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Contemporary US nuclear policy in South Asia

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By: Dr.Rajkumar Singh
The American policy perception of South Asia has also undergone a remarkable change over the years. In post-cold war period, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and in the context of changing strategic situation the US has gone into reshape its political, economic and strategic partnership with India and Pakistan acquiring nuclear weapons capability. USA has expressed deep concern over the nuclearisation of the region. So, it gave top priority to developing anti-proliferation strategies, enforce international barriers to proliferation and deter the acquisition of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan. On the other hand, at the regional level, security perceptions of India and Pakistan have been different. While Pakistan considered India as a principal threat, India retained its nuclear options open as a deterrent against Pakistan. After nuclear tests by India and Pakistan in May 1998, USA has given top priority to normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan and to support the ongoing dialogue between the two countries on bilateral issues. Another issue of concern to US in South Asia is growing terrorism. Especially after the 9/11 incident there is a visible paradigm shift in America’s strategy towards South Asia.
American fears in South Asia
America is anxious about the chance of nuclear weapons getting into the hands of terrorist groups. In the context India’s growing nuclear and technological capabilities compel US to follows a policy of constructive friendship with India particularly in nuclear fields. As a result, there has also been a shift in Chinese perception of the US. For a long the United States and India have both regarded China as a destabilising factor in nuclear equations in South Asia. The United States now appears to be loo king China as a stabilising facto r in South Asia. The implications of the new American move have to be adequately understood in India and Pakistan. Now for more than a decade the United States has begun to work with China for a common policy to bring about nuclear stability in South Asia, “Nuclear stability” rather than non-proliferation appears to be the revised target of America’s new engagement with South Asia. Nuclear stability means that the United States has reconciled itself to the nuclear capability of India and Pakistan. Its objective now is to persuade the two countries not to weaponise but to freeze their capabilities at the present state.
Indian preferences
India’s nuclear diplomacy has focussed on two aspects of the South Asian nuclear situation. First, it has sought to blame China and the United States, for abetting Pakistan’s nuclear capability, China directly, United States indirectly, but no less effectively. Two, Indian diplomacy has stressed the imperative of holding on to the nuclear option in view of the actual and potential nuclear threats from Pakistan and China. So far as India’s future nuclear test is concerned international reaction will depend very much on the circumstances and context. If the test comes out of the blue without any visible provocation, the reactions will be harsh and punitive. If it is in response to testing by others, especially in the neighourhood, criticism will be muted and offset by some understanding of strategic imperatives.
Pakistan nuclear policy is reactive to India while latter’s policy is primarily autonomous. On various occasions, India has reiterated that it will not abandon its option until the five nuclear powers have agreed to untake total abolition of nuclear weapons gives the Indian option the stamp of imperative. As long as the option is alive, India is open to temptation or pressure to proceed to weaponisation and the world is tempted to speculate that India is already running a weapons programme. Particularly, China’s involvement in South Asian nuclear issue gives India an opportunity for a relevant and productive initiative. The initiative should aim at a “no first strike” agreement between Pakistan, India and China. A tripartite, “no first strike” agreement will stabilise the South Asian nuclear situation.
Chinese position
Not only the policy of India and the US, but the Chinese policy too have undergone a change in South Asia from the early 1990s which was based on good neighbourliness and cooperation. But the growing economic and military might of China is as much worrisome to USA as it is to India and Japan. Despite an outward bonhomie between US and China, there is also a lurking suspicion of the latter. Publicly, USA denies that she is befriending India with an anti-China strategic objective, but in reality she is not oblivious of the consequences of an over-heated, over saturated China. The whole gamut of relations were narrated by Robert Blackwell, former US Ambassador to India, India is properly attentive to the rise of Chinese power. Let me make clear that this will lead to joint India-US containment of PRC. Worrying that this could be self-fulfilling, no Indian politician of any consequence supports such a policy. But it does not mean that behind New Delhi’s elevated rhetoric regarding relations between India and China, Indians understand that Asia is being fundamentally changed by the weight of PRC economic power and diplomatic skill.’’ If not openly but secretly all policy-makers concede that this is the only reason for US overdrive in mending her fences with India. They put it, ‘‘Nobody will publicly state so bluntly but there are a lot of policy works in
the administration who see India as bulwark against China in the long-term.’’ Providing strategic stability is the main plan of the US foreign policy in South Asia, meaning “keeping open the opinion of using India to help counter-balance China whenever that prove necessary. The Bush Administration indicates that the subject of non-proliferation should not stand as the obstacle to the maintenance of the US-India relationship based on common interests. Now non-proliferation and arms control are no longer on the agenda of the Bush Administration. On the other hand, India needs Washington active support to enhance its nuclear energy resources, be rid of the NPT regime constraints and find its way into nuclear suppliers group as a responsible nuclear weapon power.
The Author is Professor and Head University Department of Political Science
B.N.Mandal University, Madhepura

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