No. 41, December 2005

No. 41
(December 2005):

India's Place in the US Strategic Order

Appendix III
Manufacturing Justifications for an Aggressive Alliance

We have described elsewhere in this issue the plans for India to play a crucial role in an Asian military alliance headed by the US, and targeted principally at China, as well as any rebellious forces in the region.

How is such a programme to be presented to the world at large? Why, in particular, should the Indian people support the vast investments and risks involved in such a programme? While US officers bluntly told the author of a Pentagon study that "We want a friend in 2020 that will be capable of assisting the US military to deal with a Chinese threat", they also admitted that the US and India "do not discuss this [the 'Chinese threat'] publicly"; for "Such a rationale for the relationship will make the task of selling the Indo-US relationship to the Indian public exceedingly difficult."6

And so a variety of other justifications for the alliance are paraded through the media.

-- The first, and least convincing, is that the US and India are both democracies, united against anti-democratic countries in the region (read: China). Says the War College study: "an Indo-American partnership will be strengthened by its being 'an axis of democracy', not a purely military alliance whose purpose is containment of China."

The US began singing this theme under Clinton. His deputy secretary of state, Strobe Talbott, declared in January 1999 that "If India's democracy continues to flourish, it can exercise a positive influence on those countries in East Asia where democracy is either in jeopardy or only a gleam in the eye of would-be reformers. One such country that would so benefit is China." Clinton told the Indian parliament on his April 2000 visit, "I know it is difficult to be a democracy bordered by nations which reject democracy." Soon the US asked India to co-convene the Community of Democracies meet in Warsaw, a project to "strengthen democracies worldwide".

Such rhetoric has been heightened under the Bush administration, which loses few opportunities to lecture China on the virtues of what it calls 'democracy'. India has joined the US chorus. Manmohan Singh told the US Congress on July 19, 2005, that "Democratic societies with established institutions must help other nations to strengthen their democratic values and institutions." A day earlier, he said, the two countries had agreed upon a US-India Global Democracy Initiative "to help build democratic capacities in societies that sought such assistance".7 Which societies are seeking such assistance? US-occupied Afghanistan today, perhaps US-occupied Iraq tomorrow, and in the future any other victim of US-dictated 'regime change'.

-- A second platform for the US-India alliance is the 'fight against terrorism'. Manmohan Singh told the US Congress that

India and the United States have both suffered grievously from terrorism and we must make common cause against it.... We must categorically affirm that no grievance can justify resort to terror.... We must fight terrorism wherever it exists, because terrorism anywhere threatens democracy everywhere. (emphasis added)

This can be read as his plea for the US to crack down on Pakistan for sponsoring terrorism in India. But it carries an implicit offer: if the US cracks down on Pakistan, India will join the US's 'anti-terrorism' fight elsewhere. Thus C. Uday Bhaskar, head of the government's Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA), says that "India's abiding concern about radical Islamic militancy and its supra-national aspirations... will be the common template for the long-term security relationship."8 Similarly, the US War College study argues that "The Indian government... also wants Washington to stabilize the Gulf in order to stabilize the South Asian subcontinent and eliminate the territorial and political bases of the terrorism that threatens it".9 This is as far-fetched as the democracy-promotion platform. Terrorism in India has nothing to do with the Gulf, and does not draw forces from there; it is related to domestic questions such as Kashmir, the destruction of the Babri Masjid, and the communal massacres in Gujarat, and it draws its recruits from those who have grievances on these issues.

However, it is important to understand that the analysis put forward by Uday Bhaskar and others is self-fulfilling: by involving itself in the US 'war on terror', the Indian government in effect invites the forces fighting the US to target India as well. When they do target India, that will be taken as further justification for joining the US military adventure. 

-- A third proposed platform for the US-India alliance is the common desire for the security of sea lanes. Defence Minister George Fernandes declared in 2000 that, since India has "high stakes in the uninterrupted flow of commercial shipping, the Indian Navy has an interest in the ocean space extending from the north of the Arabian Sea to the South China Sea." "American officials say Washington and New Delhi share a particular interest in ensuring free navigation through the Indian Ocean."10 The massive naval expansion, the upgrading of the Andamans base, the growing ties with Japan, Vietnam, and Singapore, the large-scale exercises with the US Navy – are all supposedly for the protection of commercial shipping.

But has India's commercial shipping been facing any threat recently? No instance is cited. Rather, it is common knowledge that China's shipping is under subtle threat from the US. As a consequence of its present pattern of development, the Chinese economy has developed huge dependence on oil imports, largely from the Gulf, and this dependence is bound to increase. The US is keenly aware of this vulnerability, and plans to make use of it. Eighty per cent of China's oil imports pass through the Malacca Straits – precisely the region the US is interested to police jointly with the Indian Navy, under the name of checking 'piracy'.

