivocal. No doubts were cast on his  bona  fides,  during his  lifetime. Only  a Nehru could assure the world  on behalf of any  future government of India that this country would  not  go in  for  nuclear weapons.
In  just opposite is  the US  nuclear understanding which revolves round the policy  of nuclear deterrence and   non- proliferation. It is of the opinion that the US should possess a large number of powerful weapons which  would  be an  effective deterrent against a  first nuclear strike by  any  other nuclear power,  especially the Soviet  Union. As a result, Washington’s commitment to nuclear non-proliferation has  been  half-heated and partial. If favours only horizontal non-proliferation, without offering any  commitment even  to a gradual vertical non- proliferation. The nuclear policy of the  US  thus sharply clashes w it h  t ha t o f  I nd ia ,  w ho s e  co mmitm e nt t o  n u cl e a r n o n - proliferation is  total and  which  advocates vertical as  well  as horizontal non-proliferation. India feels that a non-proliferation agreement ignores the present proliferation and  pre-occupies itself  with the future proliferation which  is naturally unrealistic, ineffective and  therefore unacceptable  and pervasive. 

Dr. Rajkumar Singh is Professor and Head of P.G.Department of Political Science, BNMU, West Campus, P.G. Centre, Saharsa-852201. Bihar, India. Email- rajkumarsinghpg@yahoo.com

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