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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Strategic climate change

The US must cut loose of the assumptions that misled it in the last century,and India must learn to think independently.

Written by K. Subrahmanyam |
December 28, 2010 3:47:39 am

The United States’ joining of the two World Wars,the promotion of the United Nations,George Kennan’s containment strategy,the Marshall Plan,the defence of South Korea,and the formation of NATO were policies and strategies that served US interests and international interests in the second half of the 20th century. The indiscriminate pactomania exploited by dictators,the terrible blunder of not understanding the nationalist fervour of wartime ally Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh,the crass opportunism of the “best and the brightest” that killed millions of Vietnamese,the toleration of the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshis,the compromises and alliance with Mao Zedong,connivance at the genocide of millions of Cambodians,the use of religious extremism to fight Soviet forces in Afghanistan,and the use of nuclear proliferation to China and Pakistan as strategic policies,all arose out of the “arrogance of power” and led to the present situation where the US is vulnerable to terrorist attacks,its pre-eminence is challenged by China,and its core values are threatened in Asia.Unfortunately,there is not enough introspection in the US on past mistakes. The American debate is still in terms of a 20th century paradigm of nuclear confrontation,nuclear proliferation,and wars with conventional forces and increasing technological advancement. The arrogance of power still dominates the US strategic debate,and strategic communities in the rest of the world,including India,do not challenge the basic paradigms of the Americans,and tend to argue within that framework,mostly defensively and weakly. It cannot be a coincidence that A.Q. Khan was beginning to be used as an instrument of proliferation to China when George Bush Sr was director of the CIA. And it continued under the watch of National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski,whose pro-Chinese proclivities were evident even recently,when he strongly supported a G-2 arrangement in financial governance. While the US establishment thought it could keep both proliferation to China and permissiveness for proliferation to Pakistan under control,it overlooked the risks of China and Pakistan having their own agenda. As The Nuclear Express,a book by Thomas Reed of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory and Danny Stillman of the Los Alamos Laboratory makes clear,the Chinese leadership under Deng Xiaoping appears to have decided to use proliferation to Pakistan to countervail India and proliferation to North Korea to countervail South Korea and Japan. The Americans were so permissive of Pakistani proliferation in the ’80s that they took to task their own CIA officer Richard Barlow for submitting an assessment on Pakistan reaching nuclear explosive capability by 1987. The sordid story of the harassment of Richard Barlow is set out in the book Nuclear Deception by Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott Clark. What the Americans did not count on,presumably,was that the Chinese would conduct a nuclear weapon test for Pakistan in the Lop Nor test site,as they did on May 26,1990. While the visit of Robert Gates,then deputy national security advisor,to Islamabad to dissuade President Ghulam Ishaq Khan and General Aslam Beg from going ahead with the test was projected to the world as an effort at avoiding a Pakistan-India nuclear confrontation,it is now quite clear their attempt at dissuading Pakistan failed. It is this crossing of the red line that led to the invocation of the Pressler Amendment and the breakdown in the military and aid relationship between the United States and Pakistan. One person who is now in a position to give a complete clarification of what happened in 1990 is Gates,now defence secretary. One wonders whether he would accept US responsibility for Pakistan going nuclear and developing the nuclear deterrent derivative of terrorism from it,as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has done with respect to the development of jihadi terrorism. The main problem we face today is the inability of most of the US as well as Indian strategic communities to move out of the Cold War paradigm. Nuclear weapons are no longer a serious threat for international confrontation. This has been accepted by President Obama in his speech on the nuclear security summit of 13 April 2010. How to deal with states that use nuclear proliferation to illegitimate regimes to augment their influence and use terrorism as an instrument of state policy,is now the major common challenge India and the United States face. As has been emphasised in the joint statements issued in Washington on November 24,2009 and in Delhi on November 8,2010,the shaping of the future international order that will defend a pluralistic,secular and democratic world is the main task faced by both the US and India. This task cannot be addressed successfully unless the world order can be shaped by pluralistic,secular and democratic values and the challenges of religious extremism and oligarchic,one-party dictatorship can be successfully met. This task cannot be undertaken by the US alone,as it did the security and prosperity of the democratic order in the second half of the 20th century,because the challenge from China is not a military one,but the emergence of the foremost knowledge power in the world. The currency of power will be knowledge,and not missiles and nuclear warheads. Given China’s fourfold superiority in terms of population and its rapid expansion in knowledge infrastructure,the US can meet this challenge only if it has a partner which shares the common goal of a democratic pluralistic world order. India is that partner. This necessitates a broad-based strategic dialogue between the US and the Indian strategic communities. On the US side,there must be a clear realisation of the very serious blunders committed in the second half of the 20th century by their own strategic establishment. On the Indian side,there has to be an effort at formulating independent strategic thinking and not merely to argue within the framework set by the US strategic establishment. While there are no signs that such a process has begun in the US or in India,it is a curious fact that those who led a major paradigm shift in US policy by a radical amendment to the international nuclear regime to accommodate India and rectify a past strategic blunder,all come from a small group of those who did not contribute to the blunders of Bush Sr,Carter,Brzezinski,et al.

The writer is a senior defence analyst

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