Friday, April 29, 2011

India: Still Unique

One of President George W. Bush's brave ideas was to normalize nuclear trade with India. India would be a counterweight to China in Asia. India is the world's largest democracy, so there would be much commonality to its interests and America's. And normalizing trade would help to bring India within the ambit of nuclear restraint that most of the rest of the world has accepted through the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Those were all more or less explicit justifications for the negotiations between the United States and India in 2006 on nuclear trade. The NPT banned nuclear trade with nations that didn't accept its constraints, but Bush was forging a new world, outside the requirements of those treaties that constrained the United States' great power. And he knew best.

Less discussed was the role of the various lobbies in pressing for the trade agreement: the nuclear industry, the Indian-American lobby, and, of course, the defense industry. The reasoning was that a favorable relationship with India would bring big bucks to the nuclear and defense industries, undoubtedly part of the argument by the Indian-American lobby. India was looking for military aircraft, in particular. India would be so grateful for the opening of nuclear trade by its great friend the United States that much of the business would go in that direction.

And today we have the outcome.

New York Times: U.S. Loses Bids to Supply Jets to India

Washington Post: U.S. firms lose out on India fighter jet contract

It was quite clear throughout the negotiations that India would follow the path it has always followed: Indian interests, with a certain flavoring of self-righteousness, come first. India will make the very best choices for itself, which will be the very best choices for the world. That's not very different from the way most nations negotiate, although India tends to be more explicit about that. President Bush wanted a deal very badly, and from many accounts, ordered the negotiators to give the Indians what they wanted. And they did.

India's approach to the fighter jet deal is not different from the correspondence I received from Indian nuclear weapons advocates back in 2006: India is beholden to no other country. That has been the nucleus of India's objection to the NPT. So, given an extremely weak negotiation by the US resulting in a deal highly favorable to India's nuclear weapons program, today's result should surprise nobody.


Anonymous said...

What a silly idea. You expected the US to buy sole rights to the Indian market with the nuclear deal? I've no doubt some US firms will succeed in selling to that market but as the leading purveyor of high tech weapons systems (and the most costly) it would have been foolish to expect an emerging economy such as India to purchase only the most expensive weapons systems.

Cheryl Rofer said...

As I said, I didn't expect it, but it certainly looked like others did.

And I'll note that this comment is exactly the sort of thing I was describing in the post.

helmut said...

I was at a dinner last night with DoD and State Dept. people and Indian diplomats. It is crystal clear that the Americans are very unhappy with this outcome. As Cheryl says, quite a few people certainly expected a different outcome.