With the Indo-US nuclear deal in murky waters, the Bush administration has decided to target firm military and defence ties in order to smoothen the tense situation that coalition politics in India is subjecting the deal to. Recently in India for the second time, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, attempted at building long term and sustainable relationships between the two nations – one that would pacify the administration of the United States as well as the political situation of India. Gates’ first visit to India was in an attempt to initiate peace between India and Pakistan, on behalf of the Bush administration in 1990. Reports from within America affirm that Gates, the then US deputy National Security Advisor, was able to avert a fourth war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours in Southeast Asia.
However, this time, Gates’ strategy was only ensuring a level playing field for Washington politics, with respect to India. In spite of ensuring that the Indo-US nuclear deal would allow military-to-military ties to be independent of the agreement, the guilt factor was heavily played upon, which portrayed Indian domestic politics as having left the Bush administration in an awkward position in the Congress. The Bush administration was responsible in investing great political capital into the Indo-US nuclear deal, and the current delay, caused due to coalition politics within India, places President Bush in bad light, after he vehemently pushed for the deal through his own legislative system.
And the vehemence is well justified. From presently having a small market share, the US market share is to grow substantially over the next few years – an estimated $50 billion over the next ten years – to soon match those of Russia, France Israel and the UK. Having bagged twin contracts of a $1 billion (six C-130J Hercules aircrafts) and $2.2 billion (eight P-81 Poseidon long range maritime patrol-strike aircrafts to the Indian Navy) deals respectively, the United States is now vying for an ambitious $10 billion deal to supply 126 warplanes to the Indian Air Force.
Reports state that New Delhi was keen on these transactions, having ‘literally invited the United States to sell some planes’ to maintain a smooth graph in bilateral relations. Moreover, there was a desire within the Indian armed forces to extend beyond the Russian dominance with respect to operations such as these. Talks continue in matters of joint exercises, eight of which will be undertaken this year to increase interoperability, a drastic ramp-up of defence ties and the assured signing of a long-pending logistics agreement which will enable transmission of classified information before the end of this year.
Gates made it clear that in spite of the importance of the nuclear deal, his visit to India was an attempt ‘to explore what opportunities there are to further expand our defence relations’. He also stated that US defence sales would be unconditional, without any strings attached with respect to Iran or Myanmar. Although, ties between India and the United States are strengthening faster and quicker than one can realise (if India agrees to the $10 billion – 126 aircrafts deal, it would mean twenty years of cooperation between the two countries), India is yet to officially initiate any of the five agreements ranging from military logistics to container security, as proposed by the United States in the last six years. However, this does not seem to restrict future deals, as the United States is already targeting helicopter deals for all three Indian defence forces. Analysts believe that Delhi is expected to spend a striking $40 billion on defence purchases in the next five years, and the United States could be a big consumer of this amount. It is also quite understandable when one reflects on the situation, that the United States’ drive to sell more to the Indian subcontinent is a desire to curb China’s rising success. However, the White House seems deflated at the slow progress of the much-hyped Indo-US nuke deal. What has further angered and insulted the United States is Sonia Gandhi’s refusal to meet with several respected high-profile US visitors. These have ranged from Nicholas Burns in 2007 to several important senators earlier this year. The recent visitor from the United States who has been unable to meet the Congress president has been Robert Gates himself. With growing dissatisfaction and justified frustration at the state of internal politics in India, there arises the possibility of a veto by the Pentagon against any equipment that India may wish to buy. With the Left having threatened the UPA government seriously with possibilities of bringing it down, to a constant reminder of the pending Indo-US nuclear deal, Manmohan Singh has his platter full. While it is not a viable possibility to disturb the growing relations between India and the United States, it is also not possible to ignore the words of the Left, who has a stronghold in the country. With elections drawing closer, the UPA government has been placed under mammoth pressure, as a middle path does not seem likely. A stalemate seems to be on the horizon for a tantalizing deal that could have either accommodated India as a global power or could have reduced her to being a puppet nation. Having made steady progress over the past few months, with the conditions that could have affected her negatively being slowly struck off, India’s inability to pass the deal has been unfulfilling for many. It now remains to been seen which way the pendulum swings. Either way, it looks as if Indo-US relations are finally climbing a steady graph, having slowly ended the long-term distance that once existed between the two countries.
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