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experience, including peacekeeping in the Middle East, Congo (Zaire), Cyprus, Cambodia, and now Somalia. India has also had unparalleled experience in dealing with large flows of refugees (8 million in 1947-48 and 10 million in 1971).
In summary, the United States and India share a number of important interests that should lead them to look for ways to strengthen their ties and work more effectively together. Opportunities to start to improve their relations lie in a number of arenas that include:
It is widely understood that the United States is important to India. It is less well understood how important India is to the long-term interests of the United States. This importance derives from demographic considerations; from the growing importance of supporting and encouraging democracy, pluralism, and secularism and preventing the spread of religious or ideological extremism; from considerations of regional security and global power balance; from the need to control international drug traffic and terrorism; from economic and trade considerations; and from issues related to the regional and global control and reduction of nuclear weapons. In the first part of this article we elaborate these issues. Then we provide a menu of actions that could facilitate improved relations and promote the shared interests of the two states.
The demographic argument is the simplest. South Asia is home to roughly a fifth of the world's people, most of whom live in India. Just under a million U.S. citizens and permanent residents are of Indian extraction. Many are first-generation arrivals who have resided in the United States for only a few decades. Today, growing numbers have overcome the initial concerns of new immigrants. They have become established in permanent jobs and homes, coped with the challenges of raising children in a new land, and built stable local cultural and social support systems. Now they are beginning to think about how to promote closer and more cordial ties with the land from which they came. There is nothing unusual about this process. It is precisely the process that many other groups of new Americans have gone through over the past two centuries. One notable difference is that a relatively high proportion of Indian-Americans are extremely well educated. Americans of Indian extraction hold senior positions in every major science and engineering university, in every major government and corporate research laboratory, in every leading hospital, and in many similar facilities in the United States. Many come from the elite families of India spread over a number of states. Because of this, and because of the many Indian professionals who have come to the United States for advanced education and then returned to India, there are hundreds of thousands of personal contacts between the professional elites of the two countries.
As a democracy and as a nation of immigrants, the United States has always cared about nations with which it has had widespread family and professional ties. Over the next several decades, it will increasingly care about ties to India for these same traditional reasons.
Promotion of Democracy, Pluralism, and Secularism
Although individual and family ties matter, far more important are the parallel interests that the United States and India share in strengthening and promoting democracy, pluralism, and secularism. During the cold war era these U.S. interests were often more rhetorical than real. Today, however, it is a matter of enormous importance to the United States what political model China adopts in the future, how many states across the Islamic arc are controlled by religious fundamentalism, and how many states that are composed of a mix of ethnic and cultural groups disintegrate into an endless morass of community and tribal warfare. India is a strong, populous democracy immediately to China's southwest. India, a strong, secular state with the world's second or third largest Muslim population, is located in the center of the Islamic arc. India, which has a proud pluralistic tradition, is surrounded by states on the verge of disintegrating into ethnic and community strife. These should be important considerations to the United States as it develops new geopolitical thinking and strategy for the coming decades.
As Americans know, but too often forget, pluralistic secular democracies are messy operations. Looking at their own country, most understand that skinheads, abortion protests, race riots, presidential assassinations and impeachments, antiwar protests, and the machinations of political action committees and powerful industrial trusts do not fundamentally threaten U.S. pluralistic secular democracy. They need to learn to look at Indian democracy in a similar light.
Since its independence in 1947, India has had a strong tradition of pluralistic secular democracy. From time to time this tradition has been challenged, by riots, the 1975-77 state of emergency, ethnic-related insurgency and terrorism, and most recently by strident Hindu revivalism in certain parts of India. However, even the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), identified with the Hindu community, feels compelled to repeatedly avow its allegiance to secularism.
Although occasionally threatened, the Indian secular tradition has always prevailed. The most recent episode appears to be no exception. Overturning an earlier state court ruling, the Indian Supreme Court has recently held that secularism is a basic feature of the Indian constitution and has upheld the central government's right to dismiss state governments that break with this principle. Although the party continues as a significant political force, moderate forces within the BJP now appear to be in the ascendancy.
