India in the Balance

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India is being courted by several great powers, including the United States.America would be wise to gain India's favor.

During a recent visit to New Delhi, Deputy Secretary of State RichardArmitage spoke warmly of India's growing economic strength and itssignificant political and moral influence in world affairs. He indicatedthat the United States took India seriously as a rising great power.Armitage also hinted that the Bush administration was likely to lift theremaining economic sanctions (imposed when India conducted a series ofnuclear tests in 1998) within the next few months. For its part, New Delhiseemed receptive to Washington's position on ballistic missile defense.

Armitage's approach was consistent with the attitude of the Bushadministration. Indeed, Bush himself signaled an interest in India as apossible U.S. strategic partner in his first major foreign policy addressas a presidential candidate in late 1999.

There is good reason for viewing India in that fashion. Not only is Indiathe world's second most populous country, but in recent years it has begunto discard the shackles of socialist economic planning and adopt the marketreforms that have spurred economic growth in several other countries.India's economic growth rate the past two years has hovered near 6.5percent, and according to International Monetary Fund estimates, India mayhave the world's fourth largest economy by 2020.

India is also rapidly emerging as a serious military player. It is a memberof the exclusive global club of nations with nuclear weapons. India'sconventional forces are being modernized, as well. Last year, New Delhiincreased its military budget by some 27 percent and followed with another14 percent this year. Also, last year, New Delhi dispatched a navalcontingent to the South China Sea to participate in maneuvers with a numberof Southeast Asian countries. An underlying motive, however, was to showthe Indian flag in a region that Beijing has regarded as being within itssphere of influence. India could help serve as a strategic counterweight toChina if Beijing should ever begin to pursue expansionist ambitions.

Unfortunately, some obstacles stand in the way of the Bush administration'sgoal of making India a de facto strategic partner. During the Clintonadministration, America's actions often made New Delhi nervous. TheU.S.-led NATO attack on Serbia raised fears among Indians that someday theUnited States might give New Delhi an ultimatum regarding the Kashmirdispute. One important reason for the recent surge in India's militaryspending is to make certain that Washington can never treat Kashmir as itdid the Kosovo problem.

Washington's imposition of economic sanctions in response to India's nucleartests also annoyed Indians across the political spectrum. Those sanctions,reflecting the influence of the arms-control faction in the United States,were a monumentally bad way to treat a rising great power.

Another problem is that Moscow is again cultivating economic and strategicties with New Delhi. Indeed, the two countries recently concluded a majorarms sale agreement. More important, Russia apparently sees India as animportant component of a coalition of major powers to thwart U.S. globalhegemony. Three years ago, then-foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov openlyproposed that India join a "triangular alliance" with Russia and China topromote a "multipolar world." Even China has sought to improve relationswith India. A few weeks ago, Indian and Chinese naval forces engaged injoint maneuvers.

India is clearly keeping its options open. The Bush administration wouldbe wise to overrule the arms-control fanatics in middle ranks of the StateDepartment and lift sanctions against India immediately. It should alsoenthusiastically support India's ambition to gain a permanent seat on theU.N. Security Council. Finally, the administration should make clear to NewDelhi that it has no intention whatsoever to interfere in the Kashmirdispute.

India should be a natural de facto strategic partner for the United States.With wiser diplomacy on Washington's part, there are no serious issues onwhich the interests of two countries are in conflict. Conversely, there arenumerous areas in which Indian and U.S. interests coincide. Chief amongthem are stability in the Persian Gulf and placing a limitation on China'sambitions. A continuation of the inept diplomacy of the Clinton years,however, could drive India into the waiting arms of Russia and China.