US ELECTIONS 2000:WHAT DO THEY MEAN TO INDIA?

By

Lieutenant  General Ashok Joshi (Retd)

 

 

Weakened Presidency and Congress

 

1.      TheY2K is almost out. Many heaved a sigh of relief that the bug did not

actually materialize. Many in the US, not excluding the Presidential

aspirants, now have second thoughts. Is the Y2K somewhat like a scorpion

that carries its sting in its tail?

 

2.      The US Presidential and Congressional polls have delivered a weakened

Congress and promise to diminish the US Presidency to some extent, no matter

who comes out on the top. The GOP with wafer thin majority in the House, and

both the parties in an evenly divided Senate that may have to depend on the

casting vote of the Vice President to resolve the contentious issues, are

likely to be circumspect. Neither party can afford to follow its partisan

agenda, even if the President belongs to it.

 

The impact

 

3.      The impact is likely to be as follows: --

 

President Clinton was a powerful President because his popular rating

remained very high irrespective of the impeachment proceedings. His foreign

policy initiatives had popular backing, and he seems to want to end his term

while striving to bring about some semblance of order, if not peace, in

Palestine and Israel. A weakened Congress would not be able to trespass into

the Presidential territory of foreign policy. President, on the other hand,

battered by the stigma of litigation, and charges and counter charges of

'cheating', is unlikely to get into a trial of wills with the Congress.

 

In the course of elections, both the principal parties -- and their

candidates -- tried to take the extreme positions, that is, the GOP to the

right of the spectrum, and the Democratic Party to the left of the spectrum.

This was a way of keeping the already committed together, and attracting the

uncommitted to the flock. This could well have succeeded if times had proved

to be conducive to polarization. When the manoeuvre failed, as it seems to

have, it could well be an indication that a substantial number of voters

wished to move away from the ends of the spectrum towards the center. It

could well be argued that voters have opted for candidates that they have,

because they believe that they are likely to respond to the voters' desire

for status quo. Americans seem to be happy with the state of economy and the

state of the world. They could do with some more of the same. They are

unlikely to respond with enthusiasm to calls or appeals for decisive action

in areas that do not happen to be their immediate concerns.

 

Till the political cost-accountants get into the act and produce pluses and

minuses of every pronouncement and gesture in the election campaign, in

serious debates and casual off the cuff remarks, and lay out credible cause

and effect relationships, extreme caution, verging on inaction, is likely to

prevail.

 

In the circumstances, the Congress, the President, and both the major

political parties may well decide on a course of action, which includes the

following: --

 

Create a popular mood and derive their support from the public opinion

before taking up strong positions on contentious issues.

 

Take recourse to consensual politics to carry on everyday business, whether

in the domestic or international spheres.

 

Pass off the routine as major initiatives till a visible consensus emerges.

Prepare for the next election, hoping for a more decisive vote.

 

4.      The Congress on the one hand, and the party in the opposition on the

other hand, will wait for the President to commit errors of commission or

omission before asserting themselves.

 

5.      It is all but obvious that in spite of public posturing and raucous

debate, the center of the road policies will be followed and none with too

great a vigour. Till the next election, the interregnum is likely to be

treated as a period of consolidation rather than innovation. In all this,

the media will play a crucial role, more than ever before, because the

politicians, the professionals, the lobbyists et al will be looking to the

media to get them what they want.

 

6.      The US interests are also guarded and promoted by some major institutions

like the CIA, the FBI, and the Pentagon, although all of them take their

orders from the Administration, and the cues and the approval from the

Congress. To this list could be added other departments that are mainly

staffed by professionals - as against those that contain a large number of

political appointees. Notwithstanding the constitutional position, all these

institutions have their own built-in or embedded concepts of what constitute

US interests and how to promote them. It is often said, undoubtedly by their

critics, that they pretty much act on their own, while giving the impression

of scrupulously carrying out their orders. Their apologists would argue that

these attitudes stem from their past institutional experience when they were

burdened by their political masters with tasks, for which they had been

given neither warning or direction in advance. Even if one were to set aside

the exaggeration, it can be safely be assumed that they will be playing a

more dominating role in the next four years. As a broad generalization, it

could also be said that these institutions tend to be conservative, and

persistent: they are more likely to do what they did in the past, and with a

conservative attitude.