It is widely acknowedged that, labels apart, the social system prevalent in China today is capitalism. As in any capitalist power, the drive for accumulation of capital determines the entire course of economic activity and internal and external State policy. As such, the rise of China necessarily implies its striving for hegemony as part of that drive for accumulation. However, in the present configuration of world power, it cannot pose a threat to the people of other countries in the sense that the US imperialist superpower's striving does.

-- Finally, however, the US and India are preparing justifications for an open anti-China alliance. The justification being advanced for this is that both countries face a threat from China. The US for its part has openly declared that it will prevent the emergence of any potential global or even regional rival (see the National Security Strategy of the USA, September 2002, cited in Aspects no.s 33 & 34, pp 59-69); thus the rise of China's economic strength and political influence in themselves constitute a 'threat'. What threat does India face? US and Indian 'experts' are busy trying to invent one. For example, Tellis writes:

The relationship between China and various key states in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf, which have the effect of marginalizing India, reducing its access to the region, and creating pockets of Chinese influence in areas where natural resources, physical access, markets, and sources of influence are increasingly coveted, .... could directly affect Indian interests.11

Certain actions are portrayed by Indian strategic 'experts' as Chinese encirclement of India; whereas they are clearly China's efforts to ensure that it is not encircled and cut off by the US. For example, China has been constructing and deepening a port at Gwadar in Pakistan. This has been portrayed in India as a threatening development. In fact, it is a civilian facility. The Chinese are anxious to have such a port close to the Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 per cent of the world's oil passes. A road and eventually a pipeline from Gwadar to China could give China an alternative supply route, avoiding the Malacca Straits. For the same reason (of developing an alternative supply route that will avoid the Malacca Straits) the Chinese are giving aid to develop Rangoon and Kyaukpyu ports in Myanmar, and to construct highways from China to these ports.12 Chinese military 'listening posts' in Myanmar's Coco Islands are linked to this pressing priority of establishing alternative routes, rather than to any preoccupation with India. Yet, as the Indian government ties the country to US plans for the region, India will certainly be targeted by China.  

It should be noted that since 2000, once US foreign policy began targeting China explicitly and promoting India as a rival, the Chinese stepped up efforts at improving relations with India and resolving their border dispute with it. In a significant gesture the Chinese in 2005 began treating Sikkim as a part of India, thus unilaterally dropping one dispute.

Quite to the contrary, India's defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, in the presence of the Chinese Consul General, departed from the topic of the meeting ("Role of the private sector in defence preparedness") to declare: "In 1962, China invaded Indian territories in the Northeast and (along the) Tibetan border. As a result, we were forced to prepare ourselves in a different scenario and the number of our ordnance factories was increased to 39 after the war." Mukherjee attributed the recent rise in India's defence spending to growing Chinese military presence in Tibet and along the northeastern frontier.13


6. The Indo-US Military Relationship: Expectations and Perceptions, Juli A. MacDonald, October 2002, cited in Siddharth Varadarajan, "America, India and outsourcing imperial overreach", Hindu, 13/7/05. (back)

7. A joint website of the Virtual Democracy Center has been set up at to "share the best practices on democracy, identify opportunities for joint support, and highlight capacity-building programmes." The website provides many details of India's considerable involvement in Afghanistan under American aegis. (back)

8."Bush Victory Ensures Continuity in US-India Strategic Relations", 3.htm, cited in Natural Allies, p. 44. (back)

9. Natural Allies, p. 43. (back)

10. Natural Allies, p. 19. (back)

11. Natural Allies, p. 37. (back)

12. "Crouching Tiger, Swimming Dragon", Nayan Chanda, Asian Age, 14/4/05. (back)

13. "Pranab makes China see red", Daily News and Analysis, 5/9/05. By contrast, the Chinese ambassador went out of his way to play down Mukherjee's remarks, saying "If you talk too much of the past, it is out of fashion." He remarked that he was "sorry to see misunderstandings among friends.... Whatever happened in the past is history and we want to put it back into history. What happened in history [between India and China] will never happen again". He pointed out that the Tibet issue had already been resolved by India and China. "There are no tensions along the border", he asserted, pointing out that the two militaries were celebrating festivals and holding sports meets. ("Friends, not enemies: China", Amit Baruah, Hindu, 7/9/05. (back)


NEXT: App. IV: Internal Requirements of 'Great-Power' Status


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