Serving the US Inc.

US foreign policy & Obama visit
Last Updated 26 October 2010, 17:01 IST

As democracies, the US and India, the world’s most powerful and most populous, should be natural allies. Strangely, ever since the founding of democratic India, the inter-governmental relationship between the two has been scrappy, though the people of the two countries are the greatest of chums. On the other hand, from the  Truman administration onwards, US foreign policy has tended to mollycoddle Pakistan, despite that country’s pathological tendency towards military rule.

To understand this contradiction, one has to go back to the very founding of the US and the mentality this bred in its people. Essentially, the US was formed by freebooters who grabbed land from the natives through superior firepower. This “free enterprise” is the cornerstone of  the US system and governs the thinking of the persons who formulate its foreign policy.

It may be no exaggeration to maintain that US foreign policy is as much devised in the boardrooms of its giant companies as in the White House. Whether it be coming to the rescue of the United Fruit Company threatened by land reform legislation of the Guatemalan government in 1954 or arranging the overthrow of the democratically elected Allende government in Chile in 1973 for having nationalised Anaconda Copper or the 2003 invasion of Iraq in order to ‘save’ Anglo-American oil field assets, US foreign policy actions have more often than not been slanted to protect its corporate interests.

This is why the US considered the spread of Communism with  its anti-private sector philosophy the greatest threat to itself and fashioned its foreign policy to contain that ‘menace.’ In fact, at one stage, before the launch of the German Putsch, the Roosevelt administration regarded the Nazis as more benign than the Bolsheviks. It was Hirohito who pushed the US into the Second World War, not Hitler.

Post the war, US foreign policy was obsessed with countering the Red wave, to the extent of being willing to sup with the Devil (despotic regimes of all varieties).
One of the tactics used by the US during the protracted Cold War with the Soviets was containment, using encircling alliances like Seato and Cento, formed by client nations.

‘Khaki’ Pakistan was more than willing to be a satellite (yes, Shah Mahmood Quereshi , that is the appropriate term). The quid pro quo for Pakistan was a largesse of subsidised arms for its ambitious armed forces and  backing on the Kashmir issue in the UN from the US.
Democratic India, which was then carrying the cross of Nehruvian socialism, chose to remain ‘non-aligned’ --  a  contortionist stance that kept it friendly with the Soviet bloc but not a part of it. It is true that on two momentous occasions the US government overcame its anathema for India being in the Soviet camp and came to our support. One was during the 1962 skirmish with China.

The second was the humanitarian food aid  from the US under Public Law 480 in the 1960s, when India ran short of domestically produced cereals. But generally, official Indo-US relations have been prickly, if not glacial. The nadir came in 1971 when the US sent its Seventh Fleet to intervene against India in the war with Pakistan over the liberation of Bangladesh.

The US has never forgiven us for our pro-USSR history, even though international Communism became a spent force many years ago. Hence the tilt towards Pakistan in its foreign policy. It is another matter that one of the goblins the US danced with --  Islamic Extremism -- has now become its most feared tormentor  and a demon that can consume the entire world.

Ironically, the  favoured satellite of the US, Pakistan, is a prime breeding ground for the menace. The US knows this but is caught in a half-Nelson by Pakistan and bending to its blackmail because of the Afghan imbroglio. That is why it turns a blind eye to organs of the Pakistan state backing terrorist groups indulging in mayhem in India.

Why the sudden change?

So, why has the US government suddenly become lovey-dovey towards India to the extent of even helping us get out of the technology pariah status we found ourselves in with the 1974 nuclear test?  As stated above, much of US foreign policy is conceived in its corporate boardrooms.

India today is a rising economic power with the world’s second highest growth rate. India is also on a muscle-building exercise in terms of its defence. It will need a lot of technology and capital equipment in the future in the areas of energy, infrastructure and armaments.

It is an action replay of what happened in the early seventies, when corporate US pushed the Nixon administration to play ping-pong with China in order to create an entry for US industry into the Chinese market. Similarly today, faced with a demand recession at home, US companies must have been slavering at the prospect of feeding the huge emerging Indian market.

They pushed the right buttons in the US administration and presto, the path was cleared in double quick time for India to sup again at the world nuclear power table and purchase US armaments to its liking.  

President Obama comes as the Chief Marketing Manager for US Inc. He may, however, be in for a disappointment when he hawks nuclear power projects. The Indian parliament is in no mood to soften the new legislation on liability in case of accidents at a nuclear power facility.

But he could have better luck in persuading India to lower tariff barriers and remove impediments for FDI in multi-brand organised retail. India, in turn, can expect a softening of  the US export control regime which has denied several Indian high tech entities like ISRO, BARC and defence factories access to critical and cutting edge technologies, equipment and components from the US.

(Published 26 October 2010, 17:01 IST)

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