 

7.      The legislative and the executive wings of the US would want to avoid any

decisive actions in the next four years except those that are within the ken

of their professionals, and which can be carried out incrementally, without

muddying the waters, so to say.

 

India -- US interaction

 

8.      It would of course be wrong to presume that the outcome of the US

elections should cause India to review its foreign policy formulations; it

would be even worse to presume that the outcome does not matter, and India

should continue as if nothing has happened. All it means is that it is a

good time to factor in the outcome of the US elections, and carry out a

periodic review.

 

9.      It has often been said of the US-India relationship that it has never

sunk very low nor has it risen above a certain level of mutual appreciation.

The reasons given have been many: that issues of bilateral contention have

never divided the two; there is an appreciation in the US of India as the

most populous democracy; the US has been a preferred destination for the

Indian elite and so on. Beyond that, and in so far as the US is concerned,

India qualified to be in the third world -- Indian championship of

non-alignment notwithstanding -- by being in the Soviet camp, and adopting a

model for development which was doomed to fail. India took up programmes

like the development of missiles and bombs, is disregard of its real

security interests, which according to the US lay in development. What is

striking is that most of the approbation or opprobrium attach to what India

was, or is, rather than to direct inter-action between the US and India,

such as it was. Of course there were instances of needless needling,

well-intended backhand swipes, and occasional generosity. But on the whole,

no clash or convergence of interests between the two, on account of purely

bilateral issues have been visible. This, of course excludes the two

'Pokhrans', and the liberation of Bangladesh.

 

10.     The US foreign policy has displayed some enduring traits after the US

experience in the Great War. It decided to move away from the Monroe

doctrine and engage the world at large. In the regions, or countries, where

there is an apparent lack of shared interests - there are few such places on

the shrinking globe -the US conjures up, or seeks out some convergence of

interest with a view to active engagement at an opportune time. Even when

there is a clash of interests, the US tries to locate some convergence of

interests and engages the potential adversaries by working out some areas of

cooperation while eroding his strength till the adversary's instruments of

power wither away: the NATO, led by the US, took active measures to sap the

strength of the Soviet Union till its armed forces virtually withered on

vine.

 

11.     Convergence of interests merely creates possibilities of shared

understanding, concerns, cooperation, concerted action, and in the extreme

case, even alliances. For anything concrete and worthwhile, by way of

action, to emerge, an understanding, and subsequently an agreement about

ends and means, has to be arrived at. An agreement on contributions that

each party makes, in expectation of returns that it finds attractive is

essential. Convergence can be converted into congruence of interests, and

joint action, when there is an agreement on what each partner contributes

and risks on the one hand, and the share of the prize that he can look

forward to on the other hand. Some kind of an arrangement for sharing of

stakes, risks, and prizes has to be worked out in every single case when the

convergence is minimal or ephemeral.

 

12.     The US avoids a direct clash with arms, particularly if the clash has

the potential to escalate into a war with weapons of mass destruction.

 

13.     The assumptions that underpin the foreign policy thrusts as above are

worthy of attention:

 

The US has exceptional capabilities, and natural and moral endowments, which

places on it moral obligations to fight and subdue the demons; therefore,

anyone and everyone who opposes the US policies belongs to the 'evil

empire'.

 

The new world order (NOW) creates pre-conditions in which --

 

The US will emerge a net gainer in all arrangements concerning sharing of

stakes, risks, and prizes.

The US will prevail in all armed clashes, and claim a major share of prizes.

 

The US had been less than alive to the geopolitical realities till the

1970s. But thereafter, it has taken those into account while dealing with

the Eurasian land mass.

 

The US is, and is likely to remain, an overwhelmingly English speaking

nation with cultural roots in Europe in general, and England in particular,

with which it retains exceptional affinities. Its relationships with other

English speaking nations of the NATO are very special, and except when the

interests of these nations directly clash with those of the US, the special

relationships are likely to prevail over other international concerns.

 

14.     The future will reveal whether the assumptions as above are justified or

not. They are, at once the strength and weakness of the US foreign policy.

They may keep the US at the top of the hierarchy of unequal nations, or they

may lead the US to an overreach.

