India: The Deadly Embrace of the US

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How times have changed. India, once considered 'the most non-aligned of the non-aligned countries', is now on the way to being a most favoured ally of the US.

In December 2005 the Indian foreign secretary, Shyam Saran, declared that to establish a proper 'balance' in Asia, India had to join the US.

Two landmark events in 2005 reflected a leap forward in this evolving relationship. The first was the US-India civilian nuclear deal. Both the US and international law stipulate that there can be no export of dual-use nuclear technology to any country that has defied the non-proliferation rules (which recognises only the US, Britain, France, China and Russia as legitimate powers). The Bush administration would now commit itself to changing these rules to make an exception for India (but not Pakistan). In return India would have to show itself more willing to fit in with US strategic plans.

The payoff came in September at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting when India voted for a US-sponsored resolution unfairly condemning Iran for violations of its obligations to the IAEA. The vote startled Iran, the Indian public and even the Indian government's own supporters, since the two countries have long had good economic and strategic relations. Clearly India was now willing to jeopardise this legacy at the altar of US demands. No wonder, then, that right wing US pundits are now talking of how a G4 of the US, Britain, Japan and India has the potential to become the foundation on which the future global US imperium would rest.

What explains India's trajectory after the Cold War? For 30 years after independence, the ruling class coalition believed that its interests would be best served by maximising India's political and economic autonomy by playing both sides in the Cold War face-off. From the beginning of the 1980s onwards the Indian economy began to integrate itself with a global neo-liberal order, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union the shift towards neo-liberalism was decisively accelerated.

Ultimately this has meant that most of the industrial bourgeoisie and an expanding number of rich farmers have accepted the new and developing configuration of economic forces, as they are keen to benefit from freer capital movements internationally.

Dominance in Asia

The power of foreign multinationals in India will grow, and the single largest block is likely to be US corporations. Indian capital will settle for sharing the huge domestic market with foreign capital, anticipating that there will be enough space for both. There is willingness to settle for junior partnerships with foreign capital. In short, there is growing endorsement of the US role as global guardian of this neo-liberal order.

On the US side, insofar as the empire project requires dominance in Asia, the roles of Japan and India become vital. In recent months, Washington has invested heavily in shoring up Japanese hostility to North Korea, and China has encouraged the re-elected Japanese government of Junichiro Koizumi to flex its military muscles internationally as a more committed US ally. Japan's geopolitical significance at one end of Asia is to be complemented by India as a junior partner for a variety of crucial purposes. This includes acting as a possible Trojan horse (along with Japan) in preventing emerging economic and energy pacts connecting South, South East and East Asia from becoming the forerunners of an Asian security architecture that would be too independent of the US.

Since the 'containers' of China seem to have the upper hand over 'engagers' in Washington, this makes the alliance with India even more attractive. In the Middle East, Iran is the prize. It is the most powerful of the major oil producing countries in the region. It alone provides the crucial geopolitical link between West and Central Asia. It is here in 1979 with the fall of the Shah that the US suffered its greatest strategic defeat. In this respect the growing nexus between India and Israel (now the second largest military supplier to India after Russia) also promises much.

Can the US's plans come unstuck? Domestically, left wing hostility to this accommodation with the US has little chance of causing a change of course when the state government in West Bengal led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is itself pursuing neo-liberal economic policies. Externally, Iraq remains the centre of world politics today. If the US suffers a decisive political defeat there, it opens up all kinds of progressive possibilities as well as forcing a rethink among elites and governments in countries such as India. The strongest possible solidarity with the resistance against the US and Israeli occupations of Iraq and Palestine remains an imperative for the left in India, as much for domestic as for international reasons.


Achin Vanaik teaches at Jawaharlal Nehru, New Delhi