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#174, 9 March 1999
Recent Trends in Indo-US Relations
Arvind Kumar
National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore

The need to improve Indo-US relations was felt immediately after the nuclear tests conducted by India last summer. There have been eight rounds of  talks between India and the US since then.



The crux of the debate is where do the Indo-US talks stand now? Is India a good negotiator? The general feeling in India after the tests was that it would be in a better position to negotiate on a number of important themes, and the that United States would consider India ’s concerns seriously. But, this particular feeling is diminishing day by day domestically.



The main goal of the Clinton administration is to prevent an escalation of nuclear and missile competition in the subcontinent, strengthen the global non-proliferation regime and promote a dialogue between India and Pakistan   for improving their relations.



The United States expects India to initiate the following steps to reduce tensions on the subcontinent: It must sign and ratify the CTBT, declare a unilateral moratorium on the production of fissile materials, place restraints on its nuclear and missile capabilities, tighten its export controls and bring them up to international standards and it talk to Pakistan on the major issues of disagreement between them, including Kashmir.



India responded by saying that the ongoing talks with the United States are based on the premise that India will define its own nuclear requirements. With regard to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), India is moving closer to signing it; it is hoped that India may sign before September 1999. This development can be attributed to the outcome of the Indo-US dialogue. Ironically, the US signed the CTBT in September 1996 but has not ratified it until now.



India rejected the demand made by the US to declare a moratorium on the production of fissile material. But, it is keen to participate in the negotiations on the Fissile Materials Cut off Treaty (FMCT). The FMCT aims to end the future production of nuclear materials for military purposes or other nuclear explosive devices. It is absurd to ask any country to declare a unilateral moratorium on the production of fissile material. Approximately, 36,000 nuclear warheads are held by the five nuclear-weapon states recognized by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. They imperil the world but no credible move has been made to eliminate nuclear weapons to which they are pledged.



On export controls, both countries have similar approach. As a resposible state possessing nuclear weapons, it is India 's duty to prevent the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and coordinate its existing policies and regimes with the international standards.



On the India-Pakistan dialogue, India had made clear that these are bilateral issues and should not affect the Indo-US dialogue. The latest bus diplomacy certainly shows that both countries are willing to sort out their existing irritants including Kashmir . The main point is that both countries need to sustain a positive atmosphere. The problems between the two countries are too complex to be solved overnight. The ‘Bus Diplomacy’ has provided a new impetus to start a fresh dialogue.



Apparently, an influential group of US policy analysts are urging President Clinton to consider conventional arms sales, joint military development and other high technology transfers to India and Pakistan as a way to re-establish US influence in the region. It is generally believed however that US arms exports cannot ease tensions between the two South Asian rivals.



The ongoing Indo-US talks are only the latest in a long series of endeavours over the decades to reach a strategic understanding, so that the rigours of hightech curbs against India are eased. Will it be easy to open up the US high-technology market to Indian imports? India needs to put across its case in a well articulated fashion in the forthcoming Indo-US talks. The question also being raised is: does the US really desire a deep engagement with India . If so, then the initiative should come from the US , and it should license some special exports of advanced technology. Without offering tangible technology incentives, the US cannot hope to change Indian attitudes or build a strategic relationship with India . There are a number of instances where the US government has moderated its national laws to suit its strategic objectives. The need of the hour is to enhance strategic and nuclear co-operation between the two countries for mutual benefit. A pragmatic approach should be adopted by the US . Mutual trust and confidence between the two countries is required; both countries need to find out areas of common interest.






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