 

15.     It could also be said that the ideas of the international seamless

security propagated by President Wilson, and the rhetoric of the Second

World War - soldiers for democracy et al - attracted the charges of

hypocrisy. But whichever nation tries to reconcile the demands of universal

values with those of  'raison d'etat' cannot but be hypocritical, more or

less, in its foreign-policy-posturing. Nothing is to be gained by taking

potshots at the US on this account.

 

The future of Indo-US relationship

 

16.     The US looks at India more in the geopolitical and regional rather than

bilateral context except in those areas where India can have a direct impact

on the US interests: bilateral trade, flow of computer experts and so on.

Such areas are very few and not really significant for the US, although they

are of substantial significance to India. India is not a major player at

present, and such importance as it attracts is on account of its potential,

both positive and negative.

 

17.     Notwithstanding the advocacy of Indian independence during the Roosevelt

years, the US has had minimal interest in the sub-continent. It inherited

the British mantle and relied on the judgment of the former colonial masters

in its dealings with the areas of former British influence including the

sub-continent. It absorbed two main ideas: one, that divide and rule policy

must be followed with a view to getting leverage that could be used in

pursuing Western agenda; two, in the great game against the Soviet Union,

Pakistan mattered more to the Western world than India, unless of course,

India chose to join the Western camp.

 

18.     Governments in Pakistan elected or otherwise, have had a unique

advantage in dealing with the US. They took the initiative to convince the

decision makers in the US, already sensitized and made receptive to the idea

by the British, that Pakistan had something to offer to the US, which only

Pak could, and more particularly, India would not or could not. Pak also

learned very early that the US interest in Pak domestic issues was

superficial for so long as it could meet the US requirements.

 

19.     In facilitating the US-China dialogue, Pak realized that its location

and demography gave it an enduring place in the US scheme of things:

 

It could act a 'spoiler' in the sub-continent, and debilitate it by being a

minus 'B' to India's 'A". This admirably suited Pak interests.

 

If and when the need arose for the US to counter-balance the Chinese

geopolitical mass, Pak might have to trim its sails to yield 'A' plus 'B'.

But it would do so only after exacting the right price both from India and

the US. Some of this was visible in the post-1962 period.

 

It could facilitate the US access to the Islamic world, if and when the need

arose. Pak straddles most divides in the Islamic world and enjoys a unique

position in that respect.

 

20.     Pak problems have surfaced only now that the NWO means more to the US

than it did in earlier times, and a major conflagration between India and

Pakistan may spell doom.

 

21.     The US is very uncomfortable with terrorism that Pak is exporting. This

is a point on which there is a total convergence of interest amongst China,

Russia, Central Asian Republics, and India. If fissile material were to fall

in the hands of Taliban, or other mujahids, with or without Pak help, the

results could be disastrous, and the victims could be anywhere, in any of

the countries.

 

22.     The US is even more uncomfortable with a dictator who has his thumb on

the nuclear button. It would not be a surprising development if another

military dictator were to replace the present one, provided of course, if he

were to agree to joint US-Pak monitoring of the nuclear establishment,

making it that much more difficult for Pak to strike without warning or to

hand over fissile material to the ultras. Pak has had a long interaction

with the professionals in the armed services, intelligence agencies and the

like. The relationship had become particularly close during the years of

Russian intervention in Afghanistan. During Zia years, when Pak was the

frontline state, many doors were thrown open to the Pak professionals which

otherwise would have remained closed to them. Majors and colonels who were

trained in the US, or who came in contact with the US-operatives, during

those years are now in positions of importance. In the next four years they

are bound to play a most important role in furthering US interests in

Pakistan; equally, the US institutions with their conservative agenda may

actively help to follow its anti-India agenda as they often did in the past.

 

23.     Getting a democratically installed government in Pakistan may have a

high priority on the US agenda only to the extent that it creates

possibilities of getting the Pak nuclear establishment under the control of

elected representatives. But the US experience of Pak politicians in the

past may cause it back an effective dictator, civil or military, rather than

an elected Prime Minister who cannot get his act together, and in the

process yields ground to some fire-breathing fundamentalist elected or

otherwise. Non-proliferation, capping the Pak nuclear capability, and so on,

may be distant goals in comparison.

