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Strategic Sway In Indo-US Relations – Analysis

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China has increasingly emerged as a source of strategic sway in U.S.-India relations.

The last NATO summit in Madrid showed that the security environment in Europe and the Pacific has changed due to the war in Ukraine.It is an unprecedented development that four non-NATO Asian countries -Japan, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand – participated in the summit. (1) 

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It is obvious that Russia and China played a catalytic role in bringing NATO and Asia together. The Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, one of the participants of the summit, admitted that East Asia may be the next Ukraine, and therefore the security of Europe and the Indo-Pacific becomes inseparable.

Furthermore, Mr. Kishida strongly urged that U.S. allies in the Asia-Pacific should be invited to participate in future NATO summits. (2) 

India is the most substantively challenged by the new strategic environment in the region.Following this development, India has begun to advocate a policy of non-alignment, which, in history, has played a minimal role in ensuring its security. 

New Delhi has a long history of friendly relations with Russia, followed by intensive and extensive defense partnerships. Most defense and foreign policy establishment people as well as intellectuals of India take pride in their country’s relationship with Russia. They consider Russia an indispensable ally for both security and unpredictable reasons.(3) 

Indian and International media has discussed much on India’s Russia policy on its war on Ukraine, and its impact on her relations, especially with the US and QUAD countries.Because, for years to come, the Indo-Pacific region will continue to be the most turbulent region of the world.  

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The significance of the region grows not only for its economic, demographic, and strategic significance, but also for the key theater of US-China rivalry. 

India indubitably, has an important role to play in the balance of power and world order because of its democracy, economic power, military strength and political identity. Therefore, according to a  RAND researcher, all major world powers are trying to woo India because of its neutrality in the Ukraine War.

Keeping India on their side, they all  want to deny any strategic advantage to their adversaries. That, in the end, has helped India realize its global stature.(4) 

The United States has used all its weights in courting India and  has even served a mild warning that ‘India shouldn’t expect Russia to  come to its help if China violates LAC-the Line of Actual Control.’ (5) 

At the beginning of April, the US deputy national security advisor Daleep Singh reminded Indian officials of the Joint manifesto recently issued by Moscow and Beijing. (6) The joint manifesto, announced then by China and Russia claimed that they have entered into an era of no-limits partnership for a new global order.

It is worth noting that in a global order that they are planning, Russia has obviously a design for Europe, especially for  Eastern and Northern Europe, while Chia has its focus on Asia-Pacific. And according to an American analyst, it is even an ‘alliance’ or  ‘a kind nonaggression pact.'(7) 

As expected, Daleep Sing’s remarks caused a lot of criticism in India. ʻIt was explained as “America’s inability to accept the new multipolar world dynamics.”.(8)

Earlier than Daleep Singh’s comments, in March, US president Joe Biden made a comment that India was shaky on the ground of its relations with Russia. (9)

The U.S. President appeared to be mild in his reaction to India’s Russia policy, but his deputy was much more different. Perhaps the history of Indo-US relations may have contributed to Daleep Singh making such rude remarks.

The lessons India learned in 1962

In order to understand the real meaning behind Daleep Singh’s remark, one should go back to the year 1962 when China attacked India on its Northern border. The Chinese army had occupied most of North-Eastern India without any effective deterrent from the Indian side.

Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sent two of the most confidential letters to the American President within a few hours after he was shocked by the continued military advancement of the Chinese. In those letters, he mentioned that after the fall of NEFA, China would take over the entire North Eastern States.(10)

Because of their continued defeat in the war, the Indian government was making preparations for their evacuations from Assam-that in other words was the complete abandonment of the territory with tacit recognition that the country could do nothing. (11) 

This, undoubtedly, was the worst moment in India’s post-independent history. 

John Kenneth Galbraith, the American Ambassador to India at the time, wrote that the Chinese would exploit the enthusiasm of the Indian communists and even go as far as Calcutta and Bengal.(12) 

Earlier to this, panicked by the loss of Assam, the whole North East and the possible threat to even Calcutta, Prime Minister Nehru, in a dispirited voice and shattered level of confidence, had addressed the nation. That, in return, had fractured the morale of the Indian people. (13)

That left India with no other option than to align militarily with the countries – the US, Britain, and Canada – although informally.

And therefore, in order to maintain  secrecy even with his key cabinet members, Nehru wrote two letters to President Kennedy on November 19, 1962.In those letters, he asked for dozens of squadrons of US fighter planes, air defense radar, and communication systems. (14)

The United States responded immediately.

