The Guardian 22 March, 2006

Bush visit: Perils of a strategic alliance

Prakash Karat

India has become a strategic ally of the United States. This is the message that President Bushís visit to India has underlined. In one sense, the outcome of the visit was expected given the fact that last year in July, during the Prime Ministerís visit to Washington a strategic partnership was forged as set out in the joint statement issued on July 18, 2005.


Embedded in this strategic alliance is the US nuclear cooperation deal which was first mooted in the July 18 statement. The steps taken to concretise the nuclear deal during the Bush visit have been hailed as "historic". The big business media in the country have launched an euphoric campaign using the terminology which became familiar during the period of the BJP-led government when the pro-US orientation began.

If one were to believe the headlines, India has acquired "great power" status and the India-US partnership is being touted as the greatest event in this country since it acquired independence. The cue has been taken from US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Riceís remark last year that the Untied States will "help" India become a "great power". Such toadying up to the United States is typical of the English language print and electronic media.

What is not stated in this orchestrated campaign is that the UPA Government has by this strategic alliance with the United States eroded Indiaís independent foreign policy and severely restricted its strategic autonomy. This is evident from the nature of the strategic compact arrived at which has political, economic, military and strategic elements involved.

All talk of "enlightened national interests" is exposed when the political and ideological underpinnings of this strategic alliance with the United States are examined.

Fraud of spreading democracy

That the United States is the leader of this alliance is clear from the way the political terms of the alliance have been framed. In the July 18 statement, India agreed to promote democracy and fight terrorism globally jointly with the United States. If the July 18 statement talked about the Global Democracy Initiative, the current joint statement talks of India designating a representative to the advisory board of "International Centre for Democratic Transition" (ICDT) located in Budapest. In between, India had contributed $10 million to the UN Democracy Fund along with the United States.

The pro-US media and the ruling circles have kept the Indian people in the dark about the nature of organisations like the ICDT. This is nothing but a US-sponsored platform to promote "regime change" under the garb of democracy in all those countries which oppose US hegemony or have a socialist system.

What was being done by the US through its organisations like the National Endowment for Democracy is now being carried forward by the Community of Democracies, the Democracy Fund and the ICDT. What the Manmohan Singh Government has agreed to is to join the US sponsored global crusade against socialist countries like Cuba and countries targeted by the United States like Iran, Venezuela, Syria and Zimbabwe. It is significant and disturbing that the government of India has kept silent about Bushís infamous remarks about the need to promote democracy and regime change in countries such as Iran, Cuba, Zimbabwe and others in his Purana Qila speech.

Blueprint for us capital

The joint statement issued during the visit has welcomed the report of the US-India CEO Forum and agrees to consider its recommendations. Both the CEO Forum and the Trade Policy Forum have submitted reports which are a blueprint for American capital and corporations to penetrate the economy and capture the Indian market. Among the recommendations of the CEO Forum are steps to facilitate US banks taking over Indian private banks; increasing foreign direct investment (FDI) in the insurance sector to 49 per cent, opening up retail trade further to FDI and setting up of a US$5 billion Infrastructure Development Fund which can act as a vehicle for US investment in infrastructure.

It is stated clearly that the Fund should only have minority Indian government participation and should leverage the expertise of the World Bank and other financial institutions for selection and monitoring of investments.

The Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Dr Montek Singh Ahluwalia has promptly and not surprisingly, announced that there will be 24 committees set up, one for each recommendation made by the CEO Forum. It is not clear whether the Planning Commission itself would set up such committees whose sole purpose would be to facilitate American private investment in the country.

Privatising agricultural research

Another agreement being given concrete shape is the "Indo-US Knowledge Initiative on Agriculture, Research and Education". The board set up for this has representatives of US companies like Wal-Mart and Monsanto. Forty agricultural universities and research institutions are being linked to this initiative. The agreement would mark a shift away from public domain science to promote private sector interests with US multinational companies identifying the research areas with the aim of rapid commercialisation.

There are serious apprehensions that the terms of the intellectual property rights would favour United States as their IPR regime offers patent holders rights to life forms, plants and seeds which can threaten the interests of local communities and their rights to indigenous genetic resources.

Military alliance

The UPA Government had signed the Indo-US Defence Framework Agreement in June 2005 on the eve of the prime ministerís visit to Washington. The serious implications of this ten-year defence cooperation pact have already been highlighted by the CPI(M) and the Left parties. Flowing from this agreement which the Pentagon calls a "durable defence partnership", various measures are now being taken to cement the strategic military cooperation.

One of the agreements is the Maritime Cooperation Framework announced in the current joint statement. Under this framework the Logistics Support Agreement is also being worked out. This will pave the way for the armed forces of both countries to avail of logistic support and other services of each other. This would involve using each otherís facilities for maintenance, servicing, communications, refuelling etc.

