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October - November 2005

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India-US Defence Framework Agreement 2005

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

In the mid-fifties of the last century when the US was busy building an anti-Communist Collective Security Alliance, comprising North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), Central Asian Treaty Organisation (CENTO) and South East Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) to hang like a necklace around the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China, US President Dwight Eisenhower had invited India in 1954 to partner and become an ally in the Western military bloc. New Delhi politely declined the offer. The US was furious with India. Pakistan jumped into the void and became a long-term alliance partner of the US. The relationship continues till this day.

New Delhi had a choice, which side to choose, in a multi-polar world with two superpowers the USA and the Soviet Union facing each other in a vicious ideological and military confrontation. India was not prepared to play the role of a junior partner in any military alliance, Western or Communist, and chose to remain outside the bounds of both the military alliances of the cold war.
India’s freedom struggle had placed the nation uniquely at the forefront of the anti-colonial movement. It was a struggle against the British Empire in India not the British people. That is why India carried no ideological baggage and chose to adopt a parliamentary system of governance on the Westminster model. It had just emerged as an independent country, a big country with a large population, with global aspirations.

India took the middle path and became the leader of the non-aligned movement. The membership of NAM soared to more than 100 among the developing nations. The movement maintained equi-distance from either of the power blocs and became a third force in world affairs.

The year 2005, however, belongs to another age. The 21st century has given birth to a new world order. The only superpower left on this planet is the United States of America, which boasts of unmatched technological, military and economic power. There may be differences of opinion between individual nations and the US; but let us face it, there is no nation on earth today, which does not want to develop close relationship with the US. The benefits are many and nobody wants to be left out of the charmed circle. India is no exception.

India has special reasons to see itself as a natural ally of the US, an expression coined by the former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. Both India and the US are pluralistic democracies, committed to freedom and liberty and are open societies. They share common values.

What is remarkable is that in terms of national politics there is a consensus between two major political parties namely the ruling Indian National Congress and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party to develop close relationship with the US. The only exception is the Left Front comprising the Communist Party of India (Marxist). the Communist Party of India, the Forward Bloc and others who oppose Indo-US friendship and co-operation. They have their own electoral axe to grind. Considerations of national interest in security matters seem to lie outside their purview. They portray America under President George W Bush as an enemy of Islam. Opposing US-India strategic partnership is part of their strategy to win Muslim votes. The Left Front has 63 MPs in Parliament and on the back of this strength they can bring down the UPA Government led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh if they withdraw their support. The Communits can be a serious obstacle in the development of the US-India relationship.

Yet the UPA Government did not submit to the will of the Communists and have gone ahead strengthening the US-India relations. Congress-BJP consensus lies at the root of this bold decision. Communist threats of the possible withdrawal of parliamentary support to the UPA Government may be shallow rhetoric.

The US on its part is equally interested and prepared to develop good relations with India. President George W Bush during his first presidency ( 2000-2004 ) had issued a foreign policy document called “ The National Security Strategy of the USA” in which he had described India as a great democratic world power with whom the US has common strategic interests and wanted strong bilateral relations. President Bush carried this policy decision forward during his second presidency.

Washington never hides that Pakistan is a trusted ally of the US but it is also increasingly being recognised in the US that it is a troublesome partner. Osama bin Laden is still free. Those who are in the know of things have suggested that he may be living in hiding in Pakistan. The Taleban are regrouping surreptitiously in Pakistan. If Maulana Fazlur Rahman, the leader of Pakistan’s fundamentalist political outfit ruling NWFP and Balochistan, the Mutahidda Majlis e Alam is to be believed, the Taliban are being infiltrated into Afghanistan. There has to be a purpose to it. Criminal investigation and interrogations of the surviving suspects by the London Metropolitan Police and the British and US security agencies in the London bomb blasts of July 7 which killed 56 people, and the failed attempts of July 21, 2005 have traced the source of trouble to the Madrasas and militant training camps in Pakistan. Not unexpectedly, Pakistan has denied any involvement. There are increasing signs that the US foreign policy planners are worried about these developments. Something needs to be done to balance the situation.

The Defence Framework
The Defence Framework Agreement signed in Washington on June 28, 2005 by Donald Rumsfeld, US Defence Secretary and Pranab Mukherjee, the Indian Defence Minister is a giant step forward in developing Indo-US strategic partnership.

