Tuesday, July 03, 2007

USS Nimitz visiting? What's the fuss?

The USS Nimitz, a nuclear-powered US aircraft-carrier has come to India. So, what's the problem? Leftist and centrist political parties seem to think there is. Left parties claim that the visit is a move by Washington to bring New Delhi under its strategic umbrella. More here. To make this look even sillier than they already are, protesters are holding noisy demonstrations with slogans such as "Down with US Imperialism" and there is talk of US "Gunboat Diplomacy." To me, it looks like the protesters are barking down the wrong well. If they must protest, there are plenty of other things to protest about. Like the war in Iraq, for example. Or the fact that 40% of Indians are illiterate. But no, the Communist Party of India and its Marxist counterpart are still citing Cold War-era actions in the protest against the USS Nimitz. The involvement of famous writers such as Arundhati Roy and Mahashweta Devi, far from lending credibility to the protests has served to make the whole thing look rather ridiculous. Talk on India's foreign policy objectives from someone like Arundhati Roy seems just very out-of-place. With all due respect, Roy is a brilliant writer of fiction but know absolutely zilch about politics and international relations.

One of the most virulent objections to the arrival of the USS Nimitz is that it is a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and is capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The United States Navy had refused to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear warheads on the vessel, in accordance with their long-standing "say nothing" policy. The Indian Ministry of Defence has issued a statement saying that there is no known presence of nuclear warheads on the vessel. NGOs, forever ready to jump on to the bandwagon, have expressed concerns of leakage of nuclear waste in the Bay of Bengal. Now, that sounds hypocritical. On the one hand, India has nuclear ambitions and on the other, it pretends that all things nuclear are bad. The same people rejoiced and celebrated after nuclear tests at Pokhran in 1998. Where did concerns for the environment go then? All this protest about India abandoning its policy of non-alignment is redundant too. Communists still cite the ancient Panchasheel doctrine of the 1950s to criticise the government on its shifting foreign policy stance. Of course, they conveniently forget that the Panchasheel resulted in the 1962 war with China and in one of the worst defeats the Indian Army has ever suffered.

To me, these objections hold absolutely no water. Even if India is increasing military cooperation with the United States, I fail to see why this is such a bad thing. Is it not time we get out of the "we-represent-all-the-oppressed-third-world-countries" mindset and act like an emerging and responsible political player? India has claims to first-world status in the next 30 years. Should we not start with behaving as one on matters of international politics and stop exaggerating the intentions of the "American Imperialists"? Why would the US want to colonise India anyway? I firmly believe that India has a lot to gain by cooperating with the US on nuclear-technology, especially for energy-production and everything to lose by refusing to do so. The biggest cities in India suffer periodic power black-outs and struggle to cater to the needs of the burgeoning economy. The harsh truth is that we are in dire need of energy to keep our growth rate robust and economy healthy. Why should we not cooperate with the US and build a healthy and lasting political and military partnership with it? It is the biggest extra-regional power in the Indian Ocean and India will only stand to gain by cooperating with the US Navy. After all, we need to secure our maritime and continental borders too. If the US is helping us make our immediate strategic environment more secure, then what is the problem?

I do not believe that military cooperation with the US will result in the transfer of sovereignty or the loss of autonomy of the Indian Government. It will only help India secure its frontiers better in the long run and build a healthy relationship with what is arguably the world's most powerful country.

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