Five Balancing Acts: The Indo-US Nuclear Deal

By Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Seminar, 1 April 2006

THERE is little doubt that the recently concluded nuclear pact between India and the United States is of unprecedented historical significance. It is in some ways an emphatic acknowledgment of India’s transformation from a regional to a global power. The deal is an important step in transforming the rules of the world order to accommodate the aspirations of a rising power. And within the context of Indo-US relations, it represents a bold gamble by the United States to align India’s interests with its own.

To give credit to the US, its establishment has grasped India’s potential even more than India’s ruling classes have. It has recognized that the momentum of IndiaÂ’s economy, the stability of its political institutions, and the complex amalgam of values it brings to the world, will make India a force to reckon with. President Bush has taken a preemptive measure to ensure that IndiaÂ’s priorities are shaped in alignment with the US rather than against it. India, on the other hand, has always been susceptible to a post-colonial clamour for recognition. And what better acknowledgment could India have wished for than having a coming out party hosted by the United States.

But the danger for India is the extent to which this clamour for recognition will now fundamentally alter its conception of its own identity in the world. While the euphoria in India is focused on the accolades it is receiving, the really hard questions about the direction of Indian foreign policy are being avoided. What kind of power does India want to be? Does it want to play the same power game that the current big powers have played? Does it want to focus exclusively on its own interests or work for the interests of the world order? What are its strategic and political aspirations? What really are its nuclear objectives?