The first paragraph says it all. “ The US and India have entered a new era. We are transforming our relationship to reflect our common principles and shared national interests. As the world’s two largest democracies, the US and India agree on the vital importance of political and economic freedom, democratic institutions, the rule of law, security and opportunity around the world. The leaders of our two countries are building a US-India strategic partnership of these principles and interests.”

The document says that the US-India defence relationship has advanced to unprecedented levels of co-operation unimaginable ten years ago. The Defence Framework Agreement charts a new course for the next 10 years.

The document defines the US-India common interests as follows:

Maintaining security and stability.
Defeating terrorism and violent religious extremism.
Preventing the spread of WMDs and associated materials, data, and technologies and
Protecting the free flow of commerce via land, air and sea lanes.
The Indo-US pact further spells out that US-India defence establishments will “conduct joint and combined exercises and exchanges, collaborate in multinational operations when it is in their common interests, strengthen the capabilities of each others militaries to promote security and defeat terrorism.”

The joint pact also envisages:”Expanding interactions with other nations in ways that promote regional and global peace and stability, combat proliferation of WMDs, expand two-way defence trade and transactions with a view to reinforce strategic partnership, conduct exchanges on strategy and defence transformation, increase exchanges of intelligence and continue strategic level discussions by senior leadership of the Defence Department of the US and the Defence Ministry of India in which the two sides exchange perspectives on international security promoting shared objectives and develop common approaches.”

The Pact also spells out: “Defence Policy Group will serve as the primary mechanism to guide the US-India strategic defence relationship.” It will have under it several sub-groups namely The Defence Procurement and Production Group, the Defence Joint Working Group, the Joint Technical Group, The Military Co-operation Group and the Senior Technology Security Group. The Defence Policy Group and its sub-groups will rely on The Defence Framework Agreement for guidance on principles and objectives of the US-India strategic relationship and will try to achieve those objectives.

India’s one concern will be, considering President George Bush’s no-nonsense and hard-headed pursuit of US national interest, how much independence will New Delhi be able to exercise in the pursuit of its own national interests. Fears and apprehensions such as these are expected to be ironed out in due time as the relationships mature.

To say that the 21st century has rendered military alliances old fashioned and obsolete may not be quite correct. It is only recently that Washington recruited Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally of the US. But India is not seeking to become a military alliance partner of the US nor, for that matter, any other power in the world. India will maintain its independence of judgement. What is important is that India will have to take care that by coming closer to the US it does not jeopardise its traditional relationships with other major world powers like Russia, Germany, France, Britain, Japan and others.

There are three tests lying ahead for India to judge the benefits of the defence agreement. They are:

1) How soon and how much will the US relax its stringent curbs on the export of nuclear, space and defence items.

2)How fully India will be allowed to participate in the Proliferation Security Initiative – a policing interdiction role which is outside the UN system.

3) Whether and how much independence of judgement will India be allowed on the acquisition of F-16s or the F-18 military jets from the US following the Framework Agreement.

The US has tacitly accepted India as nuclear weapons power and assured that steps will be taken to secure the acceptability of the other P5 nations. This is a very important development in Indo-US relations.

In a move to clear the way for future civilian nuclear co-operation, an announcement was made in Washington on August 31, 2005 that under the Next Steps to Strategic Partnership, the US removed licensing requirements on nuclear related items. India remained on the Nuclear Suppliers Group list but the US promised to take up the matter with the nations belonging to the NSG and use its influence to do the needful.

The pace of movement towards a closer relationship between the US and India gathered momentum with the three day visit beginning July 17, 2005 of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Washington. It formalised and concretised an important strategic partnership between the two nations for the first time ever.

The joint statement issued at the end of the visit laid out a new vision of the US to advance India’s interests as a global power by co-operation in a diverse range of fields straddling the economy, agriculture, defence, science and high technology.

Nick Burns, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs said, “What we have done is to develop with the Indian Government a broad, global partnership of the likes that we have not seen with India since its founding in 1947.”

A Global Democracy Initiative was created with the intention of developing and supporting global democracy in countries that need such assistance. Within a week after the conclusion of his visit to the US, Prime Manmohan Singh was in Kabul where in the presence of King Zahir Shah he laid the foundation stone of a new Parliament Building, which India will design and build as a lasting monument to the establishment of democracy in Afghanistan.

Commenting on Manmohan Singh’s 2005 US visit Ashley Tellis, a Senior Associate of the Carnegie Foundation for International Affairs, Washington said “The enormous breakthrough is a shot that will be heard around the globe. It is a signal from America to the rest of the world that India has finally arrived.”

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