The events of November promise a great shift if relations between America and India, and in the world order as a whole. The Senate’s passage of the nuclear deal means that the United States has taken a major step to acknowledge that India has a similar right to security as other major powers. A fundamental obstacle to better U.S-Indian relations until now has been America’s insistence that India should live at the mercy of the first five nuclear powers. The congressional elections signal the realization by the American people that their nation’s coercive capabilities, though vast, are only of certain kinds. A guerilla force never exceeding 30,000 has tied down nearly the entire ground forces of the United States, successfully discouraged other Americans from joining the army, and worn down the will of the American people to fight an imperial war. In conjunction with the economic booms in India, China, and Russia this outcome will bring forth a much more multipolar world order, hopefully one marked by cooperation.
The Bush administration and now the vast majority of the Congress have both moved to acknowledge that India has a right to security in a world of nuclear weapons, similar if not quite equal to those of the most powerful states. The nuclear deal is not final yet, needing some adjustments in the Senate-House reconciliation process to bring it within the 18 July 2005 agreement and unanimous passage though the Nuclear Suppliers Group of nations. But the Senate passage by a vote of 85-12 is a major step and makes subsequent steps more likely to succeed. Historically, any effort to refuse the same deference to rising powers as enjoyed by established powers has been a cause of instability. One of the reasons put forward by the Bush administration for the nuclear deal was that it would give India a greater stake in the global regime of non-proliferation. This is a valid point. Some people opposing the deal made ridiculous comparisons of India with North Korea and Iran. It matters that India possesses a sixth of humanity, the world’s second fastest growing major economy, and an advanced nuclear reactor technology.
Sen. Barbara Boxer of California has been a staunch opponent of the nuclear deal. Of late she has been raising the issue of defense cooperation between India and Iran. She proposed an amendment to the Senate legislation that would bar U.S.-Indian nuclear cooperation if there was any military-to-military contact between India and Iran. The fact is that India and Iran are close neighbors and it is highly irresponsible of Senator Boxer to insist on a complete end to military cooperation between the two. She may even agree with recent proposals that the United States itself negotiate with Iran about the future of Iraq. In her statement of April 5, 2006, she criticizes the Bush administration’s implicit strategy of using India as insurance and deterrence against future Chinese aggressiveness, on the grounds that India and China are insufficiently hostile. She speaks as if future security cooperation between the world’s three largest peoples is undesirable or unnecessary. She is more benighted on this issue than even Sen. George “Macaca” Allen.
The congressional election marks the end of the American neoconservative gambit for dominion. But the gambit has given rise to consequences that will not be reversed by its end. By attacking Iraq, America squandered the immense global sympathy it garnered on 9/11. India, China, and Russia would have enjoyed economic booms in any case and thereby reduced the margin of American supremacy. But the occupation of Iraq has meant that America has to expend its international political capital dealing with the hostility the occupation has generated. Within the Persian Gulf region certain consequences will inevitably flow from what has happened in Iraq. America’s hegemony in the Persian Gulf region will be eroded dramatically, and that will reduce American influence globally. All this will bring an end to unipolarity and usher in a new multipolar order.
Multipolar international orders have the potential for great violence. Both the world wars of the last century arose within multipolar orders, and to a great extent because of them. In a world of thermonuclear weapons, there can still be a third world war, just not a fourth. The forces for peace now are nuclear deterrence, the democratic systems in all major powers other than China, and strong economic interdependence. There are also many more useful international institutions now than ever before. But for international institutions to endure, they must work out as reasonably fair, or at least gradually becoming more fair among the persons of the world. International arrangements imposing radical inequality among human beings have been very much in vogue, but are becoming ever harder to maintain. Americans are the most privileged persons in the current international order, and so stand to lose the most under any tendency toward equality. But the world is no longer safe for empires, formal or informal.
The great opportunity for America is to recognize the inevitability of a world order with greater human equality, and to lead the way in negotiating global arrangements which bring it about, but preserving values important to Americans and others. The congressional elections are a major step in recognizing the necessity of fundamental change. The nuclear deal with India is an important step to bring a world of more equal security. This is just the beginning.
Sanjoy Banerjee teaches international relations at San Francisco State University. He writes about India, America, and the world.