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But we haven't reached NAATO!

Published : Sep 4, 2016, 1:35 am IST
Updated : Sep 4, 2016, 1:35 am IST

The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LeMOA) does not make India amilitary ally of the US in the traditional sense of the term, nor does it allow the US to base its weapons and military pers

The Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LeMOA) does not make India amilitary ally of the US in the traditional sense of the term, nor does it allow the US to base its weapons and military personnel on Indian soil, but it does open the door to a far closer military relationship, yet of a different, 21st century kind, between what were once described as "estranged democracies" or even, "the irresistible force and the immovable object".

It has been a long march (Chinese, please pardon) to LeMOA, but there is a ring of strategic inevitability about it. It began, in a sense, almost as soon as the Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War ended. The first American reaction to its victory over the Evil Empire was to make a plan to ensure that no other peer competitor on the scale of the Soviet Union ever emerged again. It's encapsulated in a never-published document, called the draft Defense Policy Guidance, 1992, written by 'neocons' Paul Wolfowitz and 'Scooter' Libby for Donald Rumsfeld, during the Senior George Bush's presidency. It was never published because one particular prescription for American global primacy was too controversial to be made public: that the US should ensure that any country that has the potential to rise on the global stage is balanced off by a regional rival.

Almost immediately, as the US realised that the strategic theatre was shifting from Europe to Asia, where China was on the rise, it began its search for new allies. And it was the Pentagon, not the State Department, that was keen on India. The US Air Force sent the late George Tanham of the RAND Corporation to understand India's 'strategic culture'. Mr. Tanham promptly went back disappointed - there was no such thing in India!

The Soviet collapse had left India, too, searching for new paradigms, economic and military. It was during P.V. Narasimha Rao's time as prime minister that India first sought a 'nuclear deal' with former US President Bill Clinton and offered to separate civilian and military nuclear reactors so that the former could receive uranium supplies. The nuclear deal didn't happen, but something else came up in those conversations: a suggestion from the Americans that India build up the Andaman & Nicobar Islands as a tri-services command rather than just a naval base, keeping China in view.

It was also during this time that 'Yoda' Andrew Marshall, the 'father' of strategic Net Assessment, helped India set up its own Net Assessment centre. Years later, although Clinton imposed sanctions on India for the 1998 nuclear tests, these began to be diluted less than six months later, and in 2000, as his term was ending, Clinton visited India, the first visit by a US President in 22 years. By this time, though, years had been lost for India-US relations even as China had grown economically and militarily. George W. Bush came into the White House, therefore, promising to build strategic ties with India. The Pentagon sent the India-born Ashley Tellis, then a RAND analyst, to study India's nuclear weapons capabilities and intent. The Vajpayee government, as it built up relations, gave unprecedented access to Tellis -- as one Indian analyst put it, "to everything except the bomb basement".

Ambassador Robert Blackwill's rhetoric on the India-US relationship, Tellis' research on India's nuclear weapons helped pave the way for the Bush's closest advisers to conclude that "nuclear weapons in the hands of friendly countries" was not a matter of strategic concern for the US.

Around the same time, an Indian thinker, Prof. M.D. Nalapat, proposed the idea of an Asian 'NATO', spearheaded by the US and India, named 'NAATO', the North Atlantic Asia Treaty Organisation, somewhat contradictory to the very correct logic he was proposing -- that America should leave behind its

European friends when it came to managing Asian affairs and team up with Asian players, India in particular. While not many in India took notice, the Pentagon commissioned yet another study to understand what India wanted from the US and what it was ready to give back. Would something like 'NAATO' be possible with India The conclusion was the famous "inverted pyramid" of Indian and US priorities:

India wanted technology first, strategic partnership later; America wanted India to commit to a strategic partnership first, and it would free India from all technology denial regimes later. These studies became the basis for the high-technology cooperation groups that were formed and finally the nuclear deal three years later. As the Chinese threat grew in America's view, and the Americans realised that India was going to take its own time to make up its mind, the Bush administration concluded that it was not necessary for India to tightly couple itself to America militarily. An economically strong and militarily powerful India would be "a natural counterbalance" to rising Chinese power even if India did not align itself with the US. Bush's NSA and later Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice declared that the US was "ready to help India rise to global power", including in military capabilities. This was the beginning of the thinking on the new, 21st century kind of ally that America could live and work with -- a friend that you could "plug and play" with, and differ and disagree with. Not NAATO at all. But close enough.

S. Raghotham is editor, OneIndia News