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Analysis & Opinion
02.04.08 The Standoff On Indian Ground
Comment by Varfolomey Bazanov

What is the status quo in the sphere of international relations? On the one hand, the objective reality is that the United States has vast economic, political, and military influence on a global scale, which makes its foreign policy a subject of great interest around the world. At the same time, it can be noted that the era of the United States is drawing to a close, as in the past three decades, 24 out of 25 states with the topmost economic growth lie in Asia and Latin America. And the United States holds the same percentage of the world economy as back in 1913.

According to some experts, the system of international relations is likely to take on a multipolar format with clear zones of influence. The United States, China, Russia, and India are going to be such centers of influence. As the relations between these states morph, Russia can either benefit from these changes or incur damages.

The Republic of India is the seventh largest country by geographical area, the second most populous, and the biggest democracy in the world. With a gross domestic product growth rate of 9.4 percent in 2006-07, the Indian economy is among the world’s fastest growing. During the Cold War, India adopted an isolationist foreign policy, not aligning itself with any major power bloc. However, it enjoyed close relations with the Soviet Union, and received extensive military support from it.

The end of the Cold War significantly influenced Indian foreign policy. The country now seeks to strengthen its diplomatic and economic ties with the United States. Dramatic changes in the overall structure of international relations also caused the latter to alter its strategy towards India. The position of the United States regarding the issue of Kashmir has evolved from strong support of Pakistan to general neutrality. In addition, the United States is helping to strengthen India’s role in the world.

Through agreements reached in the nuclear sphere in 2006, a de facto nuclear India made an important step toward worldwide recognition of its status de jure. The U.S. Congress has approved a treaty by which India would separate its civilian and military nuclear programs, with the civilian ones being brought under the safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The United States, in turn, would provide India with the reactor technologies and nuclear fuel needed to set up and upgrade India’s civilian nuclear program. It is now up to the Indian parliament to approve this agreement.

The United States also seems to be chasing Russia away from its long-time Indian market for defense exports. Back in 2004, Russia and India signed a deal by which Russia would provide the Indian navy with an aircraft carrier and a novelized version of the MiG-29. However, the United States recently offered the soon-to-be decommissioned USS “Kitty Hawk” aircraft carrier to India for free, thus delivering a severe blow to Russia's defense industry.

These facts could indeed cause Russia to turn away from India, but the ordinary people of these countries are deeply involved with each others’ cultures. For example, Indian films are familiar to many Russians, and some generations even remember the motto “Hindi-Russi bhai-bhai” (Indians and Russians are brothers). Russia is likewise quite popular in India, as many taxi drivers there speak fluent Russian. The year 2008 has been declared the Year of Russia in India, and 2009 is the Year of India in Russia.

Despite the fact that Russia is expected to lose its dominant position on the Indian defense export market, the U.S.-Indian atomic deal could actually benefit the Russians. It’s globally acknowledged that Russia and France are the leaders in constructing atomic power plants. Russia is now building four nuclear power plant units in India (Kudankulam), and could potentially expand this activity onto U.S. territory.

Another potential sphere of cooperation between these three countries is the ecological one. Unfortunately, the Asian giants pay little attention to ecological problems. Replacing thermal power plants with nuclear ones could improve the ecological situation all over the world.

As global international relations gain complexity, with India turning into a global power and becoming a part of the system, it becomes more difficult for Russia to negotiate its national interests. But today it can’t be assumed that the United States has made India into a pure conductor of its interests. National interests determine different approaches in New Delhi and in Washington to a number of key issues, and this is indeed a situation Russia can potentially benefit from.

Varfolomey Bazanov is a graduate student of the “Regional Studies: Asian Countries” program at the Faculty of International Relations of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).
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