IF THERE is any part of the developing world that has bright prospects for stability and prosperity, it is southern and eastern Asia. Yet Asia also has the potential to become the battleground for a destructive confrontation between rising powers India and China. So Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to India this weekend should allow her to gauge the chances for what she recently called a new “architecture of cooperation.’’
India presents both the most promising and the most challenging test case for cooperative relations with the emerging powers of the 21st century. The US-India nuclear deal negotiated by the Bush administration has provoked anxieties in some quarters about a dangerous precedent for nuclear proliferation, but the deal has indisputably cleared the way for a closer relationship between Washington and New Delhi.
Under the agreement, India can now buy nuclear fuel and technology from the United States for its 14 civilian reactors. Opponents have warned that the deal could enable India to divert domestically produced nuclear fuel to its eight military reactors. On the plus side, however, India must now allow intrusive IAEA inspections of its civilian nuclear facilities, continue observing its moratorium on the testing of nuclear weapons, enhance the security of its nuclear stockpile, and work with Washington to negotiate a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty that would prohibit the production of fuel for nuclear weapons.
Now that the nuclear accord is a done deal and the Congress Party of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has won a smashing victory in recent parliamentary elections, Clinton can address other outstanding issues in US-Indian relations. These include pending defense agreements between the two nations’ militaries, cooperation in the fight against terrorism, more educational exchanges, more US visas for Indians with advanced skills, and, perhaps most important of all, a meeting of minds on the need for coordinated actions to reduce the danger of catastrophic climate change.
When it comes to regional issues, Clinton should make the case that the expanding US-Indian relationship gives Indian leaders more strategic flexibility. They can stop trying to match their Chinese counterparts in backing regimes, such as those in Burma and Sri Lanka, that have committed gross human-rights abuses against their own people. If a shared respect for democratic values forms the foundation for the burgeoning US-India partnership, Indian leaders should be able to heed any such counsel from Clinton.
She could tell her Indian interlocutors that friends don’t let friends become the enablers of abusive neighbors.