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Allies in a changing world

United States and India have grown extraordinarily close in the year that is about to leave us. The reigning superpower and the rising Asian giant have taken unprecedented strides over the past several months to bridge the half a century wide gulf. Last week’s Indo-US talks in Washington, aimed at strategic defence cooperation that includes sharing of nuclear technology, have taken this growing proximity to another level.

It was the Narasimha Rao government that turned around India’s traditional foreign policy in 1990s ending decades of indifferent relations with Washington. Again, it was under Rao that India reversed its anti-Israel policy establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. The BJP-led NDA government stepped up the process of normalisation with the US. But the high point in India-US relationship came earlier this year with the meeting of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W Bush with US recognising India as a ‘responsible nuclear state.’

But what is forcing US and India into each other’s arms? While democracy is often and rightly cited as the binding factor, it is not the only reason that is attracting the two countries to each other. The world of realpolitik is not always ruled by ideals such as democracy. More often than not, it is common interests, rather than common values, that dictate the world of international relations. And India-US ties are no exception.

India needs the superpower’s support as it seeks to play a greater role on the world stage in accordance with its size, power and numbers. After all, it is the world’s largest and successful democracy; it is expected to outgrow China soon in terms of population. Within a couple of decades, India is likely to emerge as one of the world’s four largest economies along with US, China and Japan. In defence terms, it has one of the largest and powerful armies on the earth. Besides, it is one of the few nuclear powers in addition to Pakistan, Israel and the Big Five of UN Security Council, of course.

US requires to engage India in its own geopolitical interests in Asia and the Middle East. For one, it needs India’s cooperation to contain and counterbalance the other emerging superpower, China. Although the red dragon has betrayed no ambitions for global hegemony so far and is largely focused on building its economic muscle, you never know when a pacifist power may develop a weakness for imperial grandeur. The US ties with the traditional ally, Pakistan, remain as strong as ever. In fact, they have only strengthened after 9/11. Pakistan remains America’s trusted friend in an uncertain neighbourhood. But Washington is looking for more allies, and reassurances, in a changed world. It’s thanks to this trump card that Washington was recently able to checkmate Iran in IAEA. After all, there are no permanent friends or enemies in the world of international relations, only permanent interests.

Editorial published 27 December 2005