That is probably a demonstration of excessive sensitivity, but viewed from India there are good reasons not to be easily seduced by Washington’s clear desire for improving relations first mooted by former president George W. Bush in 2006.
Those overtures led to the 2008 agreement between Washington and New Delhi to regularize India’s nuclear program. India had been held at arm’s length by many countries, including Canada, because of its 1972 development of nuclear weapons, its bomb test in 1999 and its refusal to join the international nuclear regulation regime.
That has now been finessed with Washington’s help. India has been accepted into the club of countries with civilian nuclear programs, while eyes are carefully averted from its weapons program.
But there was much opposition to this deal within India. Opponents argued it might lead to India becoming an instrument of American foreign policy and even give Washington a veto over India’s nuclear weapons.
An outstanding issue is that India remains excluded from the Nuclear Suppliers Group because of its refusal on philosophical grounds to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
To try to get around that, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week gave the nod to his government’s signing the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage. This brings Indian domestic legislation governing the nuclear industry in line with international norms.
Indians will undoubtedly be looking for some words of support for this initiative from Obama, who is due to arrive on Saturday for a four-day visit to Mumbai and New Delhi.
In the same vein, Indian ears will be pricked for the nuances around whatever the president has to say about two other questions of special interest.
One is Pakistan, with which India has an antagonistic relationship that has three times spilled over into war. Both now have nuclear weapons.
The other is China. While many Indian leaders are just as concerned as the Obama administration is about Beijing’s increasingly militant insistence on the legitimacy of ancient territorial claims, they are not prepared to unconditionally join Washington in a policy of containing China.
Indian political leaders and opinion-makers don’t feel confident they understand American policy toward Pakistan, which is a haven for insurgents fighting NATO troops in neighbouring Afghanistan.
There is a widespread belief in India that in providing military and other support for the Islamabad government of President Asif Ali Zardari, Washington is bolstering India’s potential enemy and not putting enough pressure on the Pakistan administration to confront its many Islamic militant organizations.
Obama plans to make a highly symbolic gesture which may go some way toward dispelling these concerns.
He is due to visit the restored Taj Hotel in Mumbai, which was at the centre of the 2008 attack on the city by terrorists based in Pakistan. He will undoubtedly say that the Mumbai attacks give India and the U.S. common cause in the struggle against terrorism.
Mumbai will also be the scene for a major business and investment drive involving the 200-or-so American corporate representatives taking advantage of the Obama visit.
But here, too, military matters are front and centre.
India is one of the world’s largest arms importers and has earmarked more than $30 billion, over the next five years, to replace aging equipment, mostly of Soviet vintage.
Boeing is lining up to try to persuade India to spend $4.5 billion for 10 new C-17 transport planes. In addition, both Boeing and Lockheed Martin are in the running against France, Russia, Sweden and producers of the Eurofighter to fill India’s $11-billion order for 126 fighter aircraft.
New Delhi is also hoping that its efforts to regularize its nuclear industry will convince Obama it’s time for Washington to drop the embargo on transferring technology with military uses that was imposed after India’s 1999 test of nuclear weapons.
After India, Obama is going to make his twice-postponed visit to Indonesia, where he lived for four years as a boy, and then it’s on to the G20 summit in South Korea before ending his Asia swing with a visit to Japan.
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*THIS ARTICLE IS BEING POSTED FROM TORONTO, CANADA BY DTN NEWS ~ DEFENSE-TECHNOLOGY NEWS, CONTACT: DTNNEWS@YMAIL.COM