As soon as American arms, fighter planes, and aircraft carrier began to arrive in India, China declared a ceasefire and agreed to withdraw its troops from positions behind the line of actual control by December 1.

Obviously, China retreated from the conquered territory of North East India, even though it has continued to claim the South of McMahon Line in NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh. 

Although China has since retreated from the territory it conquered in North East India, it continues to claim the South of the McMahon Line in North East Frontier Agency, now Arunachal Pradesh.  But China decided to stay in Aksai Chin in Ladakh, where, according to India, it has illegally occupied some 38,000 square kilometers of the land area since then.(15) 

The area was and is of vital significance for a strategic road to connect Xinjiang and Tibet with the rest of China. However, after realizing that a war with India was going to be also a war with the United States, Great Britain, and other countries, China decided to withdraw from parts of North East India.

Moreover, China successfully kept the Soviet Union on its side during the war with India. The Soviet Union strongly supported China’s position and even claimed that they were class allies, based on their political philosophy.(16)

Khrushchev even admitted in his conversation with the Chinese Ambassador to the Soviet Union that India was given minimal military supplies to keep it out of the hands of the imperialists.  (17) 

Besides, Khrushchev promised the Chinese envoy that the Soviet Union would not maintain neutrality in the war between China and India because it would be a betrayal to a brother. 

In addition to that, with an aim to appease China, the Presidium of the Soviet Union decided to delay the delivery of the MIG 21 fighter aircraft to India.(18)

Even Khrushchev had written a letter to Nehru, rebuking him for failing to accept China’s proposals for Negotiations without any pre-conditions.(19)

Soviet Official media also followed Khrushchev and claimed the Chinese proposals were constructive.(20) 

 In the war with India, besides territorial gain, China had also earned many political and diplomatic milestones. No Non-aligned countries except Yugoslavia and Egypt came to favor India’s cause.

The Defense Minister of India acknowledged in a conversation with a Canadian diplomat that China had succeeded in isolating India from its African and Asian neighbors and friends.(21)

Thus, not only did China shatter Nehru’s international stature as the most popular and charismatic leader of the world’s largest democracy, it also proved the futility of the Non-Aligned Movement. 

After the war ended, Nehru’s India was no longer the spokesman for newly independent states of Asia and Africa. The psychological defeat of India was more than a military one. 

 India, the founder of the Nonalignment movement, failed to receive moral support from them against the Chinese attack-also a shocking moral defeat for India and Nehru.

The largest non-aligned country was unable to defend itself without American military assistance.

 Lost opportunities to strengthen India’s relationship with the US.

China’s attack initiated a new era of Indo-US relations.  After the war, Chester Bowels came to India as the new American ambassador. Similar to John Kenneth Galbraith, he was also a great friend of India and a heavyweight in the Kennedy administration. He had full authority to bring the relations between the two countries to a strategic partnership level because he had the total confidence of president Kennedy.

The White House worked hard to assess India’s short and long-term defense requirements despite the State Department’s opposition, according to a brilliant memoir by Chester Bowles.

Unfortunately, when the United States and India were close to finalizing a defense partnership, Kennedy was assassinated. 

Next time, Nehru died when both countries were ready to sign such agreement. History was  so cruel again for such an agreement that Lal Bahdur Shashtri—the successor to Nehru died in  Tashkent—then in Soviet Union.(22) 

Both countries repeatedly failed to negotiate an agreement to deepen the defense partnership between them. Nevertheless, India was in great need of modernizing its military. 

As a result of these situations, India turned to the Soviet Union for military assistance – that it thought vital for its security.

By that time, the relations between the Soviet Union and China had worsened, and India had gained bigger significance in Russia’s geopolitical and strategic interest in Asia. 

Evidentially, Mao’s main focus was Nehru, but China also wanted to teach lessons to two of its adversaries.

The history reveals that, after Khrushchev came to power, there was a fight between him and Mao-Tse Tung for the leadership of the communist world. 

Earlier, Khrushchev had provided China with thousands of scientific and technical blueprints and documents for creating its industrial base. China was assisted in developing its nuclear power capacity, missiles and establishing a dozen-plus defense industry enterprises. (23)

But after some time, they began to disagree on several global and regional issues. It included the issue of nuclear safety, as well as its use in weapons systems and its implications for China’s regional and global policies. 

The Soviet Union was forced to delay transferring the last part of atomic bomb-making technology because of sour relations with the other communist giant. (24)

China had gained all the needed knowledge, technology, and blueprints for the atom bomb and missiles technology including the shipment of uranium fuel, also its enrichment, and plutonium reprocessing facility from the Soviet Union. But they were yet to provide the very last part and give the finishing touch to make a bomb. 