Democracy, even in the United States, is never a sure thing. It takes constant maintenance and there are always forces waiting to tear it apart. The United States has a big stake in the preservation of Indian secular democracy and should be prepared to work hard to support and encourage its continuation.
Action-oriented as they are, Americans are likely to ask what specific foreign policy steps India has taken, or will take, to promote democracy, pluralism, and secularism across Asia. Under Jawaharlal Nehru, India did adopt a number of major leadership roles on the international stage, but this has typically not been its style in more recent years. Rightly or wrongly, in the face of a strong preoccupation with domestic economic and political matters and a perception of strong unipolar U.S. leadership, India is likely to continue its low-key approach.
India frequently complains that it is not accorded the major power status that it feels it deserves. Occasional specific initiatives from India could help to change other nations' perceptions. Of course, leadership does not always require formal initiative. It can also be by example. The greatest influence that the United States has exerted on the democratization and secularization of the world has come through the example of American domestic freedom and prosperity. India can do the same. As discussed below, the influence of its example will grow in proportion to its growing economic success.
Regional Security and Global Power Balance
India is proximate to the Persian Gulf, the southern tier of the former Soviet Union, China, and Southeast Asia and has involvements and security concerns in all these regions. These concerns often overlap, and not infrequently parallel, U.S. interests.
Today, China is clearly the biggest geopolitical uncertainty in the Eastern Hemisphere. We see three possible scenarios in regard to the development of China after the death of Deng Xiaoping and the other current senior leadership:
* China continues with its economic pluralism. In turn, that leads to political pluralism as happened in Taiwan and South Korea. That results in increasing democratization, which works to stabilize the situation in and around China. Although clearly the most desirable scenario, this may not be the most likely.
* China continues with its economic growth but is able to prevent significant democratization. In this case, China may emerge as the most powerful totalitarian state in history. That would be a cause of concern for all China's neighbors and could destabilize East, Southeast, and South Asia; creating a major security concern for the United States.
* China is not able to match its economic pluralism with its drive to sustain a one-party state, and the mismatch, combined with power struggles between strong regional leaders, results in the breakup of China, not unlike the breakups that have followed a number of earlier Chinese dynasties. In this event, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, and Tibet would try to break free. The resulting turbulence and violence could destabilize the entire region and its impact would likely be felt by all of China's neighbors and produce serious regional security problems for the United States.
China poses little immediate military threat to India. Yet China does figure significantly in Indian strategic thinking, and a weak India or Bangladesh might draw a future China into the subcontinent. It is important to recall, however, that the Himalayas present a formidable barrier to Chinese military expansion. Even if the Chinese succeeded in placing a large force on the plains of India, keeping it re-supplied through a Himalayan winter would pose logistical barriers that would probably be insurmountable. It is very difficult to conceive of the possibility of a successful Chinese invasion of India. In the period since World War II it has proved increasingly infeasible for occupying forces to hold and control a large, populous country, even if it can be attacked and penetrated at an affordable cost. Important contributors to this trend have been the growth in fire power that can be commanded by individual guerrillas, and the spread of political awareness brought on by modern communications and mass media.
Even without posing a fundamental military threat to India, however, China constitutes a challenge to it as a larger and more powerful neighbor. China has, in the past, tried to exercise influence on India's neighbors and Indian domestic politics. Today China is the biggest arms supplier to Myanmar (Burma), and consequently the key sustainer of that country's military regime. Chinese aid to Pakistan in terms of hardware and technology transfer for nuclear technology and missiles has been extensively mentioned in U.S. writing. Although they are of modest military utility, an average of 20 J-7 (MiG-21) fighter aircraft per year have been exported by China to Pakistan and, according to the Institute for Defense and Disarmament Study's International Fighter Study, the volume of aircraft sales will probably double in the near future as an order of 98 A-5 Fantans also begins to be delivered.(1) Finally, China has been providing help to the Pakistani armaments industry.
Improving relations is part of an Indian philosophy of engaging China constructively irrespective of its ideology. This strategy broke down during Maoist dominance over China, and under some scenarios, could break down again. Therefore, despite its efforts to improve relations, China continues to remain a major concern for India. For the present China, too, appears …