US ELECTIONS 2000:WHAT DO THEY MEAN TO INDIA?
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.
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
In the circumstances, the Congress, the President, and both the major
political parties may well decide on a course of action, which includes the
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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