The Soviet Union put off transferring bomb technology to China in order to avoid damaging the negotiations between the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union.  (25)

 Before the war, Beijing was making every effort to keep Sino-Soviet relations amicable. However, immediately after the war, China began to accuse Khrushchev of being a “traitor” and an “enemy”. (26) 

As a result of this development, the course of major power relations took a completely opposite direction. Relations between India and the Soviet Union grew warmer. Additionally, relations between China and the United States began to improve significantly.

The Roles of Friends and Enemies Changed

The Bangladesh War of Independence caused relations between India and the United States not only to plummet, but also for the United States to begin to treat India as an enemy country. 

 A Pakistani journalist, that appeared in the Sunday Times (London), shocked the world and made global-leaders take notice of the Pakistan Army’s genocide in Bangladesh. (27)

Initially, India was not involved in the creation of a new state in South Asia, as well as the dismemberment of Pakistan. 

 But in the political upheaval that followed, the West Pakistani military junta refused to transfer power to the leader of the Swami League, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

Sheikh Mujib was arrested, the movement grew fierce and brutal, and the genocide that followed was detailed in a British newspaper by a Pakistani journalist. (28) That shocked the entire humanity  and the cause of Bangladesh was established among the world community. 

The pressure surrounding those situations provided enough reason for India to get involved. The influx of millions of Bengali refugees into India from East Pakistan was equally a pressing challenge for New Delhi. 

The major global geopolitical development that followed the Bangladesh liberation war was quite the opposite of what happened in 1962.

The country that challenged China to end the war against India asked Beijing this time  to attack India from its northern border just nine years later in 1971. (29)

In order to save Pakistan from being dismembered, the Nixon Administration decided to send an aircraft carrier and other naval forces into the Bay of Bengal.

(30) The United States was worried that India would move to West Pakistan after freeing Bangladesh.

At that time, President Nixon and his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, considered India to be a Soviet stooge. Both of them had a  very negative attitude towards India and the Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. (30)

The United States had also approached Iran and Jordan to supply advanced American arms and ammunition to Pakistan, as all three were  American allies at the time.(31)

There is an issue to be noted here. The Treaty of Peace, friendship and co-operation was signed between India and the Soviet Union in August 1971. 

The treaty in its article IX had a provision that both countries,“shall immediately enter into mutual consultations in order to remover such threat and to take appropriate effective measures to ensure peace and the security of their countries.”(32)

The treaty provided not only strategic freedom to India for its intervention in Bangladesh, but also accommodated the Soviet Union with an immense strategic weight in South Asia and the Indian Ocean as a whole.  

On July 1971, about one month earlier as the conclusion of  Indo-Soviet treaty, the US president Richard Nixon had made a historic announcement that he was going to visit China—the following year.

This was to transform the global balance of power in the favor of the United States against the Soviet Union. Interestingly, joining hands between the world’s  most powerful democracy and the world’s largest communist state, had accelerated an informal military alliance between the earth’s largest democracy and most powerful communist state.

This is how a vivid picture comes before us. Common democratic values could not prevail over geopolitical interests in India-US relations, or we can say that leadership’s predilections have a bigger role in shaping relations between and among nations.

In other words, Ideologies cannot be reconciled with geopolitical, economic, and strategic interests.The same was true with Soviet-China relations too.

To be continued.