 

24.     No matter who controls the Pak nuclear capability, any major conflict

between India and Pakistan has the potential to push the decision makers in

Pakistan into the irrational or the accidental 'modes'. These serious and

immediate US concerns have even a greater relevance to India. India may have

to deal with anyone in Pakistan who is capable of delivering goods.

 

25.     China means more to the US than India for geopolitical reasons: China

holds the Western shore of the Pacific and has the capacity, in the long

run, to dominate the Philippines, and build strategic relationships with

Russia and India both. If she were to succeed in doing so, the US would be

dislodged from its premier position. The US would rather think of

condominium arrangements with China. The US, it would seem, has already

opted for befriending China in a big way. It is investing in China, allowing

it access to technologies by whatever means, and ignoring its adventures in

exporting the nuclear and missile technologies in its own strategic

interests.

 

26.     India has a great deal to lose if it were to ignore the basics: that the

sub-continent is an indivisible cultural and political entity, and problems

will persist for so long as federal structure is not evolved. India ought to

create conditions in which A+B OR A-B configurations are not manipulated to

long-term disadvantage of the sub-continent, either by China, or the US.

 

27.     India, in its own interest, ought to put the matters in the correct

perspective and settle its squabbles with Pakistan. India has spent a great

deal of its energy and resources on denying the 'two-nation' theory. Many in

India fear that if another Muslim majority area were to opt for Pakistan, or

an independent status on the lines of Bangladesh, the edifice of secular and

modern India would collapse, and the country would swing either towards an

obscurantist Hindu state, or disintegrate. Such fears are a baggage of the

past, and totally misplaced. Two-nation theory seized to exist when

Bangladesh came into being. India needs to create a federal structure in

which avowedly Muslim states can also find a place. Bangladesh could be in

the forefront. Eventually, even Pakistan would follow. A single unitary

state of the sub-continent is an idea that belonged to the late nineteenth

and early twentieth centuries. If Pakistan fails to heed, it is bound to

fragment. India does not need to take recourse to an all out war. Just hold

its own, and in fact, avoid an all out war, irrespective of all provocation.

By moving away from A+B, A-B scenarios, the sub-continent would set to

nothing the divisive policies.

 

Convergence of interests

 

28.     There is apparently some convergence of Indian and US interests

 

Oil should flow out of the Middle-east and central Asian oil fields at

optimum prices without let or hindrance. Its uninterrupted supply to India,

amongst others, must be maintained.

 

Irregular armed warfare, whether state sponsored or otherwise, and

terrorism, must be eliminated.

 

Conflicts that have the potential to lead to nuclear strikes must be

prevented, preempted, or resolved, failing which, they must be ruthlessly

suppressed.

 

Nuclear strikes or explosions, whether they are the result of accidents,

irrational behaviour, or terrorism, must be prevented.

 

Inflow of foreign investments and technology into India should be promoted;

on its part, India should open its markets to foreign media, operators,

goods and services.

 

What India needs to do?

 

29.     Strengthen professional relationships with US institutions, inter alia,

with the Pentagon, CIA, FBI, and the career officers in the departments

through professional interactions.

 

30.     Undertake a massive effort to project the Indian point of view in the US

through the media, and 'on frequencies', to which the public and

opinion-makers in the US are receptive.

 

31.     While interacting with the US, and others of the industrialized world,

learn to 'work' the alliance system - and its numerous derivatives - to

India's advantage. India must be prepared to exchange 'prizes', cooperate

and act together with others whenever there is convergence of interest. This

is a far cry from the non-alignment, both with respect to philosophy and

practice. Nothing is ever going to be offered to India for what it is, but

only in exchange for what it is willing to offer. Ability to evaluate

implications of a proposed exchange is essentially a job of professionals:

they could be economists, technologists, computer scientists, or oil

explorers, or all of these, or none of these, and a separate group

altogether. Only the political impact of the exchanges can be gauged and

taken care of by the politicians and the bureaucrats. But they cannot

replace professionals. India needs to put together a security system and

apparatus that can help the country to realize its full potential. The

passage through the maze of the New World Order is tortuous.

 

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