Ever since the declaration of the US presidential election results, Indian commentators have been speculating about the direction of Indo-US rela­tions. While some expect “Little for India in Democratic Win,” others predict a “Re­birth of Idealism and Definite Break from the Past.”

As usual, however, both speculations are likely to prove exaggerated. For while the foreign policy of any country is largely determined by the structure of global and domestic systems, yet the personality of its leaders and their perception of reality create shifts, often in nuances or style, and sometimes in the contents of foreign policy as well.

In light of this, it is necessary to assess the prospects of Indo-US relations during the newly inaugurated Clinton regime. But to see where the new administration may lead us, it is worth reflecting on that major factors shaped the relationship in the imme­diate past.

Broadly speaking, four factors contributed to signifi­cant improvement in Indo-US relations since the 1980s.

Firstly, the lessening of East-West tensions leading to withdrawal of the Soviet forces from Afghanistan re­duced the significance of Pakistan in US strategic perception and thereby removed one of the important irritants in Indo-US relations.

Secondly, by the time the second Rea­gan administration was through, the eco­nomic situation within the US had made it abundantly clear for the US policy mak­ers that Washington would have to wind down its massive global presence. This shrinkage had to be met by a new strategy and thus was born the idea of “coopera­tive security.” It implied US willingness to accommodate India as a regional power, if India agreed to accept US role as a global power.

This idea of cooperative relationship got a boost from the collapse of the USSR. It compelled India to look towards the US and enabled the US to remove its misunderstandings regarding Indo-Soviet friendship.

And, finally, India’s need for foreign aid and its drive for economic liberaliza­tion induced New Delhi to seek US coop­eration on the one hand, and made the Indian market attractive for the US on the other.

These politico-economic factors explain the US volte face on the Kashmir issue in favor India, its welcoming of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, approval of the India-led rescue of the ruling regime in Maldives in 1987, and joint Indo-US naval exercises last year. For its part, India quietly gave up its insistence that foreign forces leave the Indian Ocean and agreed to a higher number of US navy port calls to India during the 1986-87 con­frontation between Iran and the US.

Needless to say, the aforesaid compul­sions that produced shifts in Indo-US re­lations have not changed with the occu­pancy of the White House by President Bill Clinton on January 20. He is, there­fore, not likely to halt this process. On the contrary, if his choice for his administration is any indication, he is likely to ex­tend greater sympathy and support on matters on which his predecessor, George Bush, showed understanding of New Delhi’s concerns.

Bill Clinton’s foreign policy appoint­ments reveal a premium on pragmatism which will be conducive to betterment of Indo-US relations. His Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, for instance, is mind­ful of economic issues, particularly the need to keep open global markets. It augurs well for India’s economic liberali­zation drive.

It is also expected that as against the largely East Coast-based foreign policy establishment, which was Eurocentric, Christopher, a West Coaster, may look more to Asia in general and India in par­ticular. He is familiar with the issues sur­rounding the Tarapur nuclear power plant as he negotiated with India on this issue as Deputy Secretary of State in the Carter administration.

India has certain other advantages with a Democratic administration. Dur­ing the preceding 12 years, when the Democrats were out of the White House, In­dian diplomats developed good links with several key Congressional aides and Congressmen for the simple rea­son that they were more accessible than was the admini­stration. Many of them have now been chosen by Clinton for important posts. For in­stance, Lee Hamilton, the new Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has always deferred to India’s friend and outgoing Chair­man of the Asian and Pacific subcommittee, Stephen J. So­larz, as to how to vote on matters pertaining to the re­gion.

All these developments, of course, do not imply that Indo-US friendship during this new administration should be taken for granted. As in the case of personal relationships, state to state relationships, too, need to be care­fully cultivated and nourished.

In fact, there are some problematic areas such as nuclear non-proliferation, dual-use technology, human rights, and trade matters, especially intellectual prop­erty rights, that need highly skilled diplo­macy on India’s part. It is in this regard that the utter lack of effective and profes­sional Indian lobbying as compared to the anti-India lobby on the Capitol Hill is in­deed shocking.

Nalini K. Jha teaches at the Post-Graduate College in Samastipur, India, and is avisiting Fulbright scholar at UC Berkeley.

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