References

  1. Kana Inagaki, Nic Fildes, and  Demetri Sevastopulo-China’s rise pushes Asia-Pacific nations to embrace NATO ( Financial Times, July 3, 2022.https://www.ft.com/content/497f116b-4c03-4d19-a5b1-da4490c183bb?
  2. Kana Inagaki, Nic Fildes and Demetri Sevastopulo, ibid.
  3. Oopali Operajita-US threat to sanction India reflects poorly on Washington’s inability to accept new multipolar world dynamics, Firstpost,  April 11, 2022.https://www.firstpost.com/opinion/us-threat-to-sanction-india-reflects-poorly-on-washingtons-inability-to-accept-new-multipolar-world-dynamics-10540991.html( Accessed July 10, 2022)
  4. Derek Grossman, Modi’s Multipolar Moment Has Arrived, (Foreign Policy Magazine, June 6, 2022) https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/06/06/modi-india-russia-ukraine-war-china-us-geopolitics-multipolar-quad/?,accessed June 19, 2022.
  5. Rezaul H Laskar, US deputy NSA Daleep Singh raises war ‘consequences’ in India, https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/us-deputy-nsa-raises-war-consequences-in-india-101648730876864.html, accessed June 22, 2022)
  6. Joint Statement of the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development. February 4, 2022. (http://en.kremlin.ru/supplement/57709 Accessed on May 4, 2022.
  7. James Crabtree – Putin and Xi manifesto signals the start of a new era, Nikkei – Asia, February 9, 2022, https://asia.nikkei.com/Opinion/Putin-and-Xi-manifesto-signals-start-of-a-new-era, accessed July 9, 2022.
  8. Oopali Operajita, Firstpost, ibid.
  9. Krishna N.Das, Biden says India ‘shaky’ in acting against old Cold War ally Russia, Reuters, March 22, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/biden-says-india-somewhat-shaky-russia-over-ukraine-2022-03-22/(accessed June 13, 2022.
  10. (10) Shiv Kunal Verma:1962:The War That Wasn’t, (Aleph Book Company, New Delhi,2016), pp. 368-369. 
  11. Verma, ibid, p. 366.
  12. (12) John Kenneth Galbraith, A Life in our Times: Memoirs,(Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston,1981),p.434.
  13. Neville Maxwell, India’s China War, Revised and Updated (Natraj Publishers, New Delhi,2015) , p. 467.
  14. Dennis Kux, India and the United States : Estranged Democracies, 1941-1991,(National Defense University Press,1992), p. 207. For Nehru’s letters to Kennedy, please visit, David Coleman, Nehru     Appeals for JFK’s Help in Fighting China, https://historyinpieces.com/research/nehru-jfk-sino-indian-war#fn-5840-nehru1( Accessed March 22,2022) see also“Telegram From the Embassy in India to the Department of State,South Asia (Foreign Relations of the United States, 1961–1963, Volume XIX,Central Files, 691.93/11-1962.)Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, United States Department of State.
  15. Indiatoday.in/india/story/china-continues-illegally-occupy-38000-sq-km-of-indian-territory-govt-1908990-2022-02-04,accessed June 16, 2022.)
  16. Srinatha Raghavan, War, and Peace in Modern India, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010-Page 302.
  17. Raghavan, ibid. 
  18. Raghavan ibid p.303    
  19. Raghavan, ibid, p.306.
  20. ibid.
  21. Jairam Ramesh, A Checkered Brilliance : The Many Lives of V.K. Krishna Menon, (Penguin-Viking, India, 2019)   p. 593.
  22. For further details, please read Chester Bowles’s ‘Promises  to Keep : My Years in Public  Life,Harper and Row Publishers,1971, pp.475-484.
  23. Alexander V. Pantsov with Steven I. Levine, Mao: The Real Story, (Simon  & Schuster,2007) p.411. 
  24. Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia, Changing Soviet Policies toward China’s Nuclear Weapons Program: 1954-1960 (NPIHP Working Paper, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, May 2012.Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad (edited) Cambridge History of the Cold War, Volume 2, Crises and Détente, (Cambridge University Press, 2010) p.349.
  25. Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia, ibid, page 32. 
  26. Dong Wang-The Quarrelling Brothers: New Chinese Archives and a Reappraisal of the SinoSoviet Split, 1959-1962 ( The Cold War International History Project Working Paper Series 49,Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, p.65.
  27. Brig RP Singh, VSM (Retd)-How Mascarenhas’s report changed Bangladesh’s Liberation War,(The Daily Star,Jun 13, 2021)  https://www.thedailystar.net/opinion/news/how-mascarenhass-report-changed-bangladeshs-liberation-war-2109609
  28. Anthony Mascarenhas’ books The Rape of Bangladesh, Vikas Publications, India, 1971 and Bangladesh: A Legacy of Blood, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1986, provide a clear picture of those developments.
  29. https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/news/20050629/index.htm#9 also Gary J. Bass- The Blood Telegram: India’s Secret War in East Pakistan, ( Random House India, 2013) p.263, 292. 
  30. https://nsarchive2.gwu.edu/news/20050629/index.htm#9 
  31. Gary J. Bass, ibid,pp.294-295.
  32. https://mea.gov.in/bilateral-documents.htm?dtl/5139/Treaty+of

Keshav Prasad Bhattarai

Keshav Prasad Bhattarai is the former President of Nepal Teachers' Association, Teachers' Union of Nepal and General Secretary of SAARC Teachers' Federation. Currently, he is the Advisor of Nepal Institute for Strategic Affairs (NISS). Mr. Bhattarai has also authored four books -- two of them are about Nepal's Relations with India and one each on educational Issues and Nepal in global Geopolitics.

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