Q: What is the significance of President Bush’s trip to India? Is this a turning point in the U.S.-India relationship?
A: Metaphorically, US-Indian relations have had many turning points, ranging from aloofness during the Cold War, to a close strategic relationship immediately after the 1962 India-China border conflict, to hostility during the 1970s (when India was seen, incorrectly, as an ally of the Soviet Union), to a gradual thawing over the last fifteen years.
This visit could be seen as such a turning point if it leads to a reaffirmation, and acceptance, of the global vision that the Bush administration laid out for an emerging India. This was most clearly stated in Secretary of State Rice’s Washington Post article of 12 December 2005, where she wrote that India is going to take its place as one of the five major world powers. This is the same vision articulated over the last hundred years by many Indian leaders, notably by Jawaharlal Nehru in The Discovery of India. If the visit is successful, it will contribute both to American understanding of the “new” India (a process initiated by Bill Clinton’s successful visit of 2000), and to an easing of Indian concerns that the US opposes India’s rise.
Q: What is the status of the nuclear agreement that was announced on July 18, 2005?
A: Differences over nuclear policy still plague the relationship. Washington placed many obstacles in the path of Indian scientists after the 1974 nuclear tests, and tried to force India to sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT). India, in turn, had a covert nuclear weapons program buried within its supposedly peaceful civilian energy program, and has always regarded the NPT as discriminatory. India’s record is good as far as exports are concerned, but it did demonstrate to other states, notably Iran, that a military nuclear program could be concealed within a civilian one. The nuclear agreement attempts to cut through this past history, and offer to India a tailor-made “regime” outside of the NPT. This will acknowledge India’s military nuclear status, and allow India to accept help for its civilian nuclear program, but it will require India to separate its civil and military programs and assume other obligations of NPT members.
The agreement may take weeks, or even months, to conclude. Still to be determined is exactly which nuclear facilities are military and which are civilian, and hence subject to international inspection. Complicating this negotiation is the problem of India determining exactly “how much is enough,” i.e. how many nuclear weapons (and what types) does India need. Since this is as much a psychological as well as a military problem, the answer cannot be expected without considerably more debate and discussion within India itself.