With India agreeing to join the United States navy in patrolling and escorting ships through the Malacca Straits and other sea-lanes, this is a further step to integrate the operations between the two armed forces.

Within hours of the joint statement being issued, the Pentagon released a statement declaring its readiness to sell, on a large-scale, weaponry to India including F-16 and F-18 fighter planes which would be worth $6.9 billion.

Quid pro quo on nuclear deal

The media and public attention was solely focused on the nuclear cooperation deal to the exclusion of all these aspects of the strategic partnership. The nuclear cooperation agreement involves an unacceptable price for India. The United States has extended cooperation in the civilian nuclear sector by extracting the price of India serving the American strategic interests in Asia. This became evident soon after the July 2005 statement when in September, India voted against Iran in the IAEA board meeting. India went against its own declared policy and has maintained this stand against Iran because of the commitment made to the United States.

Except for the UPA Government, which refuses to acknowledge the reality, everyone knows that the US sees the strategic partnership with India as a political, economic and military counterweight to China. It is an important part of the US strategy in Asia. This is the reason why the Bush administration has offered civilian nuclear cooperation. The nuclear cooperation deal must not be divorced from the overall strategic alliance that the United States seeks. It has a similar aim in defence cooperation.

As the Pentagon news release of March 2 stated about growing defence and technology cooperation "These will serve key objectives of our strategic partnership by helping to build ties amongst our defence establishments and industries and to develop inter-operability among our armed forces. Defence technology cooperation will contribute to strengthened military capabilities and will also result in economic benefits through expanded trade."

Supply of uranium fuel or the sale of nuclear reactors to India is part of a package which will include military collaboration and supply of arms and other weaponry. In return, India has to behave as a reliable ally and in the eyes of the United States as a junior partner in its Asian and global strategy.

Party stand on nuclear issue

The CPI(M) had consistently advocated that India should have an independent nuclear policy. India had opposed the discriminatory policy of the nuclear haves and have-nots and in the earlier days was committed to nuclear disarmament and making the world free of nuclear weapons. The CPI(M) had opposed nuclear weaponisation and does not subscribe to the views of those who claim that nuclear weapon status is the way for India to acquire "great power" status. In fact the BJP-led government had begun the journey of accepting junior partnership of the United States in return for a de facto recognition as a nuclear weapon state.

The CPI(M) had stated that the Indo-US nuclear cooperation proposal of July 2005 should be implemented on a strict reciprocal basis in response to the measures taken by the United States, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the IAEA. The CPI(M) is not opposed to the separation of civilian and military nuclear facilities provided it does not hamper the pursuit of an independent nuclear technology policy for peaceful purposes based on the three phase nuclear energy programme.

The Bush visit has led to an agreement on the separation of civilian and military facilities. But the implementation of this agreement will depend on the Bush administration getting the approval of the US Congress and the Nuclear Suppliers Group to modify its rules in the light of the agreement.

It is not the nuclear cooperation deal as such which is the issue, but the quid pro quo which is demanded of India. Compliance by India of aligning with US strategic interests in all spheres is the real issue. The UPA Government is trying to sell the nuclear cooperation deal on the grounds that nuclear energy will have to be the mainstay of our future energy security.

This is a specious reason. The strategic alliance with the United States will constrain India from accessing energy from Iran and working for an Asian energy security grid which will link Central Asia, West Asia and South Asia. It can create fresh tensions and problems in our region.

Departure from CMP

Cutting through the claptrap of the "historic" breakthrough, what becomes clear is that the UPA Government has compromised Indiaís strategic autonomy to develop as an independent power which can play a vital role in building collective Asian security interests. The National Common Minimum Programme (CMP) adopted by the UPA had stated that "the UPA Government will pursue an independent foreign policy keeping in mind its past traditions. This policy will seek to promote multi-polarity in world relations and oppose all attempts at unilateralism."

The CMP does not advocate a strategic alliance with the United States. This has come into being with the Bush-Manmohan Singh agreements in Washington and New Delhi in the past one-year. This is reflected in the Presidentís address to parliament where the strategic partnership is put forth as an achievement of the UPA Government. This is a basic departure from the CMP.

It is a fact that the Congress-led government has the support of the BJP in adopting this course. But the CPI(M) and the Left cannot support this orientation of the UPA Government. Starting from the July 2005 joint statement, the CPI(M) and the Left have come out against the strategic alliance with the United States. It has conducted a countrywide campaign against the UPA Governmentís reversal on the Iran nuclear issue. The whole country has witnessed a powerful protest movement against the visit of President Bush. The CPI(M) will work more determinedly to fight back the growing US influence on the country, mobilise the people for an independent foreign policy and resist the conversion of India into a "reliable ally" of the United States.

Ganashakti

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